There’s tragedy, and then there’s Saga. The thrilling epic about two star-crossed lovers trying to raise their child in a war-torn galaxy is one of the most celebrated and beloved comics in recent memory, presenting readers with a complex narrative and wonderful characters that leap off of the page. Springing from the minds of writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, Saga quickly established itself as essential reading in the sci-fi and fantasy zeitgeist within its first few issues in 2012. After six years and 54 issues, Vaughan and Staples announced that the series would be going on “indefinite hiatus” (at least a year), which is more than fair considering the depth and length of the series at this point.
Still, its exit brings with it a sharp pang. I was not a comics kid growing up. I was no stranger to fantasy, inhaling the works of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling while rewatching movies like Willow and Star Wars until my parents’ eyes bled. I was that nerdy kid, but for some reason, a love of comics eluded me. The Marvel and DC worlds were, at the time, intimidating, stretching back decades and leaving me wondering where to possibly begin. And, I must admit that there was some snobbery on my part as an English student. In college, I chose Faulkner as an elective over Graphic Novel (MISTAKE), largely because I didn’t understand the rich storytelling that the genre had to offer. However, post-college and living in a small town, there wasn’t a lot to do. There was a local comics shop, though, and on my initial curious visit I picked up the first volume of Saga. Within a few pages, I was hooked.
The story of Alana and Marko is a familiar one. The planets of Landfall and Wreath are at war, plunging the entire galaxy into a bloody and seemingly endless battle. Alana, a soldier from the technologically advanced Landfall, and Marko, a prisoner of war from the magical Wreath, pull a Romeo and Juliet and fall in love despite their warring nations and get married. However, unlike the tragic Shakespearean teens, Marko and Alana opt to go on the run and have a child, the adorable Hazel who functions as the series’ narrator. As a child of both worlds, Hazel is immediately seen as a political pawn to be either eliminated or manipulated depending on who is hunting her. While there are moments of peace, the existence of their family makes Marko and Alana fugitives, sending them across the galaxy with a rotating cast of mercenaries on their tails.
The appeal of Saga is intrinsically linked to the series’ ability to blend romance, action, and politics into one appealing story. Vaughan explained when he began the series that he wanted to tell a relatable narrative in a fantastical world, focusing on the fear of raising a family in a world at war: “I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags... I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war.”
While Vaughan may not have set out to make “noble” heroes — he did jokingly describe the series as “Star Wars for perverts” after all — the characters of Saga are innately human, despite their alien biology. There are no Classic White Knights, but there is something much more interesting. With all of their flaws, Marko and Alana are still striving to do the right thing. They may not always know what that thing is and often fail in catastrophic ways, but these are people looking to make the universe a little better than they found it. War and circumstance might make that impossible at times, but the persistent pursuit of love and peace is inherently noble.
Science fiction is often utilized to discuss things like the ugly nature of politics and religion against a fantastical backdrop, and Saga is no different in that respect. Tackling issues like female autonomy, addiction, gender identity, and reproductive rights, Saga manages to be relevant without being preachy, pushing readers to consider things beyond the candy-colored creatures on the page. Add in rich diversity and you’ve got a story for the times that will no doubt hold up for years to come.As epic and important as is this story is, the smaller details of Saga are not to be missed for the bigger picture. Do you want a charming ghost babysitter who drags around her own entrails? Meet Izabel! A giant cat that can tell when you’re lying? Got one of those, too! Do you want a strange array of planets, each more bizarre than the last? Oh boy, are there! Staples’ art really explodes (sometimes literally) off the page, making a world so vibrant that I hope no one ever adapts it to the screen. Anything that doesn’t perfectly capture the comic’s unique vision would feel like a cheap imitation, so I would rather keep the perfection untouched, no matter how amazing it would be to see Dev Patel as Marko and Rosario Dawson as Alana. Seriously, the fan cast of my wildest dreams.
As I look ahead to a time without a monthly issue of Saga to dash my heart upon the rocks (Could they have picked a more devastating note to end on?! Brb, crying forever), I mostly just feel grateful. Without Saga, I may have missed out on a whole medium that is constantly revolutionizing storytelling. Saga will always be my favorite comic because of how goddamn amazing it is, but I also appreciate it as a gateway. So, thanks, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.