COMMENTARY TRACK: Brian K. Vaughan Plots His "Saga"

Brian K. Vaughan plans to top himself with "Saga," his latest creator-owned comic from Image Comics. The writer not only has designs on making the series span the cosmos, but also plans to write more issues of this comic than his previous long-form original efforts like "Ex Machina" and "Y: The Last Man." Also, unlike those other books, he plans on telling the entire epic "Saga" with one artist, his partner and co-creator, Fiona Staples.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows the adventures of Marko and Alana, lovers from opposite sides of a space war who just had a baby named Hazel who happens to narrate the story. With the sixth issue of the acclaimed series out this week, Vaughan and Staples have already tackled everything from an on-page birth, disemboweled ghost children, a guild of assassins, a cat who can tell if you're lying, a TV-headed robot monarchy and plenty of other wild ideas.

The series will take a brief hiatus after the sixth issue which will give new readers time to pick up the trade when it goes on sale October 10, but fear not -- the duo will reunite in November for more "Saga." CBR News spoke with Vaughan about the series thus far, its roots in his childhood imagination, and his honest representation of parenthood.

CBR News: Many of the parent-child moments feel very real, from Izabel telling Alana it's okay to really whack a baby when burping to the birth scene. How much of that comes from your personal experience as a dad?

Brian K. Vaughan: Thank you! There are definitely moments inspired by my own experiences as a new dad, but I also recognize that nothing is more punishingly boring than listening to anecdotes about other people's children, so I try to hide any moments of reality behind multiple layers of crazy make-em-ups and Fiona Staples goodness.

There was some flak online because of the birth being shown in the book and Alana breastfeeding on the cover, did that come as a surprise? While those elements are utilitarian in the story, they also seem like they had some commentary behind them, is that the case?

Oh, I think any controversy was largely false outrage, like most internet kerfuffles. The vast majority of readers have been really supportive of how we've portrayed motherhood so far. I wouldn't say there's any "commentary" behind showing breastfeeding, I just think it's true to life, dramatic, and more interesting than seeing another graphic decapitation or whatever (though I like a nice beheading, too). 

Some books like this will frontload all kinds of information in the first issue, but you kicked off with a more in medias res approach, starting literally at the beginning for the narrator. Was that always the intent from the beginning?

Yeah, definitely. Marko and Alana happen to be the stars of the story at this point, but "Saga" is really about Hazel, so it made sense to start her story at its beginning.

In our first interview you said you'd buy back the first issue if people didn't like it, but did you actually have any takers?

No, I'm thrilled to say! And I'll extend that same offer to each and every issue of our entire run. If you ever hate a chapter of "Saga" for any reason, just send it to my P.O. box in the back of the book, and I'll refund your three bucks. Marvel, DC and Dark Horse are putting out so many great books right now, I really appreciate that people are also taking a chance on cool new books from places like Image, and I want those readers to pick up our book with confidence.

Also, I'm just going to resell any returned issues on eBay, and use the profits to buy more gin.

"Y: The Last Man" and "Ex Machina" both ended at milestone issues, do you have a specific number of issues in mind for "Saga" or is it more open ended at this point?

I've already gone ahead and written the final page of the final issue, but I hope we won't reach that endpoint for many years to come. If readers continue to support us, and if Fiona doesn't get too sick of me, I hope this will be the longest series I've ever had the privilege of writing.

As far as plotting out a long form story like this, how do you keep track of everything? Notecards, wipe board, scrawling on the walls? Do you use the same method you used for "Y" and "Ex?"

No, I've been thinking about this universe since I was a little kid, so it's all in my head. I have difficulty remembering my immediate family members' birthdays, but sadly, I know the exchange rate for all of my fake planets' imaginary currencies. I should be shunned.

With five issues released and the trade solicited, has the book met your expectations sales-wise?

No, sales have far exceeded my expectations, thankfully.  This is an original fantasy book with no superheroes, two non-white leads and an opening chapter featuring graphic robot sex. I thought we might be cancelled by our third issue. But comics retailers are amazing, and really went to the mattresses for us. And digital has been a whole new world of awesome. "Saga" is sometimes the bestselling book on Comixology the week it comes out, which is nuts. I'm so grateful to everyone who's taken a chance on the book.

How many of the customs and ideas of the various races did you have figured out going in? Some writers will know it all ahead of time while others will throw things in that they have to figure out down the line, what side do you fall on?

I guess I have a lot of things figured out in an abstract, writerly way, but I have absolutely zero artistic talent, so I rely heavily on my co-creator's skill and imagination to make all of these crazy ideas feel tangible and real. 

On a similar note, magic is one of those things that works best when it has rules. We've seen a few like needing a secret to make a spell, how many more rules do you have mapped out?

Lots!  I love rules, especially when it comes to magic. In "Runaways," Nico could never cast the same spell twice, which really helped put a dramatic regulator on her powers. Similarly, as we'll learn in "Saga," everything has a cost.

Was the handwritten-like, non-boxed narration a part of the idea from the beginning?

Yep. I haven't written too much narration in past comics, in part because of how clunky and inorganic those text boxes can sometimes feel when plastered over nice artwork. But I've been reading a lot of children's books recently, and I love when authors will playfully integrate their text with the images. Also, I enjoy stealing devices from innocent children's literature to use in filthy comics for adult weirdos.  

The Will and his Lying Cat -- what can you tell us about their genesis?

I have no idea where they came from, but I've fallen deeply in love with them ever since I saw Fiona's first interpretation of the duo. We will be seeing much more of them.

Any story set in space is going to draw comparisons to "Star Wars" for better or worse, how do you handle that as a writer from a creative perspective?

Oh, I love "Star Wars," and welcome any comparisons, even though I think we're completely different stories for completely different audiences. I was probably as influenced by "Star Wars" as George Lucas was by old "Flash Gordon" serials -- which is to say, a lot, but not nearly as much as we were each probably influenced by our parents, childhood fears, political leanings, etcetera.

On that note, do you have the Wreath's language mapped out like George Lucas supposedly does with his aliens?

Por iuj personoj, tiu estos tre amuza demando. AnkaÅ­, la verkisto de Dezirataj estas malpurega kapro.

When you sit down to you write an issue, what's your approach? Do you figure out the beats you want to hit and then a lot a certain amount of pages to them or do you just go and see where you wind up?

I always know the beginning, middle and end of each issue, and I tend to quickly write an overly long first draft, then spend a long time slowly editing that mess down into 22 pages of hopefully just the good stuff.

When we talked before you said that some of the names and places from childhood imaginings made it into the book. Can you tell us a few examples from the first five issues?

Well, royal robots with old-fashioned television heads were definitely something I thought of when I was little, though I didn't think about making them hump until I was much older and less mature.

Prince Robot might be one of the coolest designs around, it's fun knowing how long he's been in your head. What was the design process like for him and his people with Fiona?

Thanks! Like I said, I've been thinking about this royal family for a while, so I sent Fiona very specific reference for the kinds of old television sets I liked, but the robots' gorgeous outfits, postures, and performances are all Fiona. Clearly, she can make anything look cool.  

The book has some pretty intense moments, but the worst so far has been the reveal of the Slave Girl, a six year-old prostitute. How will she play into things moving forward?

Slave Girl is vitally important to the story. Stay tuned.  

You and Fiona are taking a break between the sixth and seventh issues, how long will that last?

Next month is a skip month, the trade comes out in October, and we return monthly with Chapter Seven and an all-new storyline in November. I know short breaks like these suck for readers, but this means Fiona can continue doing every aspect of the artwork without us having to rely on distracting fill-in artists, so we greatly appreciate everyone's patience.  As Fiona's kick-ass cover suggests, it'll be worth the wait.

What can you tell us about what's coming up in the series?

We're taking a very brief hiatus after Chapter Six so Fiona and I can get ahead and return to our monthly pace with Chapter Seven, which begins a whole new story. I hate spoilers, but I'll say that a big part of the appeal of setting a comic in a vast, sci-fi/fantasy universe is that Fiona and I get to tell radically different kinds of stories with each new planet that we visit, as you'll see with our next arc. Poor Fiona just had to draw probably the very worst thing I've ever described in a script, so I'm excited for readers to share in her horror.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' space opera "Saga" continues with #6, on sale now. The first trade paperback will be released October 10th, with "Saga" #7 on sale in November.

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