Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'Saga': A lame title for a really good comic

Saga #1 (Image Comics)
Saga is one of the more interesting and, yes, even exciting new comics to come along in a while. Published by Image Comics, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have delivered an interesting science-fiction debut about a pair of soldiers from long-warring worlds who fall in love and have a child together. The series begins with their daughter's birth, and they quickly find them pursued by robot princes, horrors and bounty hunters for being too politically inconvenient.

There's a lot I like about this book, but I do have some major problems with it that should be addressed first.

First, I hate the title. Saga is a vague title that tells the reader nothing about the story inside, or even the general approach. Saga could be a fantasy book, a sci-fi book, or even a superhero book.

Second, I question the level of explicitness in this book. This book is rated M for Mature, and the first line of dialog in the first issue is "Am I shitting? It feels like I'm shitting!" In addition to the language, there's nudity and one fairly explicit sex scene in the first issue. And while that sort of thing is fine in comics, I feel like it throws away an opportunity that the underlying story could exploit to reach a wider audience and have a bigger impact. As it is, the teens who could really enjoy something truly new in comic book form from top creators will likely not be able to find Saga in their library or be able to buy it from a lot of retailers. Not that that ever stopped anyone who really wants to read it, but there's a reason that all the biggest successes in fiction and movies are roughly PG or PG-13 and not R. The R level just limits the audience, and I think that it's a shame this book cuts off its potential to reach that audience for some language that, to me, seems unnecessary to tell the story.

On to the things I like: The art is terrific. Staples' makes these characters and their worlds look and act like real people. It delivers exactly what is needed for a title like this: a specific and consistent look. She also tells the story very well, and the art on the first four issues makes some significant improvements.

Storywise, Vaughan remains a deceptively strong talent. Almost alone among the current A-crop of comics writers, he eschews the self-consciously clever dialog that clutters up most superhero comics and puts enough plot into each issue without the story ever feeling crowded.

The story itself is, for me, unexpectedly compelling. While star-crossed lovers from the wrong side of the track is a well-worn cliche, the addition of the child (who narrates the series) and the sci-fi setting is a good combination that is well suited to comics. I look forward to seeing where this journey, which in some ways evokes Yorick's travels in Y: The Last Man, takes these characters and reveals about this universe.


Jimmy S. Jay said...

I'm a HUGE saga fan, and it's nice to read this article. I'm also a comic book retailer, and have HUGE success with hand selling SAGA to an audience that is looking for something fresh and bold. I hype it in person at just about comic convention i attend, and regularly on twitter using the #Comicmarket hashtag @JimmySJay...

I have no problem with the R Rating on this book. A selling point for me is that SAGA could be "Stars as re-imagined by Quentin Tarintino". Just Game of Thrones has a racier tone than say, Lord of the Rings, there is a place for an edgy Sci Fi Epic.

As for a name-
it's cool with me. Afterallthe story does have elements of space opera, fantasy, super hero mash up. SAGA seems fitting...

keep the articles rolling!
Your pal-
Jimmy S. Jay...
Twitter: @JimmySJay

Anonymous said...

I agree that Saga is great. However, I don't see your point on the maturity thing. Does every piece of entertainment/art need to be tailored so the most age groups can consume it? Can't we have some variation in adult themes in comics and other media? I have been reading a lot things like this as of late and I can't figure out why people are so eager to call out "adult themes" like swearing. Swearing? Really? How cares? It is the way people talk. Teens/kids have enough things to consume. I think us adults can have our own thing.

Anonymous said...

Alan Moore features some sort of sexual encounter in the majority of his books and he is considered to be one of the best writers in comics EVER.

As far as the swearing goes, the book has a mature rating and you can hear more swears on premium cable.

The title is fairly vague but perhaps it has more meaning than currently perceived.

All in all, it's not your conventional story, which makes it so enjoyable to read.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't change a word, RE maturity. In fact, it was that "shitting" line that convinced my wife to give it a shot (having just been through childbirth herself). She had no interest in some comic book's depiction of childbirth/wrangling a newborn, and that one line told her that maybe this writer actually knows a thing or two about it.

Tom McLean said...

From a purely creative POV, I have no problem with the R-rated content. I just think it may end up holding this back from becoming as commercially successful as it is creatively.

Tom said...

I don't think that mature content really prevents things from being commercial anymore. Look at Watchmen, Y the last Man, The Walking Dead all for mature readers and some of the top graphic novels/comic books of all time.

Anonymous said...

I have just started reading this comic and have to say I find the content kinda refreshing. Sometimes you want to watch a movie that deals with the darker, raw and realistic subjects in life..and sometimes you want that in a comic too. There is a place for this in the comic world. To want everything to appeal to everyone all the time defies the whole point of artistic expression. We should be encouraging these unique endeavours and not complaining about the fact that a bunch of people who are usually the focus might miss out. They can read it when they are older right?

That said, I do have to agree with you a tad on the title. The reason it took me a while to start reading this was because it never jumped out at me as something I would like to read. The title gives you nothing. Its great to have something unique and riveting out there...but what's the point if no one can find it? It's a fine balance, stay true to your artistic vision, but give yourself the best chance of sharing that vision with the rest of us.

Twitter @abi_brrtt