Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: The Saga of “Saga”

By Lyndsey Holder

Vaughan, Brian K., writer; Staples, Fiona, artist. Saga #1. Image Comics, 2011.

When I first heard about Saga, I wasn’t interested. I was never really able to get into Y: The Last Man – Yorick is a whiny brat; the Amazons chopped off their left breasts, which would only be useful in archery if they were all left-handed; and the plots all seemed to be centred around how silly women are. It should have been called “Brian K. Vaughn Has Issues with Ladies: The Comic”. I actually never would have even thought about reading Saga if it hadn’t been for Dave Dorman, an illustrator who has worked on a bunch of different comics, but is probably best-known for doing Heavy Metal covers.

In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the drama surrounding Saga (the Saga saga, as it were), I’ll give you the abridged version: Dave Dorman had heard of Saga and was stoked to give it to his seven year-old child, presumably after skimming over the part where it was being marketed to mature readers. However, when reading an article about it, he discovered that the cover art of this comic is a depiction of a not-quite-human family, with a tiny, horned infant being breastfed by its winged mother. Hilarity ensues as a man who is most famous for drawing mostly-naked women gets morally outraged over a picture where you can’t actually see any lady parts at all, not even if you squint really hard and use a lot of imagination.

The image in question is really quite clever, managing to give you a good sense of the overall story before you even open the comic. It says, “Here is a family looking for a home,” and that’s pretty much exactly what the first issue of Saga is about. Alana, the winged woman from the cover, is guarding Marko, the guy with the horns, and does that thing that guards aren’t supposed to do with their prisoners. That’s where Hazel, the baby, comes in, and that’s why pretty much everyone on both sides wants Alana and Marko arrested and/or killed. The dialogue is interspersed with narration from the now-grown Hazel, as everything we’re reading about happened a long time ago.

Immensely likable, Alana and Marko are flawed-but-genuinely-good protagonists that you can’t help rooting for. The story is well-thought-out and intricately planned. We’re given a lot of backstory in a way that seems smooth and natural, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment in this genre. We’re thrown into a world and setting that is completely new to us, but there’s a sense of familiarity there. Yes, this is happening on a different planet, in a different universe, to creatures who have wings and horns, but it’s a story that we Earth people can understand. Perhaps the only way that we can truthfully write about how difficult it is to be a human is to write about how difficult it is to be a different kind of being. Thick with emotion, the art causes the troubles Alana and Marko face to resonate deep within the reader: While their exact situation is likely something that we’ve never faced, we’ve probably all found ourselves facing adversity at one point or another for breaking some social rule that was unjust and, perhaps, even cruel, simply by being the people that we are and following our hearts.

It’s interesting how nerd culture is growing with us. Video games and comic books now commonly feature parents as protagonists, because a lot of us kids who cut our teeth on Pong are now raising a new generation of geeks. I’m interested to see what will happen in twenty years’ time – will comics and games have badass grandparents?

Before I wrap up this column and go eat cookies, I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to Dave Dorman. If not for his hilarious temper tantrum, I might have missed this gem of a comic, and that would be sad. Some things you can read and forget about, and other things crawl inside your brain like a parasite, changing the way you see the world a little bit. Saga is definitely one of the latter and I mean that in the best way possible. You should all go out and get infected with Saga.

You can buy Saga #1 on Amazon.com.