BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
What happens if a mysterious plague wipes out all the men on earth save for one lone male man and monkey? That's what's being explored each month in Y: The Last Man. Pia Guerra shares some details about genetic manipulation, mad science, and ... building Victorian houses? Ya gotta read it to fully understand ...
THE PULSE: How surprised are you at the reaction not just within the comics community, but from the "outside" world regarding Y: The Last Man?
PIA GUERRA: Very surprised. Many people have been asking what the heck I’ve done in the past since I seem to have appeared from nowhere, but actually I’ve been working in comics for over ten years, through some of the roughest times ever seen in the industry and as a result many of the books I’ve drawn for never saw the light of day. I’d just gotten used to keeping my expectations low. Wizard magazine just voted Y best book of 2003 and that hasn’t sunk in at all, doesn’t register. Add to that all this movie business... it’s surreal. I’m happy people are reading something I’ve drawn, it’s all I ever wanted, what I worked very hard for but beyond that, wow.
THE PULSE: What has been some of the best feedback you've received about Y: The Last Man?
GUERRA: The best has been from readers who have been passing the book around to friends, co-workers and relatives who don’t normally read comics and saying they’ve gotten them completely hooked on it. It gives me hope that the readership can expand outside that direct market fringe and introduce more people to the medium.
THE PULSE: Why do or don't you think with all the genetic manipulation that's already happening in modern science that something like the catalyst in Y could happen?
GUERRA: Considering that science has barely begun to tap the potential of genetic manipulation, I feel pretty confident that we’re more likely to destroy ourselves through more crude means than by a Y-Like Plague. Sure the Human Genome Project has made significant inroads to mapping DNA but actually altering that structure, eliminating undesirable elements, introducing desirable ones, that’s way off. Everyone thinks cloning is this amazing thing but really, nucleating an egg is an electric parlour trick that twenty years from now, if reactionary politicians would just chill out, will be regarded as a tool much like in vitro fertilization, and not a 100% carbon copying process (which it isn’t).
THE PULSE: Do you ever get a little disturbed thinking about what happened in the comic Y and wondering "what if?" it ever happened here?
GUERRA: I did a lot of that in the first few months of working on the book. It became very depressing so I took up woodworking instead.
THE PULSE: How has working on Y helped you to better understand the comics industry?
GUERRA: Can this industry ever be fully understood? Really? I think if anything, I’ve learned that there are some people who gravitate towards comics for its escapist elements, usually because of their own personal insecurities and social dysfunctions. When such personality types decide to go into comics as a career you end up with some interesting working dynamics. You have to learn a lot of patience dealing with these people or dealing with the procedures put in place to deal with these people. It can be exasperating. And in no way am I talking about Brian. He’s one of the most level headed creators I’ve met and by his example he’s made it a lot easier to deal with the crap that turns up. The guy’s a rock and I’ve learned a hell of a lot from him.
THE PULSE: What has been some of the "crap that has turned up" since you began working on Y?
GUERRA: Not worth getting into really. I'm just a misanthrope sometimes.
THE PULSE: What are some of the things you've learned from Brian?
GUERRA: That making comics can be fun. That it's not all serious bullshit.
THE PULSE: How has working on Y helped you to become a better comics creator?
GUERRA: I’m more patient, more productive, more efficient with my style than I was working on one shots and spot illustration gigs. I’m very protective of the book and the characters and that’s new, I feel like I’m really contributing here, that I’m not just the hired gun, and it makes me work harder to do better.
THE PULSE: If someone still hasn't checked out an issue of Y yet, what does he/she need to know to understand the series?
GUERRA: A Brooklyn escape artist named Yorick Brown, and his helper-monkey-in-training Ampersand, both mysteriously survive a plague that wipes out every living male mammal on the planet. Yorick only wants to get to Australia where his girlfriend Beth was studying before the plague hit. His mother, a Washington congresswoman helping to put the country back together wants her son to remain in the US to help a bio-engineer named Allison Mann to reclaim humanity through cloning. The new president assigns a secret agent named 355 to protect him from rival factions ranging from femi-nazi Amazons to Israeli special forces.
THE PULSE: What have been some of the toughest scenes to render so far?
GUERRA: The North Portico of the White House. I couldn’t find a lot of reference for that and it was a bugger to draw right. That and the Blackhawk helicopter. Early through the Cycles arc I suggested using a big ass helicopter somewhere just so I could have something cool to draw (much like the train in issue six) to break up the quiet scenes. Brian liked the idea and used the bloody thing through the whole One Small Step arc! Continuity was a nightmare.
THE PULSE: What have been some of the other challenges you face while working on this series?
GUERRA: Unfortunately, I’m a stickler for detail. I research everything to hell and back and it does take time. Brian does this cool thing in the script where he’ll add hyperlinks for specific refs. If he wants a certain type of gun or cell phone or uniform etc. I can look at the sample and go from there. We wanted the book to have a realistic feel and in order to do that everything has to look real. My stack of photo refs keeps getting bigger and bigger. I should have a few phone books worth by the time this series is done. This of course leads to the next challenge of deadlines. Despite working to make it real the deadlines still have to be met and doing that on a long term basis is still very new to me. It isn’t like before where a book got done and “Yay! Onto the next project!” because the next issue is staring you right in the face, starting from where you just left off. It’s very anti-climactic.
THE PULSE: How is that both a good and bad thing?
GUERRA: It's good in that it's not over. When you have the good fortune to be working with a writer as kickass as Brian you know that more great stories are on the way, there will always be something cool to draw, that it's all building up to a great finish. The bad is like throwing a sprinter into a marathon. There isn't the satisfaction of a quick finish and the more painful it gets, the more you wonder if there's going to be that "wall" everyone talks about hitting, or whether the finish will actually be as good as you hope and whether your expectations are way unrealistic. There's all this anxiety about having the endurance to handle it, especially when you look ahead and see three more years to go. It's the hardest thing, the coolest and most nerve wracking thing I've ever done.
THE PULSE: What's on Yorrick's plate for the new year?
GUERRA: Oh this year us gonna be a doozy for Yorick and crew. Still slogging westward after a few detours, Yorick will have an interesting encounter with another member of 355’s Culper Ring. Shortly after that they cross into mountainous terrain and hit the coast running. A lot will be revealed regarding the plague and the unmanned world, it should not be missed.
THE PULSE: Y's been planned for five years, right? Is this a project you want to work on as long as its around? Why?
GUERRA: We’re going for sixty issues and it’s my hope to be on it for as much as I can. We’ll be bringing in some guest artists to help with the schedule. Paul Chadwick has already done a wicked job with Comedy and Tragedy and Goran Parlov (Outlaw Nation) should be joining us for an upcoming arc called Widow’s Pass which will help me get a head start on the big California story. I care a lot about this journey and I want to see it through to the end, especially now that I know how it ends! Woo-eee!
THE PULSE: What's the status of the Y movie?
GUERRA: The contract is still getting ironed out but so far it looks like Binder-Spink and New Line are going ahead with the option. David Goyer will be producing (possibly directing) and Jeff Vintar has been pegged to write the screenplay. Should be fun to see what they come up with.
THE PULSE: When people ask you what you're doing for a living, how many think it's weird when you say you work in comics?
GUERRA: I guess it’s gotten more legit over the years thanks to all these comics-to-movies projects. Now when I mention that I work in comics I get the raised eyebrow and grin, maybe a question about Batman instead of the raised eyebrow and grin and the inevitable, “But what’s your real job?”
THE PULSE: When you're not creating comics, what do you do with your free time?
GUERRA: I decided rather suddenly last summer that I desperately needed a hobby. I missed working as an art director/set/costume/props builder on a sci-fi pilot for the CBC a couple of years earlier and I wanted to work with my hands again, anything that didn’t involve a pencil. I went with a large dollhouse project. There’s a massive Victorian sitting on the dining room table that I’ve been working on since August and by the time it’s done it should be completely electrified, decorated and furnished Baz Luhrman-y and opulent like. It was either that or go all Dave Sim crazy and write overly generalized crap about men and republicans.
THE PULSE: Why Victorian style? What do you like the best about that era?
GUERRA: Visually it's a beautiful period that carries well into the Edwardian (which is the actual time frame of the home's interior) Lots of delicacy without all that crazy baroqueness of the previous century. Maybe as an artist I just relate to Sherlock Holmes' borderline autistic detail focus. Or that I've seen Moulin Rouge one too many times (Ewen Macgregor is dreeeaamy). I get a kick out of good set design and the house is like a mini stage production.
THE PULSE: What have been some of the most difficult parts of the house to create?
GUERRA: Just dealing with the shell kit instructions has been a challenge. They're so badly written! And then there are pieces which are totally misalligned, or wood that's substandard. Half the time I'm hacking at edges or substiting beams with balsa and bass wood. The other half I'm digging these enormous splinters out of my fingers.
THE PULSE: How has working on that helped you artistically? Do you have plans to ask Brian about adding a Victorian house somewhere in the Y future?
GUERRA: I think it helps me focus better by giving me a little distance. There are times when I just get into this weird, concentrated headspace that leads to myopic focus on a small portion of the artwork when I should be backing up and simplifying. I think just the act of creating something can get so damn enjoyable sometimes that the outside world melts away, everything turns zen. Before you know it the whole night has passed by and the FedEx pick up is due in a couple of hours. By directing that obsessive side of my creative energy to the house and it's allotted times makes it easier to deal with the tight deadlines which in turn makes the editors happy.
I've mentioned the house to Brian but not in any plot suggestive way. It's probably best to keep the two separate else my head'll explode.
THE PULSE: If you ever got bored with comics, what do you think your new career would be?
GUERRA: I’d probably write more. Ian has been teaching me loads about different writing styles and formats and I’ve been slowly developing. Or maybe I’ll continue with the old gig as a cabaret dancer, I must still have the fishnets somewhere. There’s nothing like the feel of crumpled dollar bills in your cleavage man!
THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?
GUERRA: Ian and are planning a few theater and indy film projects, which is why he’s been so generous with his time in teaching me to develop my writing skills. With a little luck, and someone to help us figure out the dvd burner, we should be cooking something up soon.