Two reviews of comics / graphic novels this time – very different in content, tone and style. Both editions were published in 2014, and both have speculative elements – Saga has nothing but, Here only very sporadically dips into the future.
The McGuire goes back to his groundbreaking 6-page 1989 comic strip of the same name. The Saga series was started in 2012, and is on hiatus for the moment. Its first trade paperback collection won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story – it is a blend of space opera & fantasy.
SAGA: Book One – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (2014)
For an introduction, read the glowing review on Reenchantment.
It was entertaining, at times witty, and creative, sure, but I don’t think I will whip out another 38 euros for the next hardcover volume. Why not?
One. The universe the story is set in is haphazard, and relies heavily on visual oomph or the occasional smart, funny or creepy idea. Vaughan has created himself a universe that gives him absolute freedom as a writer, and that’s too much power for anyone to handle. As anything can happen, in the end, nothing really matters – you know the author can outsmart the mess he might have written himself in any time by introducing yet another testicle giant, a magical wooden space ship, flying sharks or a teenage ghost without a vagina.
Two. The writing suffers a bit from the comic book format itself, becoming a predictable formula that ends with a cliffhanger every chapter. It may work in a once a month dosage, but collected in a tome like this, it became rote about halfway through.
Three. In the final 5 chapters it dawned on me the two main adult characters continue to be their immature self. As Katelyn Sherman noted on Goodreads: “The horned husband pushes his winged wife and newborn baby off a tower because he secretly knew she could fly even though she didn’t think she could and never had before? And then he talks with his ex girlfriend about their relationship and how sorry he is before the wife does indeed come flying back to shoot the ex girlfriend? Ridiculous.”
Four. The visuals are nice – Fiona Staples sure can draw emotion – but at the same time you see she only gets a month for each issue/chapter. The potential is there, but it’s a rush job too. It’s all digital, resulting in overall flat textures – it’s too clean & sterile for my tastes. Most importantly: there simply is not enough variation in her artistic choices, making it – structurally – repetitive.
Five. The series isn’t finished. 54 comics published at the moment I write this, we are only halfway: 54 have yet to be written, but Vaughan & Staples are on a hiatus to get the creative juices flowing again. In the end – if it ever happens – we should end up with 6 of these hardcover volumes in total. That’s about 230 euros in total for what is – all things considered – pulp fiction, and I’m not committing to that.
It’s hard to judge the bigger story arc based on the first 18 comics only. I have to say at first I was really sold, but after the first 10 comics gradually lost my interest: maybe it’s just a creative slump? I will borrow and read Book Two if I ever get the chance, to see if the series redeems itself, but I don’t have high hopes.
PS – The 40 pages at the end of this specific volume are a ‘making of’, and it’s really interesting, a must read for any serious fan.
McGuire’s seminal comic strip Here was published under Art Spiegelman’s editorship at RAW in 1989. This 300-page graphic novel expands & re-imagines it in full-color.
It tells the story of one corner of one room in America between the years 500,957,406,073 BC and 2313 AD. It does so by collapsing time and space on each of the book’s spreads.
Here is a rather poetic experience. It’s a bit non-committal because of the fragmented narrative: I expected to experience more emotions when I finished it. I guess the inclusion of the BCE shots with dinosaurs etc. are supposed to put perspective on the fleeting nature of humanity, but it doesn’t really work as the narrative remains human centered: you can’t have your cake & eat it.
It’s also rather bourgeois as power structures & poverty are absent from this kaleidoscope – even as McGuire includes a bit of Benjamin Franklin. The few Native Americans that are present function more as a prop than as a stepping board for some serious soul searching about colonial empire. Again, the narrative remains firmly centered on the 20th century in a comfortable middle class room: all else is just a sideshow.
Similarly, it’s also non-offensive as it is probably a tad too optimistic on the future of humanity in 2050 and 2213.
For a final appraisal, I’m somewhere between ‘I liked it’ & ‘I really liked it’. A very fast read, so don’t hesitate to check this out and see how you feel about it. It is singular as a vision on storytelling, and that should be enough to convince anybody interested in narrative, and as such definitely recommended.