In the annals of “very safe predictions” the idea that the first collection of SAGAis going to sell very well is right up there. The book—collecting the first six issues of the science fiction drama by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples—isn’t out until October 23rd, but it’s certain to get a whole new audience for the book. Not that it’s been lacking an audience: the first issue already has already sold over 70,000 copies in various printings. And a low $9.99 price tag makes the barrier to entry pretty low.
And once people jump that barrier they get into a sweeping, addictive story—a galaxy-spanning tale of empires and mercenaries and ghosts all after a couple and their newborn infant—that has gotten readers hooked. SAGA is taking a little break when the collection comes out, and creator Vaughan was kind enough to share a few thoughts on the schedule and how the first six issues have gone:
THE BEAT: The SAGA collection is out in October—how did you arrive at the $9.99 price tag, which is really on the cheaper end of the spectrum for an Image book. Is this cutting into your revenue stream?
BKV: I don’t know, I guess $9.99 seemed like a pretty fair price for the introductory volume of a new series. Maybe it will cut into our revenue stream, but I’m more interested in getting our story into as many hands as possible than in wringing as much cash as we can out of folks.
Fiona and I would probably be making more money in the short term if we filled the monthly book with annoying ads, or cut the page count down to 20, or charged $3.99 instead of $2.99, but I like to think that giving people more for less buys us a lot of valuable reader loyalty in the long run.
THE BEAT: Will there be any bonus material? I know you WON’T be reprinting the long letters pages?
BKV: No bonus material, you greedy bastards! Just 160+ pages of astounding Fiona Staples art for less than the cost of a single movie ticket. That’s all six chapters, including our double-sized debut, unsullied by the presence of my dopey letter column, which is just for our fellow monthly travelers. Please buy lots.
THE BEAT: How long will the gap for the monthly issues be? Do you think this is going to be the regular publishing schedule for SAGA—six issues and a trade and a break?
BKV: Just two months off! September is a skip month, trade comes out in October, and we return monthly with Chapter Seven in November. I understand that brief hiatuses are a momentum-killing bummer for readers (and for retailers, who’ve been so good to us), which is why we’ll try to only take them after we’ve given you a satisfying chunk of story delivered at a nice clip. That cushion blesses me me with a little extra time to give each script 100%, and more importantly, it means we won’t have to use any fill-in artists. At this stage, I can’t imagine collaborating with anyone but Fiona on this story.
THE BEAT: Considering that Fiona Staples does everything but the lettering herself, it sounds like she’s earned a break. I know this is more of a question for her, but is she back on schedule already?
BKV: And she even does some of the lettering, too! Fiona is just a tornado of awesomeness. And yeah, after the tiniest breather, she’s already hard at work designing/drawing/coloring our next arc, sending in pages that are, impossibly, even better than the ones from her first six issues.
THE BEAT: What’s been the biggest surprise in the first six months of being in the “creator-owned” fold?
BKV: Not to brag—maybe a little bit—but the biggest surprise is how much fucking money there is in truly owning your own work. I know I tried to sound all altruistic when you were asking about the price of our trade, but I’m exactly as mercenary as every other freelancer out there. Good story and art are two of the most valuable commodities on the planet, and I think comic creators deserve to make great livings, and still have a little time left over for friends, family and multiple rounds of Slayer pinball.
I loved working for my friends at Marvel and DC, and I was always compensated with a very generous upfront page rate, but by betting on myself (and Fiona!) and waiting for money on the back end with Saga, I’m already making way, way, WAY more than what I made on comparably selling books that I wrote for other companies. And that’s after splitting everything 50/50 with my richly deserving co-creator.
Look, it’s definitely a gamble, and there are probably many more creator-owned books that don’t turn a profit than ones that do, but when the rewards are potentially so large, why not roll the dice on a project you’re passionate about? There are a ton of readers out there who are desperate for something new, and thanks to advances like digital distribution, it’s easier than ever to get your work into their hands. And I’m not just talking about established pros, I think the market is primed for hungry new creators to make a big splash if they’ve got a great original story in them.
THE BEAT: Have you learned anything else that you would pass along to creators looking to take the plunge?
BKV: Try to get Fonografiks to work on your book? Along with being one of the best letterers/designers I’ve ever worked with, he’s also a very calming presence who will help nervous freelancers see that it’s possible for just a few people to put together a beautiful monthly comic book without the benefit of the relatively massive infrastructure of bigger companies.
THE BEAT: Also, will Alana and Marko ever smarten up? They seem like nice kids, but sort of loveably clueless.
BKV: Hey, that’s exactly what you said about Yorick when you were editing Y! And you were right then, too…
Marko and Alana are unquestionably naive and inexperienced new parents, but they also had the wisdom to check out of a stupid war that the rest of the universe is obsessed with, so I’d argue that they’re already much smarter than young Mr. Brown ever was.
THE BEAT: Will there be a shocking, unexpected death of an intriguing character that we were just getting to fall in love with in EVERY issue or just every other issue?
BKV: Sorry! C’est la guerre. You get to have sweeping, Casablanca-style romances during a war, but that’s only because the stakes are so incredibly high. People you love are going to die. A lot. But I think the fact that we open the book by at least strongly suggesting that baby Hazel will get to live a relatively long and happy life gives us permission to do unspeakable things to everyone else in the cast… right?
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.