Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Five Reasons You Should be Reading Saga - by Alexis George

Like it or not, comic books have always been at the heart of geek culture.  Nowadays, comic stores are a dying breed and conventions like Comic-Con keep their printed graphic novels limited to a few tables on the exhibit hall floor. That being said, comics are still hot as ever. Movie adaptations are reaping in the millions. Comic reader apps like ComiXology boast instant accessibility to over 40,000 comics. It’s hard to go a day in a big city like San Francisco without seeing at least one Superman or Batman shirt.

Now if you’re involved in any kind of geek social circle, you've probably heard the name SAGA thrown around recently (and if you’re caught up in modern comics, you’re probably sick of hearing about it at this point). Following its premiere in 2012, its picked up three Eisner awards and a nomination for a Hugo. Even if you aren't big on comics, it’s important to note that SAGA has been praised and promoted by several geek icons, Felicia Day being one of them.

Here’s a brief list of the reasons you should try to hunt down a copy of this series, even if you don’t like comics.

1. It’s Written by this Guy, and Drawn by This Girl

Brian K. Vaughan is most famous for his acclaimed series Y: The Last Man. He is a favorite of many comic readers. This guy can write. Y: The Last Man proved he was capable of writing a cast of many, many well rounded female characters following the (spoilers) deaths of every creature with a Y chromosome (save for the protagonist and his pet monkey, Yorick). He’s been called "the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years,” by WIRED writer Eric Malinowski, and with good reason. His stories are groundbreaking, sharp, unapologetic and fierce. He has three Eisner awards. (And he created the Runaways, the most original idea Marvel's had in a long time - Ed.)

Fiona Staples can draw. I can’t properly describe her work without fighting the urge to write, “JUST LOOK AT IT! MOTHER OF GOD IT’S GLORIOUS.” She’s seriously considered as one of the best current artists of the industry. Following my third read through of SAGA, I went out and bought every comic she had ever illustrated. Her work is consistently a streamlined, stylized, brilliant adaptation of already fantastic writing, and she has the capacity to tell an entire story in one panel. She picked up her first Eisner for illustrating SAGA.

If you’re like me (read: if you are terrified of completely falling into comic book world because the idea of having to learn thousands of heroes, villains, runs, titles, numbers, renewals, and half of the heroes aren't even the same guy under the costume every time and you get overwhelmed and oh my god get me out of here) in the sense that you’re not very versed in comics, those two names probably mean very little to you. However, trust that after you put down SAGA you’ll very likely need to fight off the urge to run out and get everything else they've ever done.

2. It’s Absurd and Unapologetic About It

SAGAis a space opera. There are aliens with television heads having sex with each other. There is a one eyed hermit romance author who doubles as a resistance propagandist. There is a relationship between an anthropomorphic spider woman and a bounty hunter. The whole story is narrated by a baby born within the first couple of panels. It’s crazy, it’s absurd, and it dares you to question it.

Very little of the insanity of SAGA is ever explained. It slaps its audience in the face with brilliant, grotesque, and stunning imagery, and doesn't bore down the text with justification. It lets the story be what it is. It’s nonsensical and continues to be so. 13 chapters in, Vaughan and Staples have yet to run out of whacked out concepts, and it looks like they’re a long way from ever doing so. Vaughan has shut down the idea of adapting the series into any other form, simply because he stated he wrote it, “to do absolutely everything [he] couldn't do in a movie or TV show.” There are things in this comic that haven’t been done anywhere else, probably because of effect limitations, mostly because of just how insanely vulgar and mature it can get. The phrase “groundbreaking” is not misused here. Speaking of insane....

3. It Contains this Panel:

4. The Romance Doesn’t Suck

Let’s not beat around the bush here. SAGA is a love story. Sure, it’s a space opera and an epic melting pot of a number of crazy story lines and character ties. But at its core, the primary plot is motivated by the story of two (literally) star crossed lovers, and their struggle to get to point B, baby in tow, in one piece. The best part? It’s not awful. Among television-headed aliens, spider monsters, dismembered ghost babysitters, and a galaxy of strange, Vaughan doesn't make his audience work to go along with the love story. It works. It’s flawed. There are genuine moments of believably. One characters doesn't need to rely on the other to be interesting. Where romance often seems like such a weak point in most geek mediums recently (I’m looking at you, Moffat) SAGA presents a very familiar plot without relying on tropes that damage the storytelling. On top of that, the audience has something genuine to root for that isn't elementary or underdeveloped.

5. It Already Has a Passionate Following

SAGA’s only been around about a year. Its 2nd volume (containing issues #6-12) came out a couple of months ago. Issue #13 came out last week. But its almost impossible to bring it up in geek social circles without an audible positive reaction. My local comic book store’s display is made up of full-sized  hand drawn cutouts of the characters. Cosplayers (and lots of them, a simple Google image search will prove) have been roaming convention floors since the comic premiered.

SAGA has brought about a very passionate reaction in its readers, and with good reason. It’s taken the imaginative writing style of Vaughan and combined the organic and streamline brilliance of Fiona Staples’ talent, and done something previously unseen in its media. It’s brash, violent, sexy, and glorious. It’s been banned in some schools.

All things considered, it deserves the acclaim its getting. It can be found at your local comic shop or on amazon here:

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