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Saga creator Brian K. Vaughan on Cleveland, aliens, and what's next for his comics

Saga volume 6.
Saga volume 6.
Image comics

Saga is the current standard-bearer for comic books.

The 2012 epic space opera, written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, has become a cultural fixture. People recommend it like they do restaurants; its appeal is so broad that the term "fandom" doesn't feel quite expansive enough.

And now, four years after its debut, Saga is set to publish its sixth volume in late June. What started as a Romeo and Juliet–esque story about star-crossed interplanetary lovers Alana and Marko and their child, Hazel, has bloomed into a more enveloping and complex tale about family, loss, and, in its upcoming arc, a time jump that changes almost everything we thought we knew about the characters we've grown to love.

The short of it: In volume six, Saga jumped forward in time to introduce a kindergarten-age Hazel, whom we've known for a long time as a baby. We see her start to figure out who she is, as do the people in her life.

Vox got the chance to talk to Brian K. Vaughan about where Saga is headed next, what it's like to continue building out the comic's world, his new project Paper Girls, and Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland.

Alex Abad-Santos: In this next arc, thanks to a nifty time jump, you get to tell a story that's a little different. Could you talk about that more? Is there anything you get to explore that you hadn't been able to before?

Brian K. Vaughan: I almost never set foot in a classroom after I graduated college, but as a parent of two young kids I’ve suddenly been thrust back into the education system. It’s a strange and sometimes scary transition for all parties involved, some of which I channeled into this story about Hazel starting kindergarten as an enemy detainee on her mother’s home planet of Landfall.

AAS: You mentioned that your daughter has grown up in tandem with Hazel. How does that affect the way you write Hazel? Has it changed/enlightened your understanding of her?

BKV: Saga is definitely informed by both my daughter and her older brother, but Hazel is a wholly unique creation, largely because artist/co-creator Fiona Staples puts so much of her own DNA into the character. I feel like I understand children maybe a little bit better because of my own, but every kid is their own deep mystery.

AAS: Saga has always been a story about family and survival. In this arc, we see characters deal with loss. Can you talk about that more?

BKV: And this is a relatively happy arc! But I guess loss is part of any family. There was a time of my life with a lot of weddings, then a lot of baby showers, and now, out of nowhere, here come the funerals. Fiona and I are just trying to talk about this inevitable progression in a slightly unfamiliar way, with praying mantis preschool teachers and graphic rocket ship sex scenes.

AAS: This is the sixth volume of Saga. How has your working relationship with Staples changed over the years? You both have your own projects that you make time for, but you always come back to Saga. I imagine it feels like hanging out with an old/best friend by now.

BKV: Saga is one of the great loves of my life, but I wouldn’t describe it as a best friend, even though I count Fiona as one. It’s more like an extraordinary foster kid we’ve been trusted to raise. It’s not exactly a "job," but it’s a lot of responsibility and relatively hard work. Still, it’s always worth it to get new pages from Fiona, who continues to evolve as one of the best visual storytellers on the planet. I hope I get to collaborate with her for a long, long time.

AAS: Moving to Paper Girls — I know you're from Cleveland, but can you explain the magic of the city to the uninitiated?

BKV: It’s just my hometown, but I love it. Cleveland is a city of readers, interesting people with grit.

AAS: Paper Girls No. 6 comes out in June, after an entirely too-long wait. What can we expect? There's a time jump happening there too, right?

BKV: Yeah, our 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls are being catapulted from 1988 to the terrifying, far-flung future of 2016. Aged-hipster me might be disappointed that there are no jetpacks in the 21st century, but I like to think my younger self would be way less cynical about our weird and occasionally fantastic present. But 12-year-old me would also be completely horrified by certain aspects of his current self. That’s kind of what this next adventure is about.

AAS: Paper Girls has featured more dramatic cliffhangers that I'm completely, 100 percent invested in than any other comic book. Are they challenging to write? How much of it is planned out?

BKV: Well, this series deals with time travel, which is always a huge pain in the ass, especially when you want to dorkily play by a hard set of fourth-dimensional rules, which I do. But at least it forces us to really plan ahead, allowing for some hopefully cool long-term setups and payoffs.

AAS: Can you talk about Cliff Chiang's art? What is it about his art that made him the right fit for Paper Girls?

BKV: Cliff has an obsessive attention to detail that somehow looks casual. He can also draw any era and make it look both completely authentic and instantly relatable. An artist’s artist who audiences also love. Paper Girls letterer Jared K. Fletcher, colorist Matt Wilson, and I describe Cliff as the Leonardo of our turtle quartet — everyone’s favorite leader.

AAS: And finally, what are you reading/watching/listening to right now that you can't get enough of?

BKV: Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows's Providence is a masterpiece, Silicon Valley is the best show on television, and I have Lights’ Midnight Machines on loop.

The sixth volume of Saga will be available as a trade paperback on June 19.

Paper Girls No. 6 will be available online and in stores on June 1.