Brian K. Vaughan's comics. Between "Runaways," "Y: The Last Man" and "Ex Machina" his books have shown plenty of people who don't normally read comics what the medium can do. And he's doing exactly that yet again along with artist Fiona Staples at Image Comics with their ongoing series "Saga." The series follows Alana and Marko, two people from warring races who have just had a baby, Hazel, and want to give her a better life. With the first trade paperback available right now for under $10 and the seventh issue on sale November 14 after a short gap in the publishing schedule, it's a good time to get on board with the book that has readers and critics buzzing.
Saturday's New York Comic Con panel, moderated by Image Publisher Eric Stephenson was dubbed "Saga: Sex, Drugs & Rocketships" and covered just about every aspect of the series. It even started with Vaughan recalling how his run on "Swamp Thing" might not be beloved, but something clicked when he wrote the last issue and felt a confidence to explore new things. Coincidentally, the last issue of that book was entitled "Saga." "I'm so happy to be at Image, it's the happiest experience of my life," he said of his decision to publish his first original series away from Marvel and DC. "I can't believe all you people like this book with robot sex."
Staples also talked a bit about the beginning of her career which included a WildStorm book called "North 40." "I felt the first six years of my career was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do," Staples said. She went on to explain that after that time she realized she was ready for a long, ongoing comic commitment. Vaughan said he was shocked when Staples told him "Saga" was her first ever issue #7.
When asked if the creators are doing anything different working on the seventh issue as opposed to the first Vaughan said he was "writing with the confidence that this might go somewhere. If you're going to be here, I'm going to do some exceptionally weird things." After cheers from the audience Staples added that they will definitely be testing their readers' limits, promising that #7 has a page featuring "the worst thing ever."
The series' very first pages were then put up on the room's big screen and feature series star Alana giving birth and asking if she's shitting. Vaughan said he may or may not have experienced a scene like that in his real life, but did say it was a perfect metaphor for the creative process: "Did I just shit myself or did I make a baby?" He explained that he felt that way while developing the series, but also that creation is the center of the story. "It's about creation and it's hard and difficult to bring something new into the world that doesn't want something new," the writer said.
Staples talked a bit about her artistic process on the series, which is completely digital. For those interested in her specific process, there will be a step-by-step explanation in "Saga" #8's letter column.
Upcoming covers were then showed to the audience. #7 features a blood-covered Marko and will feature a look into his past. Similarly, #8 shows Alana as a soldier and will also have some flashback elements. Vaughan added that he liked the decals on the spaceship because they reminded him of the old G.I. Joe toys that came with similar stickers.
The cover to #9 was then shown for the first time anywhere and features The Stalk wrapping her many arms around a shirtless The Will. The history between the two bounty hunters will be explored in the issue.
When Stephenson opened the floor to questions, he took a page from the MorrisonCon format and actually had the people come up to the panelists and ask the question on stage. The first fan asked about the names as well as the characters' ethnicity. Vaughan once again credited Staples for coming up with Marko and Alana being non-white. Regarding the names, he wanted to keep them simple and easily recognizable so people wouldn't have a hard time figuring out what's what.
Simplicity was also the name of the game when it came to coming up with a sleek, modern and minimalist look consistent between Staples' artwork, the lettering and the coloring. The team sports what Vaughan referred to as an "understated, beautiful and clean" aesthetic that they all share.
Another audience member went up and asked about Vaughan's decision to make Hazel the narrator of the book as it might cut down some of the dramatic tension because you know she survives to tell the tale.
"I'd never done narration in a book before and wanted to play around with that," Vaughan said. "I knew that this is really Hazel's story and wanted her to have a voice figuratively and literally from the beginning." He went on to say that, while he's toying with the idea of actually giving one of his stories a happy ending for once, there will still be plenty of horrible things happening before that point.
One audience member compared the surprises and unique elements of "Saga" to "Heavy Metal" magazine. Staples said she's a big fan of the publication, but Vaughan admitted he wasn't able to read it as a kid and that "Saga" is what he thought would be in there.
The book is filled with plenty of interesting looking characters, aliens and structures, but there was a certain pair that got brought up during the conversation: the Sextillion greeters seen in "Saga" #4, who are basically giant heads with legs.
Staples said Vaughan's script description read something like, "Mutant heads on long legs with no genitalia and big flight attendant/pageant queen smiles."
"This is the weirdest thing I've ever seen in my entire life," Vaughan said of the first time he saw that page from Staples. "Those leg ladies haunt my dreams.”
"Thank you for being such an open minded group," Staples said regarding the audience's reaction to the leg ladies as well as the spider-like bounty hunter The Stalk.
Another audience member brought up the theme of parenthood and sacrifice as seen in every page of the comic as Alana and Marko do their best to give Hazel a life worth living.
"I'm a parent and Fiona is not," Vaughan said. "It's something I wanted to get across, how much do you sacrifice for your creations? You should not destroy your life for your creations, you should find a way to have fun and channel that into your work. I don't understand parenthood, but I'm figuring it out as I go."
"I can appreciate the broader ideas of putting something out into the world that's yours," Staples added.
While getting through all of those issues and exploring these themes, Vaughan said he might not know exactly how he will get there, but he does know what the last panel of the last page will look like.
"I hope it'll be very long if you guys don't get sick of it and Fiona doesn't kill herself or me," Vaughan said. He then said his goal for the series is to do one more issue than "The Walking Dead." "Just to spite Kirkman," the writer joked. "I can outlive that bastard."
Before teasing that readers will get a better look at the romance novel that seems so very important to Alana and the reason she defected from the army, Vaughan went back to the topic of family and being a parent. "A couple getting together and having a baby is usually the end of the sci-fi story," he said, adding that while telling baby stories to people can be intensely boring, he enjoys getting them out through this book. "I'm hiding my stories through Fiona and sort of translating it."
The next audience member walked up and asked what Vaughan was feeling when he wrote the emotionally charged final issue of "Y: The Last Man." "Usually, I'm a super stoic writer," he said, but admitted while writing a particularly sad portion of the book, he actually broke down crying on an airplane.
While on the subject of his other works, someone noted that he enjoyed the unexplained elements of those works and wondered if they would be found in "Saga." "I like ambiguity and readers seem to hate it," Vaughan said.
"That's just a part of world building," Staples added.
Speaking of world building, the duo spoke about how working together enhances a project. "Working with someone else gives you another point of view," Staples said.
"Every artist I've worked with is different," Vaughan said. "I don't want to be a novelist where it's just my voice. I'm so lucky to get to work with artists who push me to be better. It's hard to get Fiona's artwork and be like, 'I have to cover this up with my terrible artwork?'"
An audience member then asked a question for his grandmother who wasn't there but does read the book: why do you use such foul language?
"I really love to swear," Vaughan replied. "I had very loving but permissive parents, the only rule they had was 'don't swear.'" He said that it's a good lesson in parenting because, basically, whatever you tell your kids not to do is exactly what they'll want to do. "I'm doing it to punish my mom and your grandma."
Staples said she has no objections to the language and that she's never refused to draw anything in Vaughan's scripts. "I decided pretty early in my career that I would find success by drawing everything," Staples said with a grin. "I'd be that artist without any standards at all."
"As much as I talk about being weird and shocking, even with robots humping in the first issue, I don't want to be shocking or outlandish for its own sake," Vaughan said.
As the panel came to a close, Vaughan said he has the major beats of every year figured out, but also has a lot of flexibility to go where the story takes him. He also reiterated the point he made at the Image Comics sci-fi panel on Friday that he doesn't care about the distinctions between science fiction and science fantasy, noting that it's all "fakey make-believe." "I like fakey make believe that's in service of saying something about our world," the writer said.
Vaughan also reiterated a point he made at just about every panel he was on at NYCC: he loves comic books. This time it came up when asked about possibly turning "Saga" into a TV series or movie. "I like optioning stuff because you get money," he said, having worked in TV and movies in addition to his comics work.
"Comic books are better. I'm happy with it being just a comic," Vaughan said as the audience responded with a round of applause and cheers.