It’s not hyperbole to say Brian K. Vaughan is crushing it. The Eisner Award-winning writer has one of the hottest comics of the past decade in “Saga,” a space opera he co-created at with Fiona Staples, and “The Private Eye” — his DRM-Free, pay what you want sci-fi series illustrated by co-creator Marcos Martin — is revolutionizing what’s possible in digital comics.
If that’s enough to keep him busy, the husband and father of two also serves as showrunner and executive producer of “Under the Dome,” the CBS television series that was inspired by the Stephen King novel of the same name. Delivering solid ratings throughout its 13-episode first season in 2013, “Under the Dome” actually launched as the highest-rated summer premiere for a drama on any network since 1992.
With the third arc of “Saga” coming to a close next week, “The Private Eye” reaching its halfway point and Vertigo Comics — home to his and Pia Guerra’s groundbreaking “Y: The Last Man” — releasing Vaughan’s first arc on “Swamp Thing” from 2000 for the first time as a trade paperback, CBR News connected with the superstar writer to discuss all of his ongoing projects, look back on some of his earlier works and dig into some long-rumored movie deals too.
Vaughan also shared details about the next arc of “Saga,” including when it will start, teased not one but two upcoming series set to debut on Panel Syndicate and revealed that not only is Stephen King writing the second season premiere of “Under the Dome,” but also swears better than any writer that he has ever met.
CBR News: A new issue of “Saga” is there, every month, from Image Comics and then when you and Fiona take a break to give yourselves a breather (and keep the creative team consistent) you release a collected trade so the three people not reading it can catch up for the next arc. Obviously the writing is top floor and the art is awesome, but how much do you attribute the success of “Saga” to its schedule and delivery?
Brian K. Vaughan: Fiona and l were a little worried how readers and retailers would react to us taking a “hiatus” every six issues, but I’m so grateful that everyone’s been supportive. I think this schedule has been a huge part of the reason that “Saga” is selling significantly more at #18 than it was with #1. Image is cool enough to put out extremely reasonably priced collections almost immediately after an arc ends, and a lot of those trade readers are apparently then switching to reading us in regular issues as soon as we return monthly. Obviously, it’s a model that’s worked well in other media. I was stupidly slow to join the “Breaking Bad” train, so I watched the first three seasons on DVD, but when the fourth season started, there was no way I wasn’t watching each episode live as it aired.
Despite the wild cast of characters, intergalactic settings and other space oddities, “Saga” is basically a love story. From the Bible, William Shakespeare and the Four Aces, we know that love is a many-splendored thing. Would “Saga” work without love as its central truth? I don’t think it’s at the core of other space operas like “Star Wars” or “Flash Gordon.”
Love is definitely important, but I don’t know if it’s “Saga’s” “central truth.” Most love stories end with a couple being formed or getting engaged or announcing a pregnancy, but “Saga” takes place after all that fun stuff has already happened, during a challenging time that’s often filled with conflict and chaos and refinanced mortgages. But yes, also love.
The apparent death of Oswald in the closing panels of “Saga” #17 has yet to entirely sink in but it’s the loss of The Will in #16 that really cuts deep. I truly enjoyed his arc as a character and he was someone I spent a lot of time thinking about between issues. As a creator, does it hurt to kill your creations? Or is death and dying the lifeblood of good storytelling, specifically science fiction as a genre?
Well, I’ll say that at least one of those characters is most definitely dead, but we’ll have to see about the others. Either way, I promise there will be zero resurrections in “Saga.” If a character dies once, he or she is dead for good. Except for our already-dead babysitter Izabel, I guess, but not even ghosts get to exist forever…
As for death and dying in storytelling, I hate to lose any character, especially one that Fiona has painstakingly designed, but death is one of the few parts of existence that we’re all going to intimately experience sooner or later, so it seems childish not to have it as an important part of any lengthy story, especially one about life during wartime.
While I have little doubt “Saga” was well-plotted and outlined from the outset in terms of storylines and character development, have there been any surprises along the way like a character moving in a different direction or a plot point being added or subtracted?
Absolutely, almost always thanks to Fiona’s input. For example, our family is still on pretty much the same course I plotted for them at the beginning, but there will be at least one important addition to the main cast coming next arc that never would have happened without Fiona. She’s the all-time greatest.
I don’t want to spoil “Saga” #18 because I am so looking forward to it as a reader but can you tease what lies ahead for Alana and Marko in the issue and beyond it into the next arc?
I don’t want to say anything about #18 yet, but the six issues after it are going to be very, very different from anything that’s come before. It’s a story about money, among other subjects that terrify new parents.
It hasn’t been solicited yet but will we see “Saga” #19 in March?
Actually, like our last break between #12 and #13, we’re going to skip three months between arcs, with our next trade coming out in March. Sorry. I know it’s a drag, but I promise that this schedule makes for a better story. More importantly, it means Fiona can continue to draw and color every panel, page and cover of the series.
“Saga” just wouldn’t be “Saga” without her, so we both greatly appreciate everyone’s patience. We’re already hard at work on #19, and it’s a doozy. You’re either going to think it was totally worth the wait or cancel your pull-list subscription on impact.
Do you have an end date or final issue in mind for “Saga”? And do you know how it ends, because with “Ex Machina,” you gave us the ending on the opening page of the first issue?
I know exactly how the story ends, down to the last page, but I don’t know exactly how long it will take to get there. It’s a long one, that’s for sure.
Your friend Robert Kirkman has enjoyed incredible success by transitioning “Walking Dead” into a TV series. Would you like to see “Saga” as a TV series or a movie? And why do you think it would or wouldn’t work?
Fiona and I get option offers all the time, but I don’t think the technology or financial model exists yet to realistically make “Saga” work as either a television series or a feature. I’m certainly open to being proven wrong though, especially if Paul Thomas Anderson is looking to adapt a pervy space fantasy for his next project. For now, I like comics way more than film and TV, so I’m happy for “Saga” to remain nothing but a lowly funny book.
Your other current comic book project is “The Private Eye” with artist Marcos Martin, which you are self-publishing DRM-free online at a PWYW (Pay What You Want) price point. Not sure that you can get into specifics about how the project is working for you and Marcos financially but as a business model for art and other creative commodities, do you think it works?
I don’t know if it could work as a business model for everyone, but Panel Syndicate has definitely worked for us. Marcos just wrote to tell me that we recently celebrated our 300th consecutive day of sales, even though readers always have the option of paying nothing. So thanks. And the last three weeks have seen our highest number of downloads since the launch of “The Private Eye” #1. We seem to be picking up momentum now that readers realize that Marcos and I really do intend to finish all 10 issues of this digital series, and that we have absolutely no plans to release a physical version of this story.
I love brick-and-mortar retailers and I’ll always make print comics, but Marcos and I wanted to experiment with a model that allows people to maintain total artistic and financial control of their work, with zero barriers between creators and their audience. I appreciate the convenience and vast selection of online retailers like Amazon, Apple and comiXology, but I’m also excited for more artist-owned sites like Panel Syndicate that will allow readers to give 100 per cent of whatever they decide to pay directly to creators, instead of just a fraction.
Again, I don’t know if it will work for others, but we should find out later this year, when Panel Syndicate starts running at least one other creator’s new original series, which will also be DRM-free and Pay What You Want. Stay tuned, Internet users.
I love the story you are telling with the character readers know as Patrick Immelman. In the first issue, you referenced movies like “The Maltese Falcon” and “Angel Face” with posters on the walls of his office. What similarities does “Patrick” have to classic private investigators like Sam Spade and killer leading men like Robert Mitchum? And what makes him a new type of hero for 2076?
Thank you. Our P.I. may be a biracial, bisexual, magnetic-mask-wearing member of a group of futuristic unlicensed investigators, but he’s never used Google, which probably gives him more in common with old-school gumshoes like Sam Spade than most 21st century detectives.
By literally masking the entire populace of the characters inhabiting “The Private Eye,” you are portraying a world that is physically light years away from how we currently live. With the cloud bursting and everyone’s secrets revealed, you’ve killed the internet and all of its Al Gore-infused might. Do you feel as a society we are sharing too much of ourselves online both physically and emotionally because it has not gone unnoticed that you yourself have a very low profile online?
Definitely. Privacy has power and concrete value, especially for professional writers.
You mentioned that you fully intend to release 10 issues of “The Private Eye.” Will there be a second volume somewhere down the line or will this story end in 2014?
Yeah, we’re still on track for 10 extra-sized issues total. I’m as proud of this story as anything I’ve ever worked on, especially because of the ground that Marcos and Muntsa Vicente are breaking with the artwork, so I hope people will sample a download, even if they think they hate digital comics.
And no plans for a second volume, though Marcos and I are already talking about what new idea to collaborate on next for Panel Syndicate.
From the new to the old, Vertigo Comics has just released your first arc on “Swamp Thing” for the first time ever as a collected trade paperback. After more than a decade are you happy to see your stories finally being released?
So happy. Very cool of Vertigo to resurrect those stories almost 15 years later. I’m sure they’ll pale in comparison to what Charles Soule and collaborators doing now, but it was an honor to get to work on that title for my first ongoing series. I never like it when my name is larger on the cover than the more-deserving artists, but other than that, it looks like a beautiful collection.
Do you look back fondly at your run on the series?
Definitely. I think I was 23 when I was hired to write a book that had already changed my life once, back when I first read Alan Moore’s issues. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I got to work with unbelievable artists and I wrote every issue like I’d probably never be allowed to write again, which seemed increasingly likely with each month’s sales.
Are you a different writer now than you were then?
I’m not sure, since I haven’t been brave enough to reread those issues yet. But young me worked his ass off on those stories so old me hopes they find good homes.
What did you enjoy most about Tefe Holland as a character?
She was allowed to be a complex, amoral, often unlikable female protagonist. Very rare.
It’s been some time since you’ve written an existing character for DC Comics or Marvel. Is that something you are eager to do again? And if so, who are you eager to write?
No, I hope to spend the rest of my comics career just making new things.
Thoroughly enjoyed “Under the Dome” last summer, for which you served as executive producer. I’m not sure that you were expecting a second season but it proved to be a great success for CBS. Can you give us a tease of where Season 2 opens and what we can expect next summer?
Yeah, showrunner Neal Baer and I always hoped the show would last multiple seasons, potentially going far beyond the timeline of Stephen King’s novel, which covered just a couple weeks of life under the dome. Even though we’re telling a different story from the novel, all of the writers on the show are enormous fans of the book and obviously want to remain true to its “spirit.” I realize people who adapt stuff always say that, but we mean it, which is one of the many reasons why Mr. King himself will be joining us to write the first episode this season. I can’t say much yet about what we have planned for this summer, but “bigger and better” would be an understatement.
That’s amazing that Stephen King is writing the first episode for Season 2. Has he played a role beyond that episode in planning the next season?
I’m happy to brag that he calls us often, and it’s never not exactly as cool as you’d hope it would be. Stephen King possesses the most powerful imagination in North America, maybe the world. And he swears better than any writer I’ve ever met.
Why do you think people responded to the story so well?
I realize the show wasn’t always a critical darling, but it’s lucky enough to have a massive international audience of very dedicated viewers, and everyone behind the scenes sees that as an awesome responsibility. We have a phenomenal cast and crew, but most of the credit for whatever success we’ve enjoyed belongs to the architect of Chester’s Mill, Stephen King. When our show has worked best it’s usually been because we managed to capture some small amount of his alchemy, which involves putting real, relatable characters into unimaginably terrifying situations. And then murdering them.
With the second season going ahead, did you have to pass on anything else?
No, I signed a two-year contract with CBS, and I anticipated this second season. I’ve been dreaming up some new projects, but I mostly used the hiatus to get ahead on “Saga” and “The Private Eye” before the show becomes an around-the-clock job again.
Can you provide any updates about your various film projects, either the adaptations of “Y: The Last Man” and “Runaways” or your original spec scripts “Roundtable” and “The Vault?”
It’s my understanding that the rights to “Y: The Last Man” will revert back to co-creator Pia Guerra and me for the first time in a decade if the planned New Line adaptation doesn’t start shooting in the next few months, so I expect there will be some “Y” news in 2014 either way.
And I presume a “Runaways” movie is dead at this point, but I haven’t talked to anyone from Marvel in a long time, so I’m not sure. I thought “Roundtable” and “The Vault” were both dead, too, but I just heard rumblings about each recently. I guess you never know.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Brian K. Vaughan’s many projects.