In the third volume of graphic novel series Saga, the motley little family arrive on the planet Quietus, inhabited by the reclusive romance novelist D. Oswald Heist, whose book A Night Time Smoke is beloved of Alana.
There seems to be something going on, particularly in this volume, with the subversive potential of popular culture (which links neatly and serendipitously with my gushings about Russell T. Davies’ Midsummer Night’s Dream on Monday). Obviously, there’s A Night Time Smoke, critically lambasted for its mundanity but possibly encoding a subversive message about the endless, destructive war between Wreath and Landfall; there’s the live-action soap operas which Alana and Marko consider escaping to, hiding their renegade status under the melodrama and the costumes; there’s the gay tabloid reporter couple hunting down the true story behind Alana and Marko’s disappearance, despite various discouragements from shadowy government agencies. In all its obviousness, popular culture becomes a refuge, a place of resistance, overlooked by the authorities for its blatantly lowbrow status.
And perhaps that’s a metatextual call out to the work of the book itself: for what is more ostensibly lowbrow, more critically lambasted and dismissed, than the humble comic itself? Obviousness and concreteness have been Saga‘s aesthetic strategies from issue one: “we’re not hiding any symbolic resonance here. Just robot sex and ‘orrible violence! Move along, move along.” And yet Saga makes some very political statements disguised as fantasy. Such as: “It shouldn’t matter that this woman you previously thought was straight actually lost her virginity to a woman.” Such as: “You, the reader, feel sorry for this bounty hunter who’s grieving his on-off bounty hunter girlfriend.” Such as: “This illustration of breastfeeding doesn’t exist for your titillation.” Its very graphicness becomes a cover for how radical it really is. Like A Night Time Smoke, it shifts our cultural norms subtly, sneakily.
I didn’t actually enjoy the third volume as much as I did the first two: it felt peremptory, oversimplified, drawing all of its storylines down to a single point. I hope in the next volume that complexity explodes outwards again. I hope in the next volume we see more of the gay reporters.