Since I’ve been thinking about worldbuilding this week: what is it that makes the world of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ comic series Saga so enjoyable? For those not in the know, the series follows Marko and Alana, a star-crossed couple from opposite sides of an intractable, generations-long galactic war, and their attempts to protect their unprecedented mixed-race daughter Hazel. In Volume 6, they stage a daring rescue of Hazel from a Landfallian prison – the people of Landfall being Alana’s people, who believe that Hazel is a Wreather like her father.
The world of Saga is, obviously, plagued with social problems: intolerance, chauvinism, homophobia; there’s a thriving market for assassins and for child sex slaves; there are drug problems and censorship. Put like that, it seems a bleak dystopia. But then there are wonderful things too: rocket-powered trees; eggs the size of planets; cats who can tell when you’re lying. Most of all – and this is going to sound cheesy, but – there are surprising acts of love and kindness. The trans woman who protects Hazel in prison; the assassin who rescues a five-year-old from sex slavery; the friendship and solidarity Marko’s mother finds while incarcerated. That’s what Saga is about, really: the universality of love, the way it can be found in the most unexpected of places; the importance of community and found family.
And the diversity to be found in its pages is an assertion that everybody is worthy of such love. There are multiple brown characters, including Alana herself; there are the gay reporters hiding from bigotry; there’s the aforesaid trans character, Petrichor; and probably others who I’ve forgotten. This commitment to representation is part of what gives the series its riotously inclusive feel. (I will note, though, that this volume’s reveal of Petrichor’s transgender status is a little icky, presenting it as a striptease-like surprise rather than treating it matter-of-factly. It’s a case of bad judgement rather than bad intentions, I think, but the dodgier responses to the book on Goodreads illustrate the harm this kind of thing can cause.)
The other thing about Saga‘s world is that, despite its galactic scope and its wackier science fictional elements, it looks so very much like ours. People hold recognisably corporate jobs and live in recognisably suburban homes; they read trashy news and nurse grudges against their exes. The world of Saga, then, is our world, its wonders and terrors exaggerated by the heightened visual language of the graphic novel. In its representation of identities marginalised by Western culture and its depiction of strange monsters and beautiful creatures, it’s a celebration of the variety of experience our world contains; Vaughan and Staples use it to tell a story about the folly of seeking to eliminate that variety. Life on this planet of ours can be terrifying, and there are monsters aplenty; but there is also love and friendship in unexpected places, standing between us and oblivion.