Saga for Dummies
There are many ways to tell a story, comics being one of my favourite methods. Graphic novels have gone through low points in popularity, but with Marvel and DC being such popular topics of conversation- and with “nerd” culture generally on the rise- this is the best time to be well versed in the medium. Saga is a comic series I recommend for people interested in getting to know comics- and anyone else willing to give it a test run. Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga is a sci-fi fantasy thriller of a read that will have you perched at the edge of your seat, anxiously awaiting each new issue.
Saga is first and foremost a story of war and love. The story is set during a time of intergalactic war, which broke out between two races: the horned people of the moon Wreath and their oppressors, the winged people of Landfall. At the start of the story it has since spread to encompass most of the galaxy, different species and planets constantly choosing a side to support in the struggle.
The story opens with a member of the Landfallian race, Alana, giving birth to a child in a mechanic shop. The view pans to reveal her partner smiling and encouraging her. It’s a man. A horned, “mooney” man. Yes, despite all the pretense, Saga maintains classic Shakespearean elements of the star crossed love. While the reader has not yet been fully introduced to the war, it is plain to see what problems could flourish between a mixed race/mixed species couple.
Following the opening birth sequence, the reader learns Alana and Marko are on the run from several different intergalactic authorities, as they have both deserted their respective species and cause in order to be with one another. The two met when Marko was being held in a war prison where Alana was guard. They quickly fell in love, escaping the prison in order to elope together and becoming pregnant shortly thereafter. Their child, Hazel, herself defying everything perpetuating the war, proving that both the Landfallian and Mooneys can easily coexist in harmony with one another. As rumors of the taboo union spread, every authority in the galaxy gradually joins the hunt for the new family.
While the story does mainly follow the young couple as they attempt to keep Hazel safe and raise her in peace, many other characters come to be a focus in the plot. This comes to include a washed up bounty hunter, a drug dealing bush woman, an armless spider woman, a robot prince grieving over the loss of his wife, and many more.
There are so many reasons to be invested in Saga. Not only is a rich and singularly unique experience, but there is also an endless amount to discover in the story. There is definitely something for everyone who decides to give it a chance. Here is an outline of some of the most memorable moments in Saga.
What initially brought me to Saga was the art. I’ve always been a sucker for both a good drawing and vibrant colour. This is exactly what I found the first time I spotted Saga on the shelf of my local comic shop. This is one of the reasons I recommend Saga to everybody. A great story and well developed characters aside, the ease with which you can pick up Saga and read is something to be admired. For some, reading comics is a very counter intuitive process. First you have to make sense of the pictures and colours. Next comes the text boxes, and which order to read them in. Finally you turn the page but the layout is completely different and needs to be deciphered all over again. Processing all of this information and still enjoying the experience can be near impossible for someone who doesn’t frequent the pages of a comic- Saga however combats this “noob effect” and allows for a very easy transition to this story medium. Fiona Staples brings life to each scene of Brian K. Vaughan’s epic space tale; capable of whisking you to another place as easily as a movie screen. The settings are so beautifully depicted it’s almost as though Staples has a window into BKV’s mind to see exactly what he envisions before attempting to put it on paper. It doesn’t stop there. The best part of Staples’ art is in the facial expressions. In no other comic can you look at just the face of a character and see them as a real person, knowing exactly what they feel in that moment. Be it anguish, frustration, love or confusion. There’s some true magic in how Staples is able to depict such complicated emotion in the slightest change of brush stroke, and it is something I’ve yet to see so clearly in any other comic.
Another thing I, and many others like me, love so much about Saga is the diversity in characters. As I mentioned sometime earlier in this article, while the story’s main protagonists are Alana and Marko, the story expands to encompass numerous others, all from different places across the galaxy. The diversity of the story is not unlike other stories of the same kind, but it is a lovable aspect all the same. Fans often compare Saga to Star Wars and, while this may upset some die hard fans of the latter, it’s not entirely inaccurate. Much like Star Wars, the war has brought many peoples together and the result is a pool of characters with no set species, back-story, or purpose. Some characters begin their journey together and end up separated or vice versa. Characters transform to take on different initiatives from the ones they were introduced with. Just as real people actively change and evolve, nothing in Saga is static. Each character develops and witnessing these seems very real. The reader can easily relate to the struggles of each character and that is what makes Saga stand apart from the rest.
The last thing I want to touch on is how different Saga is from other tales like it. While it may share many loved aspects of stories like Star Wars or other popular sci-fi genres, it does not rely on a struggle between light and dark to tell a story. While the story does have characters that can be viewed as protagonists and antagonists, or inherently “good or bad”, there is a lack of true heroes and villains. Luke Skywalker had a destiny, and that was to be the hero and defeat the Sith Lord. Alana and Marko may eventually have a hand in ending the war, but that isn’t what they constantly strive for. All they want is to raise their child peacefully. Simple. It’s a welcome change to a very cliché approach to storytelling. Personally I find it similar to the way Game of Thrones is diffused. While, yes you can categorize characters into the “good or bad” classes, each character has their own motivation and nobody is trying to be a hero or a villain. At it’s very core, Saga is just a story of a family. An ordinary family that happens to be faced with a less than ideal situation. No, it’s not normal to be on the run from several bounty hunters and intergalactic police. It is however for relationships to fall apart due to an excess of stress, feelings of inadequacy, lack of communication, or substance abuse. If you were to take Luke and Vader out of Star Wars and maybe add in some real personalities and historic input from the world wars, Saga would be the result. It may sound boring but it’s wonderfully different and engages you from cover to cover of each trade.
With each issue released, the number of dedicated Saga fans increases. Unfortunately, the more praise Saga receives, the more it seems to attract criticism and hatred. From its very first issue, BKV and Staples have been under fire from people seemingly committed to preventing its popularity from growing. The following are several instances of critique you may want to be aware of before reading.
Breastfeeding has always been a somewhat sensitive topic. Is it sexual or not? Should it be considered a type of indecency or not? Personally, I believe it is often sexualized, but that doesn’t mean it’s an indecent or sexual act in itself. It’s a perfectly natural part of life, a view Staples seems to support. The very first issue of Saga featured a cover with Alana breastfeeding a newborn Hazel. No part of her breast is actually exposed, nor is her outfit even moderately revealing. By comic standards the image is actually quite conservative. Despite this it received a heavy amount of criticism station that not only was the depiction too sexual for a cover, but that it was an inappropriate way to market a comic, especially to children. Saga is actually written for mature readers and breastfeeding is only sexual if the reader themselves views it as such. To fire back at the slanderers, Staples decided to make the cover for subsequent prints of the issue an enlarged image of Hazel breastfeeding.
Another sensitive issue Saga takes a firm stand on is homosexuality. Many comics have explicitly sexual content, Saga being no exception. Of course, when this content becomes homosexual, problems tend to arise. In Saga’s case, the beast was roused in issue 12 (2013) when the Prince Robot IV is severely injured in battle. He passes out but displayed prominently on his monitor face is a man being orally gratified by another man. This image actually resulted in issue 12 being banned from online distributors including apple’s bookstore. The issue was resolved when the digital distributor was told to put the comic back into circulation, but not before kicking up a huge debate over what should be deemed too inappropriate for sales without some sort of restrictive measure put in place. Saga has since gone on to normalize similarly shocking sex scenes. BKV even wrote in a couple of gay reporters chasing Alana and Marko for the scoop on their miracle child. The comic wastes no time in making it abundantly apparent that the two men are in a relationship by showing open affection and sex scenes between the two. Whether the BKV and Fiona included the initial scene to support a movement or to add shock value, the comic was far from deserving of all the slander.
Brian K. Vaughan has said at several conventions that his intention is for Saga to remain exclusive to the comic medium indefinitely, meaning the only way to experience it is by reading it for yourself. I recommend going online to read or picking up a trade paperback at your local bookstore/comic shop. You’ll soon find yourself falling in love, grieving and rejoicing with the many characters as much as the next die-hard fan.