I feel like often times in creator-owned comics, creators tend to get one or two hits that they’re really known for. They either continue with that work in perpetuity or go on to different things that usually are still good, but don’t necessarily reach the same acclaim. Brian K. Vaughan cemented his legacy with Y: The Last Man. He also had success with Runaways within corporate comics. Those successes likely helped him in transitioning into television screenwriting work on Lost and later Under the Dome. He could well have done nothing else and been considered to have a respectable comics career.
Then he, Fiona Staples, and Fonografiks set the comics world on fire with Saga.
“This is how an idea becomes real.”
Saga #1 from Vaughan, Staples, and Fonografiks is a monster. A behemoth that starts with a messy birth, introducing us like a newborn babe to a world that is strange and out to kill us. There are parts that feel safe and familiar buttressed up against things that are strange and uncomfortable. The first issue begins with a forbidden love story in dangerous times.
Any given genre comes with its own market, motifs, and expectations. With them, you can cater your narrative towards those conventions or play against type for some shocks or thrills. In the case of many of Vaughan’s previous works, those genres are fairly well-defined. Y: The Last Man takes from post-apocalyptic road movies. Runaways delves into teen superhero drama. Ex Machina superhero political thriller. With Saga, the series is a little more difficult to peg and I think that’s part of its strength.
In broad strokes, it’s a science fantasy/space opera in the vein of something like Star Wars. But it’s not quite that simple. It leans in to magic a bit more, kind of presenting science fiction and high fantasy as two warring sides. Some parts of a western when you look at The Will. Political intrigue and cosmic horror get some representation. All wrapped up in a mix of coming-of-age quest and romance. At least, for a little while.
With the shifts and borrowed pieces from different genres, it helps keep the audience guessing as to what’s coming next. And also allows for a top-down metatextual analysis of form and structure of that war of genres, if you’re so inclined. Also, some great shifts in word balloons and text from Fonografiks to fit the different types of characters to enhance the overall feel.
The absurd kind of goes hand in hand with the genre conventions and how Vaughan and Staples are telling the story. A large portion of why Saga works is Fiona Staples‘ art. Her designs for the characters are absolutely phenomenal. They capture the alien nature of the worlds here as well as more familiar fantastical aspects. From the TV-headed royalty, through horned and winged opposing factions, and even cute monkey people. She gives us weird visual delights that still work within the various genre collisions.
Which allows for almost the shock factor of the dialogue and content of much of the narrative. Vaughan’s dialogue approach doesn’t really change much for Saga. There are no pop culture references, but the tone and subject matter aren’t significantly different from how the characters speak than in his other works. The incongruity here causes the audience to pay attention and opens up some even greater bits of relation back to our own sociopolitical landscape.
“What kind of assholes bring a kid into worlds like these?”
Vaughan, Staples, and Fonografiks captured magic in a bottle in Saga #1 and it continues to grow and change. More than ten years later it’s still going strong, after a bit of a hiatus for them to recharge their batteries. They set up in that first issue a family through which we could see growth and development, all while the oddities and war happens around them.
Classic Comic Compendium: SAGA #1
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: June 16 2012
Available collected in Saga – Volume 1, Saga: Deluxe Edition – Book One, and Saga – Compendium One
Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!