One of the most-anticipated new titles of 2012 is Image Comics' Saga, which marks the return to monthly comics of Y: The Last Man, Runaways and Ex Machina's Brian K. Vaughan. It's also poised to be a breakthrough work for artist Fiona Staples, whose work you might have seen on IDW's Mystery Society, Jonah Hex#66, or many covers. We caught up with Staples to talk about Saga, and even got some character designs and concept art to show you!Newsarama: Okay Fiona, Brian's been all cagey on the story of Saga. What can you tell us that he hasn't that won't result in him declaring a jihad on us?
Fiona Staples: Let's see. I think Brian's already revealed that it's about a couple of young interspecies lovers who desert their respective armies to have a baby, and are now living on the run. But obtaining a spaceship is not a simple thing for a couple of fugitives, and they're having a hard time getting away from the war and violence. It wouldn't hurt to mention that there's a cast of really intriguing bounty hunters after them, as well.
Nrama: What'd you think when Brian first contacted you about this project?Staples: I thought it might be some kind of hoax, because I'd never spoken to Brian before and there was no reason that he should know who I was. Also, his e-mail address was something not too official-sounding. But once I confirmed that it was really that Brian K. Vaughan and the best opportunity of my career had just fallen into my lap, I was very pleased.
Nrama: What was initially appealing to you about the characters, ideas, and premise?Staples: I immediately liked how the characters in this insane, fantastical world had very human flaws and limitations, and they way they speak and interact feels really natural. I found them all engaging and interesting and wanted to have a hand in shaping their story.
Nrama: How is this unique from other things you've drawn, and how have you changed your art style any for this project?
Staples: This is the first time I've done an ongoing rather than a miniseries- I've never done more than six issues of anything else. So since I'm doing full-colour art on a monthly book, the main thing I'm focused on is speeding up my process without it looking like garbage.
I'm taking a few cues from animation and doing something resembling cel-shaded characters over painted backgrounds. This means I can draw the figures in pretty quickly without worrying about putting complicated shading on all of them, and the backgrounds can be as loose or as detailed as needed, hopefully without it looking too jarring. I'm also using a much richer color palette than I have in the past. Our story bounces around to a lot of different locations so I need each one to look unique.Nrama: Tell us about how you designed some of the main characters, and the input you provided into this process.
Staples: Our two leads, Marko and Alana, are different alien species, and Brian's concept for them was that Alana's race would have wings and Marko's would have horns. Other than that, they're just an attractive young couple. I pretty much let form follow function when it came to their clothing- Marko has a hood he can put up to hide his horns if necessary, a long coat that somewhat disguises his magical sword, and Alana is basically dressed for maternity. If they're lucky, they might be able to stop running long enough to change their clothes at some point.
Brian was adamant about Alana not being a feisty redhead because it's such a cliché, and I said if we really wanted to be different from 90 percent of the stuff out there we'd have non-Caucasian leads, so they're both kind of ethnically ambiguous.Nrama: This project got a lot of publicity when it was first announced, and just made the cover of Previews. How do you feel about the anticipation for this, and what's cool/intimidating about it?
Staples: I definitely feel like the stakes are high this time around! I think in the past readers would be pleasantly surprised if they picked up something I drew and found they enjoyed the art, and but now the expectations are a bit higher. It's very, very cool to have people paying attention before the book even comes out- I don't think I've ever enjoyed that kind of anticipation from readers before. I'm constantly striving to improve as an artist, so I hope I can deliver, and keep delivering.
Nrama: Tell us about your collaborative process with Brian on the book.
Staples: When starting out we did some preliminary work- exchanging notes and concept art back and forth until we ironed out the look of the main characters and some of the crucial locations and tech. At this point he just sends me the scripts, and I get back to him with thumbnail page layouts and the occasional more detailed design. Then it's straight to full-color art, no time to waste!
Nrama: What's been the most fun thing to draw in the book so far, and why?
Staples: There's a bounty hunter we eventually come across who is so crazy, they get three separate "big reveals" to show off different aspects of their badassery. That has been a treat to draw.Nrama: And for that matter, what's been the most challenging thing to draw, and why?
Staples: I have nothing against babies, but they're kind of challenging for me to draw. In my roughs the baby looks like a troll. Their proportions are so odd, and there's the matter of making the baby cute but not saccharine. Whenever I can I just draw her very heavily swaddled. In the meantime, I gather lots of reference photos and try to look at infants analytically when I see them in in real life.
Nrama: How long do you see yourself working on the book, or has there been a set timeline for its run?
Staples: No timeline whatsoever- we'll go as long as we can!
Nrama: Okay, sell us on Saga as hard as you possibly can. Why should readers dedicate their hard-earned dollars to your fine product each month?
Staples: The longer we get to do this book, the more rewarding the reading experience will be- the Saga universe will expand more with every issue, growing richer and more layered as the adventure rolls along. And it really is a grand, rollicking adventure.Nrama: What other comics/creators are you currently reading/enjoying?
Staples; I devour any Goon and Hellboy stuff that comes out, and I've been rereading Tintin and Corto Maltese for adventure inspiration. Green Wake is really good and creepy. Next year I'm looking forward to getting Kurtis Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins' Peter Panzerfaust and Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Conan.
Nrama: Anything you're working on besides Saga at this time?
Staples: Just the odd cover, but Saga is pretty much a full-time job!
The saga of Saga begins with a 48-page first issue in March 2012.