From numerous awards to near-universal acclaim, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' "Saga" from Image Comics has captured hearts and minds across the galaxy. After the heartbreaking cliffhanger to end of the last arc, fans everywhere are waiting on tenterhooks to see where the story heads next for their favorite (literally) star-crossed family. And with "Saga" #31 finally on sale now, that wait is at long last at an end.
At its core, "Saga" is the epic story of Alana and Marko -- two lovers from opposite sides of a galactic war -- trying to raise their daughter Hazel in peace despite the ever escalating threats against them. Brought to life by the all-too-relatable characterizations from Vaughan and the kaleidoscopically imaginative art of Staples, it's a series that succeeds by taking you to faraway galaxies that feel like they're right around the corner.
After Alana and Hazel were captured by radical freedom fighters, Marko had to ally with the increasingly erratic Prince Robot to try to get them back. Alana's ingenuity and compassion helped her other throw their captors, but not before Hazel was stolen away again. A flash-forward in the last pages of issue #30 showed readers a significantly older Hazel still separated from her parents, promising that the troubles for "Saga's" leads won't be over any time soon.
CBR News caught up with Vaughan and Staples to ask them about the road so far, what readers might expect from the next arc, and the inner-workings of the continually brilliant partnership that keeps the story blasting forward and readers transfixed.
CBR News: "Saga" was on a well-deserved break, and is ready to resume. I'm so curious to find out how you spend your breaks away from a series. What do you do to recharge your creative batteries, and how you resume getting back into the world of working on "Saga."
Brian K. Vaughan: Well, I know we disappear from stands for a few months between arcs, but I actually work on "Saga" year-'round. I love thinking about this story, so the second an arc ends, I'm already outlining the next one, discussing cover ideas for future issues with Fiona, and so on. Even when I'm writing other comics I can't help but think about what GhÃ¼s is up to or whatever, so I never stray too far from our universe. I guess I have no hobbies or outside interests other than raising my children, and even that's grist for our comic. I'm pathetic.
Fiona Staples: This time, I frittered the break away drawing three issues of the new Archie series! I also did an issue of "Trick 'R Treat," a comic based on Michael Doughterty's fun Halloween movie. All really enjoyable to work on, but I couldn't wait to get back to my "real job" afterward.
Are there any rituals or habits you have when you're working on "Saga"? Like a certain soundtrack, or lucky socks, etc, that keep you focused on the series?
Vaughan: I usually read a few physical letters from out of the Saga mailbag each morning that I'm working on the book. It's a complete joy, the total opposite of opening my stupid email inbox.
Staples: It takes thousands of hours of music so I try to mix it up often, but certain things like the "Master & Commander" soundtrack always seem to make it into rotation.
The last arc was... so many things. Bloody, emotional, challenging, and, as always, beautiful. One of the aspects that stands out to me is the design of peripheral characters, such as the bear nurse. What is the design process like for them? What do you like bringing into the series?
Vaughan: I bring pretty close to zilch to that process. Fiona's the best designer of original characters working in comics today, so I just write the briefest description -- "he's an alien security guard with stripe-y skin" -- and she somehow turns that it into a fully-formed, three-dimensional person.â€¨â€¨
Staples: I just follow instructions! When the script says "bear in scrubs," I draw exactly that and try to make it look normal. Anthropomorphic creatures are really fun, it's just very entertaining to put animals in clothes.
On that note, there is an incredible balance of serious story with bits of absurdity and humor. How do you reach that balance, both artistically and story-wise?
Vaughan: Thanks! Working in film and television has taught me that mainstream audiences prefer a very consistent tone to their fiction... but I sure don't. Real life is completely inconsistent, so I like when stories take hard left turns from comedy to horror or from drama to slapstick.
Staples: Art-wise, I'll often try to draw the battles and violence very splashy and cartoonish, but the consequences very somber. And like Brian said, real life has plenty of dark moments and light ones, so I aim to keep my drawing style neutral enough to adapt to both.
Fiona, your art has been incredible since the very first issue, and it's obvious that you continue to grow as the series goes on. What have been some of your favorite moments, or even characters, to work on up to this point? And given that you're now 30-plus issues in, is there anything you'd go back and redesign?
Staples: Thank you! There's nobody I'd change, because accepting weird decisions you made on the fly years ago is part of doing an ongoing series. You just live with it! My favorite moments are whenever we see the surface of a new planet for the first time, or a new character is introduced with a splash page.
Thinking about character design, at the end of the last issue we saw Hazel as school age child, which was quite an emotional moment as a reader. She is still so distinctly her, and so recognizable as an older version of baby Hazel from the very first issue. Brian, what was your reaction like when you saw that page? And Fiona, how did you approach aging her and bringing her through her stages of development?
Vaughan: I started working on "Saga" with Fiona right as my daughter was born, and she's been growing up more or less in tandem with Hazel, so whenever Fiona draws the character at some new milestone in her life, I usually just start crying. Sorry, this interview is making me sound extra emotionally unstable, but Staples is that good.
Staples: Brian's given me a rough idea of what Hazel will look like as an adult, so as she ages I gradually grow her wings and horns in that direction. And I Google reference of kids at various ages, because unfortunately I don't know any children! I'm constantly worried that I'm making her the wrong size.
"Saga" is a story about family. It began with Marko/Alana/Hazel, then brings in Marko's parents and ex-girlfriend, then the brothers and sisters of The Stalk and The Will, and Prince Robot's family. What are these characters learning about family as the people you are born into, the people you lose, and the people you choose?
Vaughan: Honestly, I'm not sure if most old people like me really learn much of anything anymore. At this advanced age, we're pretty set in our ways. But younger people and younger characters are constantly growing and changing, which is why I'm so happy that Hazel really starts to mature into her role as our book's true protagonist with this arc.
Staples: I think in this arc Hazel begins to understand what it means to be Marko and Alana's child.
Speaking of loss, there are plenty of characters we've said goodbye to thus far in "Saga." In fact, a sense of loss is something prevalent in many of your works, as something that shapes and motivates characters. How do you know when it's a character's time to go? Do you usually plan it well in advance, or have some surprised you?
Vaughan: I almost always know exactly when a character is going to die. Sometimes it's for a very important narrative reason, and sometimes it's just because life is short and unfair, especially during wartime. I don't think I've ever unexpectedly killed someone off, but there was once or twice that someone earned an unplanned reprieve, usually because Fiona's art made me see that character in a completely new way.
Fiona, have there been any moments in the script that you had to emotionally fortify yourself to draw?
Staples: Plenty! The deaths in the last arc were the most weepy. Self-sacrifice really gets to me.
Since Thanksgiving is approaching, assuming it's a thing they would even celebrate, what would the holiday look like for the folks in "Saga"?
Vaughan: Thanksgiving would be a little depressing at the moment, as our characters are mostly scattered around different corners of the universe, but maybe everyone will be able to enjoy a triumphant family reunion aboard their rocketship treehouse in our next issue? Start holding your breath now, True Believers!
"Saga" #1, the beginning of a new story arc, is on sale now from Image Comics.