Last week, we presented you with a glimpse of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s new comic series Saga #1, and, since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to read an advance copy of the first issue and throw a few questions at the writer to find out more about the ideas behind the attention-grabbing comic. (The comic itself comes out this Wednesday.)
The first thing you’ll likely notice about Saga #1, if you flip through its pages, is the way it weaves a picture-book narration into a decidedly adult story. The genre at work here may be high-fantasy and space opera sci-fi (complete with magical invocations, lasers, talking cats, and robot princes) but Vaughan and Staples reject the traditional faux-innocence that goes along with such tales and throw the reader into a galaxy where sex and violence are as explicit as the foul language spewing from the characters’ mouths.
This is no Disneyfied cosmic adventure, though there is a deep earnestness at its core. Saga’s two rebellious heroes, Marko and Alana, may be on the run from their own homeworlds, and they may struggle against the cynicism that surrounds them, but they will do anything to protect their infant daughter. It’s a not-so-thinly veiled parable of parenting, with a massive scope, and entire cultures at war around them.
Though Fiona Staples has been producing excellent work in the comic book industry for years, this is her first ongoing series, and she brings a gritty angularity to her characters and an evocative, painterly quality to her backgrounds. It’s her design sense that grounds the alien, high-tech fantasy worlds of Saga, and Marko and Alana’s challenges would not feel so insurmountable (nor their reactions so human) without Staples’s powerful talents.
Yet writer Brian K. Vaughan will likely get most of the early attention for Saga, since it’s the first ongoing series he’s launched since 2004’s Ex Machina, and Vaughan is considered the serialized comic book writer for a generation of now-twentysomething readers who glommed onto comics during the heights of his comic series Runaways and Y: The Last Man.
Saga doesn’t quite feel like the work of the same writer who launched both of those series, as those both felt young, energetic, and eager-to-please where this new series feels more confident in what it is, and less interested in shocking twists or pop-culture allusions. But even with its differences, the signature Brian K. Vaughan worldbuilding is apparent. Saga #1 deftly establishes entire cultures and presents a wide-ranging cast of characters who we understand almost instantly. This is more settled, self-assured work from Vaughan, but it is anything but bland. Instead, it’s prickly and precise, and perhaps a bit unsettling, because it’s somehow completely familiar and yet entirely new. And that discordancy helps to power its narrative.
I asked Vaughan a few questions about the genesis of some of the tropes underlying Saga and its unusual thematic (and aesthetic) clash between childhood and adulthood, between innocence and experience, and here’s what he had to say:
Brian K. Vaughan: Saga is partially inspired by a kind of paracosm, an insanely complicated imaginary world I’ve been building in my head ever since I was a little kid. So lots of genres are represented, but this is a story by and for adults, and our series is more a reaction to my experiences as a new dad than to tropes from other fiction. I really wanted to make something new, and the reason I was drawn to Fiona’s work is because of how completely unlike other sci-fi/fantasy art her stuff feels to me.
Tim Callahan: What about the picture-book quality of some of the narration? How was the decision made to include that style of lettering?
BKV: I’ve been reading a ton of children’s books since my kids were born, and I love the way text in those stories sometimes playfully interacts with images. Felt like a cool device to steal for our filthy comic, especially because of the unique relationship our narrator has to the story. Designer Steven Finch handles the lettering for all of our character’s dialogue, but Fiona herself hand letters that narration directly to the page, just to help it feel organic.
TC: The story feels vast, with all of its scene-and-planet-hopping. How did you measure all of that when you were constructing the plot for issue #1 and were any scenes cut or added as you built up the script for that first issue?
BKV: No scenes cut, only added! As a matter of fact, Image Comics was gracious enough to let us expand our first chapter to double size for the regular price of just $2.99. But I really love “kitchen sink” debuts, opening chapters that give readers absolutely everything they need to know to enjoy the epic that’s about to follow. All the major elements in the final issues of Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina were established in those series’ first issues, and Saga is no different.
TC: You talk about Saga as a “filthy comic,” jokingly I assume, but yet I know what you’re talking about because the first issue does clearly present an adult universe with plenty of on-panel sex, violence, and language that might offend even Deadwood fans (okay, not really on that last part). But why go so exuberantly adult in the comic? It would have been the expected choice to go for more of an all-ages feel in such a galaxy-spanning space opera.
BKV: I think a lot of stories about new families tend to automatically be “family friendly,” but parenthood is also a sexy, violent, emotionally complex time for adults, so a “mature readers” series just felt like the honest way to tell this adventure. Plus, I guess part of me wanted to prove that having kids doesn’t have to make a creator “soft.”
TC: I’m sure you love all the characters in the series, but which characters have you surprisingly fallen a bit more in love with as you’ve dug into the creation of the first few issues?
BKV: I’m really loving writing our morally flexible “freelancer,” a bounty hunter called The Will.
TC: Which characters have changed from their original conception already, even if just slightly?
BKV: All of them have changed, and for the better, since Fiona started sketching her version of the characters.
TC: And how much bigger do you imagine the cast becoming as the series unfolds?
BKV: We’ll be meeting many more new characters during our epic, but our main players are all introduced in the very first chapter.
Saga #1 debuts on March 14th wherever better comic books are sold.
Tim Callahan still has fond memories of Brian K. Vaughan’s now-almost-forgotten Swamp Thing run, featuring kudzu that thought it was a samurai.