Robotic princes pooping placidly, mercenary cats that are also lie detectors, swearing ghosts, spider breasts, and extraterrestrial lovers who are quite literally star-crossed — you will find all this (and more) in author Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples' comic book space opera Saga. Here's what Vaughan (Runaways, Lost) and Staples (North 40) recently told io9 about this ripping read.
Since debuting a few months back, Saga has quickly become one of our favorite new comics. Even though this series is filthy with magic, cybernetics, and galactic political intrigue, it's a family drama at its pith.
The comic follows Alana and Marko, an alien couple who find love during wartime. The problem is, they're on opposite sides of an interplanetary war and must defect with their infant daughter Hazel in tow. The new parents are on soon the lam from such malefactors as Prince Robot IV and an enigmatic soldier of fortune known as The Will, and much hilarity and horror ensues. Here's the exclusive scoop from the book's creators.
NOTE: Spoilers for last month's issue of Saga ahead.
Brian, Saga is science fiction, but it's a far cry from the semi-grounded science fiction of your other comics like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. Where did the idea to do an "everything and the kitchen sink" space opera come from?
Brian K. Vaughan: I'm a relatively new father, and I was eager to write about parenthood, which is dramatic, terrifying and hilarious when viewed from within, but boring, annoying and Facebook-y when viewed from without.
Still, I thought that by setting our new parents' story during a fantastic galactic war, we could maybe simulate the thrilling highs and lows of creation, whether that's making babies or works of art or whatever.
And Fiona, your artwork is absolutely fantastic. Is each issue an opportunity to let loose with any idea that's been creatively percolating in your head? (For example, dragon trains!)
Fiona Staples: Thank you so much! As tempting as it is, I try to keep myself from going nuts and just scribbling out whatever I think is fun or rad. I focus on sticking to Brian's script, which is fun and rad enough already. The dragon train was his brainchild! I do end up putting my own spin on how everything looks, since the script doesn't go into all that much detail, but I try not to be too self-indulgent unless it happens to work with the story. I'm always conscious that I have a job to do and can't just turn the book into True Blood fan art.
Alana and Marko's newborn daughter Hazel is narrating the series from the future. Brian, why did you set up the narrative in this fashion, and what are the challenges of this structure?
Brian K. Vaughan: Hazel is really the star of the book, so I wanted to give her a "voice" in the story long before her character has an actual one.
I've been reading a lot of children's picture books, and my kids really respond to the stories where the text kind of organically interacts with the visuals, which is a big reason that Fiona letters Hazel's narration directly to the artwork herself. I don't think I've ever written a comic with narration, so there are challenges, but also opportunities.
Now that I think about it, I suppose I'm probably fumbling to rip off To Kill a Mockingbird, which has the best narrator in the history of literature. I always loved the way that a grown-up Scout, narrating from that story's "future," could comment on her past with both the wisdom of age and also the immediacy of her own childhood. Goddamn, that's a great book.
The series seems to be eschewing panels for larger, sweeping layouts. Could you elaborate on the general design process for each issue, Fiona?
Fiona Staples: I like to use page-wide panels as establishing shots, and we make use of them pretty often because we're constantly introducing weird new scenery. Also, whenever there's more than one person in a scene it's easier to put them in a horizontal panel. That's my main design consideration — "What shape of box do these things fit into?" I figure out how best to arrange the figures and other elements to convey the action, then decide what shape the panel needs to be, then smush the panels around until they fit on the page. My process is to scribble "pre-thumbnails" in the margins of the script as I read through it, then do actual thumbnails which I send to Brian for review. I relish this stage because I do the thumbnails on paper, which means I can leave the house.
Also, please elaborate on your design for the pleasure planet Sextillion (not-safe-for-work zaniness here). That's been one of the series' gonzo high points thus far.
Fiona Staples: Sextillion was a spot where the script was pretty open. Brian described the surface of the planet as empty and shiny like a ball-bearing, and the underground would be kind of like Amsterdam's Red Light District. I've been to the Red Light District and from what I can remember it was pretty cool, so I went for a candy-coloured version of that. I populated the area with goofy, silly sex things — furries, costumes, feeders — to shock readers slightly but also make them giggle. Because of course, the real shock comes a few pages later, when we meet Slave Girl. I wanted Sextillion to be as ridiculous as possible to make her reveal a big splash of cold water.
One of the series' standout characters is The Will, the morally conflicted "Freelancer." What's in store for him? Will we delve further into the weirdness of Freelancer society?
Brian K. Vaughan: We will definitely be seeing much more of The Will and his Lying Cat, though maybe not in the way you might expect. And yeah, our bounty hunters' union, inspired a little bit by the Writers Guild of America, has a very important role to play in our weird universe.
And Fiona, your character design for The Stalk was equally great, bummed she kicked the bucket. How did you go about making this horrific spider-mercenary-monster also a sexy vamp?
Fiona Staples: I'm equally bummed! Eight eyes and eight hands means four times the opportunity for expressiveness (if my math is right) so I tried to take advantage of that. I loved how she could use different pairs of hands to multitask — chat on the phone and shoot giant pigs, surrender and at the same time try to pull a gun. As for making her a vamp, it's pretty easy to draw a woman to look sexual. Big lips, big hair and topless are some obvious, bordering on lazy, markers for sexuality! And let's not forget her sassy attitude. Personality counts.
Brian, your series tend to wrap with sixty issues. How far is Saga planned to go for, and where are you in the scripting process?
Brian K. Vaughan: Well, the book is called Saga, which would be a lousy title for a miniseries. If readers stick around to support us, I'm hoping the book lasts longer than Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina combined. I've already written the last page of the last issue, but I hope we won't reach that endpoint for many years to come.
Getting to see new pages from Fiona Staples each week has been the highlight of my career, so I'd love to do this series with her for a very long time, at least until she inevitably collapses from exhaustion at her futuristic art-tablet thing.
Fiona, can you tease us with any particularly zany visuals you've illustrated for upcoming issues?
Fiona Staples: Brian wrote a new creature into issue #7, and when I read the description, I realized that Sextillion was just a test. Now that he knows I have no standards of decency and will draw literally anything to keep a job, readers are going to see some terrible, terrible things.
And what's your favorite thing to illustrate for Saga?
Fiona Staples: New landscapes are always exciting, and I love it when Special Agent Gale drops in. He's that Landfall guy who appeared in #1 to boss around Prince Robot. I don't exactly know why, but I really enjoy drawing his arrogant, jerkoff face. Someday I'd like to draw a spinoff series about Gale going about his day, being super mean to people.
And finally, can Marvel just make the damn Runaways movie?
Brian K. Vaughan: Oh, thanks for asking, but I'm afraid I don't know anything, though I certainly wish them the best. Right now, my primary concern is making new things.
Saga #6 hits stands this Wednesday, August 15. The first issue of Saga will be available free on Comixology later this month.