By Brian K. Vaughn (Writer) and Fiona Staples (Illustrator)
Published: 2012 – ongoing.
I have just become caught up on this series. I started reading Saga last year, but didn’t want to talk about it until I was up-to-date. Well, now I’ve just finished Vol.9 and I’m not sure if I’m okay. This series has gotten me emotionally invested in its characters more than any other recently, and Vol.9 was a bloodbath. Good thing I wasn’t rostered on at work that day, because I read the whole issue in one go and then thought about it the rest of the day. It was quite disturbing, but also reminded me why I love this series so much.
I was also reminded why I delayed reading Vol. 9 for so long. I picked up a few spoilers, including one about a certain character death, and then heard there would be a long hiatus, and kinda wanted the happy ending of Vol.8 to be where I left things before I had to wait. But at the same time, it’s hard to stay away from such a great story.
Saga is often described as Space Opera Game of Thrones, because there is a lot of violence, explicit sex scenes, and beloved main characters die often. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Saga is also funny, heart-warming, and super weird. It’s this story with these two planets, Wreath and Landfall, that have been at war for centuries. Then Marko and Alana, soldiers from the two planets, fall in love and defect, and have a baby named Hazel. This pisses off both of their governments, who don’t want people finding out that procreation between their two species is possible. Or that their peoples can live in peace. So the little family spend the rest of their lives on the run. And there are robots and magic. Also ghosts, a large cat that says “Lying”, giant monstrous spider-people with armless human torsos, sex scenes involving said spider-people, Abortion Town, and dragon auto-fellatio. And of course, Ghüs!
A big theme of this story is parenthood and the challenges of raising a child. Usually this topic doesn’t interest me, but Hazel’s family is so awesome that I’m drawn in. Also, this series doesn’t sugar-coat parenting. Alana and Marko fight at times, sometimes Hazel is a little brat, and the fact that her existence has caused a lot of problems is mentioned. The very first scene of the comic depicts Hazel’s birth, complete with shitting and a bloody umbilical cord. I hate the ‘babies fix everything’ cliché, and like that despite being so focused on loving families and parenthood, Saga averts that trope.
Saga also focuses on war and pacifism. Marko takes a vow of non-violence, but at many points he must resort to violence to protect his family, or is driven to violent rages. I’ve noticed that a lot of works that promote pacifism make non-violent solutions easy, or at least, it always works out for the best. In reality, refusing to fight back often leads to beatings or imprisonment or death. That’s what makes non-violent resistance/protest so heroic.
Marko and other characters often find themselves in situations where failure to fight back or hurt others will get them hurt. Yet despite non-violence being such a hard path, it’s one that needs to be taken. All the heartbreak in Vol.9, is a direct consequence of violence in the earliest issues and the ensuring cycle of revenge. Also, Marko and Alana wouldn’t even have fallen in love if they hadn’t been able to trust an enemy in the first place.
Saga tackles a lot of important issues, but it is also delightfully weird. Whilst I had heard of Saga years ago, and knew that it was highly regarded and had won a lot of awards, what finally persuaded me to check out the series was the Funko Pops. It was my first time actually seeing the cast, and there is just something so appealing about these character designs. I just thought that they looked so strange, and fun, and also there was a cat and a dude with a TV for a head. I was very intrigued, and I am so glad I got to fall in love with all these characters. I ended up loving nearly everyone. Alana is awesome, Marko is great, and Prince Robot IV and The Will are awesome whilst also generating a lot of mixed feelings. And yes, I did end up collecting all the Pops. I wish there were more, but then I’d be out of shelf space.
Let’s talk about the art next. In short, Fiona Staples’s art is amazing. Figures of the character’s wouldn’t have drawn me in if Staples’s hadn’t made them all look amazing. The different planets and aliens we meet all look great, even when we’re being shown something disgusting. Looking at you Fard*. It’s like, I don’t want to see that, but I can’t look away. With each page turn, you never know if you’ll get something cute or disturbing. And everything is just so colourful, but also really clear. Even with big action scenes, I can always follow along with whats happening. The fact that Staples is able to convey so much emotion with characters that have TV screens for heads is impressive.
The series is really diverse, with two non-white leads and a lot of queer representation. Though, I know race in a space opera setting is a weird thing, since the characters mostly aren’t human and therefor skin colour doesn’t sequel race. Still, every species we see with human skin tones come in a wide range of human skin tones, rather than particular hues being associated with different species.
Being a series with tons of character death, having a high ratio of queer characters means a lot of queer characters dying. There is also a storyline that follows a gay couple from a homophobic planet, which does lead to homophobic slurs cropping up. I’ve come across criticisms of the series for both these aspects, and whilst I don’t agree that it makes Saga problematic, I’m also aware that I don’t get the final say on whether or not it is. I just love that whilst Saga is the story of Hazel and her straight cis parents, it still presents a universe where gay and transgender people exist.
I never really read a lot of graphic stories before. Maybe the occasional manga, but when I imagined Western comics, I only pictured superheros. Saga has really opened my eyes to what the medium can do, and I can’t recommend this series enough. Saga will draw you in with the promise of weird, messed up stuff. Then, it’ll deliver a heartwarming, thought-provoking story about family, war, and the power of stories and our media. Then it’ll show you a huge dick. That’s just how this series rolls and I love it so much. I can’t wait for the hiatus to be over.
* Do a Google Image search of ‘Fard from Saga’ at work. I dare you.