I have a confession to make: I have never read comic books. They just never really appealed to me. I learned plenty about them through osmosis just by being a geeky type of person, especially once superhero movies became popular, but I never thought to myself “I should really try reading the X-men comics”.
But then I started hearing about “graphic novels”, and people whose taste in books I respect also talked about how great certain graphic novels were. I was still skeptical that “graphic novel” was a marketing term for comic books for people who want to distance themselves from the stereotypes about comic-readers, but I didn’t want to miss out on a potentially great form of storytelling. So, this year I decided to give graphic novels a try and put a few that I had heard were good on my Christmas wish list.
And so I received my first-ever graphic novel, Saga: Volume 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I started reading it over the holiday break, and finished it recently.
The story of Saga basically boils down to: two people from opposite sides of an interplanetary war fall in love and the book starts with their baby being born. They try to protect their child and flee from the warring factions and bounty hunters who are pursuing them.
The writing in Saga is pretty good, with a witty sense of humor, but as I suspected would be the case, the plot exists mostly to drive the story from visually interesting scene to visually interesting scene. This is not really a complaint though, because the art is really excellent. I had to force myself to read slowly and enjoy the artwork, because it’s the main attraction. Years of novel-reading made me want to speed through, so I ended up putting the book down at the chapter breaks to make it last longer.
The universe of Saga is a really interesting mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy. One of the main characters has insect wings, the other has ram’s horns. The winged people seem to be more technologically oriented while the horned people are more magically oriented. There are robot nobility who are basically humans but with televisions for heads, and there are ghosts, and tree-like rocketships, and giant war-tortoises, and freaky spider-human bounty hunters, and all sorts of other crazy things.
I guess my main complaint is that there is quite a bit of unnecessary nudity which seems to have been thrown in purely to demonstrate that this is not a comic for kids. It felt quite similar to the often-gratuitous nudity in HBO and other non-network shows, or in “mature” video games, serving little purpose other than to call attention to the fact that they can get away with things that more family-friendly networks can’t. The problem I have with this is that, believe it or not, I don’t tend to consume media by myself. In the case of Saga, I was reading it on the couch at my in-laws’ house. Suddenly flipping the page and coming across a sex scene, or topless spider-woman hybrid was…unexpected, and had the potential to become pretty embarrassing.
But that complaint aside, on the whole I enjoyed Saga. The main thing that I have noticed is that my brain keeps returning to some of the spectacular scenes in the book. One of my measures of a great novel is that I can’t stop thinking about it, even when I’m doing other things. Saga seems to have succeeded at doing something similar.
Graphic novels are a new form of media for me, so I don’t have anything to compare Saga directly to, but bottom line is: I enjoyed it, and even after finishing it I keep thinking about it, and I’m looking forward to reading(viewing?) the next volume.