Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Books: Saga


Vol 1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Comics can do anything.

Yeah - ok: sure - they can't make you a cup of tea (etc) - but facetiousness aside - (and trying my best not to sound too much like Scott McCloud) the potential of types of stories you can use them to tell is (pretty much) limitless: you know - words and pictures working together and all that: I mean - yeah - (ok) maybe there are a few stories out there that only work in terms of sound (although the only one I can think of would be Orson Welles' infamous War of the Worlds broadcast): but at least in this point of human history [1] - telling a story with pictures is the thing that we all respond best to. Which I guess is why I always end up feeling a little bit (hell - a lot) let down by a book that (on the one hand) is all real world locations and people talking in kitchens or (on the other hand) opts for the usual superheroes having fights with supervillains fare ("Take that! Evildoer!"). Like - come on! Give me something I haven't seen before. Something that pushes up against a few limits - or jumps over a few boundaries - (do I need to break out the caps lock?): GIVE ME SOMETHING NEW.

As basically (as far as I see it) - if you're a comic book writer or artist or whatever then (well) for all intents and purposes you basically have the power of god. Why then are you merely content with serving up more the same? With the entire spectrum to choose from - why is everyone seemingly content to serve up the same shade of brown?

In fact - I recently stumbled across an introduction that Alan Moore wrote a book called The Vorrh [2] that (talking about the fantasy genre) managed to hit the nail precisely on the head: "By definition, surely every fantasy should be unique and individual, the product of a single vision and a single mind, with all of that mind’s idiosyncrasies informing every atom of the narrative." Except I don't think that this is just a problem with fantasy - I think it's a problem with all stories everywhere: with not enough storytellers willing to take risks or stretch themselves past the point of the people who came before them. I don't know if any of you saw that Patton Oswalt Parks and Recreation Star Wars speech that was making the rounds on the internet last week [3]: but - if they ever made it (and hell the way things are going - I really wouldn't be that surprised if it did happen) - it would be the omega point/singularity of nerd/geek culture (and after it finished - I guess we could all pack up our bags and go home): but that's the (imaginary yeah) culmination of what I'm talking about I guess - where the greatest creative act isn't to make something new - but to join up the parts and pieces of the stories that came before (and maybe this is all just a roundabout way of moaning about the never-ending proliferation of sequels and reboots: but whatever): that's not my point.

My point is - (like I said at the start): comics can do anything.

I'm guessing that most of the people reading this have already heard of Brian K. Vaughan. In all the pictures I've ever seen of him he's wearing a black shirt and a red tie and an impish grin on his face that looks just a little (if you lean in just a bit) like he's trying too hard. But - what the hey: it looks like it's working for him seeing how he's basically one of the only (that I can think of anyway) success stories of 21st Century mainstream comicdom (and by success I mean - he's not trailed by bitter fans complaining that his early work was much much better: and he's sold out all the things he used to stand for etc etc etc). He first broke big with Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina (amongst others)- then followed that up by landing a job working as a Lost writer (jumping ship before the final season [4]) - and (after his movie projects stalled) has now returned to the comics world in a big way with Saga.

The artist - Fiona Staples - is more of an unknown quantity. Nosing around her wikipedia page it seems that before Saga she was existing on the out-skirts of the industry: doing the colours on Book IV of Button Man, doing one shots of minor superhero characters ("The Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor") and series that no one really mentions anymore (sorry Northlanders: but you know it's true): but having treated my eyes to the beauty of the artwork in Saga - all of that seems more like people not being able to spot the treasure right beneath their noses rather than some sort of lack on her part: putting it bluntly - the artwork in Saga is spine-tingling fantastic. At the outset I'll admit that I was a little non-plussed - it all seemed a little bit too round on the edges - like a pair of child's safety scissors wrapped up in candyfloss: but it only took a few issues before either my defenses melted or her technique improved for me to fall into her arms. The grace and simplicity she manages to capture her characters with - I mean: well - it's cool. And: in places - kinda reminds me of Sean Philips: only if he's a dog - she's more like a cat (and I don't care if that only makes sense to me). And - in fact - comparing the art in Saga to Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina - it's seems like Brian K. Vaughan has managed to find the perfect person to split the difference between the rough and ready lines of Pia Guerra (of Y: The Last Man) and the hyper-stylized / frozen in amber look of  Tony Harris (who did Ex Machina [5]): Fiona Staples manages to draw characters who feel alive and dynamic whilst at the same time - capturing them at the moment in which they're most beautiful.

And - together: well - right at the start there's this bit about what a great thing it can be when two people join forces to create something new and even tho (being English and all) it made me cringe like I was having a spasm: I've got to (begrudgingly) admit - there is magic in these pages. With both Vaughan and Staples coming together to create something that - well - feels new.

Of course - yeah yeah yeah: the basic building blocks of story is as old as time - but then what isn't you know? What's exciting tho is the way that they decide to tell that story and the fabulous creatures they cook up to make it run (my favourite so far being The Stalk): there's a feeling that only a few comic books have managed to give me - that everything is kinda floating on air and absolutely anything can happen and - hell - you know what? - I don't think I've seen such an interesting blend of science-fiction and fantasy since Star Wars (which I realise might be setting the bar a little high - but there you go).

Yes: there is more sex and violence than what you'd get from an average Game of Thrones episode [6]: but it's done with such a cheeky smile on it's face that it never really feels like a cheap shot. Instead - it feels more like a fairy-tale that never feels the need to keep things sanitized - Neil Gaiman with a few drinks inside him: holding forth whilst dressed up in a Boba Fett costume (if that helps: I'm guessing not - but what the hey).

But - yeah: totally worth the price of admission: when you've got a comic like this the only thing you need to worry out is how to get your hands on the next volume.

[1] I remember learning back at school that people used to say that they were going to "go hear a play" as opposed to go see on: as there used to be a much greater emphasis on aural rather than the visual (which is apparently why Shakespeare could be so virtuosic with his dialogue): but I don't know if that's true or not.

[2] You can read the introduction here (and - oh - hat tip to Mindless Ones): the book itself is by someone called B. Catling and unfortunately - sad face - it's not currently available from Islington libraries (oh well).

[3] I'd include the link here - but I can't find it (the one that everyone else has been using is only available to view in America). And - damnit - I can't find a transcript (oh well): summing up then - it's his crazy pitch for the next Star Wars film and how it could bring in The Avengers, Thanos and the X-Men (in fact - just look at the poster someone made: that should give you the right idea).

[4] Which obviously you could interpret in a number of ways.

[5] And - which - I would mostly put down to the fact that his technique seems to consist of taking photographers of people posing in various positions and then coping them into his drawing: with the result that - well - a lot of his artwork looks like people posing in various positions (as opposed to actually just - you know: being natural).

[6] True story: one of my friends was on an aeroplane - watching Game of Thrones on his laptop when the stewardess came around and asked if he'd like anything to drink - he looked up as he paused the DVD and said that he was alright when he noticed a strange look on her face: and as she walked away he looked back at his laptop and realised that he'd paused the screen so that all you could see was a pair of boobs. Such is the dangers of watching Game of Thrones.

Links: The Founding Fields Review, What Would Ellen Ripley Do Review, AVClub Interview with Brian K. Vaughan.

Further reading: Y: The Last ManEx MachinaArrowsmith: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms, ProphetOrc StainNikolai Dante: The Romanov DynastyThe Umbrella AcademyJoe The Barbarian, Button Man, Northlanders, Stardust.

All comments welcome.

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