Saga Writer Talks Racial Diversity and Creative Freedom in Comics

Saga Writer Talks Racial Diversity and Creative Freedom in Comics

Saga Chapter One Cover

Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan talked all about his thought process for designing his main characters and how he'd be more excited for a game adaptation than a film adaptation of the comic.

Brian K. Vaughan talked with The Verge about his comic Saga, racial diversity in comics and how he'd be excited about a game adaptation for his comic.

Saga, which has been nominated for several best of 2014 awards, including being nominated for the best comic series of 2014 award here at The Escapist, is a space opera/fantasy comic book series where two parents from different races at war are fleeing as they take care of their newborn daughter. Speaking with The Verge, Vaughan noted that he wanted to make fiction that felt like the real world. That meant making it diverse like the real world.

"Early on when I was describing the characters I said, 'well, Alana, the mom, has wings, and Marko, the dad, has horns. And Alana can look however you want - I probably wouldn't make her a redhead because there's a glut of redheads in comics,'" Vaughan said. "And Fiona [Staples, illustrator of Saga] sort of wisely pointed out, she said, 'You know, these characters don't have to be white.'

"I blame myself that it is particularly when thinking about fantasy that white tends to be the default when you're starting with characters, and then it's sort of adding in horns and wings or bumps on their foreheads to make them diverse, which is insane."

Beyond racial diversity, Saga has also been strong on writing a compelling female character with Alana. On the cover of the first deluxe hardcover edition of the series, it depicted Alana breastfeeding Hazel. Vaughan said he was shocked to hear some stores refused to stock it on shelves openly.

"If you've ever been in a comic book store, there are some pretty racy covers, just severed heads are par for the course," he said.

But Vaughan doesn't seem too upset about it. He added if that cover bothered potential readers, then the series really isn't for them.

Vaughan also spoke on a possible video game adaptation of Saga. The writer said he'd much rather see a game adaptation than a film or a TV adaption. He noted it would also be very difficult to do a film adaptation of Saga because it would have a higher rating due to the swearing and sexual content, as well as heavy themes, in the series. Not to mention film and TV teams are much larger, so a creative vision can be more easily drowned out, and there has been less diversity in film and TV. Vaughan is optimistic about this golden age of comics where creators have creative freedom, as he has with Image Comics (Vaughan has no editor). He wouldn't be against a game adaptation, though.

Vaughan has heard talk about a game adaptation. "A Saga video game, particularly if it's sort of about characters other than the main characters in our story, is really exciting to me - even more exciting than a film or TV show. So, uh, never say never."

That sounds a bit like something Telltale Games could do; the developer adapted the Fables comic into its The Wolf Among Us game series.

"I love those Telltale games that I've seen," Vaughan said. "It's very clever. I like that it's based on making moral decisions. It's not just a button-masher kind of game. That's really exciting to think about, where games are headed in the future."

Source: The Verge

Permalink

So how much longer until people decide that human like races aren't diverse enough? Seriously I'm getting sick of religious nutters, sexy cosplayers, etcetera holding looking human like to be the most important thing in fiction.

That's interesting, but now I'm exited for a possible Telltale Saga game, they better do that because that universe seems super interesting and it's massive.

I would love the idea of a telltale saga game with a spin-off story. Despite the fact that none of your choices really matter when you play, the stories are really good.

This guy comes across as a complete hipster.

"I like, wanted to do, like, a story about an interracial married couple, but like, I thought like, they should also have wings and horns and shit, like, you know, because I wanted it to mirror ongoing issues in the real world, but was still different enough. But then, like, I thought like, 'oh my gosh, there's like, so many white people!' so like, I totally did the non-conformist thing, and like, made the girl, like slightly tan so they weren't strictly white - even though they are both still both thin, young, attractive and have pretty Anglo Saxon-looking faces. Just like most regular people in real life, right? But then, like, I thought 'oh, that's not different enough' and put like, the lady breastfeeding her baby on like, the cover. Cause, like, nobody's ever done that before."

"... I'm very progressive, if like, you didn't notice!"

I like it when we get protagonists that stray from "brown-haired/white/male/hetero/30-something power-fantasy for teenyboppers" but I hate that pretentious smugness from these people who think they're so ahead of the curve when you can easily copy their creative power by writing racial, physical, and personal characteristics all over a dartboard, blindfold yourself, and then make a character based off of the first three that you hit.

It's the same reason why people disliked hipsters back when all they did was wear ironic t-shirts and talk about how exclusive and underground their favorite bands were.

Kaleion:
That's interesting, but now I'm exited for a possible Telltale Saga game, they better do that because that universe seems super interesting and it's massive.

My money would instantly be jettisoned from my pocket into their coffers if that happened.

Saga seems like a good fit too. I mean, if Telltale can (allegedly) tackle Borderlands and Game of Thrones, this wouldn't be too far off. :D

Chimichanga:
This guy comes across as a complete hipster.

"I like, wanted to do, like, a story about an interracial married couple, but like, I thought like, they should also have wings and horns and shit, like, you know, because I wanted it to mirror ongoing issues in the real world, but was still different enough. But then, like, I thought like, 'oh my gosh, there's like, so many white people!' so like, I totally did the non-conformist thing, and like, made the girl, like slightly tan so they weren't strictly white - even though they are both still both thin, young, attractive and have pretty Anglo Saxon-looking faces. Just like most regular people in real life, right? But then, like, I thought 'oh, that's not different enough' and put like, the lady breastfeeding her baby on like, the cover. Cause, like, nobody's ever done that before."

"... I'm very progressive, if like, you didn't notice!"

I like it when we get protagonists that stray from "brown-haired/white/male/hetero/30-something power-fantasy for teenyboppers" but I hate that pretentious smugness from these people who think they're so ahead of the curve when you can easily copy their creative power by writing racial, physical, and personal characteristics all over a dartboard, blindfold yourself, and then make a character based off of the first three that you hit.

It's the same reason why people disliked hipsters back when all they did was wear ironic t-shirts and talk about how exclusive and underground their favorite bands were.

I didn't get this at all. He was just making a point that sometimes you don't notice when your being exclusionary. He's right on that front.

Besides Vaughan is one of the best writers in comics right now. Saga is also equally an excellent book.

Chimichanga:
This guy comes across as a complete hipster.

"I like, wanted to do, like, a story about an interracial married couple, but like, I thought like, they should also have wings and horns and shit, like, you know, because I wanted it to mirror ongoing issues in the real world, but was still different enough. But then, like, I thought like, 'oh my gosh, there's like, so many white people!' so like, I totally did the non-conformist thing, and like, made the girl, like slightly tan so they weren't strictly white - even though they are both still both thin, young, attractive and have pretty Anglo Saxon-looking faces. Just like most regular people in real life, right? But then, like, I thought 'oh, that's not different enough' and put like, the lady breastfeeding her baby on like, the cover. Cause, like, nobody's ever done that before."

"... I'm very progressive, if like, you didn't notice!"

I like it when we get protagonists that stray from "brown-haired/white/male/hetero/30-something power-fantasy for teenyboppers" but I hate that pretentious smugness from these people who think they're so ahead of the curve when you can easily copy their creative power by writing racial, physical, and personal characteristics all over a dartboard, blindfold yourself, and then make a character based off of the first three that you hit.

It's the same reason why people disliked hipsters back when all they did was wear ironic t-shirts and talk about how exclusive and underground their favorite bands were.

I didn't get that at all. He literally said that he just knew that one had horns and the other had wings. He didn't think about race at all. It was the artist who suggested they don't have to be white.

Here is where I need to say that if you are talking about non human species, the skin color doesn't matter at all. It becomes a detail for the sake of the detail at that point. The race of the characters don't matter because they aren't even the same species. It also assumes that the race dynamic exists within the continuum of the universes various species. I have read a few volumes of Saga and don't even feel like race is at all remotely relevant in the context of the story.

As I read the article again, I feel like the creator probably feels the same way.

All of that said: Make them have different colored skin. It also would make sense if the entire universe is not white.

"Early on when I was describing the characters I said, 'well, Alana, the mom, has wings, and Marko, the dad, has horns. And Alana can look however you want - I probably wouldn't make her a redhead because there's a glut of redheads in comics,'" Vaughan said. "And Fiona [Staples, illustrator of Saga] sort of wisely pointed out, she said, 'You know, these characters don't have to be white.'

I'm confused; according to what's written here, he didn't say they had to be white either...in fact, he said one of them could be whatever the artist wanted, and asked to exclude redheads - whom one would typically guess are white.

I feel like there's a detail missing, and I can't find it in the Verge article either (though perhaps it's on the podcast, I don't have time to listen to it).

"I blame myself that it is particularly when thinking about fantasy that white tends to be the default when you're starting with characters, and then it's sort of adding in horns and wings or bumps on their foreheads to make them diverse, which is insane."

There's nothing insane about it.

Adding horns, wings or bumps to a character implies they're non-human, which typically makes them more 'diverse' than the most diverse humans you could imagine, different skin color or no. I think adding those things is tacky and overdone for the purposes of creating "fantasy" creatures (especially when you're talking about the medium of illustration vs. putting together a fantasy/sci-fi show for television) but it's not insane, just boring.

Vaughan said he was shocked to hear some stores refused to stock it on shelves openly.

"If you've ever been in a comic book store, there are some pretty racy covers, just severed heads are par for the course," he said.

Is this guy European? No? Then I don't see what's so surprising assuming this is an American release.

Somehow I doubt the comic book stores that refused this cover also carry ones with severed heads

Chimichanga:

I like it when we get protagonists that stray from "brown-haired/white/male/hetero/30-something power-fantasy for teenyboppers" but I hate that pretentious smugness from these people who think they're so ahead of the curve when you can easily copy their creative power by writing racial, physical, and personal characteristics all over a dartboard, blindfold yourself, and then make a character based off of the first three that you hit.

So.. what are you saying here exactly?
Adding random characteristics is somehow worse than just not caring and going with the default white?

Also, why the hell would you care how he came up with the characteristics? The most important thing is how it's handled, not its origin. In sci-fi and fantasy, the world usually is the most important character anyway, so having a slapdash character taken at face value navigate that world is entirely legitimate.

I'd buy a spin-off game of Gwen, Lying Cat, and the Sophies in a hot second.

Chimichanga:
This guy comes across as a complete hipster.

"I like, wanted to do, like, a story about an interracial married couple, but like, I thought like, they should also have wings and horns and shit, like, you know, because I wanted it to mirror ongoing issues in the real world, but was still different enough. But then, like, I thought like, 'oh my gosh, there's like, so many white people!' so like, I totally did the non-conformist thing, and like, made the girl, like slightly tan so they weren't strictly white - even though they are both still both thin, young, attractive and have pretty Anglo Saxon-looking faces. Just like most regular people in real life, right? But then, like, I thought 'oh, that's not different enough' and put like, the lady breastfeeding her baby on like, the cover. Cause, like, nobody's ever done that before."

"... I'm very progressive, if like, you didn't notice!"

I like it when we get protagonists that stray from "brown-haired/white/male/hetero/30-something power-fantasy for teenyboppers" but I hate that pretentious smugness from these people who think they're so ahead of the curve when you can easily copy their creative power by writing racial, physical, and personal characteristics all over a dartboard, blindfold yourself, and then make a character based off of the first three that you hit.

It's the same reason why people disliked hipsters back when all they did was wear ironic t-shirts and talk about how exclusive and underground their favorite bands were.

I've seen people rant and rave on the internet over the smallest things before, but this has to the most out of left field, zero to sixty dummy spit I've seen on the escapist before. And that's including the content of the GamerGate threads and the Anita threads.

Chimichanga:
"I like, wanted to do, like, a story about an interracial married couple, but like, I thought like, they should also have wings and horns and shit, like, you know, because I wanted it to mirror ongoing issues in the real world, but was still different enough. But then, like, I thought like, 'oh my gosh, there's like, so many white people!' so like, I totally did the non-conformist thing, and like, made the girl, like slightly tan so they weren't strictly white - even though they are both still both thin, young, attractive and have pretty Anglo Saxon-looking faces. Just like most regular people in real life, right? But then, like, I thought 'oh, that's not different enough' and put like, the lady breastfeeding her baby on like, the cover. Cause, like, nobody's ever done that before."

Would you please quote the parts of the article that lead you to this interpretation? Because I must say, I have no idea where you're getting any of this from.

For those curious, the next issue is in February. The wait is too long

I like that the author and illustrator realize that race is something that doesn't have to be based on skin color, and in fiction that becomes more apparent. I'm working on a similar story, so it's cool to see someone taking the initiative.

Vaughan said he was shocked to hear some stores refused to stock it on shelves openly.

That is strange. I mean, I see stuff much worse at my Barnes and Noble's comic section.

Kaleion:
That's interesting, but now I'm exited for a possible Telltale Saga game, they better do that because that universe seems super interesting and it's massive.

I agree, I'm mixed on TellTale, but more SAGA is a good thing and TellTale could do it justice.

Content producers coluntarily choosing to not make their characters white? OMG. We must boycott this.

RatGouf:
So how much longer until people decide that human like races aren't diverse enough? Seriously I'm getting sick of religious nutters, sexy cosplayers, etcetera holding looking human like to be the most important thing in fiction.

I don't know. People are already more accepting of fucking aliens and elves than members of the same sex in games, so I imagine it'd be an easier sell.

Chimichanga:
This guy comes across as a complete hipster.

As we all know, one of the trademark characteristics of hipsters is their openness to the ideas and cultures of others.

roseofbattle:
I probably wouldn't make her a redhead because there's a glut of redheads in comics

As much as I love red heads this is something that has always struck me as a bit weird.

Quick, we need her to be strange yet approachable!

Eeerrrrrr, red hair, green eyes?

PRINT THAT SHIT!

Lovely Mixture:

Kaleion:
That's interesting, but now I'm exited for a possible Telltale Saga game, they better do that because that universe seems super interesting and it's massive.

I agree, I'm mixed on TellTale, but more SAGA is a good thing and TellTale could do it justice.

I don't think they are perfect either, in fact I have a LOT of problems wit Walking Dead Season 2 and I think the first episode of Season 1 is terrible, but if someone could do a good Saga game is probably them, I mean I want a lot of dialogue in my Saga game.

I find this entire article kind of silly. There's really nothing in it about racial diversity, I mean, we're talking about fantasy characters in the first place and mildly we're talking about the decision process behind two characters design. Which when you look at it, comes off more like "Well, this is fantasy so we could do something like..."

I certainly hope that Brian isn't passing this off as some triumph for diversity or something considering both of the main characters are pretty much aesthetically caucasian. I mean, you can color them whatever color you want to and put bumps on their heads or horns or whatever, but it's bloody obvious that both of them are designed to be caucasian based on facial features alone.

Of course, it doesn't matter because it's just fictional fantasy characters in the first place. Regardless of how they are drawn, it's not actually "diversity". Generally when people are talking about diversity, they're talking about it in non-superficial terms, like narratives or life experiences. Brian could put the blackest characters he can imagine in his books, but he's still incapable of having the life experiences of a black person, so everything that he writes is just fantasy.

To me, this is the most servile and patronizing form of white hipster 'faux progressiveness'. To put it bluntly - If you want diversity in comics, then help actual minorities establish themselves in the industry, instead of lauding lilly white hipsters for putting a coat of coloring on their otherwise white characters.

Jake Martinez:
Of course, it doesn't matter because it's just fictional fantasy characters in the first place.

As someone who once counted the number of visibly black characters in the latest #1 issue of the Amazing Spider-Man, I feel I have at least anecdotal grounds to disagree with your claim. It's so easy to look at all those white people (and straight people, and often men; though I guess those are probably different conversations) and just get this sense of...not of anger, but of loneliness. Like, "The world my heroes live in is a world that has no place for me because I am not enough like them." I don't think anyone involved is trying to be deliberately exclusionary or anything, but I just can't escape the feeling that "straight, white, male" has become such a deeply ingrained default that anyone outside that established norm is an aberration whose strangeness needs to be explained. Because, you know, there probably isn't a black dude on the streets of New York at the same time Spider-Man is beating up diamond thieves unless there's a specific narrative reason for a black person to be there.

(Was it diamonds the villains were stealing, or Faberge eggs? I forget. I think diamonds.)

 

Reply to Thread

Posting on this forum is disabled.