“Saga,” writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples told their panel’s capacity crowd Saturday at Comic-Con, is Hazel’s story.
The daughter of Alana and Marko – on-the-run lovers born of warring alien species – Hazel narrates Vaughan and Staples’ creator-owned, Eisner Award-winning hit Image Comics series from an as yet unseen future. Readers first met her just as she was being born, and in the most recent issues see her as a toddler.
“Her parents are a very important part of her life now,” said Vaughan, who hasn’t been shy about killing off “Saga” characters. “But they might not always be.”
After the audience’s mournful reaction to that, he jokingly offered, “Or maybe they’ll always be!”
The truly out-there sci-fi series’ first deluxe hardcover, collecting the first 18 issues, has a cover image of the infant Hazel breastfeeding, with her parents’ home worlds of Wreath and Landfall behind her.
“We’re doubling down on our breastfeeding stance,” Staples said, referring to a different cover image that graced the series’ debut issue and first collected paperback. It showed Alana and Marko with Hazel breastfeeding and caused a stir.
Vaughan said his response to hearing that some retailers were covering the image was a colorful, “Well … that.” After the applause died down, he said, “If your store doesn’t like that cover, if you don’t want to read a book with that cover, then we’re not the book for you.”
“Saga” has proved to be the book for many readers and awards voters: It won a leading three Eisner Awards on Friday night, with its second consecutive wins for continuing series and writer, and added the painter prize for Staples (who one audience member Saturday sincerely thanked for drawing “orgies and gore stuff so classy”). It has also won Harvey and Hugo awards.
Along with Image label-mate “The Walking Dead,” “Saga” is not only one of the top-selling monthly indie comics, but one of the bestselling comics period, and its collected volumes have spent time in the No. 1 slot on the New York Times’ bestseller list for graphic novels.
The upcoming hardcover will feature extras, including the script for an issue and a roundtable discussion also involving letterer/designer Fonografiks (Steven Finch), who handles all the typography except for Hazel’s narration, which is done in Staples’ handwriting. The panel said that future deluxe hardcovers will also collect 18 issues, and each will have a cover of Hazel at a different stage in her life.
Vaughan also offered some hints about next month’s “Saga” No. 22: Readers will learn more about Hazel’s babysitter – the war victim ghost teen Izabel — and may finally see King Robot, father of Prince Robot IV.
Though the inventive universe of “Saga” is something Vaughan has been thinking about since childhood, he credits much of its vivid realization to Staples, including “100%” of its multiculturalism beyond one species having wings and the other horns. For example: “When I was pitching to Fiona, I said, ‘I don’t care how Alana looks, but no redheads. There’s a glut of redheads in comics.’ And Fiona was like, ‘Well, she doesn’t have to be white either.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, right.’”
Staples said: “Representation and diversity in comics is something that’s important to me, and I also think it just makes a more realistic universe when you’re constructing a brand-new world and you want it to feel authentic. Most of the people on Earth are not white. Why would this galaxy be?”
There is a roadmap for the series’ sprawling story, Vaughan said, though there is room to maneuver. For example, No. 19’s animal pals Ghus and Walrus Friend.
“Sometimes Fiona will be like, ‘I just drew a picture of this little seal dude and he’s got a walrus friend. Do they belong in the book?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And they’re vitally important to our characters’ futures now.”
Regarding the recent deaths of some beloved characters, Vaughan challenged the cultural thinking behind any resentment.
“People are always like ‘George R.R. Martin or Joss Whedon – these guys are monsters,’” he said. “But it used to be when people would read fiction, characters would die all the time. I think we’ve grown up in a sort of culture where a lot of our storytelling is controlled by a big corporation – that means we can’t let these characters die, we have to keep them alive. And that’s just a terrible way for fiction to approach things.
“We read this stuff to prepare us for the worst things that are going to happen to us, and death is the worst,” he continued before interrupting himself to growing laughter: “This is such a downer panel. I’m sorry, but we’re all going to die terribly. So read this comic book.”
There was one possible death that Staples outright rejected, Vaughan said. He got back a “Nope, not drawing that” from his collaborator when he had Lying Cat, a blue feline that can tell when someone isn’t telling the truth (and says, simply, “Lying”) being blown out of a ship.
The audience was on the artist’s side.
Regarding Lying Cat, the writer said Staples had asked at lunch if there was “a planet of Lying Kitties” somewhere.
“Imagine their conversations,” she said.
It isn’t just good guys and cute animals that fans get emotionally invested in. Reacting to hurt audience reaction when he suggested that they may never see the bounty hunter known as the Will again, Vaughan exclaimed: “He’s a bad guy! He’s trying to kill the characters you like, guys. You’re not supposed to root for him.”
The fan at the microphone shouted back: “He can change!”
To a question from an appreciative reader about a page featuring Lying Cat and Sophie (a child sex slave that the not-really-so-bad the Will had freed), on which the girl is saying she’s soiled because of what she’s done and the cat says, “Lying,” Vaughan said he’d worried it would be “too on-the-nose, but I wept when I saw Fiona’s execution of it.”
He added: “I love ‘Star Wars’ … but I guess the one element of ‘Star Wars’ that always bothered me is slave girl Leia. To me, that is that character at the least sexy, in a sort of subjugated, sad state.” After applause, Vaughan continued: “There really are slave girls in the world, and they don’t look anything like Princess Leia in a bikini. I guess we want to talk about war in a realistic way, and we can’t do that without talking about the civilians who have been hurt.”
(This being “Saga,” that poignant exchange was immediately followed by a question about robot genitalia.)
Staples, answering a question about figure references from moderator Eric Stephenson (Image’s publisher), said she shoots photos of herself before drawing poses.
“Now that I know that,” Vaughan joked, “the script will become like an elaborate game of Twister.”
There was some talk of seeing “Saga” in other mediums.
Vaughan, who also developed Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” into a hit television series and was a producer on “Lost” in addition to his comics work on projects including “Runaways,” “Pride of Baghdad” and “Y: The Last Man,” was asked by a fan about why he’s said that he doesn’t want “Saga” to be adapted for the screen.
The writer stated, as he had in accepting the continuing series Eisner Award the previous night, that he sees comics as a superior medium that can do things that film and television can’t do, and that with “Saga” he wanted to do something that was purely a comic book.
But, he added, “If Paul Thomas Anderson says, ‘Hey, I want to do a “Saga” movie’ – all right.”
Staples didn’t object to the comics-only approach, but does look at hypothetical cast lists that fans post online. Her favorite suggestions: Godfrey Gao (“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”) for Marko, and Freema Agyeman (“Doctor Who”) for Alana.
The creative team agreed that “Saga” could be a tabletop role-playing game, and in asking the fans what sort of items they’d like to see, heard back, “Lying Cat plushie.”
“OK,” Vaughan said. “But it’s got to talk.”
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