Comics captivated us in 2014. While Marvel and DC ramped up their commitment to movies and TV, comic book publishers like Image and Monkeybrain showed us that there's more than enough room (and demand) for female characters, people of color, and LGBTQ characters in sequential art. But the social progress that was splashed all over our panels this year wasn't the only reason comics got our attention. The science fiction genre gained momentum in 2014, in part because comics pushed boundaries and told stories that really wouldn't work in any other format.
Saga, a space opera published by Image comics, is a great example of what can happen when you put that all together. At a glance, the award-winning sci-fi comic centers around a family on the run. But the storyline takes us where many other visual art forms have been too scared to go. It explores domestic abuse, race relations, drug use, trauma, and the complexities of marriage. And it's that willingness to confront the nitty-gritty of what makes us humanoids that prompted us to get in touch with Saga creator and writer Brian K. Vaughan. We asked him to take part in a one-off comics discussion in The Verge's New York office, and he agreed.
The discussion that ensued is an exploration of comics, gaming, racial diversity, breastfeeding, Star Wars, and Vaughan's time as writer for the television show Lost. We had a blast talking to him, and we hope you'll enjoy listening to our conversation. But for those who might not be able to listen to an hour of audio right this minute, here's a snapshot of our favorite moments with Vaughan:
Vaughan on racial diversity in Saga:
"you know, these characters don't have to be white."
"Early on when I was describing the characters [to illustrator Fiona Staples], I said: 'oh, well, Alana the mom, has wings and Marko, the dad, has horns. And Alana can look however you want — I probably wouldn't make her a redhead because there's a glut of redheads in comics.' And Fiona sort of wisely pointed out, she said 'you know, these characters don't have to be white.'"
"And I blame myself that, particularly when thinking about fantasy, that white tends to be the default when thinking about characters. And then it's sort of adding in horns and wings, or bumps on their foreheads makes them diverse, and I think it's insane. It was Fiona who pointed out, 'Look if you really do want to explore the real world, this book should look like the real world.'"
Vaughan on having a large depiction of a baby breastfeeding on the first deluxe hardcover edition of Saga:
"If that cover offends you... this series is not for you."
"When the first issue came out, on the cover, it featured Alana breastfeeding Hazel in the most sort of muted, non-confrontational way possible, and still I was shocked to hear from Image that some stores were refusing to rack it on their shelves, or they would put a piece or paper over it, or turn them over. And, you know, if you've ever been in a comic book store, there are some pretty racy covers, just severed heads are par for the course. And so when it came time for us to do this collection, we just decided lets double down on this and have the most gigantic, in-your-face Hazel breastfeeding."
"And, you know, I think it is definitely meant to illicit an emotional reaction. But I think it's also a warning for people. If that cover offends you, or if it's creepy or titillating, this series is not for you. But I think there are a lot of people who see it and think, 'Wow, what is this horned baby doing? I've never seen anything like this. This kind of weirdness is for me.'"
Vaughan on gaming:
"As a player, I love it. As a creator, I find it extremely challenging — that idea of giving the audience so much control over the story. I like to be much more dictatorial, and to take you on this path. So I admire games tremendously, and I would have no idea how to go about creating one."
"And that's actually something that has come up. A Saga video game, particularly if it's sort of about characters other than the main characters in our story, is really exciting to me — even more exciting than a film or TV show. So, uh, never say never."
Vaughan on Star Wars:
"I'm excited for the new Star Wars — I'll be first in line — but part of me is aching for... I hope my kids will get something new. You know, right now, we watch Marvel cartoons, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars, and it's all the same stuff that I liked as a kid. And it's nice, I get to relate, but I'm eager for the crazy, far out, new stuff."