Brian K Vaughan has a new issue of Saga out, the first in three months. He has a new Private Eye out, with a collection of the previous five issues. Then there's a new season of Under The Dome... but what does he have to do with it? He talks with Bleeding Cool about all this and more…
Rich Johnston: I've just read Saga #19. So have lots of people. And, as many issues of Saga begin, it opens with a taboo breaker. Some are minor, some are major, but there certainly seems to be an effort to shock. In many ways, Saga reminds me of Four Weddings And A Funeral, everyone seems to remember it as a quirky light comedy but when you sit down to watch it, the first five minutes is nothing but people saying "Fuck!". Are you trying to get our attention, shock us out of complacency, what?
Brian K Vaughan: Well, the last page was definitely intended to be a Big Shocking Moment, but I just thought that first page would be beautiful. I know that sounds like bullshit since the last page has a married couple hugging and the first page has an extreme close-up of a blood-splattered anus… but for all of the fathers out there who've had the privilege of watching their wives give birth, you know that the moment your first child starts to emerge creates a surreal combination of joy and revulsion and relief and terror and excitement and nausea and confusion and wonder. The fact that Fiona Staples can make you feel all of those emotions with one panel of a robot pushing a glorified Sony Watchman out of its vagina is one of the many reasons that she's the greatest storyteller of her generation.
RJ: Talking of that Saga #19 opening (as it were), Marvel have just solicited a reprint of Miracleman #9, the eighties comic that showed the graphically depicted birth of Winter, were you intentionally echoing that, and the impact it had – distributors prophesying the end of comic stores?
BKV: You know, I had actually considered opening Saga #1 this way, with us seeing Hazel emerge from Alana, but I decided against it for a few reasons, one of which was that it would just pale in comparison to the power and beauty of that issue of Miracleman. I'm glad we waited to establish our book's voice before we attempted our own look at childbirth, but there must be other examples of "realistic" birthing scenes in comics, right? I'm sure we could all find at least six graphic decapitations from this week's stack of books alone, so there must be other depictions out there of something that happens about 400,000 times every single day in the real world.
RJ: More than anything, Saga seems designed to torture its fans. To generate "squee" and then dash it on the rocks. Such love and such hate and the end of the new issue is exactly that. Do you get pleasure and satisfaction from the mental and emotional grinding you put committed readers through?
BKV: This is probably very narcissistic, but I never think about any kind of audience beyond Fiona [Staples] and me. I just want to stay true to our characters and the story we're trying to tell. But it's very flattering if at least a few readers have an emotional connection to our universe.
RJ: The aspect of Private Eye that sticks with me is what seems to be the evolution of the investigative journalist into detective. Where I'm looking, more of them seem to be evolving into public relations, or depending on a sugar daddy like Buzzfeed or Jeff Boze. And the journalists who did hack phones and the like, skills that may be useful for a PI, are now considered the worst of the worst. Why that direction for jounos in Private Eye?
BKV: Obviously, the internet has helped blur the line between "professional" and "amateur" reporters. But because The Private Eye is set in a post-Internet world (the web went the way of the Apollo program after the cloud "burst," spilling all of our secrets into the open), Marcos Martin and I wanted to firmly reestablish that old wall between pros and "citizen journalists." So in our future, the press has combined with law enforcement to become "the Fourth Estate," whose armed correspondents are the only ones trained and licensed to investigate their fellow Americans. But even in our privacy-obsessed year of 2076, Marcos and I figured there would still be a demand for dirt on your colleagues/neighbors/favorite celebrities, which is where underground "paparazzi" like our protagonist P.I. come in. Never fear, Rich, there will always be a market for muckraking.
Anyway, I think Private Eye features some of the most glorious artwork of any comic, print or digital, being published in the world right now, so if you haven't checked it out yet, I hope you'll at least try the first instalment of our ten-part series. You can download any or all of our first six issues (with #7 coming shortly) for absolutely any price you think is fair, including nothing, over at PanelSyndicate.com
RJ: Under The Dome is coming back… what's your involvement with that show, now? And are you seeking similar roles in other series in the future?
BKV: Yeah, I don't think this has been reported anywhere, but I actually left my position at Under The Dome a few months ago. It was the great thrill of my life to help adapt one of the best book's ever from my all-time hero, but I've got two very young kids at home who I never got to see last season, so I'm enormously grateful to CBS and Amblin for letting me out of my contract a little early. I'm already missing the cast and crew, but the show remains in the excellent hands of our veteran showrunner Neal Baer, and we were lucky enough to hire some heavy hitting new writers for this season, including none other than Mr. King himself. His first episode is easily the best of the series so far, and helps set the tone for a fucking crazy new direction, so I look forward to getting to watch as a fan with everyone else.
As for the future, it's been a huge honor to get work in film and television over the last few years, and I'm open to doing more down the line, but right now, I'd just like to concentrate on comics. Other than my family, nothing brings me more joy than making new shit, and I think there's still no better visual medium to tell original stories than comics.
RJ: Did you read that Daredevil reads Saga now? And have you seen what they've done with The Hood? Do you stay in touch with the way your work is being handled by the rest of comic book culture?
BKV: How cool was that Daredevil moment? Waid and Samnee are the best.
And yeah, I may be a deadbeat dad, but I always keep remote tabs on the Runaways and the Hood and all the Marvel kids I abandoned. I love all of it unconditionally, even what's become of poor Molly Hayes. She wears a do-rag in the future?! I knew she might grow up to become evil one day, but never THAT evil.
It pains me to ever say a kind word about my elderly nemesis Mark Millar, but when I was a kid working on Swamp Thing, a lot of readers were furious that my take deviated too much from Mark's prior run, but the tiny Scotsman made it a point to reach out to me and say, "Don't worry about them or me. You've got the wheel now, so try to make the book your own instead of a watered-down pastiche of everything that's come before." That was probably the nicest, most generous thing a fellow creator has said to me before or since, so I encourage anyone who's interested to do the same with the characters I was lucky enough to help create for the ol' House of Ideas.
Just please try to do a better job than I did with Swampy.
RJ: Given that the likelihood that any idea you have for a comic book, no matter what it's value, will have publishers very willing to put it out, how can you know what is a good idea, or a great idea anymore? Who can you rely on when you are in the successful position you have elevated yourself to?
BKV: That is very sweet of you to think that, but I assure you that I have no power to get anything automatically greenlit in any medium, even comics. After Ex Machina ended and I left Lost, all I did was fail spectacularly for a few years. I tried to start a few new comics with different artists, but none of them worked out, for a lot of different reasons. I wrote a blue-collar space opera TV show for Sam Raimi called Smokers that Fox ultimately passed on. Wrote a contemporary crime movie I was going to direct for Darren Aronofsky's production company that we could never find funding for. Wrote an action movie called The Vault that nobody wanted. Even Under The Dome got passed by Showtime, who originally hired me to develop it. It usually takes me about a dozen creative miscarriages for every one pregnancy that makes it to term. And if you're a creator who primarily wants to tell new stories, I'm sorry to say that it NEVER gets easier.
So how do you know which ideas are the good ones worth risking that much heartache for? You don't know and you can't know, because there's no such thing as a "good idea." Last boy on earth and his monkey pursued by one-breasted women on motorcycles? Profoundly stupid idea. Romeo and Juliet as hipsters in space? Go fuck yourself. A dude in a jetpack saves one of the towers on 9/11? That's borderline morally offensive.
What hopefully elevates those stories beyond their dopey high concepts are collaborators like Pia Guerra and Fiona Staples and Tony Harris, who pour their souls into each page, and challenge me to keep looking for what's relevant to our lives in these weird-ass ideas.
RJ: Talking of which. Lying Cat plush toys. When?
BKV: Oh, it's been discussed, but I only want to do it if it's a motherfucking TALKING Lying Cat plush. We've started chatting to some toy folks, but any interested manufacturers out there are welcome to reach out to us through the archaic P.O. Box listed above each Saga letter column.
That would be…