Fiona Staples Designs the World of "Saga"

2012 has been a huge year for artist Fiona Staples. While her work on books like "DV8" and "North 40" drew its fair share of eyeballs and acclaim, teaming with Brian K. Vaughan has moved Staples firmly into the comic book spotlight. The two joined forces to create the hit Image Comics series "Saga," which follows the misadventures of Marko and Alana, a couple who came from different sides of an intergalactic war, but found love in one another. As if the Romeo and Juliet thing wasn't enough to deal with, add ray guns, ghosts, monsters, magic and their new baby Hazel into the mix, and these two have quite a lot to deal with.

But they're not the only ones with their hands full, both in the series and on the creative team. In six issues, Staples has masterfully brought such diverse elements as TV-headed robots, horned magic-using aliens and a spider-like yet strangely alluring assassin to life. While the artist was taking a much needed break between the sixth and seventh issue -- which comes out November 4, a month after the release of the series' first collection -- she spoke with CBR News about character designs, changing her approach to illustration in order to stick with the title's monthly schedule and translating Vaughan's scripts to the finished page.

"In terms of format and length, ['Saga' isn't] too different from other books I've worked on; it's the content that really sets it apart," Staples told CBR News. "[Brian] just casually drops in the wildest ideas for characters and settings, and doesn't over-explain them. He just gives me enough to get my imagination going."

Readers are well aware "Saga" is jam-packed with some pretty incredible visuals and concepts, some of which Vaughan has said come straight from his childhood imagination. But for Staples, there are a few in particular which stand out. "The giant tortoise with laser eyes from the first issue is one, or Alana's crazy interspecies romance novel," Staples said. "There are a lot of things that make me laugh at first, then try to tackle seriously."

Never having worked on an ongoing title the magnitude of "Saga," Staples quickly realized that she had to take specific steps to alter her creative process in order to maintain the series' schedule. "I had to come up with a new drawing method in order to produce the book on an ongoing near-monthly schedule," Staples said. "I decided to ink only the figures and paint-in the backgrounds, all digitally. It's faster than both inking and coloring detailed backgrounds, but I can also paint them in more tightly whenever time allows. As I gradually get faster, I'm hoping to tighten them up more. Doing an ongoing also means I might be drawing certain characters and vehicles for years to come, so there's more pressure to design everything thoughtfully!"

"When we first got started I did a bunch of sketches of Marko and Alana, various looks," Staples said of "Saga's" main characters. "Brian didn't have a very specific idea of what they should look like, which I guess is unusual, because writers usually seem to envision their leads pretty clearly. All he gave me was that Marko had ram horns and Alana had insect wings, maybe looked slightly punk, and they were young and attractive. I thought immediately that it would be cool to make them kind of ethnically ambiguous, that it would set them apart slightly from most other genre heroes."

The creative process between Staples and Vaughan also tends to be pretty loose and fluid when it comes to describing other characters, monsters and aliens in the book. "Usually Brian will describe a character with one or two lines, just giving me their stand-out features and the aspects of them that affect the story," Staples said. "Mama Sun, for instance, was just described as a curvy, purple alien with a sun mask, vampire fangs and sexy clothes. I decided to give her a slightly intimidating physique and a '90s comics-style thong bodysuit thing. I try to stay faithful to Brian's descriptions though, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly where my contribution begins!"

There was one character that Vaughan described to Staples in more detail, however -- the ultra-creepy assassin known as The Stalk. "She was a character described by Brian in a bit more detail, so my design process was pretty straightforward," Staples said. "She was supposed to be pale, armless like the Venus de Milo and wearing a long, black skirt that concealed her spidery parts. Pretty much everything about The Stalk came from the script. I just tried to draw her like she made perfect sense, focusing on her acting and gestures to make her believable!"

For Staples, part of the enjoyment in working on "Saga" is the different settings and elements she incorporates into her work as the storyline moves seamlessly from dingy garages to lush forests to the great halls of robot royalty. Not only is it fun, it makes the idea of working on a single project over the long haul much more appealing. "I love it," Staples said. "The huge variety of things I get to draw in 'Saga' is what makes the idea of doing an ongoing less daunting. I can't imagine getting bored with this book. It really feels like we've just started."

However, even though the different venues and visual elements prevent monotony from setting in, there are still things that give the artist a little bit of an extra challenge. "It's usually the tech stuff I struggle with," Staples said. "I suck at coming up with vehicle designs, for one thing. Usually I just try to make it shaped like something organic, like a skull or a seed or a sea creature. It's a fun exercise, though. Generally, I try to stay open-minded to whatever the story presents!"

If there's one artistic decision Staples has any misgivings over, it's a particular coloring misstep that made one character resemble a popular animated one. "Due to some poor coloring choices early on, Baby Hazel sometimes looks like Finn from 'Adventure Time,'" Staples said. "Maybe someday the poor parents will find a new blanket and it will be orange, solving that little problem."

While the artist obviously appreciates the finer aspects of modern animated comedy, she finds herself more influenced by films and video games when it comes to creating the world of "Saga." "I love sci-fi and fantasy, and while I've tried not to draw too heavily from anything else for 'Saga,' I'm influenced by movies like 'Labyrinth' and 'Akira,' and video games like the 'Final Fantasy' series."

Though Vaughan may have large chunks of the series mapped out in advance, Staples herself is unsure of what lies ahead for Alana and Marko beyond the immediate future, which is actually the way she prefers it. "I have no idea how far ahead Brian's plotted, and I don't ask because I like being in the dark about where the story's headed," Staples said. "It's another thing that keeps the book fresh and full of surprises for me. I don't read any further ahead than the issue I'm working on!" 

The first collection of "Saga" comes out from Image Comics on October 10 while #7 drops on November 4.

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