Saga (comic book)
Cover art for Saga #1 (March 2012).
Art by Fiona Staples.
|Genre||Epic Space opera/fantasy|
|Publication date||March 2012 to present|
|Number of issues||24|
Prince Robot IV
|Writer(s)||Brian K. Vaughan|
|Creator(s)||Brian K. Vaughan and
Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, published monthly by Image Comics. The series is heavily influenced by Star Wars and is based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent. It depicts a husband and wife from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series.
The comic was described in solicitations as "Star Wars meets Game of Thrones," and by critics as evocative of both science fiction and fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings and classic works like Romeo & Juliet. It is Vaughan's first creator-owned work to be published through Image Comics, and represents the first time he employs narration in his comics writing.
The first issue of Saga was published on March 14, 2012, to positive reviews and a sold-out first printing. The first six-issue story arc was widely acclaimed, and was published in trade paperback form in October 2012. The series won a number of Eisner Awards in 2013 and 2014, and the first trade paperback collection won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.
Writer Brian K. Vaughan conceived Saga in his childhood, calling it "a fictional universe that I created when I was bored in math class. I just kept building it." He was inspired by such influences as Star Wars, Flash Gordon and children's books, and has also invoked the awe and wonder of first seeing the Silver Surfer, which seemed an "incredible and different" concept to him. It was not until his wife became pregnant with his second daughter, however, that he conceived of the protagonists, the winged Alana and the horned Marko, two lovers from warring extraterrestrial races who struggle to survive with their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series. It was also at this point that the central theme that Vaughan wanted for the book emerged. Vaughan explains, "I wanted to write about parenthood, but I wanted to Trojan-horse it inside some sort of interesting genre story, to explore the overlap between artistic creation and the creation of a child." Vaughan, who intended to return to writing a comics series following the 2010 conclusion of his previous series, Ex Machina, and who notes that the publication of Saga #1 coincided with the birth of his daughter, saw parallels between the caution advised by colleagues against launching a new book in the poor economy, and those who cautioned against bringing a new child into the world, observing:
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 ... I’m part of the generation that all we do is complain about the prequels and how they let us down ... And if every one of us who complained about how the prequels didn’t live up to our expectations just would make our own sci-fi fantasy, then it would be a much better use of our time.
Vaughan explained that the main characters' romance would be a major theme of the book. Touching upon the juxtaposition of the book's mature subject matter with its Star Wars inspirations, Vaughan jokingly described the book as "Star Wars for perverts."
The book was announced at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International, and was billed as "Star Wars meets A Game of Thrones" in solicitations. Saga represents the first time Vaughan has employed narration in his comics writing, a decision influenced by the whimsical interaction between the text and images in the children's books he reads with his children, and by his desire to try something new that he felt would work well with Saga's narrator, Hazel. It is also his first series to be published through Image Comics, whom he selected as the series' publisher on the recommendation of writer Jay Faerber, who cited the creative freedom afforded by that publisher. Vaughan elaborated on his selection of Image thus:
|I love all the other companies I've worked with, but I think Image might be the only publisher left that can still offer a contract I would consider "fully creator-owned." Saga is a really important story to me, so I wanted a guarantee of no content restrictions or other creative interference, and I needed to maintain 100% control and ownership of all non-publishing rights with the artist, including the right to never have our comic turned into a movie or television show or whatever ... [Image's] Eric Stephenson was the only publisher I spoke with who was thrilled to make that deal, and co-creator Fiona Staples and I didn't have to sign exclusives or agree to work on a bunch of corporate-owned titles to get it.|
Although Vaughan has written for television, and has endeavored to have his previous works adapted into film, he stresses that he developed Saga strictly to be a comic book, and not to be adapted to other media, explaining, "I wanted to do something that was way too expensive to be TV and too dirty and grown-up to be a four-quadrant blockbuster." Vaughan has also indicated that he has an ending in mind for the series, and that he plans five issues ahead, having written the first six issues as the first story arc, which would have ended with the two main characters dying on the rocketship launch pad in issue 5 if the series had not been successful.
The series is illustrated by Fiona Staples, who was introduced to Vaughan by their mutual friend, writer Steve Niles, with whom Staples worked on Mystery Society. Vaughan, who did not meet Staples in person until just before their panel at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, explained his selection of Staples by describing his reaction upon first seeing her work, saying, "Her artwork is incredible. [It] doesn't look like anyone else. She is very unique. When I opened up this file I was like, 'This is going to work!'" Staples is co-owner of Saga, and in addition to designing the cast and all the ships and alien races in the story, she provides painted covers, and hand-letters Hazel's narration (using her own handwriting), which is the last thing she does after finishing the artwork on a page. Staples renders the characters in a pen-and-ink style line, while using all-color settings inspired by video games and Japanese animation. At the 2012 Image Expo, Staples described her the process by which she produces the art as harkening back to animation cels, in which emphasis is placed on figures and backgrounds. Vaughan has stated that Staple's style has influenced the direction of the story. The organic forms of most of the series' technology, for example, such as the main characters' wooden rocket ship, is derived from Staples' dislike of drawing mechanical objects. To design the series' various planetary settings, Staples looks to the real world for inspiration and then exaggerates some elements of them. Some rooms on the planet Cleave, for example, were inspired by Cambodian architecture.
The book's release was celebrated with a launch party at Los Angeles' Meltdown Comics, which featured a public conversation with Vaughan's former colleague, Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, who in 2007, had hired Vaughan as a writer/producer on that series. Vaughan also promoted the book by appearing at signings at Midtown Comics in Manhattan and Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn during the week of the first issue's release.
The book is priced at $2.99, and will remain at that price for the duration of its run, which Vaughan arranged as part of his contract with Image, along with the stipulation that it never be less than 22 pages long. The first issue featured 44 pages of story and no advertisements, in both its print and digital versions.
After the publication of issue 6 in August 2012, Vaughan announced in that issue's letter page, "To Be Continued", that the series would take a two-month hiatus, after which the first six-issue story arc was published in trade paperback form in October for $9.99, before the series' return in November. That same month, Vaughan and Staples promoted the series by appearing together at the 2012 New York Comic Con, their first appearance together since the series' debut.
On April 9, 2013, media reported that Apple Inc. had prohibited the sale of issue 12 of Saga through iOS, because two panels that depicted oral sex between men in a small, in-set image violated Apple's restrictions on sexual content. This resulted in criticism by artists and writers, who pointed to similarly explicit content in previous issues and in other works sold through iTunes. William Gibson and others suggested that the restriction could have occurred specifically because the drawings in question depicted gay sex. A day later, digital distributor Comixology announced that it had been they, not Apple, who had chosen not to make the issue available based on their interpretation of Apple's rules, and that after receiving clarification from Apple, the issue would now be sold via iOS.
Issue 24 (October 2014) again used the letter page to announce a hiatus of a "few brief skip months", with issue 25 scheduled for February 4, 2015.
The opening story arc introduces the series' leads, Alana and Marko, two lovers from different worlds whose people are at war with one another. Alana comes from the technologically advanced Landfall Coalition, so named after Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, and Marko is from Wreath, Landfall's only satellite, whose people wield magic. Because the destruction of one of the worlds would send the other spinning out of orbit, the war was "outsourced" to other worlds. Although peace was restored on the two home worlds, the conflict spread across all the other known planets, whose native species were forced to choose a side. As Landfall and Wreath were on opposite sides, Alana and Marko met when she was assigned to guard him in a prison on the planet Cleave after he became a prisoner of war. They escaped together twelve hours after meeting. In the beginning of the series' first issue, Alana gives birth to their daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series. Soon afterward, the trio are caught in between a team from each of their worlds, who end up slaughtering one another trying to capture them, a massacre that is blamed on the couple. Their respective peoples are incredulous when it is suggested that they have voluntarily mated, and they are pursued by both the Wreathers and the Landfallians, both because of the perceived betrayal of the two fugitives, and to prevent knowledge of their pairing from spreading, thus damaging morale among their troops. On Landfall, Prince Robot IV is assigned by his father to capture him, and comes into conflict with his counterpart from Wreath, a mercenary named The Will. The ghost of a dead girl named Izabel is bonded to Hazel, and the four of them escape Cleave before being confronted by Marko's parents.
In the second story arc, more is revealed about Marko's parents and his upbringing, and his initial time with Alana. Marko's ex-fiancée, Gwendolyn, joins The Will's hunt, as does Slave Girl, a six-year-old sex slave rescued by The Will and Gwendolyn. The family later takes refuge at the home of writer D. Oswald Heist, the author of Alana's favorite novel, where they first come into contact with Prince Robot IV.
The third story arc, beginning in August 2013, which Vaughan intended as a "big tonal shift", introduces the tabloid journalists Upsher and Doff, as they pursue their own investigation of Alana and Marko, who take refuge at the lighthouse home of author D. Oswald Heist. There, the family first comes into direct contact with, and manage to escape from, Prince Robot IV and Gwendolyn. By the end of the story, Hazel has begun to walk.
The fourth story arc establishes the family living on the planet Gardenia, with Alana acting in an underground entertainment program called the Open Circuit, in which all the actors wear masks. Hazel is now speaking in simple phrases, while Prince Robot IV's son is born.
- Alana - The female lead of the series, Alana is Marko's wife and Hazel's mother. She is a native of the planet Landfall, and like all Landfallians, she has wings, although her wings do not allow her to fly until issue #18. After joining her planet's war against the Wreathers (One issue says she was drafted after flunking out of state college, while another says that she joined the military a few months after her father remarried Alana's childhood friend, Even), she was subsequently reprimanded for "abject cowardice" for hesitating to kill civilians, and was redeployed to the planet Cleave, where as a prison guard she met Marko. She developed a friendship with him, and when she learned he was to be transferred to a more brutal prison from which detainees never return, she helped him escape, just twelve hours after having met him. She later married him, and gave birth to their daughter, Hazel, in the series' first issue.
- Marko - The male lead of the series, Marko is Alana's husband and Hazel's father. He is from the Landfall's moon Wreath, whose people have horns or antlers and can wield magic. Marko was a foot soldier in his people's war against the Coalition of Landfall. Marko was raised since a young age with the knowledge of the atrocities that Landfall committed against their people,. When Marko left Wreath as an adult, he was still "a gung-ho kid who just wanted to do [his] moon proud and kick some ass." This changed the first time he saw battle, after which he began to develop a less militant and more pacifist outlook. When he tried to share these misgivings with his fiancée Gwen, he realized from her unsympathetic and jingoistic responses that they had grown too far apart to continue their relationship. Marko surrendered to Coalition forces as a "conscientious objector" 18 months before the beginning of the series. He was a prisoner of war on the planet Cleave until his guard, Alana, escaped with him, married him and conceived their daughter, Hazel. Wreath High Command sent The Will after Marko because Marko "renounced his oath and betrayed The Narrative" by fraternizing with an enemy combatant. Though he is a pacifist who vows upon the birth of his daughter to never again to use his sword, and dislikes the practice of owning firearms, he does so nonetheless when his family is threatened, and is so skilled with a sword that he can dispatch an entire squad of enemy soldiers armed with firearms, for which he is referred to by Prince Robot IV as a "force of nature".
- Hazel - The daughter of the two lead characters, born in the first issue, who occasionally narrates the series. She has wings like her mother, horns like her father, and green-brown eyes unlike that of either of her parents. She spends most of her childhood growing up in the organic tree-like rocketship with which she and her parents escape Cleave. She is seen taking her first steps at the end of the third story arc, and is speaking in simple phrases by the beginning of the fourth.
- Izabel - Izabel is the ghost of a teenage girl from the planet Cleave who was killed by a landmine. She manifests as a reddish torso with her intestines hanging out from under the hem of her T-shirt. She comes from a family of resistance fighters who built tunnels to escape people who invaded Cleave. She makes a deal with Alana to save Marko's life in exchange for being taken with them when they leave the planet, but to do so has to bond her soul to Hazel's. Although Alana is initially reluctant to allow this, she finally relents, and soon comes to appreciate Izabel's presence, since she can act as a "babysitter" at night and allow Alana and Marko to rest. She has the ability to create realistic illusions with which she can disguise her appearance, although these do not work on machines, such as the Robots.
- Klara - Marko's mother, who first appears with Marko's father at the end of issue #6. Her mother died in an incident at Langencamp at the hands of Landfallians, and thus Klara is less accepting of Marko and Alana's relationship. Brian K. Vaughan, when asked which character was his favorite, stated that Klara was the easiest to write.
The family's pursuers
- Prince Robot IV - A member of the royal family of the Robot Kingdom, assigned by Landfall as their primary pursuer of Alana and Marko in the beginning of the series, when his wife is pregnant with their first child. Like others of his race, he is a humanoid with a small television set for a head, which Vaughan explains is influenced by a fascination with old televisions that he developed when he began writing for TV. He also has blue blood, and the ability to morph his right arm into a cannon, In the beginning of the series, Prince Robot IV has just returned from a "two–year tour of hell", after which he had to be given a new leg following a brutal sneak attack. His brain "reboots" after he is injured confronting the family in the third story arc, and is still missing when his son is born in the fourth story arc.
- The Will - One of the freelance bounty hunters hired by the Wreath High Command to kill Marko and Alana and bring back Hazel alive, not only for Marko's betrayal, but also to prevent news of Alana and Marko's coupling from spreading, thus threatening troop morale. The Will is accompanied by a Lying Cat, a large talking feline that can detect lies. Vez, the woman who hires him, says she hired The Will because he shares Marko's moral relativism. When he travels to the sexually permissive planet Sextillion and is presented with a six-year-old sexual slave girl, The Will kills her pimp. The Will was once the lover of The Stalk, a female spider-like bounty hunter who is also assigned to Alana and Marko, until she is killed by Prince Robot IV, for which The Will vows revenge. He develops an attraction to Gwendolyn, even as he mourns The Stalk. His sister Sophie, who addresses him "Billy", and who introduced him to The Stalk, is another Freelancer who works under the name The Brand. In the third story arc, he decides to abandon his Freelancer life, but suffers a near-fatal injury. Although his life is saved at a hospital, it is said that he will likely never fully recover from the trauma.
- Lying Cat - Lying Cat is a large, female talking feline companion to The Will who aids him in his work. Green in color with yellow stripes, she has the ability to detect when a verbal statement is a lie, which she indicates by saying, "Lying". Her power is limited to the state of the mind of the person speaking: She can detect deliberate deception, but cannot detect a falsehood if a given statement is believed to be true by the speaker. According to Izabel, Lying Cats always play by the rules, an allusion to the fact that a Lying Cat must also admit ethical truths as well as factual ones. When Gwendolyn, who becomes Lying Cat's ally, accidentally kills a man, Izabel says that they had no right execute that man in his home, which Lying Cat could not deny. It has been revealed that Lying Cat was the runt of her seven-kitten litter, which has caused her distress.
- Sophie - A six-and-a-half-year-old former sex slave, initially known only as Slave Girl, that The Will discovers on the pleasure planet Sextillion. He and Gwendolyn rescue her, after which the girl reveals she possesses the power of psychometry, with which she helps The Will track Marko and Alana. The Will decides to name her Sophie in issue #13, which is the same name as his sister. Vaughan has stated that Sophie, whose first appearance Staples initially refused to draw, was created to illustrate the horrific effects of war, and as a critique of the sexualized portrayal of Princess Leia as Jabba the Hutt's slave in the film Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, explaining, "That's that character at her least sexy. There are slave girls in the world and they don't look like Princess Leia in a bikini."
- Gwendolyn - Marko's former fiancée, who joins The Will's pursuit of the family. Gwendolyn first appears at the end of issue #8, having been assigned by the Secretary General of Wreath High Command to check on The Will, and helps him rescue Slave Girl from Sextillion in order to spur him to complete his mission. Marko and Alana's wedding rings, which also function as translator devices, were originally those of Gwendolyn's grandparents, who had the rings enchanted with a translator spell because they spoke two different dialects of Wreath's native language. She wears her grandparents' translation pendant around her neck, which were forged with the rings as part of the same set. She resists The Will's advances, though she reveals she loves him while attempting get medical attention for him after he suffers a near-fatal injury.
- Upsher and Doff - Upsher and Doff are a tabloid journalist and photographer, respectively, from the planet Jetsam, who work for a tabloid called The Hebdomadal, and who are also lovers. They first appear in issue #13. They experience more than one confrontation with Freelancers hired to put an end to their investigation. The Brand, poisons them with embargon, a substance that will kill them if they report their findings about the family to anyone else, though they attempt to find a way around this in order to continue their investigation. Jetsam is a partially underwater society, as they are capable of surviving in and out of water. Their speech is rendered in the form of blue text surrounded by speech balloons that more closely resemble traditional comics thought bubbles.
Sales and reprints
The first issue sold out of its first printing ahead of its March 14 release date. A second printing ordered for April 11, the same release date as issue #2, also sold out, with a third printing arriving in stores on April 25. The issue ultimately went through five printings.
The first trade paperback collection, Saga, Vol. 1, which collects the first six issues, was published October 10, 2012, and appeared at Number 6 on the New York Times Graphic Books Best Seller list the week of October 29. As of August 2013, it has sold 120,000 copies.
Although issue #7 sold out, Image Comics PR & Marketing Director Jennifer deGuzman announced in a December 12, 2012 letter to retailers that it would not reprint select comics, such as that issue. DeGuzman explained the move as a result of decreasing orders on well-performing titles like Saga, despite critical acclaim and consistently selling out at a distributor level, and pointed to orders on Saga #8, which decreased 4% from orders on issue #7. Rather than invest in second printings, deGuzman explained, Image would instead focus its attention on ensuring that the first printing garners the sales desired. This move displeased some retailers, which prompted Image Publisher Eric Stephenson to announce the following day that Image would indeed publish a second printing of issue #7 at a considerable discount, but cautioned that the publisher would not be able to reprint every issue of the series indefinitely, and implored retailers not to under-order the series.
The second trade paperback collection immediately appeared at the top of the New York Times graphic books best-seller list.
The first issue was widely acclaimed in publications such as Publishers Weekly, MTV, Ain't it Cool News, Complex magazine, Comic Book Resources, iFanboy and ComicsAlliance; they all praised Vaughan's ability to incorporate elements of different genres, establishing the vast setting and mythology, and introducing characters that engaged the reader. Multiple reviewers likened the book to a combination of sci-fi/fantasy works such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, and classic works of literature such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and the New Testament. AICN singled out the use of the newborn Hazel as a lone individual to chronicle large-scale events from a past perspective, and Alex Zalben of MTV Geek remarking that he could hear a John Williams score as he read the book. Multiple reviewers also lauded Vaughan for beginning the story with Hazel's birth, rather than hurting the story's pace with copious exposition of Alana and Marko's initial meeting and courtship. Todd Allen of The Beat approved of the book's unique "flavor", singling out the characters' motivations, the immersiveness of its surrealist setting, the strangeness of the story's various oddities, and the timely nature of the story's political undertones. Both Alex Evans of Weekly Comic Book Review and P. S. Hayes of Geeks of Doom called the series a "classic"; Hayes also praised Image Comics for publishing such an "original" series. Also widely praised was Fiona Staples' artwork, which was characterized as "glorious", with Zalben predicting that readers would "fall head over heels in love" with it, and Greg McElhatton of Comic Book Resources positively comparing it to that of Leinil Francis Yu, specifically her use of delicate lines to frame characters with large, bold figures, and Staples' mixture of the familiar and the foreign together in her character designs to create a visually cohesive universe. AICN singled out Staples' handling of grand, sweeping space shots and other genre trappings, as well as her mastery of facial expressions, which AICN felt was perfectly suited to Vaughan's subtle dialogue. Todd Allen of The Beat wrote that Staples' landscapes at times play as much a part in the story as the foreground.
The subsequent issues that made up the series' initial six-issue story arc also garnered similarly positive reviews, with three printings ordered for issue #2, and second printings ordered for issues 3 - 6. The series was included in IGN's 2012 list of "The Comics We're Thankful For This Year", and took the #1 spot in CBR's "Top 10 Comics of 2012". In August 2013, Douglas Wolk of Time magazine referred to the series as a "breakout hit", calling it "mischievous, vulgar and gloriously inventive."
Saga won the three Eisner Awards it was nominated for in 2013: Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer. The Vol. 1 trade paperback won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. The series was nominated for seven 2013 Harvey Awards, and won six of those: Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story.
In 2014 the series won three Eisners: Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, Best Writer, and Best Continuing Series.
A line of T-shirts featuring Lying Cat have been produced, and have become visible in popular media. In "Pac-Man Fever", the April 24, 2013 episode of the American TV series Supernatural, the character Charlie Bradbury (played by Felicia Day) is seen wearing a Lying Cat T-shirt. Day, who has referred to Saga as the "best comic EVER", indicated that show writer Robbie Thompson picked out the shirt.
Although interest has been expressed in adapting Saga for film or TV, Vaughan and Staples reaffirmed their desire not to do so in an August 2013 interview, with Vaughan stating that the point of Saga as he conceived it was "to do absolutely everything I couldn't do in a movie or a TV show. I'm really happy with it just being a comic."
|Title||Material collected||Publication date||Notes|
|Saga: Volume One||Saga #1-6||October 10, 2012||978-1607066019|
|Saga: Volume Two||Saga #7-12||July 2, 2013||978-1607066927|
|Saga: Volume Three||Saga #13-18||March 25, 2014||978-1607069317|
|Saga: Book One HC||Saga #1-18||November 19, 2014||978-1632150783|
|Saga: Volume Four||Saga #19-24||December 17, 2014||978-1632150776|
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- Vaughan, Brian K. (w), Staples, Fiona (a). "Chapter Twelve" Saga 12 (April 2013), Image Comics
- Vaughan, Brian K. (w), Staples, Fiona (a). "Chapters Thirteen - Eighteen" Saga 13-18 (August 2013 - January 2014), Image Comics
- Vaughan, Brian K. (w), Staples, Fiona (a). "Chapter Nineteen" Saga 19 (May 2014), Image Comics
- Vaughan, Brian K. (w), Staples, Fiona (a). "Chapter Eighteen" Saga 18 (January 2014), Image Comics
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- Vaughan, Brian K. (w), Staples, Fiona (a). "Chapter Seventeen" Saga 17 (December 2013), Image Comics
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