y the last man

As I’ve recounted elsewhere, I spent an embarrassingly long time trying the kick the habit of comic book collecting I plunged into as a kid. There was always one more series to hang on for, some promise of new wrinkles to an ongoing saga that I found painfully irresistible. To a degree, I just wanted to keep collecting and sought out excuses to justify the continued endeavor. There were instances, though, when I was genuinely ensnared while happily trotting away to freedom. On one such occasion, I clearly keep buying comic books only because Brian K. Vaughan was writing some of them.

Vaughan had been a professional comic book writer for a few years when he teamed with artist Pia Guerra to launch a title under DC Comics’ Vertigo banner. Y the Last Man had an irresistible hook and a perfect first issue (although I started with sixth issue, lured in by the enticement of “NEW STORYLINE” emblazoned across the cover). It’s lead character, Yorrick Brown, was seemingly the only male left on the planet after a strange plague instantaneously killed all mammals with a Y chromosome. Across five dozen issues, Yorrick and his new compatriots navigated a strange, treacherous landscape, marked by new tribalism and thoroughly upended geopolitics.

Exploratory and inventive, the series was serial storytelling at its best, and only in part because Vaughan was tremendous at deploying issue-ending cliffhangers. He shrewdly exploited the benefits of working with characters over an extended period of time, leaning on familiarity to drive stories while also letting them shift and grow gradually. He made astute points about psychology and society through believable interactions of characters, always fully justified in the logic of the narrative. He scratched at truths without pontificating. I kept following Vaughan across publishers and titles: Ex Machina, Runaways, The Escapists, and the only Doctor Strange comic I’ve ever really, truly enjoyed.

These days, I don’t buy very many comics. There are a few series I pick up in their collected trade editions, and I will occasionally treat my pal who’s still admirably devoted like she’s running a borrowing library. For regular issue-by-issue reading, though, there’s only one title left: Saga, with writing by Vaughan and art by the amazing Fiona Staples. As was the case with Vaughan’s previous works, it’s endlessly imaginative, emotionally potent, and ruthless in its cliffhanger endings. Without question, it’s one of the best comic book series I’ve ever read.

As a kid, I followed the methodology of a lot of comic book fans and locked onto individual characters and teams, working myself into fits of quiet outrage any time their adventures weren’t up whatever arbitrary standards I set. Thankfully, I quickly learned the foolishness of that mindset. Picking favorite creators was a far more sensible — and consistently rewarding — strategy. Under the common interpretation of the phrase, denoting status as a hobbyist as much as a consumer, I guess it’s accurate to say I don’t read comic books any longer. But I damn well do read Brian K. Vaughan. And I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

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