By Lottie Spurgin
Why Brian K. Vaughan’s ‘Saga’ is Worth the 43.5 Hours It Takes to Read
I was recently sitting on my bed with my partner Loki, telling them about my favorite comics over the years because they had definitely asked, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga was one of the first ones I had to share. I eagerly got on my tip toes to pull down an old, neglected crate of comics from the highest shelf in my closet. It was so heavy I dropped it on the floor the moment it was free from my closet’s grasp, and started cycling through the volumes and issues to look for Saga Vol. 1. To my horror, the crate didn’t have so much as a single issue. This baffled me, because Saga was my gateway to graphic novels–an experience not at all unique to me.
Saga takes place in a science fiction world where science meets magic, and the two coexist wonderfully. It’s a lot like the Star Wars universe, but it has an even stronger sense of identity in my opinion. It follows two extraterrestrials from opposing sides of a war who fall in love and have a hybrid child that the universe seems to want dead. It contains an incredibly diverse cast of characters- entirely non humans or POC. Saga is a brutal, gory love story and a direct commentary on hostile political segregation and the dehumanization of two factions butting heads, all while telling a terribly human story about characters who aren’t humans.
My introduction to this series was a little unorthodox. When I was fourteen, I was sitting in a comic book store and the owner, who I had a cute little friendship with, placed the first volume of Saga in my hands. He hesitated after he handed it to me, and said, “are your parents going to be mad at me for showing you this?” I told him, “definitely not,” because my parents raised me with blue humor. I sat down at a little table in the store and read the first volume in its entirety. It changed my life, and I mean that genuinely.
After reading Saga, I was hooked on graphic novels. I went from someone who just poked around to buy dice and DND handbooks to a full fledged Image fanatic. I would call the store before I got out of my middle school classes to make sure they had the latest issue for me. I mimicked Fiona Staples’ detailed artwork and drew my own characters like I thought she would do it.
Saga is the world that Brian K. Vaughan funneled his escapist daydreams to in his youth, and as he grew up and had kids, he realized that he could write a story taking place in that world. He reached out to Fiona Staples right away–they had never spoken before, mind you–and a few thumbnails later, the first few pages of the main character Alana literally giving birth marked the beginning for one of the most successful comics series of all time.
Brian K. Vaughan’s writing is signature and unique. I found out embarrassingly recently that he’s also the genius mind behind Papergirls, another favorite of mine since my early reader days. He puts the “adult” in adult graphic novels, pushing censorship limits in both comedy and content. You can always expect to be hiding his books closer to your chest so any unknowing passersby don’t catch a glimpse. Brian’s work isn’t afraid of the circle of life, and he doesn’t shy away from sex or death. Because of this, his characters always feel so real. Living, and breathing–until they’re not anymore–because Brian K. Vaughan also doesn’t shy away from killing off even main characters. I’m quite sure that he’s never even heard of the phrase plot armor, and if I still had my first copies of Saga I’d be able to see tear stains in almost every book.
I stood barefoot on my bedroom carpet spilling all of this information to Loki, who again, definitely asked. To add the persuasive cherry on top, I let them know that a character from the franchise (Prince Robot IV, The patriarch of a British race of people with televisions for heads) was such a Loki character. I guess this verbal love letter was enough, because the next day we were at Betty’s Books buying most of the Saga stock. I don’t often reread old friends, but as I scrape volume four out of ten on my Saga reread, I wonder if I should do it more often.
Reading it alongside Loki, who had never even heard of it, added a new layer of thrill. (Saga is one of those pieces of media that when you hear someone hasn’t seen it, you get super excited to be the one to introduce them. It’s like hearing someone’s never watched Star Wars.) We did voices and I watched Loki quickly become familiar with Brian’s ruthless killing, Fiona’s beautiful artwork, the self aware writing, the excellent world building, and the tongue-in-cheek humor that’s as delightful as it is R-rated. Saga is the epitome of “you will laugh, you will feel the deep urge to locate and kill Brian K. Vaughan, you will find Fiona Staples and give her a kiss on the cheek, and you will cry”.
If you’re comfortable with adult humor and dark situations, as well as well-written romance and people with televisions for heads, Saga is well worth the nearly 45 hours it takes to complete, as an epic of the graphic novel world similar to Game of Thrones in scope and emotional impact. Just read it!