- Fiona Staples and the Long Horizon
It is May 21, 2013. Cool, spring sunlight strikes though the windows of the downtown Calgary, Alberta coffee shop where Fiona Staples, Calgary-based comic artist, sits across from me. As the intensity of the light through the windows fluctuates with the passing clouds, Fiona’s eyes transition between dark brown and translucent amber. Moving her hands very concisely as she speaks, Fiona forms repeated sets of elegant gestures, emphasized by her immaculate, vivid, pink fingernail polish.
The collected volume of the first six issues of Saga, Volume 1 [Image Comics], Fiona’s collaboration with American comic writer Brian K. Vaughan, was released in late 2012 to great acclaim. Fiona is increasingly acknowledged as a singularly innovative and technically skilled artist. At the time of this interview, Saga, Volume 1 had just been short-listed in the Hugo Award “Best Graphic Story” category, an award which it subsequently won. In July 2013, Saga, Volume 1 was nominated for and won three Eisner Awards in the categories of Best Continuing Series, Best New Series, and Best Writer. Vaughan consistently credits Fiona for her skill as an artist and a full collaborator in the shaping and enhancement of the narrative in Saga.
In 2014 Fiona won the Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art), the Harvey Award for Best Artist, the Harvey Award for Best Cover Artist and the Joe Shuster Award for Artist for her work on Saga, as well as sharing the 2014 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series and Harvey Award for Best Continuing or Limited Series for Saga with Brian K. Vaughan.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity, and continuity
How did your experience with the program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Alberta (ACAD), and your experience of working at a comic book store lead you to want to do this kind of work?
It probably actually starts a little bit before I went to ACAD. I first got [End Page 180] the idea in my head that I might want to be a comic book artist when I was in high school. I didn’t read comics much as a kid, but high school is when I started buying them for myself, actually going to the comic book store and picking things out. I was in the IB art program in high school. We were given studio space in the basement of the school and told to be creative. I definitely wasn’t ready to do a self-directed program, so I was just messing around doing comic-like, anime stuff and I couldn’t really get much approval from my teachers for anything that I was trying to do. I don’t think the problem was that I was doing comic-book-style work. The problem was that I was a lazy student and didn’t know what I was doing. But, yeah, my teachers discouraged me from doing anything resembling comic books, cartooning, and animation. I applied to ACAD and I got in. I managed to put together a portfolio. I don’t know how... I had enough mixed media and figure work at that point that I was able to get accepted.
But I thought, “I don’t want to mess this up. I want to do well as I can in college so I just want to forget all this comic stuff.” Just create a little compartment for it in my mind and put it away for now—just put it on the shelf—and I tried to focus on being a well-rounded student. But after foundation year I applied to Visual Communications, which is the design major; design and illustration. It’s the program that earns you a Bachelor of Design, rather than a Bachelor of Fine Art. I think that was probably the best thing I ever did, because it was a really difficult program but super-rewarding for me, and I think that the strictness of the program gave me the motivation and direction that I needed at that point.
The program really equips you with a lot...