INTERVIEW: Fiona Staples Talks SAGA

Staples' cover to Saga #11.

Staples’ cover to Saga #11.

For a story set in the wide range of outer space, it sure is personal.

Since it’s debut this time last year, the Image Comics series Saga has steamrolled the comics industry and even our Picks of the Week, earning the top spot for almost every issue that’s been published. Steering that steamroller of a comic book is writer Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, a unique pairing of celebrated comics veteran making his long-awaited return to comics and a talented young artist who has won critics over with short minis and cover work across the industry.

(Spoiler Warning for Saga #10 in the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH)

With Saga #10 hitting stands last week with that wrenching final scene of a planet-sized baby being born while Lying Cat is seemingly lost to the darkness of space, I reached out to Staples to talk about her part in creating Saga. What I found was an artist working constantly to hone her craft, pulling inspiration from everything from independent Japanese manga to euro-comics and television. Staples is mightily busy between Saga (she does all the art from the line-work to the colors and even the hand-lettering)and doing cover work for publishers like DC Comics and Archie Comics and even prose book publishers, but she carved out a spare moment to answer my questions.

iFanboy: What are you working on today, Fiona?

Fiona Staples: Finishing up the second arc of Saga!

iF: We’ve been name-dropping you all over the place at iFanboy, now more than ever thanks to Saga. Now that you’re well into the series, what’s it like for you?

FS: This book pretty much dominates my life! I’m just trying to stay ahead of deadlines and work on improving my art at the same time.

iF: Saga has easily eclipsed your other work for being your longest-running work yet. What’s it like working on something this long, and putting into it things that you could potentially develop for years to come?

FS: I’ve already been working on Saga twice as long as I’ve ever worked on anything else… and this is still just the beginning! It is a little daunting, but also a great challenge that I feel ready for at this point in my career. I think Brian is more the big-picture guy, and I just focus on what’s happening month-to-month because I have no idea where the story is going to go. I’m definitely invested, though- I really feel like I’ve gotten to know these characters by now, and I’m excited and terrified to see where each month takes them.

Staples’ designs for Marko’s parents.

iF: Looking over your earlier work, you have a real disposition for horror from Done To Death to Trick R Treat and even on to North 40 and Mystery Society. Although Saga was billed as a sci-fi adventure, I can’t help but notice some horror undercurrents filtering in. How has it been to see a bit of horror bloom into Saga?

FS: I’ll always leap at the chance to draw a weird monster. I loved doing horror work so it’s always cool when Saga takes a turn for the creepy–although I don’t think our ghost girl Izabel is scaring anybody!

A rare commission by Staples for a friend's Kickstarter campaign.

A rare commission by Staples for a friend’s Kickstarter campaign.

iF: We’ve seen creator-owned series take different steps to come to terms with the fact that drawing a monthly book monthly is nigh impossible for almost anybody. You and Brian took a well-earned break for a time but are back, but you got your start in comics doing a comic in 24 hours. So what do you think of how comics are treated scheduling-wise and how some comics take breaks, some comics don’t do monthly, and some comics have multiple artists?

FS: I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to go about it, but the way ongoing series are handled says something about the priorities of the people producing the book. Some companies know their readers need to see a new issue every single month, and achieve that by switching out artists. As a reader I’m not crazy about that–I find it a bit jarring–but I realize that with big-production superhero stories set in shared universes, timeliness is everything. Brian and I own Saga so we have the luxury of doing what’s best for us and what’s best for our specific book. We’re in agreement that in the long run, visual consistency and keeping our team small will benefit Saga more than putting out an issue every single month of the year.

Years from now, hopefully no one will remember having to wait a couple months between story arcs, but they WILL be able to pick up the collection and see a focused, consistent story created by the same people from start to finish. So yeah, amazing Saga readers–please continue to bear with us!

iF: I’ve got a great job — I get to pore over comics, and in doing so on Saga I realized a unique element of your work on Saga since you’re doing all the art from pencils to colors is that you’re only inking the characters, but doing the backgrounds almost like cel shading or animation with layers. Can you explain what you’re doing and how this approach came to you?

FS: Well, I’ve always wanted to do a painted-style comic, but in my experiments I always found that painting the characters made them look very static, and somehow less engaging. Probably because I’m not a good enough painter [Laughs]. So in Saga I decided to ink the characters and color them very simply–partly to shave a bit of time off, but mostly to make them clear and instantly readable. There’s so much weird stuff going on in the book that it was vital that the action be understandable.

With the backgrounds, though, I felt like I had a bit more leeway, stylistically. There’s lots of dreamy spacescapes and foresty stuff and fantasy environments, which I just had a really strong desire to paint rather than draw. I was watching a lot of beautiful animation like Spirited Away and Tekkonkinkreet and was super inspired by their evocative environments.

A panel from Saga #10.

A panel from Saga #10.

I feel like I have a long way to go with my art, but doing Saga in this style gives me room to develop both my drawing and my painting.

iF: Beneath the expert coloring, the dynamic storytelling and everything else, what’s anchored Saga for me has been the evocative facial expressions and mannerisms you’ve done in the book. How does that kind of work make it to the page?

FS: I act everything out! After I’ve drawn my thumbnail layouts, I shoot a ton of photo reference. It saves time by taking a lot of the guesswork out of drawing the figures. And when I’m striking all the ridiculous poses it forces me to get “in character” a bit and really think about each individual’s body language. Like, The Will’s angry face is different from Klara’s angry face, and Izabel talks with her hands more than the other characters. She pretty much has to because she has less to work with and is never busy holding the baby.

A sequence from Justice League Beyond #17, written by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs.

A sequence from Justice League Beyond #17, written by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs.

iF: In addition to doing Saga and covers here and there, you’re also doing some interiors for DC with Justice League Beyond #17. Can you tell us about this project and doing it with your busy Saga schedule?

I actually did that story over a year ago, when I wasn’t quite so deep into Saga! Due to the mysteries of DC’s scheduling it just came out recently. I don’t often get the chance to do superhero stuff, so it was fun tackling a version of those characters, especially since I was working with one of my former WildStorm editors, Ben Abernathy, again.

iF: Prepping for this interview and thinking deeply about Saga and your work, it reminded me of the little gem you did briefly — the webcomic Teens in Love in Space. Add a few years and that could be a subtitle to Saga in name… how would you compare the two? And is there a chance Teens in Love in Space could come back at some point?

FS: I keep telling my brother–who’s working on Teens in Love in Space with me–that I’ll get back to drawing it “after this issue of Saga.” Except after this issue of Saga, there’s always another issue of Saga. So who knows! My goal right now is to get fast enough that I can carve out a little free time and do more stuff like the webcomic. I might start drawing it again but just lower the quality dramatically.

It’s difficult to compare Teens in Love in Space to Saga because one is created by possibly the best writer in comics today, and the other is my and [my brother] Patrick’s homage to Archie. Both are labors of love, though.

Staples' cover to Saga #12.

Staples’ cover to Saga #12.

iF: Speaking of teenagers, as a teenager I read you were really into Heavy Metal magazine and Top Cow — can you tell us what spoke to you of those stories back then, and how it compares to what you like and what you do in comics today?

FS:  As a kid I had some awareness of X-Men from the cartoon, and I read stuff like Archie and Tintin. But Top Cow was what actually got me into the store, buying comics for myself. This girl Tiffany in my science class had Rising Stars, and somehow we were able to spend the entire class reading it. I took the least demanding science class. Afterwards I went to the comic store in the mall, and they showed me other Top Cow books like F5 and Aphrodite IX. I was like, “She has a bikini and a massive gun! She’s… tough AND sexy? Incredible!” Because obviously I’d never seen a ’90s comic book before. One of my favorites was Tony Daniel’s Adrenalynn, about a teen goth cyborg with huge boots. I grew out of “bad girl” comics eventually, and started looking for stories with more nuanced portrayals of women, but those comics were as good a place as any to start!

I think I got into Heavy Metal when I was working at the comic store, and fell in love with more painterly art. The magazine definitely opened my eyes to the range of techniques and styles that are possible in comics.


Saga #11 will be in comic shops in March 20 for $2.99, promising more inter-species extraterrestrial space drama and some parenting tips as well.


  1. Spoiler was inconsequential to the article and the spoiler warning was insufficient. Thanks Chris!


    • Agreed. Luckily, reading in trade it will take some time before I get to it and will have forgotten.

    • Grandturk, can I just buy you issue #10 and send it to you so you don’t have to wait? It was such a great issue.

      I can’t fathom not following Saga as the months go by, which is unfortunate because I do prefer the collections. However, after loving BKV’s work with Ex Machina and Y, I couldn’t wait.

    • @MrShock – sure, but I won’t know what’s going on. I am fairly anti-monthly comics. I think the floppy monthly is killing the industry. 100 – 150 – 200 page trades should be the norm. I wish I had not gotten The Massive and Manhattan Projects in monthly.

  2. I had never heard of Fiona Staples before Saga. I picked up the series at first because of BKV returning to comics, but I very quickly fell in love with the visual look of the book as well as the writing. It is not only the best written book out today, it is also the most visually beautiful. I love this book so much.

  3. I think Staples is one of the freshest voices in comics working today. Especially on the coloring side, she always does soem really interesting things on that front that really enhances the illustrations. I first discovered her work on Mystery Society (very underrated much fun!) and i was really excited when i heard about her teaming up with BKV on Saga. So nice to see a creator being able to do an extended run on a creator owned book and make great comics on their terms. Keep up the great work!

  4. Fiona says, ” I just focus on what’s happening month-to-month because I have no idea where the story is going to go.”
    I wonder why that is? Does that help her stay focused or is Brian keeping the big picture a secret even from her? Oh well.

    Great artist and fun story. One of my favorite characters designs (aside from the main ones) is Mama Sun.

  5. She is a wonder artist and one of the primary reasons Saga is one of my favorite books. That cover to #12 looks fantastic. I know a few other women who loved Top Cow’s “bad girl” comics in their youth. I wonder what it is about those books that grabbed the attention of so many teenage women.

  6. Last time, I promise (probably).

    If anyone else here is able to nominate for the Hugo’s, please consider Fiona for “Best Professional Artist”. I honestly believe if we are able to get her work in front of the Hugo voters, she stands a very good chance.

    I know there may not be many eligible nominators here, but maybe there are a few. And if you are into Sci-Fi prose, it actually is a pretty reasonable price for an associate member, vs. being able to read most of the nominated material.

    Thanks for indulging me,