Fiona Staples is a Canadian artist who’s drawn for Trick ’r Treat, 2000 AD, and the wildly popular Saga series. She’s been making art since she was a kid, but where most quit, she kept on going. “I think all kids like to draw and I just kept doing it; I never stopped. When I got to high school, I decided I’d like to go to art college and somehow make a living out of it,” says Staples.
Archie comics were the first comics that Staples began reading, she remembers. “They were…pretty much the only ones I had access to as a child. You really have to go out of your way to get into superhero comics or anything like that, and you can only really buy them at specialty comic shops, which is not the case with Archie, obviously; it sold at every grocery store and gas station,” she says.
While in college at the Alberta College of Art and Design, Staples was influenced by American, Japanese, and European comics. “I was really into Heavy Metal for a while,” she says. “Stuff like Heavy Metal made me realize painted comics were a thing—that comics didn’t have to look a certain way or be a particular style. That was a huge revelation.”
Staples started drawing her first comic series during her last year of college. “We had this sort of portfolio building class where we would put together whatever we wanted to do, so I started working on this comic. I worked with this writer, Andrew Foley, from Edmonton. We met on a message board for local creators and he sent me the script for Done to Death. It was five issues and the first issue was out by the time I graduated. That summer, in fact,” says Staples.
From her work with Foley, Staples landed her job on the horror graphic novel Trick ’r Treat, which also coincided with the last time she did work by hand. “Trick ’r Treat was the last thing that I did drawn in pen and ink, but colored digitally. The next series was Hawksmoor, which was on a really, really tight schedule. I had to turn around a fully colored issue in four weeks for six issues, so I thought there’s no way I can do this unless I go digital,” says Staples.
Of the comic genres Staples has worked with, she’s found herself drawn to horror. “I really enjoy doing horror stuff actually. A lot. I don’t have any particular affinity for superheroes. It’s not something I’m really interested in doing,” she says.
Staples finds the superhero genre to be limiting and wants to bring diversity to comics, something she and Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan have especially concentrated on in their series. “All the corners of the comics world except mainstream superhero books have pretty much agreed that diversity is a positive thing. I think the important thing to do now is create women-friendly books, and that will lead to more female creators in the next generation,” she says.
Though Saga is “not horror, unfortunately,” Staples has injected some elements of the genre into the series. “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 creep—although I don’t think our ghost girl Izabel is scaring anybody,” says Staples.
As far as her top characters for the Saga series, she says, “Lying Cat is a favorite!” She’s learned a lot while drawing the series and is happy with the artwork and characters she designed early on. “There’s nobody I’d change, because accepting weird decisions you made on the fly years ago is part of doing an ongoing series. You just live with it! My favorite moments are whenever we see the surface of a new planet for the first time, or a new character is introduced with a splash page.”
When buying comics for herself, Staples goes after what pleases her visually. “If I don’t enjoy the artwork, I can’t enjoy the book,” she says. “Sometimes the story can be enough for me to get into, but usually I buy what looks good. What can I learn or steal from them?”
Looking at others’ work has helped Staples develop as an artist, and she does not limit herself to just comics. She’s also influenced by painters, classic illustrators, and especially animators. “You have to look at everything else that’s out there. That’s how you improve your taste, how you see what’s good. You study it and then go back and give your own work a very hard look to see where it is and where it needs to be. It’s something I try to do constantly,” says Staples.
Staples’s work process varies somewhat day to day, but she tries to be consistent when working freelance. “I try to stick to a schedule, but it doesn’t come easily. I usually double my workload as a deadline looms. Probably like most people, I would imagine,” she says.
She’s found that to be the hardest part of working as a freelance artist. When asked what is her biggest obstacle in regards to work, Staples says, “Fighting procrastination or anxiety at your own work and sticking to a schedule, which can be hard to do when you’re home alone all day with no one really monitoring you. Yeah, that’s the hardest thing to get right, but I think I’m there now or at least close enough to where I can do an almost monthly book on time.”
The success of Saga staggered Staples since she considered it an odd story unlikely to get much of a following. “I’m really, really grateful to our readers who decided to show it to their friends or give it to their mom or their girlfriend or husband because I’m pretty sure that’s how we got our readership—through word of mouth and people lending their books out. It’s been really amazing to see. I never thought a book this weird would reach this many people and I’m kind of continually surprised,” she says.
Though Saga is not ending anytime soon, Staples would like to dabble in more projects that focus on horror. “I think it would be cool to do something in the Hellboy world some day. I love that sort of folklore-based horror stuff,” says Staples.