Canadian artist Fiona Staples appeared at Denver Comic Con this weekend, and the queue to see her was constant for three days, sometimes five deep, sometimes thirty-five. Her signing hand must be exhausted.
Around 100 eager fans listened to her speak at a brief and rather personal panel on Saturday, moderated by podcasting humorists John Price and Clayton Gumbert. Staples came across like a rather shy, very humble person, with a sweet and subtle voice revealing the artistic personality of Saga is very much dear to her.
The third arc of the Brian K. Vaughan written Saga will start coming out in August, and fans can also look forward to Staples doing a number of covers for Image in coming months, but she can’t say which ones just yet. The only tidbit she was willing to reveal about the future of Saga’s main characters, Marco and Alana, is that they will probably change their clothes at some point….
Staples has been invited to do more Red Sonja cover work for Dynamite, but explained, “It’s really hard to find the time to do anything but Saga.” She said writer Gail Simone’s pitch and outline for Red Sonja is amazing, and “was kind of what I’ve always wanted the character to be.”
Working with Vaughan has been a very positive experience for Staples. “I’ve never refused to draw anything that he’s written. Maybe I should,” she joked in reference to those Apple-banned issue #12 sex images on Prince Robot’s facescreen. “I don’t know what Brian’s idea for the scene was, but for me I just wanted it to be a really explicit contrast to the extreme violence going on around Prince Robot to show the trauma that he was going through.”
Staples expressed strong praise for Image, and Publisher Eric Stephenson, saying he doesn’t interfere in the creative process. “Image is definitely the best deal in town for creator-owned comics. They actually mean it. We own Saga one hundred percent. They’ll let us do literally anything we want. It’s pretty amazing.”
“I don’t think it’s too hard to be a female artist,” said Staples. “I think it’s harder to be a female reader.” She said the Big Two comics publishers “are definitely boys club-ish. The industry as a whole still has its problems. It’s easy to tell when you’re not the target demographic of something. You just don’t feel like you’re well represented. I think you just have to look outside the super hero genre.” Everyone she’s worked with so far “have been really great,” adding, “I’ve never felt belittled or harassed or anything because of my gender.”
Vaughan gives Staples considerable leeway in the creative process, depending on the character. “For someone like The Stalk, I had a really clear idea of what she should look like. He described her as this pale white half spider woman with no arms like the Venus de Milo, and a long black skirt.” For Marco and Alana, Vaughan basically wrote that they should be sort of young and attractive, and that Marco had ram’s horns. “But the one guy I really like drawing is Special Agent Gale,” said Staples, describing him” as “a really mean guy” and “a sarcastic douchebag.”
As for the artistic style of Saga, Staples said, “The characterization is really important, so I wanted the character and the foreground elements to be crystal clear. So I decided to ink those, then go for a more atmospheric painted style in the background kind of like cel animation.”
She takes pictures of herself as a reference for all her characters. “I act out The Will. I act out a giant naked ogre. I get into character, and then take photos with my laptop and reference those when I’m drawing. And then delete them.”
Staples doesn’t have any pets because her apartment complex won’t allow it, but she sometimes feeds a friendly squirrel in her alleyway. She said she typically works “completely alone.” A regular day for her starts with a wake up call from her boyfriend around eightish, “because I tend to just hit snooze on the alarm.” She’ll jump on twitter and have some breakfast, “and then try to get some inking done before lunch. And maybe work out, and then color after lunch. On an ideal day I’ll be finished before six or seven, but it doesn’t usually go that way.”
“The terror of Saga coming out late is generally enough to keep me on task,” said Staples. The series has taken short breaks after every six-issues arc, which she said was a decision made by the entire creative team. “I get as far ahead on Saga as I can before the books start coming out, and I slowly get more and more behind, and then we get to take another break. We figured it was better to have scheduled breaks than just suddenly be late and have an issue not come out when it was supposed to.”
When asked how long it takes her to create Saga, she explained, “It varies a lot, but I guess I average a page a day-ish. But sometimes I’ll just have inking days and then just have coloring days. I try to stay flexible.”
To relax, Staples says she draws other stuff. “I draw fun stuff. Not that Saga isn’t fun, but it’s also work. I draw stuff that doesn’t have to be good.” She enjoys television, and her favorite show is Spartacus. She loves to play video games, and is currently in the middle of the Zelda game Skyward Sword. Her all-time favorite game is Final Fantasy 12. “I love it so much. I just play it over and over again.”
She also listens to music and podcasts, goes to movies, and finds inspiration in the amazing environments and character designs in modern video games. “I think some of the best artists working today are working in video games. They don’t always make their sketches and concept art public, but I love looking at that stuff.”
Staples began seriously reading comics while working at Calgary’s Comic-Kazi for a few years during art school. Growing up, “Archie was probably my first comic. And Tin-Tin.” While in high school in the early 90s, Fathom from Top Cow was a favorite of hers. Nowadays, she reads comics like Bedlam, The Goon and Hellboy. “I haven’t been to the store in a long time,” she admitted. “I’m kind of behind.”
When she started drawing comics, 20th century American folk illustrators like Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth influenced Staples. She also got hooked into comics from the seventies, including Savage Sword of Conan, Red Sonja and Vampirella. “For Saga specifically, I’m really inspired by animation in general, particularly Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White.”
“Yeah, it just really happened incidentally,” said Staples of her horror-genre start in comics. Her first full comic came out when she graduated from the “pretty conservative culture” of the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2006. Done to Death, a six-issue “satire of the vampire genre” was pitched to her by writer Andrew Foley, “and I just liked it as a story. It just happened to be horror. And I just kept getting more horror work.”
“I frighten really easily,” admits Staples. “I don’t actually get less scared with horror movies, I just get used to the idea of being really terrified.”
“My work is all digital, and it has been almost ever since I started out,” said Staples. When mini-series and cover work from Wildstorm started rolling in steadily, she began drawing on a Cintiq tablet to speed up her production. The gory Trick ‘r Treat was the last comic she inked by hand on paper way back in 2007. She normally does really loose layouts, and then goes straight to inks. “I do my inking in Manga Studio, and then I color everything in Photoshop.”
Staples still keeps “a ton of sketchbooks,” and very much loves to free draw for fun. The weirdest thing she’s ever been asked to draw came from “a guy who asked me to draw him beating up his sister. I think I made them hold a pose,” she joked, “just to punish them a little bit.”
When asked if she would consider doing a traditional pencil and ink comic, she joked, “If I somehow got to do a comic that had no deadline.”
In her dream casting of a Saga movie, she said she would probably choose a K-pop star for Marco, “and some model for Alana that can’t act at all.”
What’s in store for the future of Fiona Staples? “I’ve always wanted to do a fully painted comic, but I can’t quite get it to work. Whenever I try to do everything in a painted style, it ends up looking really static, or really muddy and kinda hard to read.”
She will also continue working on her webcomic, Teens In Love In Space, co-written with her brother. The webcomic currently has nine installments, and she describes it as “our homage to Archie, set in the future. So it’s kind of like Archie 3000. I’m still working on it whenever I have time, but we’re not ready to start uploading new strips yet.”
“I’d like to do a picture book some day, like a children’s book,” said Staples. “That’d be really cool.” She also hopes to write her own works eventually when she becomes more practiced, but humbly said, “I’m not a very good writer.”
Anthony DiMatteo is a freelance writer, photojournalist and musician from Colorado.