Saturday, June 14, 2014

Epic Beards of Review: Saga

One of the more exciting moments of this column will be discovering new things. Yes, from time to time, even I shall take the plunge. I myself, however, get the privilege to read some of these books for the second (or more!) times. Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Runaways) and illustrated by Fiona Staples, a swashbuckling space-faring fantasy I could shout across galaxies.

Marko and Alana are in love. They’re of differing species, however, and they’ve a baby on the way. The only problem (okay, one of MANY) is that their species are at war with each other. The three of them are being chased across star systems by bounty hunters, in-laws and ex-girlfriends. There are quite a lot of hands involved with their daughter Hazel’s upbringing, and bringing up a little bagging is part of that.

Hazel’s story (and that of her parents’) is told from an indeterminate time in the future. We know her parents are no longer alive, already darkening the edges of our story. She is an unreliable narrator of sorts, beginning her tale at the as she makes her escape from the womb, unfolding as she bounces around between the past and present-day from somewhere farther along down the line.

With all that being said: this is NOT a family-friendly comic, nor is it what the kids these days call Not Safe For Work (NSFW.) There are copious amounts of violence, sex and swearing; almost so much so that I honestly had to think twice about this being my first column.

I won’t go into the gory details here because, frankly, some of those details paint gory in a good light. Staples paints us a lush picture of space travel and warmongering that’s worth a thousand words. Cliché, yes, but in those panels which there are no words, you begin to understand where I’m coming from.

Aside from great story and art, there are plenty of other shenanigans jangling around here. There’s an honest-to-goodness letter page, something that has fallen by the wayside in today’s mainstream comics culture. The column only accepts letters sent through the postal service, making more of an eclectic feel to this comic. Letters are answered, and Vaughan and Staples occasionally throw in writing and art processes to titillate readers.

There’s a yearly reader’s survey and costume contest, and every month a best letter is chosen, netting winners with often irreverent ephemera from Vaughan’s desk drawer. Saga has created a community of readers, many of whom are sharing their own stories of love and loss. Veterans and active-duty soldiers, mothers and fathers, even book clubs are jumping on board.

Saga’s publisher Image Comics is also a whiz at handling the marketing angle for this series as well. At some point, issue one was selling for one dollar to get folks reading. As with all of their collected trades, the first trade sells for $9.99 instead of the $14.99 cover price follow-ups are tagged with. Vaughan and Staples also commit to taking two months off between arcs (every six issues) to make sure they’re caught up, as well as the readers. There’s always the hope fans will start buying single issues: there are no letter pages reprinted in the trades.

Saga (now in three trade collections and clocking in at 19 issues) is awash with originality and inventiveness the likes of which I’ve never seen. Every issue is better than the last and every character is your favorite.

This article originally appeared  06/05/2014 in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette Showcase as The Oracular Beard Presents...

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