By Michael Rapoport
What if Romeo and Juliet were from warring alien races, had a baby daughter, and tried to carve out a life for themselves while being pursued across the galaxy? And what if their adventures were narrated by the baby, looking back from the future?
That’s the premise of “Saga,” one of the best-received new comic-book series of 2012. And if you think no one could make a worthwhile, compelling story out of a ridiculously high-concept idea like that, you’ve never read the work of writer Brian K. Vaughan, “Saga’s” co-creator.
Vaughan specializes in coming up with seemingly glib premises that could easily go awry and investing them with depth and meaning, in acclaimed series like “Y: The Last Man” (what if a plague left only one man in a world of women?) and “Ex Machina” (what if a superhero were elected mayor of New York City?). In “Saga,” Vaughan and Fiona Staples, his artist collaborator, mash up R-rated space opera, fantasy and romance – not to mention a few more outré elements, like robot sex – into what Publishers Weekly called “a completely addictive, human story that will leave readers desperately awaiting the next volume.
“Saga,” published by Image Comics, marks Vaughan’s return to comics after a sojourn in Hollywood, including a three-season stint as a writer and producer on TV’s “Lost.” Since it debuted in March, the series has consistently been among the best-selling independent comics (i.e., those not from the big two comics companies, Marvel and DC). A trade paperback collecting the first six-issue story arc is in stores now, and a new storyline begins next month.
Vaughan spoke with Speakeasy at New York Comic Con last weekend about “Saga,” why it (probably) will never be made into a movie, and how his mother reacted to some of the story’s more outrageous material. An edited transcript.
How would you describe Saga for the uninitiated?
Saga is an epic sci-fi fantasy book about two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war who nevertheless fall madly in love with each other. Instead of killing themselves like those dopey teenagers Romeo and Juliet, they decide to run away and drop out of the war, and they end up having a baby. The rest of the universe doesn’t think this is a very good idea, and drama ensues.
You’ve said that this was inspired by your becoming a father.
I now have two kids, a son and a daughter. It was an extraordinary life-changing experience, and I really wanted to write about how it feels to bring a child into the world. I also know that nothing is more crushingly boring than hearing stories about other people’s children, so I’m sort of hiding stories about my own life in this epic sci-fi fantasy world.
I wanted to do a story about a family, but not necessarily one that was “family-friendly.” It seems like anytime you have a story with a baby in it, it’s aimed at a younger audience, and I think there are a whole mess of people in their 30s who are going through exactly what I’m going through now, and I sort of wanted to write a story for them, not for their kids.
The art has a unique sensibility to it – robots having sex, an eight-armed eight-eyed bounty hunter called the Stalk, bizarre “greeters” on a “pleasure planet” called Sextillion.
My mother read the first issue, and her review was, “Well, I made it through the whole thing.” My poor beleaguered Catholic mom would just like me to write nice stories for children, but she’s always very supportive.
Apart from your mother, how has the response been?
Unbelievable. I really thought this could tank; I didn’t know if there would be an audience for this. But the response has been extraordinary, it’s been one of the best-selling books I’ve ever done, and the audience is incredible. I told Fiona we might get canceled early, and it would have an extremely depressing ending if that’s the case – but if it works, I hope this will be a story we’re telling for years.
This is your first creator-owned project – the first time you’ve had complete creative control.
We have total creative freedom. No one can give us any note about content – clearly, from the strange stuff we’ve already pulled off. I started working at Marvel and DC, they’re great and I learned so much there, but the whole time I was there, I was just yearning for more freedom, more control.
You’ve said your intention is for Saga to be just a comic – no movie, no outside adaptation. Why?
I love Hollywood, but I guess I feel very protective of the (comics) medium. It hurts my feelings in a way when people only ask about Y: The Last Man “when is the movie going to happen” or when will there be a TV show. It’s like when I watch Breaking Bad, a show I love – I don’t ask, “when are they going to make a comic book out of this?” I love it because it’s a great show.
I think comics similarly should be the destination, not the blueprint. My goal is to make great comics, and this is something that could only be a comic – the depth of a great cable series for grownups, but the visual spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster. If someone wants to do a film or TV show and convinces us they can, then that’s gravy, but it’s not the point. I didn’t write this to be a glorified screenplay.
Hazel, the two lovers’ baby, narrates the story from the future, so we can safely assume she’s going to survive. But there’s no guarantees about anyone else?
Even in the first six issues, a character that was much loved, and Fiona in particular loved, is not with us anymore. This is a war story, and war stories have casualties. Yes, there will be a lot of death and mayhem to follow.