How Y: The Last Man Made Me Fall in Love with the Craft of Writing

I’ve been a comics reader my entire life. Ever since I was very little, there were comics in my house…which is a bit strange, because neither of my parents read comics and my older brother had no interest, either. I think that early collection came from garage sales—my mom and a neighbor frequented them often, and I’m pretty certain they’d snag cheap, beaten-up issues to give to the kids on my block. My earliest issues—mainly Detective Comics—were all published well before I was born. Although I do remember the first comic I ever bought of a spinner rack: It was a Web of Spider-Man with Hobgoblin on the cover. I was maybe seven years old at the time.

Anyway, comics have always played a vital role of my life—I mean, it’s why I write them (in addition to novels). But there was a time when, I admit, my love affair with comic books was on the wane. There’s are a lot of contributing factors as to why. I was in college, so I was broke; and, at the same time, I was being forcefully shoved into pursuing more “serious” literary pursuits (thanks, perfessors!). But also… I was fatigued. I’d been reading comics my entire life, from Marvel to DC to Image to Malibu and back again; I’d read a lot of comics. Had I read it all? Hardly. Had I read enough? It felt like it, at the time.

But then I was on vacation in New York, and I was roaming around Forbidden Planet by Union Square, and I was telling the (very helpful) clerk about my condition: I had comics fatigue. And the clerk, he walked down an aisle, grabbed a trade paperback, and placed it in my hands:

Y: The Last Man, Volume 1.

And it changed everything.

Never had I encountered a comic like this before. And, yes, I know there were plenty of non-superhero/indie/Vertigo/etc. comics that predate Y: The Last Man. But before anyone jumps down my throat about it, know that (1) I didn’t have access to a great comic shop growing up; (2) I’m not an encyclopedia; (3) this was before we had good internet. So chill.

Getting back to my story—Y: The Last Man was like nothing else. At least to me. There were no mutants, no super scientists, no crimefighters. It was just this killer hook—what if one person really did end up being the last man on earth?—that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. This book changed my life. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the comics medium; possibilities I’d never even explored before. Because what if you could tell stories that didn’t involve superheroes? What if you could tell stories that shared more in common with some of my favorite authors—Vonnegut, Asimov, Bradbury, PKD, Le Guin—than the evergreen Big Two titles that, admittedly, I’d grown bored of?

Up until Y: The Last Man, I never even paid attention to creative teams. No, seriously: I was aware of the superstars in the field—my dad took me to the comic conventions that rolled into town, so I’d met Mark Bagley, Todd McFarlane—I even have an autographed Ren and Stimpy comic, signed by the series writer, Mr. Spider-Man himself, Dan Slott. But I was never terribly interested in studying who made the comics; I just wanted to read them over and over and over (I mean, I was a kid half the time I was indulging in these books). But that all changed with Y. Suddenly, the names Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra were tattooed on my brain. Suddenly, I was struck with the knowledge that people wrote comic books. Therefore, maybe I can write comic books.

I was off and running from that point on, and I never looked back. I started writing short comics, then I practiced writing a bit longer, and a bit longer, until I wrote my first graphic novel. And that graphic novel landed me an opportunity to write a backup in my friend Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash series at Image. And the backup—Hoax Hunters—became its own series at Image, which led to more comics writing, and so on. I was, and am, a comic book writer.

Also, as a quick aside, I conveyed this story once to Brian K. himself at New York Comic Con, years ago. And I can’t share what he said, but it was some of the best advice I’d ever received in my life. I’ll remember it always—if you’re reading this, Brian, you’ve shaped my life more than once, through your work and your words, and I thank you.

But, to me, Y: The Last Man is even more meaningful, beyond the fact that it put me on the path to better appreciate comics and to start writing them. If you don’t know, Y is one of the greatest comics ever made; I’d even argue that it’s one of the best stories ever told. I’ve learned so much from that series, and I continue to learn from it to this day. When I was writing both my current novel series (Black Star Renegades and its sequel, We Are Mayhem) as well as my current, ongoing comic series (Wasted Space), I went back to Y, just as a refresher to observe how such a great story is crafted. I’m a firm believer that writing is a lot like math—there’s a formula to it, and it doesn’t have a thing to do with inspiration or what word processor you use or anything else. It’s about crafting the best story onto the structure we all implicitly know. And Y: The Last Man, for my money, does this as well as any story out there. It’s a magical book, an important book, and one that has meant the world to me.

Michael Moreci is a comics author and novelist. His current comic series, Wasted Space, has been hailed as one of the best comics of 2018; it comes on the heels of Moreci’s other hit sci-fi series, Roche Limit, which Paste Magazine dubbed “one of the 50 best sci-fi comics of all-time.” Moreci has also written canonical comics for Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Archie, and Planet of the Apes. Other original titles include Curse, Burning Fields, Hoax Hunters, and the forthcoming Archangel 8. His debut novel, Black Star Renegades—a space adventure in the spirit of Star Wars—was released in 2018 and nominated for an Audie Award. Its sequel, We Are Mayhem, was released in April 2019.

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