Among current comic titles there are a handful that are acknowledged as classics in the making. Y: The Last Man, Monstress, The Walking Dead, though this last one possibly by sheer exposure and reputation more than the quality of the current story. One title that almost always comes up is Saga. Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, is a sprawling mess of a comic that shouldn’t work but not only does, is amazing. It has been called out by everything from The Atlantic to Popular Mechanics. Lin-Manuel Miranda gave it a shout-out in one of his many reading updates. It outsells The Walking Dead and is a huge hit for Image, its publisher.
And as of last week, with issue 54, Saga is on a hiatus to give the two creators behind it some time to work on other projects and rally their creative minds for the rest of the series. A hiatus that will last at least a year. Which is a perfect time to grab this book and catch up. A backlog of over 50 issues can be intimidating, but a year-long hiatus is the most welcoming way to get on the bandwagon. Think of it this way, that’s enough time to be able to catch up before anything else comes out so you won’t be overwhelmed with an impending release schedule. It’s also a comfort to know that they plan to go for at least 100 issues, so you won’t be investing all of your time in characters that will abruptly be dropped. It’s a win-win situation! I’ll also be candid with you: I have fallen behind on Saga. I accidentally let if fall through the gaps of my copious comic reading somewhere around issue #26 or so. And I’m going to use this hiatus to start the whole series over and catch up in one long, indulgent stretch.
So what is Saga about? It’s an epic space opera that spans planets. In the background is a civil war between Landfall and Wreath. Landfall is an enormous planet with a very high level of technology, whose inhabitants have insect-like wings. Wreath is its moon, with a race of horned people who utilize magic. In the forefront of the story is Marko, a prisoner of war from Wreath, and Alana, his Landfall guard. They are in love. When the first issue picks up, they are on the run and Alana is in labor. Soon, they and their daughter (Hazel) are being hunted by both sides. The technological Landfall sends the fittingly technological Prince Robot IV to hunt them down. While Wreath sends the rough and tumble bounty hunter named The Will, who has his pet/partner Lying Cat to assist him.
The world of Saga is a mish-mash of everything. There is scifi, magic, ghosts, and professional wrestling. There are ex-es, expository masturbation scenes, meta-textual authors of in-universe trashy romance novels. But most of all, there are personal stories that drive every aspect of this bizarre genre mash-up. Prince Robot is half-heatedly but cruelly pursuing Marko and Alana to get home to his family. The Will seems to care about nothing, yet gives up fortune and success to rescue a young enslaved sex worker. Fiona Staple’s art may be lavishly inked, but the entire moral fabric of the Saga universe is painted in increasingly complex shades of grey.
Oh, that’s right. This book has some of the most gorgeous art laid out on every single page. Fiona Staples is a master at illustration and storytelling. Yes, everyone familiar with comics know that Brian K. Vaughn is a great storyteller because he’s a great writer. But far too often artists are not acknowledged for their part in a comic’s narrative. Staples’ does an absolutely astounding job grounding everyone’s emotions on the page. And when I say everyone I mean humans, humanoids, anthropomorphic animals, robots, ghosts, monsters, and the like. The alien landscapes, spaceships made from everything from metal and plastic to living trees, they all come across as real places because of her. There’s a reason that she has been nominated for a Harvey Award for best artist every year that this comic has been in publication. It’s also worth noting that she’s the artist for the entire run so far. Very often, long running titles will change up artists and while this can give the look of characters a refresher without actually changing their designs, it’s a selling point that this book has such a consistent look from the very first issue up through last week’s #54. It means that after five years of publication, these characters still look familiar. It means that when they age, they’re growing up with the same hand that created them. In the case of Hazel, literally from birth. So not only is it mind-boggling that the story works so well considering how scattershot the universe is, the fact that this book has continued with one writer/illustrator team since the onset is just as improbable and works just as beautifully.
If all of that isn’t reason enough to convince you, I’ll also throw this out there; the book is fun. And funny. The characters are smart and sometimes make stupid decisions. They can be impetuous and they can be patient. These characters feel like real people. The have histories that weigh on their present actions. They have personalities that can get them in and out of trouble. They have emotional cores that will make you rethink the political landscape and ongoing war over and over again. This book doesn’t have a wholly cruel Empire, nor does it have an emotionless Borg. This book has sides that have cobbled themselves together out of the self-interest of numerous planets and people and cultures. It is full of places that could never be, and yet could also be discovered tomorrow.
Ultimately this book is about real people living in unreal situations that sometimes mirror the worst this world has to offer. Alana and Marko argue that Hazel isn’t a symbol, which is an odd statement for characters in an epic saga to argue. But for real people and grounded characters, it’s the only reasonable thing to say. And in their world she is a symbol, a representation of a piece between two sides of a war that cannot end. But she’s also just their daughter, and our narrator. So what would that girl mean to you? Grab Saga and figure it out.
And pick up this book if for no other reason than to meet Lying Cat. For that alone, you’re welcome.