Comic Relief with Brian K. Vaughan
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Paste: How’s your day been?
Vaughan: It’s been OK, thanks. Just a little administrative stuff on Saga before we get the first collection out of the door. Just doing some number crunching.
Paste: So Marko was initially imprisoned on a planet called Cleave and you grew up in Cleveland before moving to New York and LA. Was that by design or just a coincidence?
Vaughan: It’s funny because a lot of people commented on the word and what it means, to tear apart. To cleave is to tear apart, but also to ‘claim to.’ I remember when my wife read the script, she said this is just so fucking on the nose, ‘I get it, you’re from Cleveland.’ So I don’t want to do anything to confirm or deny with the inspiration of Cleveland. Use whatever answer you like the best.
Paste: You began to write Saga after you found out you had another child on the way last March. What was it about your second child that inspired the story that wasn’t experienced the first round?
Vaughan: The idea actually began brewing after my son had been born, my first child. I don’t know if it was so much having the second one that pushed it over the edge, but I just think fatherhood in general was such an awe-inspiring life event that I wanted to write about it. I know it’s just so crushingly boring to talk about parenthood, so it took having two kids before I was smart enough to add extra rocket ships and ray guns, and hopefully make it more interesting.
Paste: Much of Saga’s Sci-Fi love is from when you were a child, though, right? What was it about the genre that got into your system?
Vaughan: I guess like most other kids, there’s definitely an element of escapism. But for me, I have a constant hunger for new things, and things I haven’t seen before. And fantasy science fiction is really that marriage. I get to create universes where anything is possible. I just love that imagery. I distinctly remember the first time I saw The Silver Surfer, just the idea that a naked, silver bald guy could rocket through space on a surf board. It was so stupid, and yet so incredibly awesome and unbelievable. I couldn’t imagine a brain that would come up with something like that. And it just really pleased me to no end. I wanted to get new and weird with a purpose.
Paste: The book encompasses a sweeping sci-fi universe in the middle of a war, but the most dramatic conflicts are incredibly domestic. Breast feeding, baby sitters, jealousy over old lovers, and last we saw, invasive in-laws have been the biggest head turners. Do these realistic struggles mirror the experiences that you’ve had as a father and husband?
Vaughan: I wouldn’t say they mirror them. If anything, I’d say it’s a crazy fun house mirror. I am blessed with an amazingly boring, peaceful home life. And so I’m not being hunted by ruthless bounty hunters, but I do think that raising kids is a highly-dramatic, thrilling, surprising adventure, and it’s only really that when viewed from within. So if anything, I’m trying to convey how parenthood feels to me through the medium of rocket ships and ray guns.
Paste: Have any of your own babysitters reached the high standards set by teenage ghost Izabel?
Vaughan: You know, they have! And there’s a line where Izabel, our ghostly babysitter, is joining our crew and her soul is being bonded to Hazel, the baby. The Mom asks if this bond will hurt, and the babysitter says, “only on the day that it ends.” My kids are so young, they’re both under three. They’ve already had incredibly intimate relationships with the young people who are taking time out of their lives to care for them, and they kind of casually come and go. It’s a really strange, unique character that comes into your life. All of my babysitters have been just as cool as Izabel. And snarky as well.
Paste: You’re a fairly vocal Garth Ennis fan. Conceptually I found a lot of similarities between Hazel and Genesis – a birth representing a new idea built out of two legacy beliefs, with each original foundation trying to destroy this new entity. Was this a conscious homage?
Vaughan: It was something I had not considered at all. But the two people I give my scripts to before they go out are my wife and my brother. And I remember I gave this to my brother, and he’s like, ‘This is your most overt Preacher rip-off yet. You should be ashamed.’ And yeah, I get it. I had not considered that until he mentioned it, but Preacher is so important to me and I’m sure it’s entwined in my DNA. But no, it was not a conscious effort. As Hazel said, she’ll find that she’s not going to become an epic war hero or someone vitally important to the universe. She’s just a regular ’ole person.
Paste: There arguably aren’t any traditional “evil” villains here. Literally every major character is motivated out of a similar sense of parentage. Even an opportunistic bounty hunter like The Will is acting to adopt a juvenile sex slave. It doesn’t have a black and white sense of morality that can help simplify action books.
Vaughan: That’s definitely the goal. It’s sort of naive as Marko and Alana are in a lot of ways. I think it’s cool that they’re seeing this war as ridiculous as it actually is. This universe has this seething, unending hunger for conflict, and they just want nothing to do with it. And it’s really hard to dramatize a story about people who hate conflict, and even suddenly the antagonists, the people you’re supposed to hate, are after these people who you don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and maybe sometimes rooting for them. So it’s a really tough thing to pull off. And I have Fiona Staples to thank for that. She gives so much humanity, even if it’s a dude with a TV set for a head, she makes them totally sympathetic and relatable. She’s been a joy to work with.
Paste: Speaking of the Will, he’s turned into quite the scene stealer. How did you come up with his character?
Vaughan: I don’t know! Everybody says Han Solo now, but I don’t think there are too many similarities. I think he’s a despicable guy in a lot of ways. I guess The Will is taken from the parts of myself, which are mostly dead now, that never wanted kids. I’d say they’re entirely dead now, but there are some days when your kids are screaming at three in the morning that your views sympathize with people who never want kids. He’s a lot of my worst attributes piled up in that character. I also hope he’s relatable in some ways. But I wish I had a better answer for where a bald dude and his lie detector cat came from, but it just popped out of my head one day.
Paste: He’s not all anti-kid though. He’s very motivated to free the child sex slave. Is he planning to be her parent if/when he frees her?
Vaughan: We’ll see if he achieves that. He hasn’t had much luck so far. I think I just wanted to write a character who had lines that he wouldn’t cross. Just because he’s killed children in the past doesn’t mean he’s going to tolerate someone who sexually abuses them. It’s a strange line, but one that he’s picked for himself. I like seeing characters with completely alien, sometimes horrific, moral codes, with the desire to stick with them. We’ll see what happens. We’re not done with slave girl yet.
Paste: Happy to hear it. Traditionally, your previous books like Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man lasted around 60 issues and you’ve stated that you want Saga to continue for possibly longer. Is the story so big that the second generation, i.e. Hazel, Prince Robot’s offspring and the Sextillion slave could take over at some point? We know that Hazel’s definitely going to be around because she’s the narrator.
Vaughan: I’ll say that anything is possible. I’d say it’s even possible that we could go into the past before Hazel was born, not just into the future after she’s grown up. The thing I love best about the book is that you never really know, picking it up month to month. You never even know what the tone’s going to be, or the genre, because Fiona and I could switch it up. It just gives it so much freedom. Once again, I hope I’m artfully dodging your question. I don’t want people to know, other than to say we have long term plans that will carry it on to unexpected places.
Paste: I’m staring at the cover for Saga #7, and it features a very regal Marko covered in blood sporting a sword (that may be the same one that was broken in issue #6). So can I guess that this issue possibly launches into the past you mention?
Vaughan: Could be, could be. And with all of our covers, they can sometimes be suggestive. So just because we’re cutting into the past, it doesn’t mean we’re going to the first place you expect. But I’m really excited about this next arc. We’re definitely going to be pushing forward, going to some new places, but having the in-laws crashing gives ample opportunities to find out some interesting things.
Paste: Is Saga your sole project right now? Is your work on the Stephen King miniseries Under the Dome for Showtime still on the table?
Vaughan: It’s still on the table. I’ve not heard whether or not Showtime will pick it up. But Stephen King and Steven Spielberg were really happy with the work so far, so that’s pretty cool. That’s geek fantasy camp to get to work with the two of them. So we’ll see what happens. Saga‘s my only comic at the moment. I’d love to do more, but I really wanted to spend at least the first year just helping to create this massive new universe, sort of focusing all of my enthusiasm for comics into just one thing.
Paste: In a world where no comic book option is untouched, has Saga been discussed as a film project with any third parties?
Vaughan: Definitely. I get phone calls about it all the time, but Fiona and I aren’t rushing into anything. It’s been great to do a book for Image, and when you really own a book outright, you can make a healthy living just doing comics. And I don’t think Fiona and I want to option the book just to option it. We don’t need to, but we’re open. If someone came in with a crazy notion, like here’s how to make it work as the most expensive TV show of all time or as a crazy R-rated summer movie, I think it’s unlikely, but it happens. We’d be open, but right now, no. We wanted to do something that was just meant to be a comic, so it’s all comics all the time.
Paste: So, one last question: would Ex Machina hero Mitchell Hundred vote for Obama or Romney?
Vaughan: (Laughs) That is an interesting question. In his universe, he ended up running with McCain. So I’ll dodge the question by saying he would be gearing up for his second term as vice president, so he’s helping defeat whoever he’s running against. I don’t know who that is in this alternate universe. Maybe it’s a Hillary/Obama ticket. Either way, Mitchell Hundred has always voted for himself.