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Brian K. Vaughan Prepares to Tell His Brand New ‘Saga’ [Interview]

As announced this weekend at Comic-Con, television and comics writer Brian K. Vaughan will launch an all-new creator-owned comic Saga next year illustrated by Fiona Staples, an ongoing sci-fi series that will launch at Image Comics with an over-sized forty-four page issue. ComicsAlliance talked to Vaughan in the midst of the convention madness about his first big project since the end of Ex Machina last year, and how he plans to transform the very personal experience of starting a family into a fantasy epic, and why he both loves the printed monthly comic and has no fear of digital.

ComicsAlliance: You haven’t revealed a lot of details about Saga so far, but what’s the basic idea behind the book? What’s the elevator pitch?

Brian K. Vaughan: It really doesn’t have an elevator pitch. With Runaways and Ex Machina, they were both really big, high-concept books, and I wanted to do something that was relatively low concept. It’s set in an epic, vast sci-fi/fantasy universe, but it’s really just about family, and inspired by my experience having kids recently. I can’t reveal too much more than that. It sounds like a terrible sales pitch. [laughs]

CA: When you decided that you wanted to write a story that drew from your experiences with your family, what made you want to explore that in a sci-fi universe, as opposed to say, a more realistic or slice-of-life narrative?

BKV: I think every book I’ve done has been a response… Y: The Last Man I wrote after I was dumped, and it was sort to help me understand that experience and get through it. Ex Machina was after watching 9/11 happen and living in New York, so I do like to take things that make me angry or confused or whatever and channel it into some sort of genre thing. I think having a family is this incredible adventure, but I also recognize that it would be extremely boring for everyone else if I were just going to do a story about diaper bags and mucus plugs and whatever the reality of it is. So hopefully the fact that this has bounty hunters and dragons and spaceships will make it a little more palatable.

CA: It’s about family as a theme, or it follows a specific family?

BKV: Yes, it will be following one family. It’s not the sort of family you would normally see in this sort of sci-fi/fantasy universe, I guess I can say that much. They’ve also got horns and wings and things, but even more than that the kinds of characters they are the kinds of stories we’re going to be telling aren’t going to be traditional. Hopefully there will be a few surprises in it. The first issue is going to be big and double-sized, forty-four pages, and I hope it’ll give everyone a good idea of it. If you like the first issue, I think you’ll like the series. And if you hate it, it’s not for you. So, pick it up, I guess?

CA: Were you waiting until you finished Ex Machina before you leaped into something new?

BKV: Totally. I thought that after Runaways and Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina that maybe I’ll stick to original graphic novels or smaller things. I’ve spent most of my life doing these monthly deadlines, but I was away from it for about six months and I just started to go insane. And my wife was like, “please, please write another comic book because you’re too hard to live with when you’re not writing one.” So I’m doing it to protect my marriage. [laughs]

CA: How long do you foresee Saga running? Are we talking about something as long as Ex Machina, which was 60 issues?

BKV: Longer. I’d like to keep doing this for an insane amount of time. Long after people have stopped being interested in it, I would still like to keep writing this book. [laughs] I really wanted to have something with characters that you love and really get to watch them grow and change. I think most people who have read Y: The Last Man have read it recently in collected versions, but people had a totally different experience if they were reading Y every month and sort of watching Yorick age almost in real time, a month at a time. This I hope will be similar; you’ll get to know these people over the course of years. And you’ll get all this visual spectacular stuff from Fiona as well. It’s the sort of thing I could never do as a TV show, so it’ll be comics at their best, I hope.

CA: You mentioned the experience of reading Y: The Last Man as a monthly comic versus the collected trade paperbacks. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about monthly comic book issues and their future in the industry, particularly as their sales decline. Is that format something that you’re wedded to, in terms of how you want to write and print your work?

BKV: I like it. I know everyone kept telling me that given the way the marketplace is, this is a terrible time to launch an original, creator-owned monthly ongoing [comic]. But before I was going to have kids, a lot of these same friends said, how could you bring a child into this world, it’s so terrible. And there’s a lot of overlap between the two. And I think the answer to both, why would you bring kids into this or why would you do a monthly creator-owned comic is, just because I want to, I guess? And I think the world needs more things that are new and good. I like telling a story 22 pages at a time. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. I would be sad if the monthly comic went away, so this is my small contribution to help keep it alive.

CA: What are thoughts on digital distribution of comics, particularly when it comes to your creator-owned work? Is it something you’re planning for Saga?

BKV: We’ve just started talking about that at Image. I prefer the hard copy — I like the smell of the ink on the comics paper. But I understand the benefits [of digital], and that there are a lot of people who have iPads who don’t have a great comic book store in their neighborhoods. And if this gets the book into their hands, then great. So yeah, I’m excited. I’m not threatened by [digital]. It was really strange the first time I saw people tormenting Y: The Last Man and knowing that this is my life’s work and they’re getting it for free! But I’ve heard from a lot of people who said, “I pirated your book first and I liked it, so I went out and bought it.” And some of those people might have never read it [otherwise]. It’s a fascinating, strange world that I don’t totally understand, but I do think that if you put out good product that it will survive. I don’t know what the future holds, but I think the good stuff lasts.

CA: Well, there is that perspective on printed monthly issues as well, particularly as their profits decline, that they basically act as advertisements to generate interest for the trade collections. And while pirating isn’t “good,” it does often seem to function in a similar way.

BKV: It’s interesting you bring that up, because I agree that the monthly comic is overstuffed with ads, and I want to do a monthly comic that’s as beautiful as the collected edition is. I told Image that I wanted no ads, so I’d be able to pace the story exactly the way I wanted to, which I’d never had in comics before. I’d never know when an ad would get randomly inserted. I think we’re going to do an old school letters page. I want to celebrate that this isn’t just a loss leader for the trade, and it’s worth your $2.99 to come in and pick this up. We’ll see if it works. But just telling a good story with beautiful art, that’s the focus.

CA: So is Saga going to be your primary focus creatively moving forward?

BKV: There are other things in television and film I’ve had percolating in the background for a while, but it’s slow — development is slow. And that’s part of the reason why I’m racing back to comics. It’s relatively quick from the time that you have to idea to getting it into the audience’s hands. And I like the fact that it’s monthly and ongoing. Some movie things I’ve been working on for four years, and it could be another four years and no one will ever see it.

Starting a monthly book is a huge commitment; Fiona is designing every ship and world and species from scratch, and I don’t like to go into a book unless I know exactly where it’s going for a long time. So right now, Saga is getting 100% of my attention. My agents are annoyed, but I can’t help it. The time had come.

CA: How much time have you and Fiona spent world-building for Saga?

BKV: This actually came together relatively quickly; I think it was only in January. I’d had this idea for a long time, but it was really a struggle to find the right artist. It wasn’t till [writer] Steve Niles recommended Fiona; they had worked together on a book called Mystery Society, and as soon as I saw her stuff, I called her immediately. We clicked right away on the phone, and were like, let’s do this thing. We’re not going to try to do this it a mini first, let’s really try to do this as an old school ongoing. And that scared a lot of people off, because it is a big commitment, but she was really gung ho. I’m sorry to be so vague about the plot of the book — there’s more to come and I hope people will put it on their radar.

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