Fiona Staples has become a comic-book rockstar as the artist and co-creator of the most critically acclaimed comic of the past few years, Saga. Staples was introduced to Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan by their mutual friend, Steve Niles, with whom Staples worked on Mystery Society. Staples is co-owner of Saga, and has designed every facet of the book, including every character, planet and alien race. She also paints the covers for each issue, and hand-letters the narration — and incredible workload for one artist.
Saga has since become a runaway bestseller and a critical smash right out of the gate, racking up multiple Eisner awards, including Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer, and six Harvey Awards: Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story — and that was just the first year.
Heroic Girls caught up with Staples and scored a quick interview with one of the busiest and most talented women working in comics. (Note: As wonderful as it is, Saga is a book perhaps best enjoyed by the parents of Heroic Girls.)
Heroic Girls: Saga has wide mainstream appeal. How is the book getting into the hands of people who might never set foot into a local comic book shop?
Fiona Staples: As far as I can tell, it’s a combination of press coverage and word-of-mouth! At cons, most of the people I meet say they’ve loaned Saga out to their friends, had it loaned to them, or both. So Brian and I are extremely grateful to the readers who go out of their way to recommend our book.
HG: How does the collaborative process with Brian work? I know he has given you a lot of flexibility. Have you seen some of the ideas you put into the book through your art come back to you in later scripts?
FS: Yeah! I have no desire to interfere with Brian’s master plan, whatever it is, but if there’s something I want to draw he’ll work it in. When we’re gearing up to start a new arc, he’ll ask what kind of worlds and creatures I want to see. Usually my requests are pretty vague, like “ancient ruins,” or “golems,” or “new clothes.” Sometimes they’re more specific, like making a couple of our new characters mermen. And sometimes we just insert a character that I designed for fun, like the little seal guy.
HG: I’ve read in multiple interviews that part of the concept of Saga was to make a project that did not have immediate appeal to turn into a movie or television show. Why did you and Brian think this was important?
FS: I think Brian gets his fill of the TV/film industry at his day job [Vaughn was a writer on the TV show Lost and the show-runner for Under the Dome -ed], and I am just clueless about it. We both love comics and wanted to take advantage of our medium to do things that can’t be done anywhere else.
HG: You got your start reading “bad girl” comics and Heavy Metal magazine. Do those early influences show in your current work?
FS: Maybe, haha. Stuff like Heavy Metal made me realize painted comics were a thing – that comics didn’t have to look a certain way or be a particular style. That was a huge revelation. All the Top Cow comics that I copied in high school are probably still in me somewhere, but thankfully balanced out with thousands of other influences.
HG: Women are often still marginalized in the world of comics, both as creators and consumers. Do you think that is changing?
FS: It’s definitely changing, although maybe not as quickly as we’d like. All the corners of the comics world except mainstream superhero books have pretty much agreed that diversity is a positive thing. I think the important thing to do now is create women-friendly books, and that will lead to more female creators in the next generation.
HG: Can you talk a little about your process? If I’ve read correctly, you do most of your work directly on a tablet. What advantages does that give you as an artist?
FS: I start by reading the script and making small thumbnails and notes in the margins. Then I draw slightly larger thumbnail layouts which I send to Brian to look over. I scan the thumbnails in and use them as pencils, doing all of the final art digitally. I ink the characters and foreground elements in Manga Studio and I do the colours and painted backgrounds in Photoshop. I use an iMac and Cintiq.
I’ve been working digitally since 2007, and find it to be way faster than traditional pencilling and inking! It also makes it possible to really integrate the colouring into the art, to be able to easily go back and forth between drawing and colouring.
HG: You use a lot of painterly techniques in Saga, particularly for backgrounds. What does that artistic choice bring to the book?
FS: I think the art style of any comic has a huge impact on the way it’s read. Some artists pack the page with detail so it takes a long time to read and digest it all. Others have a slick, cartoony style so the action really comes to life. I try to create evocative environments in Saga while keeping the focus on the characters- after all, it’s mainly a story about their lives and ideas and relationships.
Doing painted backgrounds gives me a lot of flexibility with them – they can basically be as loose or as polished as I need (or have time for). And there are some things – particularly space scenes and magical effects – that I just can’t render in linework alone.
HG: You’ve gotten to create some fantastic characters so far. Do any stand out to you as favorites from a design standpoint?
FS: Lying Cat is a favourite!
HG: Has the critical and commercial success of Saga opened any doors for you? Do you even have bandwidth for other projects with all you do on Saga?
FS: It’s given me many opportunities and I’ve had to turn them all down, haha. I definitely don’t have time for any other work, except the odd cover.
HG: Saga is an incredibly ambitious project in terms of scope. Is it something you can still see yourself doing in 10 years? 20?
FS: It’s hard to imagine that far ahead… ten years means I’ll have spent my entire thirties doing this one book. Yikes! We’ll see how life goes. Right now I’m content to be working on Saga for the foreseeable future.