By Chris Hayden
In 2015, hit writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) and acclaimed artist Steve Skroce (The Amazing Spider-Man, Cable) released the six issue miniseries We Stand on Guard through Image Comics. The story is set one hundred years ahead of the present and focuses on a group of Canadian citizens who have banded into a guerilla fighting force to defend their homeland from an invasion carried out by The United States of America.
We Stand On Guard hit stands to huge acclaim. The praise focused on its emotionally affecting characters and strong political message. Recently, the series was collected into a deluxe hardcover that is on store shelves now. In celebration of that release, The Comics Beat recently sat down with Vaughan and Skroce to look back on We Stand On Guard and gather a sense of what’s to come from this dynamic duo.
Chris Hayden: From the very first issue it’s clear that this series will pull no punches, both in terms of subject matter and characters’ longevity. Was this a deliberate attempt to make the series stand out as something unique, or simply one part of a story you knew that you wanted to tell?
Brian K. Vaughan: Despite the sci-fi premise, we wanted the book to tackle asymmetrical warfare in a relatively realistic way, and you can’t have guerrilla combat without significant losses on all sides.
Hayden: The general concept of the story is both thought provoking and topical. What inspired you to create a story from the point of view of the victims of an American invasion? Was there an element of political commentary to it, or did you just think it would be an interesting story?
Vaughan: Niko Henrichon and I had already done an allegory about noncombatant victims of war with Pride of Baghdad, but now I wanted to write about actual violent resistance against a country I love, in a way that would hopefully be relatable to anyone, regardless of nationality. Steve and I never wanted this to be boring “commentary,” but underneath the pulp and giant robot guts, it’s definitely political.
Hayden: How did you two come together and get started on the project? Did one of you approach the other with the idea?
Vaughan: We met at a screening of mutual friends and immediately hit it off. Steve is one of the most talented, in-demand storyboard artists in Hollywood, but I was desperate to somehow lure him back to the world of comics. We batted ideas back and forth for a while, but I think we both locked into We Stand On Guard pretty quickly. I sent Steve a few bare-bones concepts, and he responded with some of the amazing sketches included in our hardcover.
Hayden: Steve, as an artist coming from a superhero background, what sort of differences did you find in drawing an original series compared to ones with established characters like Spider-Man or Wolverine? Do you prefer one over the other?
Steve Skroce: For the most part they’re pretty similar but I think designing something from the ground up comes with a lot more uncertainty. I have ideas about how Wolverine and Spider-man should look and there’s this gigantic body of work to draw upon for influences but I was far less certain people would like my rendition of the Two-four and the futuristic U.S. military. I love super heroes but you can’t beat the feeling of creating something new, not knowing how it’ll land with the readers is part of the excitement.
Hayden: Brian, some of your most recognized work has come in the form of long running series like Saga and Y: The Last Man. Did your approach to storytelling change working on a shorter story like We Stand on Guard?
Vaughan: Definitely, miniseries present their own challenges, but in a world where it feels like everything gets multiple sequels and prequels, I loved finally having an opportunity to tell an entirely self-contained story.
Still, I’ve been missing the characters ever since Steve turned in that devastating last page.
Hayden: The art has an often cinematic quality to it and a grand sense of scale. Did your experience with big budget films help while you were approaching these scenes artistically?
Skroce: The great thing about a comic is that no scenes are cut because of budget, you get to make it as big as you want and there’s no studio scaling back ideas because of money or anything else. I think movies have taught me to focus on drawing what’s best for the scene rather than just what I felt like drawing that day. When I was younger more inexperienced artist my pages were leaning on what I wanted to draw rather than what’s best for the scene.
Hayden: While Amber is very much the focus of the story, the ancillary characters are each integral in their own way. Was it hard to include and develop so many characters in so few issues?
Vaughan: It was pretty effortless thanks to Steve. I thought his characters spoke volumes even when they weren’t saying anything, so I ended up cutting a lot of dialogue and letting his breathtaking artwork tell Amber’s story.
Hayden: Seeing as you both hail from one side of the conflict, Brian being American and Steve born in Canada, did the story resonate with either of you on a personal level as it was coming together?
Skroce: The comic has giant robots and laser guns and other sci-fi tropes but at its core it has this uncomfortable feeling of plausibility. We’re dealing with climate change and dwindling resources now, who knows where it’ll all lead in one hundred years.
Vaughan: My wife is from Canada, as are most of my friends and collaborators, so I definitely have strong feelings for both sides of this conflict. I’m glad I don’t have to choose yet.
Hayden: Given the limited number of issues that make up the run, were there any things that either one of you wishes there had been time to include or explore more fully?
Vaughan: Nah, I already did exactly the story I wanted to do with Steve. That said, something tells me the world may not have seen the last of the Two-Four. Stay tuned.
Hayden: Where does We Stand On Guard rank in terms of favorite projects you’ve worked on?
Vaughan: I’ve learned never to rank children! But Steve’s art is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and I’m especially proud of our weird story. I’m excited to see how it ages, especially after our next elections.
Skroce: As far as great projects I’ve worked on, WSOG is in the top two.
Hayden: Can we look forward to more collaborations between you two in the future? Are there any upcoming projects from either of you that you can tease?
Vaughan: I will work with Steve again whether he likes it or not, but for the next few months, I’m just concentrating on Saga, Paper Girls, and finishing up Barrier over at PanelSyndicate.com
The complete collection of We Stand On Guard is available now at your local comic book store.