I waited much too long to delve into the world of graphic novels, and I’m still a novice to the genre, but one of my earliest introductions was the first volume of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It had been recommended to me by so many friends, podcasters, and reviewers as a graphic novel that demonstrated the best of what the genre can do, one that blended art and narrative to breathe life into a world completely original. What really drew me in, though, was the promise of a range of well-realized, diverse characters dealing with themes that are not only real-world, but pressing and important. On both fronts, Saga completely delivered, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Volume 2.
Saga is a practically impossible to categorize blend of science fiction and fantasy, telling the story of two lovers from opposite sides of a galaxy-spanning war who have deserted their positions to be together and raise their new daughter. The story is told from the perspective of their child, Hazel, as she recollects her own strange origins. Hazel’s parents, Marko and Alana, are fleeing from myriad pursuers, including parents, ex-lovers, mercenaries, and royal commanders. Their treason is danger enough, but it seems to be Hazel herself that has piqued the interest of so many; what exactly the child means to each side remains to be seen. Through every obstacle, Marko and Alana hold fast to the idea of peace, and to each other, striving for a better world to give their daughter.
I can’t talk about Saga without first extolling the world that Vaughan (the writer) and Staples (the artist) have created together. It is staggeringly original, like nothing I’ve ever seen. The futuristic elements of science fiction blend so cleverly with the more magical fantasy elements, helped in large part by Staples’ expert style. The colors and designs of every piece of this world bring the juxtapositions together so well, you can’t imagine them separated. Every page is a new surprise, and yet, somehow seamless. And to be as clear as possible, this world is WEIRD. Weird in the best way, but completely, unabashedly weird, as well as EXTREMELY adult. If you can roll with the weird, though, you’re so well rewarded.
The storytelling, of course, can’t be overlooked. The characterization in this work is particularly strong, with each new addition adding depth and complication to the story. Alana and Marko work so well together, and are so endearing that their plight is almost unbearably suspenseful. The side characters, though, deserve a lot of credit. I won’t spoil the surprise, but a character appeared in Volume 2 that was so different from my expectations that I was almost rooting for them over the protagonists. I was so delighted by them. That’s one of the most interesting parts of this story; while I certainly want Marko and Alana to succeed, I also don’t want to see their pursuers fail. As Hazel notes, “some monsters are worse than others.” There is no stock villain–there is no stock ANYONE–and that’s what is both so charming and so heartbreaking about this story.
One of the things that initially drew me in to this story was its reputation for being particularly clever in its treatment of gender. Volume 1 received, and still receives, a lot of buzz for being a comic book with a woman breastfeeding on the cover, and the story itself starts with Alana’s labor. So far, the rest of the story has not disappointed. The surprising, fully-realized, well-developed characters include the women in the story, who represent a wide spectrum of ages, races, and temperaments. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series has in store.
So, to simplify it grossly, if a fantasy space opera with feminist tendencies about fugitive parents being hunted by a cast of complicated anti-heroes sounds appealing to you, go find a copy of Saga like, yesterday.