As I’ve said before, I’m a little late to the world of American comics. I’ve been reading manga since I was a teenager but have only recently started to turn to its American counterpart.
And I continue to be amazed at the depth and quality of American graphic novels. I’m now hooked on Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples–I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best comic series I have ever read (for whatever that’s worth).
I picked up the first volume at the library; I was back later that week for volume 2. And a few days later I gave in and ordered all three volumes (18 chapters thus far) from Amazon. I have read the series about 3 times now, and each time I keep finding new little things to love.
There’s a reason this series won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story last year, and 3 Eisners both this year and last year. It’s part action, part philosophy, and the perfect marriage of engaging writing and stunning artwork.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are my favorite things about Saga:
- Character design: Artist Fiona Staples has done a marvelous job of populating the Saga universe with a diverse cast of characters: interesting species, varied races, and different women actually having different body types (what a concept!). Everything down to the clothing and color choices is so well done. You can tell so much about individual characters just by the way they look, which is important in a visual medium like comics. And the art is so beautiful you will just want to put posters of the characters on your walls and stare at them all day. Not that I’ve done that. No, really.
- Mix of sci-fi and fantasy: Saga reminds me of Star Wars in the way it blends sci-fi and fantasy concepts in a space opera format. We have androids, spaceships, and futuristic weapons, but we also have magic. And sometimes the spaceships are trees.
- Adult content: Saga has Game of Thrones levels of swearing and graphic sex and violence. These are not things I really revel in (I read a lot of YA, remember?), but they do give the story a sense of realness that keeps the wide-eyed fantasy aspects in check. Ghost of a cute little girl? Has intestines hanging out. Slave Girl with Princess Leia-style hair? Is a 6-yr-old refugee. Just when you start thinking some aspect borders on gratuitous, Saga slaps you with character development or world building or some deep theme based on that aspect.
- Narration: The main character of Saga is really baby Hazel (perhaps slightly ironic, given #3 above), who provides occasional voice-over narration. She’s telling her family’s story from the future, so we get some glimpses of things outside of the current storyline. Some of these hints we may see developed as the story progresses (or not). The narration is also non-linear, jumping back in time to tell how her parents met, for example, and also switching between characters frequently, and Hazel’s voice-overs really smooth these transitions nicely, often with a wry humor.
- Foreign language (untranslated): The denizens of the moon Wreath speak a language called Blue (the text is literally blue). There are occasionally whole frames/pages where characters speak in Blue, and no translations are provided. Don’t be intimidated; it’s awesome! I found that just by looking at the character’s expressions and other context clues, I could pretty much guess what was being said. That’s how good the art is. Also, it was clear to me right away that Blue has some basis in Romance languages, so I used my Spanish to translate quite a bit, which I found to be great fun. It was like those untranslated previews of the next volume you sometimes get in the back of manga; I always love using my rudimentary hiragana knowledge along with the artwork to try to figure out what’s coming up next. And if you really, really must know every word that is being said in Saga, I’ll tell you: Blue is actually Esperanto. Go use Google Translate.
- Bonus–Lying Cat: She’s a big blue hairless cat that announces when people are lying by simply saying “Lying.” And she is my favorite character. There are just not enough words to describe her awesomeness.