Saga is my first graphic novel.
This is, of course, a huge burden to put on any single work, and it probably accounts for the difficulty I’m having in articulating my reading experience.
That, and the fact that this is only part one (please don’t ask me to get into which issues it covers, I’m new and I have no idea) of, so far, at least seven.
With those caveats: let us begin.
Saga begins where Romeo and Juliet ends. Alana and Marko are soldiers from opposite sides of a centuries-old galactic civil war who have, improbably and dangerously, fallen in love. The saga begins with the birth of their daughter, Hazel, who narrates the young family’s attempts to escape forces from both sides who want Alana and Marko’s scandalous union suppressed before the rank and file hear about it.
It’s a war story: a story rich with ambiguities and amorality, filled with characters struggling just to make their way against a background of unending war. “It was a time of war,” Hazel voice-overs as a double-crosser dies, having sold out Alana and Marko and then told them how to escape. “Isn’t it always?”
But this is hardly a new strategy: stories about the wretchedness that war brings out in us are if not ten then at least five a penny. One of the things I’ve been struggling to articulate to myself is just why Saga feels so fresh.
I think it’s partly how it plays, almost shockingly, with whimsy. Vaughan and Staples throw everything at this story: it features TV-headed robots and cats that can tell when you are lying and an orgy planet called Sextillion and spaceships that grow on trees and pink ghosts and women built like pale spiders. In terms of worldbuilding, Saga is like Douglas Adams on speed. And yet, the whimsy manages to ground itself, defiantly, in that moral ambiguity, that richness of amorality; in these characters who are fully realised and much more than their role in the war and have you seen the facial expressions Fiona Staples draws, I mean seriously. It refuses categorisation, which feels important. Its depiction of sex is graphic (don’t read this on public transport) but not titillating; its depiction of violence is often gory but not gratuitous. It feels like it should be an allegory for something – but its specificity of detail refuses allegory.
I could write myself in circles all evening and still not get any closer to any kind of coherent reading of the volume; perhaps it’s just too early to delve into properly. Suffice it to say that it is awesome, one of the best things I’ve read all year (she says, in April), and clever, and funny, and defiantly itself.