This week marks the release of perhaps the most highly anticipated comic book series of the year. Living legend comic book scribe, Brian K. Vaughan has returned to comics and has teamed up with the amazing Fiona Staples to create Saga - an Image Comics ongoing series. I had a chance to sit down with them during Image Comics Expo in Oakland, CA and briefly discuss their careers and expectations for the book.
JH: It’s nice to see you both.
BKV: Nice to see you.
FS: Same to you.
JH: So my question is about expectations. What was your expectations when you both were trying to break into comics and now that you are where you’re at, what are your expectations, if you have any, for Saga?
FS: When I was first trying to break in. I would have been in art college and would have been working in a comic store. I idolized Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith, and David Mack; a bunch of experimental painterly artists, so I guess I wanted to emulate that and make really artsy comics/indie books. I did not expect to ever make much money doing it; I had never expected to draw a superhero, so yeah with in my first year of doing it my expectations had to shift dramatically because I was drawing superheroes.
JH: Did anyone tell you or did you just figure out what the workload was going to be like? It must have been pretty grueling.
FS: Yeah. I found out when I just jumped in and did my first comic which was a five issue miniseries that I was drawing and coloring myself. So yeah, I learned pretty quickly. I was really fast back then because I was really sloppy and had low standards. I drew twelve pages in a day once. [laughter]
FS: I could never do that now.
BKV: Never say never. We might need a twelve page day.
FS: So, in another way my expectations changed as I expected more from myself and raised the bar when it came to the quality of my work.
JH: As far as Saga, do you feel your expectations have changed even more in regards to your heightened profile?
FS: Yeah. I feel a lot more pressure doing this book whether it’s all, you know, internal.
FS: It’s not really pressure from outside, is what I mean. I want this to be the best thing I’ve ever done. Definitely.
JH: As for you, Brian?
BKV: So expectations breaking in? I guess I didn’t expect how hard it was gonna be to break in. At first I got lucky when I was at NYU and I was just in the right place/right time when I met this editor who said they were looking to train new writers and I thought, “This is it! I’m into comics.” I then wrote my first thing for Marvel but I remember just because you get your foot into the door doesn’t mean you get to be in the business. I remember I had already written a couple things for Marvel and was having trouble getting work so I applied for Marvel’s free internship and I got rejected. I thought, “But I’ve WRITTEN books for you and I’m not even fit to intern. This is gonna be f—ing hard, WAY harder then I ever thought it would be.” So now people say, “Oh you’re an overnight success with Y: The Last Man.” But the truth is it was a really long hard time to get to be doing what I wanted to be doing.
JH: To get Y: The Last Man at Vertigo, did you already have an in or did you have to pitch it?
BKV: Oh no, yeah, I had to pitch it. At the time, I really loved Alan Moore as he’s my favorite writer and wanted to do something new, so Vertigo was a dream. But I realized having a couple Marvel books under your belt almost hurt me more then it helped me as it pegged me as just another superhero writer. I sort of had to get the stink of superhero of me to write Swamp Thing at Vertigo which I did for awhile. I ended up tanking that franchise and totally got it canceled. Then I thought, “This is it. I’ve worked so hard to be where I wanted to be and I’ve screwed it up.” I’m very grateful to Vertigo that they thought I would be better off doing my own thing and asked what else I had. That’s when Y happened. That’s when I felt that I had finally made it, but it took a very long time.
JH: You ended up stepping away a bit to do some television work which everyone knows about. I think everyone knew you were coming back, we just didn’t know when. What changed to pursue Saga? Was it an epiphany or a more gradual thing?
BKV: From the second Ex Machina ended, I knew I needed more comic books in my life. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, but I knew I wanted it to be better then anything I had written before. I didn’t just want to do comics for the sake of doing it. I guess the big thing is is that I had kids, so I sort of took time away to just make babies instead of comics.
BKV: So when it came time to think about what I wanted to write about, I realized I wanted to write about kids. Saga felt like the perfect delivery device for that.
JH: What is your expectation now for the book knowing your profile in comics?
BKV: [laughs] I don’t know.
JH: Do you have any expectations?
BKV: Well, no. I try not to think about the audience. I write for only two people: My artist and myself. If we’re happy with it then I feel like it’s good. It shouldn’t be a practicality of how to trick other people out there to support this. I’ve said with this book from the breastfeeding cover and the swearing on the first page, I sort of always want to be like, “This book might not be for you.” And that’s okay.
BKV: I think the cool thing about comics is that you can afford to have a successful comic with a relatively small amount of people. That’s cool. In film and television it’s about reaching the largest amount of people possible and you really have to care what the audience is gonna think. In comics you don’t really have to think about an audience. You can just do something for yourself and you could probably find enough people to share your weird interests.
JH: Absolutely. That’s what I personally love about comic books. I have several friends working in tv and film as writers and the hoops they have to jump through to get a script into production is much harder. With a comic script it’s very insular: you find an artist, you cultivate that project, and you make it the best you can. I like that you’re not writing for the audience.
BKV: That’s right. No pandering.
JH: Do you know how many issues and story arcs you have planned for the series?
BKV: I just know that if this is successful and if Fiona is up for it, I would like this to be longer than Y or Ex Machina.
JH: That’s awesome.
BKV: Cool. Yeah, so many guys jump back in and do a miniseries. I thought about what I’d like to see from Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, and I always think how cool it would be if those guys did an ongoing series again. So I feel like I’m a withered old man–
BKV: But maybe if I could find someone who still has some energy and tell them that I can climb this mountain one more time and maybe do another ongoing epic.
JH: Were you shopping the idea around to different publishers?
BKV: No. It was first find an artist and with that artist find the right home for it.
JH: A mutual friend of ours, Steve Niles, told me the story of how you guys linked up. I was telling him how excited I was for Saga and he told me, “Yeah, I hooked that up.”
BKV: YEAH. It was definitely Steve.
FS: He’s wonderful.
BKV: He’s the best.
JH: Did you see Mystery Society as the first sample of her work?
BKV: Yeah, I think I had seen that. Fortunately, I had seen some of her Wildstorm stuff she did like a random Fringe back up, I think.
FS: Oh really?
BKV: I always go through my DC comp box and other comics and try to collect interesting artists. Fiona’s stuff jumped out at me. When I first thought about Saga, she wasn’t, I have to admit, the first one in mind. It wasn’t until I talked with Steve, he said, “Hey dummy. Take a look at how she can draw absolutely anything.” When I started to hunt down more of her stuff, he was right. There’s no question and if she’d be up for it this was going to be awesome.
JH: The fact that it’s focusing on family, do you feel as a female artist, do any your sensibilities as a woman get factored in when drawing these characters?
JH: What I mean to say is that the lead female character appears to be a very strong independent and strong woman.
FS: Yeah. I think it’s good to have stories told through a female perspective. However this book isn’t about one hero, it’s about a couple – Marko and Alana and their baby. So, I feel like we get multiple viewpoints to see the universe through. I guess by the time I get to add my perspective to it, pieces of my world view start to come out through my art.
JH: I think it’s really cool that your own lives influence this work and you’re not just thinking big concepts for the sake of being flashy. I want to thank you guys for taking the time for this brief chat.
BKV: Thank you.
FS: Thanks, you too.
Saga #1 has currently sold out but has gone back to press. A second printing will hit shelves the same day as #2 is released on April 11th.