Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Saga volume 1 review

I wanted to like Saga way more than I did. I wanted to love it like I love other Brian K. Vaughan comics. This was supposed to be his great return to the medium and, depending who you’re talking to, it is. I agree with them that Saga is a very good comic and that BKV and Staples are doing something important with their comic but I don't love it. I think it's important that they're doing a vertigo style maxi-series at Image. I also think it’s very important they're creating something new because comics, like any other medium, is always in need of new creative energies. 

The first few pages of the first issue are groan worthy. Really, this is how BKV decides to return to comics? An interspecies hipster couple who are experiencing the birth of their first child in a random garage the whole scene peppered with trite dialogue? You're better than that. The scene continues with Marko telling us about his vow to never take his sword out of his scabbard again. He kept it in for four issues.

The comic isn’t all bad though. To be fair, it’s mostly good. Fiona Staples has a large role to play in that. She’s a very talented artist. I like that her colour is an inseparable part of her art. The colouring embellishes her line work to such a degree I'm convinced that seeing her work in black and white juxtaposed with her colour pages would make it seem like the work of two different artists. Look at a page to see how much detail she adds to a law without the use of lines, using colouring alone.
This is one example where Staples's background
is very well done. I like how mysterious and strange
the ice cave looks.

I've never seen Staples’s art until I heard about this project and I really like it. The problem is I don't think she's the best artist for this story. Her backgrounds leave much to be desired. Often times they're not even really there. Fantasy and science fiction as genres are dependent on visuals. That's primarily what defines them and it contributes greatly to what separates them from other genres. A big part of these visuals are the surroundings. Her backgrounds look likes scenes taking place on a holodeck. Some of her character designs are excellent, I really like them. But her locations, her vistas, they're practically non-existent. I really like her art but the jury is still out on whether she's a good fit for this story.

When taking a look at the story and plot of the book, I’m also a little disappointed. It’s essentially Shakespeare in space with a heavy dose of Star Wars. The Shakespeare part makes me hopeful because despite it’s simple beginnings, it can easily grow into a story filled with interesting conflict between characters. The Star Wars influences will undoubtedly ensure it’s filled with science fiction and fantasy action. The combination of both those genres is a very difficult thing to do and that’s also something Vaughan is struggling with in these early issues. The balance isn’t quite there yet and both the magic and the technology are being used as storytelling devices to increase conflict and add melodrama. It’s not always done to the best effect.

Fiona Staples really knocks it out
of the park with her covers. This is where
her colouring is the most interesting. 
One of the things that Vaughan does well is play with the dialogue and the narration. They both play off of each other and it regularly has nice effects. They support each other. Hazel doing the narration makes for some humorous panels but it also adds some nice weight to the events taking place in the future. It’s not a new technique to have a narrator in the future telling a story in the pass without letting the reader know who or when the narrator is talking, but Vaughan uses it well here and it helps to keep me interested in the story. I like Hazel more than I like her parents based on her narrations alone.

I know I sound like I didn’t like the comic at all, but really, I did. There is a lot to enjoy here, including Fiona Staples’s artwork or Brian K. Vaughan giving his readers nice parenting advice and baby raising factoids. It’s refreshing to read a comic by BKV that isn’t shock full of pop culture references. There aren’t any because the story takes place in an entirely fictional universe. Sure, he’s replaced the pop culture with parenting tips and tricks, but maybe he just needs to have his characters referecence something. Either way, I’m enjoying it and I’m actually learning things too! Educational comics with spaceships, freelance bounty hunters, Shakespearian family conflicts, dismembered ghost babysitters and magic. There’s something here for the whole family!

Below is a good example of how well Staples uses her colouring. Look at how she enhances the texture of Marko's horns. Look at the baby, look at the background even. It's a pretty good splash page. (Click on the image to make it bigger.) 

Below are two more examples of Staples's backgrounds. I find that first the first six issues her backgrounds are either hit or miss. Sometimes it has to do with what she's drawing as the back ground. Certain scenes taking place in the forest at night beneath a starry sky at well done, but they're also simple and the colours being used work to Staples advantage. When the backgrounds are good though, they're undeniably good. It's just unfortunate that the same can be said when the backgrounds are bad because they're muddy, undefined or seemingly rushed. (Click on the images to make them bigger.)


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