That’s What I’m Talking About – BKV on Collaboration and Saga

Writing is often discussed as a solitary act. Yes, it’s often just you and the keyboard in the room when the words first pour out of you, but you’re far from the last person to read, interpret, and possibly alter the work. Novelists have editors. Playwrights and screenwriters have directors, actors, and countless technical professionals. People working together to create something; it’s the nature of collaboration. And in comics, one person has more effect on the written words than anyone else – the artist. (In this case, by artist I’m mostly referring to the penciler, but inkers, colorists, etc. have their roles as well and the boundaries between each can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine).

People who write about comics often compare artists to a screen director. But that’s reductive. The artist is the director, sure. But their other jobs include acting, photography, set and prop design, lighting, wardrobe, special effects, and casting. Next time you see a film’s credits, really think about how many of those listed people affected the visual aspect of the film. A comics artist is all those people. A writer who respects that fact and encourages collaboration on their work will always get the best results.

The past twenty years have seen some truly great writer and artist collaborations. Azzarello and Risso. Loeb and Sale. Gillen and McKelvie. But you can’t tie BKV to any one artist. Almost every one of his books has had a singular artist connected to it. Y: The Last Man had Pia Guerra. Runaways had Adrian Alphona. Ex Machina had Tony Harris. The Private Eye has Marcos Martin. Though there were fill-ins and one shots drawn by others, those artists defined the look of those series from beginning to end. Which brings us to Vaughan’s current book, Saga, and that book’s artist, Fiona Staples.

For those of you unfamiliar, Saga tells the story of Alana and Marko, new parents from warring societies. Her people have wings. His people have horns. Drama ensues.

Alana from Saga, by Fiona StaplesFair enough.

Staples has previously worked with Steve Niles on the IDW-published Mystery Society as well as an Authority miniseries focused on Jack Hawksmoor. As she did on those books, she pencils, inks, and colors the book herself. She even does part of the lettering. And so, the multiple Eisner-winning Saga looks like nothing else on the stands. The book is hers. Should she break her right hand tomorrow, I have no doubt the series would go on hiatus until she was drawing again.

Marko from Saga, by Fiona StaplesDuring a Brian K. Vaughan spotlight panel at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, he said some great things about Saga, Staples and their process.

“Yeah, we do have a weird working relationship. We talk before each arc very generally where we sit down and I’ll ask what she hated drawing and what she’d like to draw more of, and what kind of themes she thinks we should explore.”

That relationship shouldn’t be weird. It should be commonplace. Empowering an artist that way is only going to create a better book. Being a stakeholder and a driver of the story, not just a pencil monkey, results in true investment. If they don’t like to draw cars, maybe don’t have a chase seen in the next issue. Vaughan knew that Staples didn’t like drawing machinery, so the family’s home/spaceship is made of wood. Likewise, when my best bud told me to write something for him to draw, my first question was what he wanted to draw. His quick response was “Monsters.” So I found my way into a werewolf story. One day, maybe we’ll see those pages.

But in addition to what she wants to draw, Vaughan also asks what themes Staples would like to explore. Her ideas, leading back into his writing, a cycle of creation. Saga may have started as Vaughan reflecting on parenthood, but their collaboration is making it much more.

“I write the book for one person — for Fiona … I spend a lot of time just thinking how she’ll react to things and manipulating her into drawing perverse, horrific things. It’s a really weird job but I enjoy it.”

While I don’t believe that he writes only for Staples, it’s clear she weighs on his mind. Staples gives feedback to Vaughan. He writes the story. She draws the story. A big cycle of collaboration, a collaboration has already resulted in an obese creature with a prodigious scrotum and a blue space-cat with a smaller vocabulary than Groot.

But let’s not forget ourselves, the readers. If we didn’t buy the book, they wouldn’t publish it. BKV and Staples may be the first steps, but as Vaughan himself said through D. Oswald Heist:

Oswald Heist from Saga, by Fiona Staples. Cheers!We read. We interpret. We write letters and our feedback is inserted into the loop. The cycle of collaboration begins again.


Saga is published by Image Comics. The most recent issue, #23, was released to physical and digital retailers on September 25. All art in the post is by Fiona Staples with letters in the first and third by Fonografiks.

That’s What I’m Talking About – Chris Claremont on Character Development

I know I said the next time you heard from me, I’d have something special. And I’m working on it. I’ve got a big piece on Phonogram 2: The Singles Club that I’m working on, but these things take work. In the meantime, I saw the following and had to share it.
I don’t care when you started reading comics or who your favorite creators are. You need to be reading Christopher Irving and Seth Kusher’s Graphic NYC. There, you’ll find some of the best, most in-depth comics interviews anywhere. This is Comics Journal level stuff. Guests range from Bendis and Paul Pope to Dick Giordano and Chris Claremont, from whom I pull the following quote. It’s a bit long, but it’s all important.
“Len’s vision of Nightcrawler was a bitter, tormented and anguished soul. Dave’s and my response was partly ‘been there, done that, and seen it too many times.’ But when we sat down and kicked it back and forth, trying to hammer it out is that if you’re walking down the street and get hit by lightning, and it makes you look like that, there’s a rationale. But if you’re born like that, you need to have a tremendously offensive chip on your shoulder your entire life—which is valid—or you go the other direction, which is to have him go ‘I’m cool. You guys have no idea: I can walk up walls, hang upside down, I can fight standing on one leg with my two hands, a foot, and a tail holding a sword. And I’m invisible in the dark.
“We thought ‘Why not take the most outrageous looking character on the team, and make him the most rational, human, decent and most empathetic soul?’ Naturally, he and Wolverine would bond because opposites attract. And they work. It was the same with Logan, who we put as much into answering ‘Who is he?’ and ‘Why is he?’ Len originally saw the claws as part of the costume. As Dave and I were doing the character, we thought that made him like Iron Man, and the problem with Iron Man is that anyone can wear the suit, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Tony or Rhodey. What makes him special? What makes him unique?
“ ‘So the claws are part of you?’
“ ‘Yup.’
“ ‘You never told anyone.’
“ ‘You never asked,’ Chris snaps his fingers. “Then you have, suddenly, this interesting physical difference (i.e. he has claws that pop out of his hands), but the implication that it must hurt every fucking time. That sets up the line in the first movie where Rogue asks him ‘Does it hurt?’ and he says ‘Every time.’ That’s one defining moment, but the other is in ‘You never asked.’  That catalyzed a key moment in Logan’s personality. That’s how you put them together: you take all these little bits and slide them in, and build your edifice one layer at a time. You have a general sense of where you want to go and how you want to get there, but the details of how the pieces fit to evolve this three-dimensional character is very much a matter of organic growth rather than construction, so you just follow the leads.”
There are two points I want to pull from this:
1) No character is ever complete. Like real people, they are constantly evolving. Parents may have a strong hand in their child’s life, but he/she is the combined effort of every person they ever meet in his/her life.
2) Look how much thought goes into these character’s personalities. What would make Nightcrawler unique, besides his appearance? Who would he bond with on this team? How does Wolverine’s claws being a mutation rather than equipment alter his personality? Irving points out how this comes from Claremont’s background in theater. A theater major in college myself, he’s right. These are the questions you need to ask. When you’re handed a script, those are the words, those are the actions. It’s your job as an actor to ask “Why does my character have these responses?” A writer then asks the question “What would their response be to …”
Chris Claremont – Still uncanny after all these years.
I love it.

That’s What I’m Talking About – Tom Brevoort on Continuity

In a recent Cup O’ Joe article in CBR, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort was questioned about Venom’s current MO, namely his desire to eat brains. I haven’t read most of Venom’s appearances. As I said in my review of Spider-Man #654.1, he’s just not my kind of character. I did however read his appearances in Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts. I believe that’s where the whole brain-eating thing started. But people can’t be satisfied with that. They worry about how this works. The focus on 23 years of serpentine continuity rather than telling a good story.

Venom and his ExceptionsThey want everyting to fit in it’s own little box. Brevoort’s answer hit a variety of topics from that specific question to editorial goofs. But there was one passage, regarding continuity that resonated with me.

In the course of telling stories month in and month out, I’m focused on what makes for the best story. I certainly don’t go out of my way to invalidate a story from 1994 or whatever, but if it’s a choice between three panels in a story from 1994 that’s not been reprinted and a great story for today, I’m going to opt for the great story today. And eventually at some point later I’ll try and find a way to reconcile the two. That’s how the Marvel Universe grows into the future. The history should not be handcuffs. The quip I use with creators and sometimes in the public is that the continuity is there to serve the stories. The stories are not there to serve the continuity. One is the cart and one is the horse, and we need to put the right one in front.”

I couldn’t agree more. As some comics series pass 600, 800, 900 issues, creators can’t be expected to know every appearance or detail. It’s about knowing what’s important to a universe and its characters and following that. Venom has evolved since first pushing Spider-Man in front of a train. The symbiote has evolved and hungers for brains. Let’s move on.

That’s What I’m Talking About – Geoff Johns on Secret Identities

As a blogger, I’m constantly looking for things to talk about on here that aren’t just a retread of something 90 other people are talking about. They may have more background or smarter angles, so what am I bringing to the table? I could say the same things, but I’d just end up …

My name isn't Flash. It's Barry. Mister Allen if you're nasty.Well … yeah. But everyone once in a while, a creator or critic says something that is just so spot on that I don’t need to add anything. So with that, I give you the first That’s What I’m Talking About.

In last week’s review of Amazing Spider-Man, I applauded Dan Slott’s efforts to spend some time on Peter Parker’s home life. Today, I read the following:

“Barry Allen’s life is as a member of the CSI. That’s really important to him as a character and I wanted that to be front and center in the book because most of the time the life outside of the costume is never seen anymore. … When I wrote [the first arc], I wanted to make sure that Barry’s life outside of the Flash was affecting the story and was as important to his life as his life is inside the costume. I think some of that secret identity and the supporting cast and the lives of heroes outside of their costumes and how that affects the story has been lost. Most of the characters never come out of the costume anymore. They don’t have a regular life that they return to each night. I wanted to get back to, like you said, presenting “The Flash” as a bit of an old school book because I don’t know if there is another superhero out there that takes his secret identity so seriously.” – Geoff Johns in a recent interview with CBR.