Earlier this week, writer Brian K. Vaughan surprised fans of his critical hit/cult-favorite Marvel ongoing series Runaways
by announcing his and original artist Adrian Alphona’s exit
with the upcoming issue #24 of the current [volume/season 2) of the series.
Despite existing in the Marvel Universe and not
being creator-owned, Runaways
is perhaps one of the mostly closely creator-associated Marvel series in some time, which made it equally surprising when Vaughan announced the series would continue without him and Alphona after their exit.
The identity of the new creative team will have to wait for another time, but we caught up with Vaughan for a few expanded thoughts on the history of the series, and turning over guardianship of his kids to others…
: spoilers about the events of issue #18 are discussed openly below
: So Brian, just to kill any rumors that may be springing up - you and Adrian [Alphona] are leaving of your own free will here? This isn't something like a prelude to you going exclusive with DC, and having to drop your Marvel work, or something like that?
Brian K. Vaughan
: No, this has nothing to do with anything but Runaways
, and doing what's best for that series, which has always been and will probably always be my favorite child. I am
busy with sellout screenplay and television stuff, but lest anyone think I'm a casualty of Old Man's Millar's crazy Hollywood conspiracy theories, I still spend 75% of my life working on comics, and I hope it will always be that way. I just don't have time to play MarioKart
: Why now? Were you and Adrian planning all along that when you got to “x” in the larger storyline, you were going to leave?
: Unlike Y: The Last Man
and Ex Machina
, which both have planned endings, I always knew I wanted Runaways
to go on forever, long after I left the book. That said, I used to think I would be the writer for hundreds and hundreds of more issues. But then I plotted out the two stories after Gert's death, and I realized they were going to be the culmination of many things that Adrian and I have been working towards since our very first Issue #1. I felt like the whole Runaways
creative team has really reached our zenith over these last few storylines, so I started thinking about the possibility of bowing out while we were still at the top of our game.
We could stick around until after we started to run out of gas, but I'm certain that would kill the book. Right now, the Runaways
are in a great position after winning some awards, spinning off a very cool upcoming new book, getting added exposure from Zeb's excellent crossover with the Young Avengers
... and I realized that handing the book over to an all-new creative team at the height of our popularity might be the series' best chance at making a real bid for immortality as a truly permanent part of the mighty Marvel Universe.
: Over the last few years, Runaways
has certainly had its share of ups and downs. Honestly now – during the first series run, when you saw the numbers starting to fall off…did you ever, in your wildest dreams think you’d be here? A second series, awards, acclaim, etc, etc…? Was your faith in the characters, this book, and the fans that strong?
: Absolutely not. C.B. Cebulski and I used to joke how funny it would be if Runaways
ended up like a modern-day X-Men
, a formerly canceled book that eventually evolved into this beloved franchise. I never actually believed it was even a remote possibility, but we just might be on the path to making that a reality someday.
: In your view, what “hooked” between the readers and the characters?
: It's entirely thanks to Adrian Alphona, who is one of the great living comic-book artists. I really think he's like a modern-day Jack Kirby. He may draw nothing like The King, but Adrian has the exact same boundless imagination and enthusiasm for breaking all the rules of what a contemporary comic book is supposed to look and feel like. Watching our characters grow up as Adrian has grown up as an artist has been electrifying. Each of the Runaways just looks so unique and so fully formed that even people who've never read comics before fall in love with our kids the second they see one page. That's all because of Adrian.
He and I have already talked just a bit about co-creating something completely new together down the line, but in the meantime, I'm sure smart editors will be fighting over him.
: There’ve been so, so many other tries at new superhero teams, characters, etc, and, with only a few exceptions, Runaways is the only one at Marvel (not related to an existing franchise) to have any sticking power in what…20 years or so?
: Thanks. I don't know. I'm no Stan Lee, but I definitely know how to steal from him. Stan was
the one who realized that great comics have nothing to do with powers, costumes, or continuity, and everything to do with using these heroes as timeless metaphors for something meaningful about our real lives. I just tried to imagine what kind of subversive teen book Stan would write if he were creating the Marvel Universe today, and while I know he probably would have come up with something better, a book about kids who find out that their parents are the most evil people on the planet is certainly something that I think a lot of us can identify with.
: On that note, in creating the characters and team, were you looking to make anything “classic Marvel,” that is, with elements that are present in the best known and successful Marvel titles? After all, you’ve got heroes with feet of clay, aliens, orphans, death of girlfriend, etc… Did any of that run through your head as you were putting together your initial ingredient list, or is that kind of stuff clearer in hindsight?
: Nah, while the high concept is classic Marvel, the execution is more inspired by my friends, family, personal experiences, and imagination than it is by other comics I loved as a kid.
: In a similar vein, what hooked with Marvel and the book? Obviously, they were going out on a limb for the characters, and, frankly, you, as a creator.
: Actually, getting the book approved both times around was disgustingly easy. I just pitched them the idea, and everyone at Marvel was immediately enthusiastic. I think mainstream comics are more consistently excellent now than they've probably ever been, but five years ago, as I was pitching stuff like Y
and The Hood
, the major comics companies were probably a little more... adventuresome
in seeking out new voices and truly new ideas than today's conservative marketplace allows them to be. That said, guys like Joe Quesada have been consistently vocal advocates since day one. If Runaways
is successful, it's because of how hard Joe, Bill Jemas, Dan Buckley, C.B. Cebulski, MacKenzie Cadenhead, Nick Lowe, and many more people at Marvel over the years, have fought and continue to fight for our book.
: Did the pressure increase for you, more so than normal, at the beginning of the new series?
: Not really. I have no idea why people like anything, so I always just try to write stuff I want to read.
: As you moved the kids through their stories, what was the hardest story for you to write?
: I wish I had a good answer for this, but having had actual jobs before, I can say with confidence that writing comic books is never anything resembling "hard."
: So then how about the easiest?
: Issue #18, both of them. I always hate when authors say that stories "write themselves," but those two really did.
: Obviously, the most-talked about development recently was the death of Gert…it’s probably not going out on a limb to say that the fans didn’t want you to kill her, and probably some part of you didn’t want to kill her either, but at the same time, for the story to move forward…she had to die. How do you disassociate yourself from a character you created enough to kill her, you cold, heartless bastard?
: "Kill your darlings" is a cliché for a reason. Gert has always been my favorite character, and I couldn't imagine the team without her. And that's when I knew she had to die.
: After all you’ve gone through with the series, did the death of Gert affect readers in any ways that you weren’t expecting?
: No, it was all expected, especially after the amount of really passionate hate mail I got when I revealed the team's mole to be Alex, who so many African-American readers felt was one of the few three-dimensional young heroes in comics they could identify with. But just as I wouldn't be doing my job if they didn't feel hurt and betrayed by that character's traitorous turn, I wouldn't be doing my job if the readers who loved having a refreshingly realistic female character didn't feel angry and hopelessly depressed by Gert's death.
In their own way, each of the Runaways is some kind of unique minority, especially in the world of comics, so I hope readers are unreasonably attached to all of them.
: Do you have a “set point” (for lack of a better term) that you’re building to with the kids/book by the time you reach #24? What outstanding issues are there in your mind that need to be resolved?
: I hate spoilers, so I'll just say that dealing with a friend's death is not something you resolve in 22 pages.
: So tease out the end of your run a little – where are things headed?
: The current arc is called "Dead Means Dead." Our final arc is "Live Fast." Draw your own conclusions, kids!
: Conversely – are there any threads you’re purposely leaving for your successor to pick up on? Anything that he/she requested you not
wrap up, tightly?
: My successor has carte blanche to use or ignore anything Adrian and I have done over the last 42 issues. I trust her or him completely.
I know people are saying that Runaways
needs a "superstar" writer to stay alive, but I certainly wasn't a superstar when I started writing the book, nor am I really one now. I'll let the talkbackers decide the worthiness of our successors when they're announced early next week, but we just wanted to find daring young creators who were fans of our book, and yet not afraid to take the series in a wholly unexpected new direction.
: Advice for the schleb who has to fill your shoes?
: I always appreciated how gracious my arch-nemesis Millar was when he passed the Swamp Thing
torch to me a million years ago. He simply encouraged me to make the book my own. And yeah, while my brief run on Swampy may have been disastrous by most standards, I wrote a lot of stories that I remain very proud of, and learned everything about writing I've used since. So that's the same advice I gave the new writer.
Oh, and try not to kill Molly.
: Is #24 it for you? Are you closing the Runaways
door with that issue, and not looking back?
: Never say never, but after people read Issue #25, they won't even want me back. No hyperbole there, true believers.
: Can you just turn the switch off, given that you created them?
: No, whichever of my switches those kids flipped - which sounds vaguely dirty - it will always stay on, even when I'm just another fanboy buying their book on Wednesday.
: Bring it on home, brother – summarize your time on Runaways…what did it mean to you, personally and professionally?
: Working with Adrian, Craig Yeung, Christina Strain, Randy Gentile, and Jo Chen, along with the many other creators who helped us over the years, was probably the best experience of my life, lame as that sounds. We were just a ragtag band of misfit underdogs, and maybe we didn't save the world, but we did put out a pretty goddamn good comic that mattered to some people.
I love all my readers equally, but I love Runaways
readers a little more equally. They are the definition of hardcore, and it's depressing to think that they won't be there to dissect every panel of my work like it's the Zapruder film, as they did with every single issue of Runaways
. I hope they'll follow me to new projects like next week's Pride of Baghdad
and the other strange creator-owned books I'm starting to dream up, but I recognize that I'll lose a lot of those readers during my transition away from "mainstream" comics, and that's okay. We'll always have the Hostel.
Even as I type this, I recognize that this is probably a huge mistake that I'll come to regret, but I always said that I wanted these characters to grow up strong enough to one day be able to run away from their creative "parents," and survive in the big bad Marvel Universe on their own. I just never thought it would happen so fast.
Thankfully, along the way, the Runaways
have taught this aging bald nerd that writers and artists also need to run away from the places where they feel safest and most comfortable, and maybe see what adventures the world has in store for them.