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Saga Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

This entry is part 25 of 56 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this weeks and weeks after I read it. Well, weeks, anyway. 

I’m pretty sure I first saw a volume of Saga during a visit to Singapore in 2012, or maybe in 2014, when the series was relatively new. I didn’t pick it up then, but it did stick in my mind, especially as I’d recently read all of Y: The Last Man and, despite its flaws, enjoyed it. When I saw the entire series (I think?) available in a Humble Bundle earlier this year, I went ahead and bought the bundle: I have an iPad now, so I can easily read comics in digital form now.

I had fun with Volume 1 of Saga. The characters are vivid and distinct and compelling—even the “bad guys” are at least weird enough to hold my attention—and it’s full of action and movement. Best of all, thematically it feels really relevant now: the connective tissue of the first volume, at least, is about one couple’s attempt to hold their relationship and their family together at a time when the world has hurled itself into completely unhinged insanity. Parents struggling to stay alive and keep their kid safe from the lunatics and the insane world around them? Obviously, we’re not dealing with bounty hunters or a war, but the sense of frustration and bafflement and sense of frustrated longing for a safe place to go away to, that’s definitely all familiar to me from the last few years. 

Art-wise, there’s a lot of subtle stuff that’s really well done: the expressions of the characters, including the Lying Cat and the baby and that ghost who tags along, especially stick out, but overall it’s just really well-drawn and engaging. I’m not an aficionado of comics by any means, so I don’t have as much to say about this side of it—but to my eye, the art both serves the story and enriches it. And the story, beyond being relatable in terms of its emotional content, is also compelling in itself. There’s more humor than I expected, and also an odd sort of realism, too: not in terms of the content, of course, but in terms of the character relationships. Arguments stemming from cultural difference, brushes with bigots who disapprove of your family, and the challenges of taking care of a baby all feature in the story in emotionally real ways, even as the setting and its features are deliriously fantastical.   

There was a time, years ago, when I would have noped out on the series just because of the particular flavour of science-fantasy in which the story is told, like, say, the rocketship forest, or how there’s magic in this spacefaring civilization. Like people don’t like different foods touching on their plate, I liked my genres kept separate. I still do, in a lot of ways: there are science fiction stories that have no room in them for magic, and generally I tend to feel like fantasy stories that have too much of a science fiction aesthetic tend to mess up what’s actually pleasurable about fantasy—the weirdness, unpredictability, and the wildness of magic. I think a lot of great science fiction functionally has a scientistic worldview underlying it that isn’t compatible with that, and vice versa.  

My attitude about this has softened over the years, though, and now I can enjoy stories that contain a mixture of both genre elements, even if I think it’s very hard to achieve the pinnacles of either genre when they do this. Probably this increased flexibility comes with age: I don’t mind different foods touching on my plate as much, either, though I was very serious about it as a kid. I do think, though, that a lot of that kind aesthetic preference—whether you like genres muddled together, or kept separate—probably has a lot to do with how one’s brain is wired. (I say that because I’ve seen people insult and mock the more genre-purist preference, and I think that’s unfair.) To be fair, I was also burned out on fantasy thanks to having read too many mediocre RPG tie-in fantasy novels, and I’ve since recovered from that. 

Half of this post so far is about my own reading preferences, rather than about the comic, but that’s because for me this comic is outside my comfort zone in a few ways. One of them is that I haven’t read that many comics—and, linked to that, I think mixing and matching genres is in some ways easier to carry off in the medium of comics because the art does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to implicit/implied worldbuilding and storytelling. The other thing is that, while I am interested in stories about family, I don’t really read that many of them. I remember someone once commenting about how Bruce Sterling was unusual among SF authors of his generation in that characters had families with whom they interacted, so probably part of it is that. 

I’ve only read the first volume of Saga so far, but I’ve been told the best way to read this series is to tear through it at a rapid clip. I’m going to give that a try, but who knows if it’ll happen: family, work stress, and exhaustion with, er, that world having thrown itself into unhinged insanity (mentioned above) have slowed my reading over the last few years, but things do seem to be picking up a bit in that respect these days. (And in my current state, comics are easier to dive into than fiction. I’m not sure why, but that’s where I am now.)

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