We can’t verifiably call Brian K. Vaughan the busiest creator in comics, but considering his name is on the covers of at least two of the hottest books running—the barrier-breaking sci-fi hit Saga (co-created with artist Fiona Staples) and the nascent girls-on-an-adventure series Paper Girls (with artist Cliff Chiang)—he’s certainly one of the biggest.
A few weeks from the launch of the trade paperback of Saga‘s sixth arc and the start of Paper Girls‘ second, we got a chance to talk to BKV about his splashy SF dreams, his favorite Fiona Staples splash page, and what’s coming next.
Now that Saga has wrapped its sixth arc, you’ve had time to sit with it for a number of years. How has the beast changed since you and Fiona first sat down to sketch out your ideas?
Fiona has become an even more remarkable artist over the years, and we’ve probably developed a bit more of a shorthand, but other than that, the book is exactly as rewarding and challenging as it’s always been.
How has the book’s success changed the working process, if at all? Do you feel more pressure? Greater freedom?
Now that we’ve survived all the way to Issue #36, a rare feat in the current industry, we’re no longer the fresh, original book in town… but I think we can now tell much more deeply emotional stories than many of those new first issues about to hit stands.
Your work often favors strong women, and Saga also pulls in a host of other minority characters and groups, whether literally or coded as such in an environment filled with disparate aliens and robots. How do you navigate making them feel organic to the story—as they are to our real world—without falling prey to accusations of tokenism? Is that a concern?
I try never to think about how an audience might respond to our stories, since I’m almost always wrong anyway. Regardless of race or gender or orientation, I just try to write real, complicated, flawed human beings who remind me of the people I know.
You’ve said before that you know how this story ends, and that it will take a long time to get there. Has your conception of that journey gotten clearer? Is this a book you want to be writing a decade from now (at which point we’d be approaching issue 100)?
I still know exactly what the last page of the last issue will be, but I hope that won’t be for many years to come. The ball’s really in Fiona’s court though, since I only want to do the book as long as she’s still enjoying making it.
Saga is my go-to book for introducing non-comics readers to the medium—people who you’d never expect to read a graphic novel or SFF are drawn to it for the romance, the humor, and the soap opera storytelling. Did you have any idea when you began work that this would be a breakout book for you, amid a career of breakout books?
No way. I’d been away from comics for a while, and was launching a new ongoing series with zero superheroes, graphically naked robots, and two nonwhite leads. The fact that some of my weird ideas found such a huge audience is entirely a testament to Fiona and her infinitely relatable artwork.
I’m interested to know how your working process with Fiona informs the storytelling. How much of the arcs are plotted as a team? Does a particularly memorable character design ever influence the way you write a character?
Fiona and I talk between each arc, and her ideas and designs profoundly influence the direction of the book. For example, our little seal guy Ghüs is 100% her creation, and I knew he’d become a major part of our narrative the second I saw her first sketch of him.
Are there any characters you’ve killed off that you regret?
Nope. There are certainly characters I miss, but their deaths were all important to Hazel’s journey.
What’s your favorite Fiona Staples splash page to date?
Fiona’s first reveal of The Stalk made me gasp so loudly that I frightened the people around me.
You’ve been quoted as saying that Saga was conceived as an unadaptable comic book. Do you feel the same now, seeing how the medium has continued to expand across film and TV in ever-weirder incarnations even since it began? Why do you think readers (who ostensibly love comics) are so drawn to the idea of adaptations?
Fiona and I have always been open to the possibility of Saga being adapted into another medium, but it’s definitely not a priority for us. The book is our passion, and it’s certainly been more profitable than any network television show or Hollywood film I’ve ever been a part of.
I think comics are the best visual medium for telling serialized stories in the world, so I honestly don’t know why so many readers care so much about turning them into something else. I’ve never finished listening to a great album and said, “I can’t wait for them to make a novel out of this!”
I like a lot of adaptations just fine, and I’ve even worked on a few myself, but I still think of comics as the ultimate destination, not a stepping stone to something else.
Now you’re also earning acclaim for Paper Girls as well as a number of other titles. How in the world do you balance the demands of multiple ongoing, crazy popular series?
When I was first writing Saga, I was also executive producing a television series for CBS seven days a week. My current workload is way, way more manageable.
How would you describe the upcoming second arc for Paper Girls? What can we expect? Can I still use “Spielberg-ian” as a descriptor for the vibe?
I worship Spielberg, but I think you’ll feel much less of his influence in this next arc, as our young heroines are catapulted from 1988 to the far-flung future of 2016. Cliff Chiang and I wanted to do a story about kids from the 20th Century confronting their adult selves in a future that’s nothing like Marty McFly’s world of flying cars and (actual) hoverboards, but a future that’s equally amazing and terrifying for many different reasons.
Paper Girls scales back the scope pretty significantly from Saga. Did telling a more intimate, contained story particularly appeal to you, or is that just how being creative and having ideas works?
I just get bored repeating myself. It probably would have been much safer to launch a The Will & Lying Cat series or something, but I like getting to say new things in new ways with new collaborators.
Are there any other projects in the works that you’d like to talk about?
The only other comic I’m writing at the moment is Barrier, a planned five-issue miniseries that artist Marcos Martin and I are releasing exclusively through PanelSyndicate.com, our pay-what-you-want site for original digital comics. It’s a crime story about immigration, but with a bit of a twist. I’m really, really proud of it.