This week, comic shop shelves got a little heavier with the release of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ luminous hardcover edition of “Saga.” Combining the first three arcs with loads of delicious extras, this edition is a stunning reflection of the collaboration between its creators: detailed, thoughtful and mischievous.
“Saga” is now twenty-four issues in and has lived up to its name, spanning genres while inventing creatures and worlds that defy categorization. At its core, “Saga” is the story of relationships — parents and children; husbands and wives; robots and sex workers; and Lying Cats and assassins. No matter how strange the terrain is, the exhilarating and sometimes exasperating honesty of what transpires between these characters is familiar. Now, as the fourth arc comes to a close and Marko and Alana are paused in turmoil until issue #25 is released in January, fans have both the hardcover to explore as well as the next trade paperback, hitting shelves in late December.
With so many exciting developments in the series, Vaughan spent some time catching up with CBR News on everything from the curation process of the hardcover — including controversy around the breast feeding displayed on its cover — to the disappointment that may lie ahead for Marko and Alana fans waiting for reconciliation. Plus, check out an exclusive first look at the wraparound cover for “Saga” #25.
CBR News: Brian, let’s start by talking about the gorgeous hardcover book. How does it feel to have something like this? Did you and Fiona ever think you’d be holding this?
Brian K. Vaughan: No way. I’ve said this before, but I seriously thought we’d be cancelled by our sixth issue. Before we launched “Saga” a few years ago, I’d been out of comics for a while, and my previous publisher Wildstorm had just folded. It felt like the audience for creator-owned comics had started to contract or outright disappear, and a lot of my friends at other companies tried to dissuade me from launching something original in that kind of conservative marketplace, especially a story that had naked full-frontal robots instead of superheroes.
But Fiona and I obviously benefitted from the creator-owned surge that Eric Stephenson and Robert Kirkman had already helped get underway at Image Comics. I think those two recognized that a huge untapped majority of new readers out there were really hungry for truly original stories from creators who had complete control and ownership of their work, so I give them both all the credit for our book lasting long enough to have its own sweet deluxe edition.
The whole team is insanely proud of this hardcover, but if our first printing sells out, we probably won’t have time to make more until after the holidays, so if you’re cool enough to be thinking about getting this as a gift for someone you love, I’d encourage you to tell your friendly neighborhood retailer to hold onto one for you.
What was the selection process like for deciding what extras to publish?
Readers of our ongoing series know that we have a corny old-school letter column called “To Be Continued” at the end of each issue, and we wanted to do a special version of that in the back of the hardcover, one that answers just one piece of reader mail, which asked, “How do you guys make a “Saga?”‘
And while I usually tackle the letter column by myself, we turned this edition into a really cool creator roundtable with Fiona, our mysterious letterer/designer Fonografiks and our “coordinator” Eric Stephenson. So we still give you all the exclusive behind-the-scenes sketches and script pages you usually get in these kinds of deluxe hardcovers, but this version also includes dozens of pages of detailed commentary about exactly how and why we all work together the way we do.
When I was lucky enough to write for major companies like Marvel and DC, I always had an army of editors, assistant editors, interns and countless other people helping to turn my script into a finished printed book. I never dreamed that I could make comics without the benefit of that vast infrastructure … but it turns out that you can really make something that’s every bit as professional-looking as a “mainstream” comic with only a small handful of very dedicated creators. It’s a ton of work, and it’s not for everybody, but if you’re successful, you also get to keep all the profits that would normally go to funding that aforementioned vast infrastructure.
I still love the other comics companies out there that practically raised me, but with these hardcover extras, the whole “Saga” team wanted to give other creators out there who might be nervous about potentially making the leap to truly creator-owned books a step-by-step guide of how we do it almost every month, and how you can probably do it, too.
You include such great back and forth between you and Fiona as the issues develop. You mention how much you love her pencil/paper thumbnails more than anything — have you guys considered having a hand drawn issue without the digital pencils and inks?
Well, Fiona’s the boss, so I’d be happy to write any kind of issue she wants to draw … but as much as I adore her pencil thumbnails, I love her finished artwork even more. Fiona has completely convinced me that digital artwork can look every bit as warm and organic as traditional paper art, if not more so. Like anything, it’s just a tool.
You’d mentioned to me some people had concerns about the cover. Can you tell me about that? What was your response?
“Saga” is really the story of just one character, Hazel, so Fiona and I discussed having each new hardcover feature an original image of Hazel at a different stage of her life. For this first collection covering Hazel’s infancy, a breastfeeding image inspired by our very first cover seemed like a slam dunk, especially with the backdrop of Landfall and Wreath, two warring worlds that are actually as dependent on each other as Hazel is to her mother.
But Image warned us that we might get pushback from retailers and our distributors, especially because some stores out there have apparently already stopped displaying our first trade paperback because some customers complained about that comparatively tame image of Alana breastfeeding her baby. I think that’s insane, especially given how many covers out there literally feature severed human heads, but so it goes.
Anyway, Eric Stephenson was concerned that we might be limiting our audience with this kind of cover, and we had a lot of back and forth with him until he finally said, “You guys know I’m not your boss, right? You can do anything you want at Image, I just wanted you to be aware of the climate out there.” Which is one of the countless reasons why Image is the best publisher in the world.
And to Eric’s credit, as soon as he saw Fiona’s gorgeous execution of our cover idea, his response was the same as mine: “However many of these we print, it’s not gonna be enough.” Thankfully, retailers have been equally supportive, and we haven’t had a single complaint. Sounds like one national book chain is even going to feature the hardcover at the front of their stores for the holiday season, so we’re enormously grateful for everybody’s approval of horned babies and milk-engorged boobs.
Early on, you’d mentioned that a big inspiration for “Saga” was your own fatherhood. How does it feel when people react poorly to an expression of parenthood like Alana and Hazel’s moment on the cover?
Oh, I don’t take it personally. I happen to think breastfeeding is an amazing, beautiful thing, but I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want to have a cover that would make all readers have an instantaneous emotional reaction, good or bad.
I totally accept that some readers out there will see the cover and think it’s disturbing or perverted, but I don’t think those kinds of people would like “Saga” anyway, so this cover is hopefully saving them fifty bucks.
We wanted to reach out to young parents, proud feminists and other potential new readers who crave something different and who would actually respond favorably to a cover like this. Those are the kinds of people we hope will discover “Saga” with this collection.
In the 18 issues collected in the hardcover, do you have a favorite? Or some favorite moments?
My own writing mostly makes me cringe, but I never get tired of looking at Fiona’s art. Even some of the best comic artists out there only really have like five different expressions that their characters use, but Fiona has five million, and they’re always perfect. Any panel with Izabel being fifty shades of sarcastic just makes me smile.
You and Fiona were both very hands-on about every detail of this collection. What were some of the most important things to you while planning it?
To be fair, as much work as Fiona and I put into this hardcover, it was nothing compared to how much was done by our tireless letterer/designer Fonografiks. He put so much effort into making sure that this wasn’t just a beautiful package to have on your shelf, but also an oversized treatment of our art and story that readers could get in lost in for an entire weekend. He’s the greatest.
I thought we could catch up a little on the current arc that just ended. Your scripts have such a natural flow and reveal just the right amounts of information — at the start of this arc, you shared more about the war between Landfall, Wreath and the Robot Kingdom. Although you only give a brief overview, is the history behind the story in “Saga” something you have thought out all of the details on?
I have, and it’s definitely something we’ll be exploring in more detail in our very next issue. That said, I’ve always thought that war is as important to our story as it was to the movie “Casablanca.” Which is to say, it matters a lot, but not nearly as much as the lives of the ordinary people at the forefront of the story matter.
In less political news, the war between Marko and Alana wages on as of #24. When we last saw them, they were separated and each facing off against their own enemies. What are each of their priorities right now? And was this separation something you’d planned, or did the characters naturally come to this point as the story developed?
Marko and Alana’s separation is something I’d been planning from the very beginning, and I’ll just say that anyone hoping it will be resolved quickly or easily is in for a lot more heartbreak with this next arc.
The tension between them feels so real. Is there anything from your personal relationships working itself out on the pages?
Are you asking if my wife and I are separated now? Because I’m happy to report that she has not left me yet. But yeah, everything in “Saga” is somehow inspired by some aspect of my own personal experiences, even if it’s been highly fictionalized in the translation.
Some people thought that Alana joining the costumed “Open Circuit” was my commentary on superhero comics, but I love those books, and don’t really have much to say about them. For me, the Open Circuit was more about processing my own difficulties trying to balance a career in television while also being a new father.
I think Fiona and I are both usually pretty sympathetic to Alana and her challenges trying to provide for her family, so we were surprised that a lot of readers seemed so critical of her last arc, while seemingly giving Marko a pass for some of his less noble actions. It’ll be interesting to see if those perspectives shift at all with this next storyline.
As a reader I see Baby Hazel on the page and I’m reading Narrator Hazel from some point in the future — I feel like I know Narrator Hazel but I actually don’t, she’s a mystery. What are some of the challenges of writing a viewpoint character that your readers haven’t truly met yet?
No challenges, only joy. Fiona and I know exactly what Narrator Hazel looks like, and I know exactly how old she is and exactly what she’s experienced by the time she’s telling this tale.
I think some people worried that having Hazel narrate the story from some point in the future would take away a lot of the drama, since we at least know that she’s going to survive… but by only selectively revealing what she wants to share when she wants to share it, I hope Hazel has proven that she knows how to spin a pretty gripping yarn.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming arc?
New characters designed by Fiona, strange new worlds, and Lying Cat and friends embarking on an epic quest for dragon sperm.
What more could you ask for from a twenty-fifth issue, other than no gimmicky variants, and a badass wraparound cover from Fiona Staples at no extra cost? See you in February!
“Saga” Volume One Hardcover is available now. “Saga” #25 hits stores