Interview with Brian K. Vaughan

 
 

Considering the recent rush of badly perceived representation of lesbian and
gay images of TV and film recently, it’s nice to know that some people
out there are getting it right.

One
such person who is making big strides in small ways is comic
book writer Brian K. Vaughn, who routinely includes gay
and lesbian characters in his popular comic series, like
Y: The Last Man, the story of
a mysterious plague that kills every male on the planet
except for a young escape artist named Yorick Brown and
his pet monkey Ampersand (includes several lesbian characters),
and Runaways, about six ordinary kids — one of whom,
Karolina, hints at being gay — who discover that their parents
are actually super-villains.

Another
of his gay-inclusive comics, the award-winning Ex Machina — a
sci-fi political thriller about the world’s first
real superhero, who retires from masked crime-fighting in
order to run for Mayor of New York City and fights for gay
marriage along the way — was just optioned last week by New
Line Cinema to be made into a feature film. So in addition
to writing four monthly graphic novels for a variety of
comic publishers, Brian now has a screenplay to write.

Recently
Brian was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule
and answer some questions about his life as a comic book
creator, as well as his feelings about GLBT representation
in comics.

AfterEllen.com:
So what is your background?
Brian Vaughan:
I was born in Cleveland in 1976.
Typical suburban up bringing, went to an all-boys Catholic
high school, and college at NYU. Basically, I’m another
boring white bald dude named Brian who writes comics.

AE:
What was your favorite book(s) when you first got interested
in comics and why?
BV:
I
had a lousy speech impediment when I was little (I couldn’t
pronounce my R’s), so to avoid Elmer Fudd jokes, I
quietly kept to myself most of the time. Comic books were
a tremendous escape for me, and characters like Spider-Man
and Superman, who were mild-mannered, ineffective nerds
who were able to transform themselves into lovable heroes,
were hugely appealing, for obvious reasons.

I
grew up with comics, and comics grew up with me. I was weaned
on Marvel and DC, but soon graduated to the sophisticated
stories of British writers like Alan Moore, who showed that
super-heroes could work as powerful metaphors for the human
condition, not just adolescent power fantasies. From there,
I discovered the work of so-called underground cartoonists
like Adrian Tomine, Joe Sacco and Chester Brown, who showed
me that comics didn’t even have to be about super-heroes
they could be autobiographical, they could be works of journalism,
they could be slice-of-life dramas grounded in the real
world.

AE:
With the exception of Ex Machina, which by it’s
nature has a political element, you tend not to politicize
your inclusion of gay diversity. Your work instead tends
to be layered in a wonderfully gentle, matter-of-fact way
(with off-handed comments or revelations about a character’s
sexuality that blip, instead of BONG!). How did this come
about? And as a straight man, where does that desire for
and sensitivity to these stories stem from?
BV:

Well, thanks. I think most writers worth their salt are
"sensitive" folks eager to write about all kinds
of different people, especially those who are often misunderstood
and/or oppressed (as many of we fragile, damaged writers — gay
and straight — like to think WE were when we were young).
And the most powerful moments in fiction are usually the
most subtle ones, so those "blips" you mentioned
are deliberate.

AE:
Why do you feel that, unlike mainstream media, comics have
such a strong history when it comes to positive GBLT representation
(disregarding the obvious reason for some of the lesbian
arcs)?
BV:

Well, I’m sure we’ve had some shameful moments, like all
mediums, but I grew up reading great characters, who happened
to be gay, in the comics of brilliant British writers like
Alan Moore and Peter Milligan. This was long before I saw
similarly positive gay characters in movies or television,
so I guess we’ve always been a few years ahead of the curve.

AE:
What kind of feedback have you gotten regarding the GBLT
arcs you have told or seem to be about to tell?

BV: Very positive feedback, which is nice. Ex
Machina
was just nominated for a GLAAD Award, which
was a tremendous honor.

AE:
When one thinks of comic books many people think of the
stereotype of the 14 to 35-year-old male heterosexual audience.
As a female comic book reader I know why I read them, but
what kind of feedback do you get from other female readers
and what do you feel might help draw a larger female demo
to comics?
BV:

I get a lot of very positive feedback from female readers,
which is flattering. As for getting more women to the medium,
we have to a) get our books distributed in places where
non-comics-reading "civilians" — male and female — shop,
and b) write good, accessible books. Obviously, no two women
are the same, so it’s idiotic to think that you all love
romance or mystery or whatever. I have an ex who was a rabid
fan of Preacher, and I think that’s because it’s
a great fucking comic, not because it’s great comic "for
women."

AE: How is it that comics, being that it is quite a boys club, has
such well-rounded (and I don’t mean in the drawing) female characters, a trait
lacking in other forms of media?
BV:
Again, for every well-rounded female character in comics, I’m sure
you could find one or two who would make you cringe. But since the days of Dr.
Marston (Wonder Woman‘s inventor), there have always been male writers
in our medium who love writing about strong women. I guess I don’t have a great
explanation for that phenomenon, but I’m sure Freud would have fun with it.

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