"I spoke with a rescue veterinarian named Mariette Hopley, who I thank in the back of the book. She rushed to Baghdad immediately after the invasion to do what she could with the animals. I tried to independently corroborate as much of the information as I could from the small news story, and to get as many inside details as possible."
"How did you come upon Niko Henrichon, from Quebec, to illustrate the story?"
"My editor, Will Dennis, suggested him. When I pitched the idea, we originally didn't have a particular artist in mind. If you ask artists what they hate to draw, the two things you'll hear most often are cars and animals. It's hard to get the perspective just right, it's something they're not asked to draw often, so usually it's a struggle for most of them.
"Niko had done another graphic novel called Barnum, with a writer named Howard Chaykin. It happened to have a few panels with circus animals in it, and the animals were good. We thought, based on that, that we'd have him draw a few samples. We knew as soon as we saw the new, more lavish, painterly style he was using, and more importantly the way he captured the characters, that he was the one.
"We didn't want something that would be too Disney or too much of a caricature. We wanted to be more grounded in the real world. At the same time, we wanted the animals to be able to express emotions, in sort of the way your dog might express emotions so that you can tell if it's sad or happy. He walked that tightrope perfectly."
"Given the fact that you are kitty-corner on the continent from one another, how did you collaborate?"
"It's really the norm in comics these days. Most of my collaborators are Canadian, but I've also worked with Croatian artists and Spanish artists. The Internet has changed everything. It facilitates collaboration.
"Niko and I talked a few times over the phone in the beginning, but over the course of the three years it took to make this, it was just daily e-mails. It was nice to have the benefit of working on a graphic novel as opposed to a mini-series or an ongoing comic where the deadlines are really punishing. If you release a comic 22 pages at a time and you come up with a great idea in the fourth issue, but you needed to have planted something in the first issue, you're doomed. We had the luxury of always being able to go back and do exactly what we wanted. We wanted to take as much time as possible to make it perfect."
"What are some of the challenges you face as a writer in putting together a multilayered story like this while only using dialogue and text bubbles?"
"My scripts resemble a screenplay. Much more description goes into the visual layout than into just the dialogue. It's a process of editing and of trying to say as much as possible with as few words as possible.
"The pictures, especially when you are working with someone as talented as Niko, convey so much more than the dialogue. I would get Niko's pages, and he would have said something with images much better than I had with the words, so I could just pare away at it."
"What do you make of the growing popularity and mass acceptance of graphic novels?"
"It's long overdue, I guess. Right now there's maybe not the benchmark work that there was in the 1980s. There's not a Maus or a Dark Knight Returns or a Watchman, but, at the same time, if you loved one of those books in the '80s, you didn't have that many to choose from. Now there's such an unbelievable variety of graphic novels. It's an embarrassment of riches.
"I've found that, for the most part, we comic book fans and creators tend to be a pretty self-loathing bunch. I think we're always convinced that people frown on our work. But, really, it seems like very few people under the age of 50 aren't completely wowed and impressed by people that create comics. I think for the most part that we don't give the public enough credit. They like anything that's a good story."
"Do you think there's a chance that as graphic novels become more accepted by mainstream audiences they'll lose their edge?"
"No. I can't imagine. Like I say, it's a medium. I don't think you can ever destroy a medium.
"I think comics have always been particularly good at talking about political issues -- whether it's been political cartoons or whatever. It's not a coincidence that when we drop propaganda pamphlets on other countries they are often in the form of comics. There's just something inherently powerful about that combination of words and images that engages readers."
I comment to Mr. Vaughan that every review I have seen of Pride of Baghdad is unreservedly positive. "Were you expecting that?"
"I guess I'm one of those guys that doesn't think that high concepts should mean low-brow. I usually do come up with ideas that, on the surface, sound pretty disastrous. I do Y: The Last Man, which is ostensibly about a boy with a monkey being chased by women on motorcycles or a mayor in a jet pack. And this is talking animals addressing a currently ongoing war. It does sound sort of ludicrous.
"I write the stories that I want to read, and I'm always shocked that anyone else has interest in them. This time around, having the benefit of Niko's art, I sort of knew that people would respond to it."
Many of the reviews I have read draw positive parallels between Pride of Baghdad and Animal Farm. "What's it like being compared to Orwell?"
"Oh, that would be preposterous! He's my favorite author and a huge influence. It's obviously very gratifying if anyone thinks that.
"I didn't write this wanting to shove my own political beliefs down readers' throats. The beautiful thing about an allegory is that your interpretation is infinitely more important than my intent. I did want to leave readers enough room to inject themselves into the story."
"At the end of the book you thank your wife for letting you use her San Diego Zoo membership card. Was that part of your research?"
"Yes, it was. We lived in Hillcrest for the three years while my wife went to UCSD. I'm always the recluse shut-in writer who stays inside and pounds away at the keyboard all day, but I did take a few days to go over and watch how lions behave in captivity.
Vertigo, 2006, $19.99, 136 pages; by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Niko Henrichon