Book Club / It’s a Big World out There

Saga
Volume 1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan 
Art by Fiona Staples 

 

 

 

 

The London Graphic Novel Network heads off into outer space! Only instead of having fun with spaceships and ray-guns they get all embroiled with class and genre and the worst Wolverine picture of all time. Typical. Questions raised include: Should you try and separate books from their context? What’s the best way to play the fatherhood game? And what does it mean to say that something doesn’t have a story? 

 

I need a saga. 
 
(cue guitars) 
 

Space flunky, four on the floor
Fortified with the liquor store
This one’s down, gimme some more
Gimme toro – gimme some more
Gimme toro –  gimme some more
Gimme toro – GIMME SOME MORE! 

 
Cue titles: 
 
Saga or Everything That Is Great About Comics
 
(clears throat) 
 
Is it just me but there seems to be a trend in comics recently that it’s all about making things realistic and deal with “real world” concerns and do all sorts of middle-brow (lol – mistyped that as “middle-brown” which I actually think I like a lot better) stuff you know? So there’s kinda less like comics and more like plays. Or – at the risk of starting a class war – as a friend of mine put it recently (hi Ramsey!) “its cliques of Middle class white kids making comics about comics which reflects their decadent life.” 
 
I mean yeah to use an example that most of you might possibly disagree with: we just did Persepolis and although I went in with good intentions (I mean – I really did think that I was going to read it at some point: I got a copy out from the Library and everything) at the end I just couldn’t be bothered. Because yeah – real life (even if it’s in another country): I get enough of that in real life. In fact – if I had to put my finger on why I like reading comics, watching films, TV, etc – a lot of it would be the feeling of trying to get something different from life: something that shows me things I haven’t seen before / feel things I haven’t felt before: you know? 
 
(There’s this assumption that comes with so much middle-brown non-comic fiction that “literature” should be all about trying to capture “real life” as much as possible that just strikes me (because of my tastes or whatever) as being fundamentally wrong: you know: think about all the furor over Karl Ove Knausgaard and his My Struggle books… But then – I dunno – maybe that’s me).
 
Enter – Saga (stage right). 
 
I mean – I realise that I thought that everyone was gonna love Asterios Polyp (and lol – look at how well that turned out) but I feel like hating on Saga would be like hating on a baby. I mean – it’s all just so perfect and beautiful and everything everything. To sum it up in one phrase: it’s Joss Whedon doing Star Wars so yeah – what’s not to love? 
 

And yeah yeah – I get how we don’t have to choose between dualities and that the world is a big enough place that the we can all have the things that we love and get along like one big happy family: but – man: in the current climate mentioned above where it seems like most comic’s main ambition is to be a buttoned-down and middle-brown as possible: it’s such a euphoric relief (like getting a blast of sunshine during a year when all you thought you were due was dull rainy grey) to have a comic that manically rushes along from one outlandish image to an even-more outlandish image to omg – that’s amazing. 

 
Those of you who were there know that at the last Barbican Comic Forum Loz made a comment about Volume 1 “doesn’t really have any story” which is an interesting starting point but yeah: what does everyone else think? I’d be really interested to hear from anyone’s who somehow not a fan…. (as long as it’s more than just: yeah: I just really don’t like science-fiction, banter and/or sweets: I prefer my comics in black and white with people looking sad and talking about their problems and stuff). 
 
Lol. 
 

 

 

 

Hmm, I’m frowning here, and I don’t need that from this

 
can’t we at least open a fresh discussion by basing it on the merits of an individual book, perhaps?
 
that is, without getting needlessly classist, racist and, heck help us, genre-ist (!) within opening remarks?!
 
I mean, once the discussion about a book is off and running, and any of that comes up, and is relevant, by all means, have at it and take any consequences – but this isn’t a healthy kick off
 
If you are not keen on the direction you feel comics are going, then you’re just reading the wrong comics (for you), or else chose to get out of the wrong side of bed. Every sort of comic is going on, for every sort of person – it’s a big world out there
 
If we are here for anything, then it is hopefully to help celebrate that
 

 

Weeeell, I’d say it’s more complicated than that.

 
I mean it’s got the discussion going. And even a discussion about what kind of discussion we should be having is a positive discussion.
 
I can’t comment on the trajectories of comic culture as I don’t really know that much. But I recognise these arguments occurring in parallel in nongraphic novels (or: “novels” lol). Re: which I myself, sure, am more from the ‘something for everyone!’ camp. But to me the point Joel was making was relevant, as it linked in to the ‘or Everything that is Great about Comics’. Like, an email as a statement of purpose of a critical viewpoint: ‘I think comics are becoming more and more x which is bad because I think they should be more y: example of y: Saga.’
 
How an individual book relates to its form, the current climate of the form is itself an interesting discussion, no? No text without context, as the ol line goes. E.g. I myself have shifting feelings on this, sometimes I think the New Critics had it right, just look at the book! sometimes I think more historically: how does this work relate to the history of its own form and the history of culture and the history of humans thinking about the world?
 
What was the racism / classism? The ‘white middle class’ comment from Friend Ramsey? I thought it was uncontroversial… For one, there’s the whole ‘can you be racist / classist to the white middle-class, if you understand those terms not referring to bigotry and generalisations (which obvs work in all directions) but to structural oppression (which works downwards)  (Anyway, non-comic hot potato duly dropped!)  

As I said, I’m a dilettante here, so maybe I’m missing something: but if subcultures tend towards the culture, I’d be surprised if comics were otherwise (certainly the more mainstream they get). Or to put it more simply: the existence of diversity doesn’t preclude the dominance of trends.
 
Contro hypothesis: every work is a statement on what the form should and can be. What does Saga say about comics? How is that different to the stream it runs in? Does it go against the grain? With? Does is matter? What decide whether it does? Who?
 
 
For example, and I recognise this is a thread late to discuss this, but the email made me think ‘surely Persepolis count against that, being written by a woman of colour?’ (I’m sorry I only got halfway through – still reading though! I’ll go back in time and discuss it on that thread??). But then ‘what elevates Persepolis over Saga’? is an interesting question (Is it truly elevated? By who? Why? Is Saga elevated by others and in another way? What does the culture truly value? What defines value? The money elite or cultural elite? How do they converge / diverge?

 
But like I said: all interesting and fruitful discussions to be had.
 

 

Mazin otm, and actually I’m not all that clear on what Ilya’s beef is. Joel’s spiel on the state of comics (which I don’t agree with BTW) was as a way into Saga’s particular charms, and he ended with a very specific craft question on the book itself, namely whether it has a story or not. So yr free to engage either with the content or the context as per yr New Criticism / historicist preferences. Why privilege one over the other?
 
Vaguely related to Joel’s ID of a trend for whiteboi realism in comics, what’s interesting to me abt Saga is that, putting the spaceships to one side, it’s about the very real-world experience of fatherhood. I haven’t read it in a while, but I think three characters on opposite sides become fathers during the course of the first arc? I suspect that was the germ of the series: the hook on which its themes (such as they are) will hang.

My problem there is that (correct me if I’m wrong) The Will’s transformation from ruthless hardman to protector of abused children felt quite sudden and unexplained? The question of how we develop feelings of parental responsibility, or the possibility that we will not, is dodged, which sorta makes me think the series falls down at the first hurdle.
 
Saga having no story: don’t really get that since if anything Vaughan is known for his super-tight plotting and killer cliffhanger pages. Saga feels typical of his work in that respect. But maybe Loz should come in to explain what he means.
 
An alternative context-setting exercise: it looks to me like Saga has won more Eisner awards (the comics Oscars, or maybe Golden Globes…) than any other recent series. So you could say it’s a blockbuster v much at the centre, rather than the margins, of the comics conversation. Question for me is whether that reputation is deserved, not whether it provides an antidote to a suffocating trend of whiteboi realism (which if it exists feels to me like a minority concern in the fandom generally).
 
 

RAMSEY
Twitter

 

Wowsers! In reference to what Joel was saying, I was talking about the British small press comics scene which I studied anthropologically from a far as a punter and now closely as a creator. 
 
 
Now you’ve seen it – I’ve found that the dominant voice in UK small press is that of the middle class white male – too much of anything is bad but at least in the UK independent film scene and the theatre there’s an attempt at Art as social commentary – what I see from my peers in Small Press UK comics -which is a place free of corporate control, where artists can do anything – instead I see a humongous abundance of whimsical storytelling about empty narcissistic things. The majority of UK comics are a by product of a decadent society that comforts itself and says nothing about whats happening in this country or even has narrative ambition – hipsters don’t do ambition. Their comics are very tame and don’t challenge the reader or themselves as artists.
 

Now let’s talk about SAGA!

 
I’m already a massive fan of Saga but haven’t read the first book since the trade was first released (got a Gosh! Bookplate and everything) and this has given me a chance to not just re-read it but examine it.
 
I dig the obvious Romeo & Juliet meets Star Wars (a bit of ‘Midnight Run’ maybe?) chase romp surface story and the bizarre character design (hilariously outlandish creature shop aliens & a Royal family that looks very similar to old European lineages except that they have TV’s for heads)
 

That it’s narrated by the older Hazel would normally annoy me because you know the babies safe no matter what but I was more invested in the other characters whose fates were question marks.

 
First time around I was having too much fun that I didn’t really consider the sociopolitical things going on in the book.
 
I thought a war where the opposing sides outsource their war to other planets and subcontract it out to other races was darkly absurd and timely.
 
Then there’s that obvious gender stereotype flip of Alana being the impulsive, hot-tempered, fiercely protective realist and Marko whose a defends his family with non-lethal Magic, a bit of a sentimental dreamer & a pacifist. 
 

They never ring false to me as characters or as a couple. Their atypical character dynamics is a nice counterpoint to the one in the cheesy romance book that bought them together.

 
I only started re-reading it today, so I haven’t finished it. Will share/inflict more thoughts on it as I go.
 
 

 

 
Ok you can see from my avatar, that I love this story.
Also note that this is a thread to talk about books and my avatar is Alana recommending a good book.


For now I will just comment on this one part.

That it’s narrated by the older Hazel would normally annoy me because you know the baby’s safe no matter what but I was more invested in the other characters whose fates were question marks.I thought this was quite clever, and that Izabel might have been the key here. As she knew (knows) Alana and Marko, even if they were killed and the baby (Hazel) sent to some horrible prison camp (I am David?), Izabel could come out every night and comfort and protect Hazel. Thus the narrative from Hazel is still possible even if Alana and Marko ARE killed. I can’t say it added a LOT of tension as, SPOILER despite what Joel told us, I still assumed Brian Vaughn wouldn’t kill off his protagonists.

Also are Marco and Alana literally superhuman? or making liberal use of magic? because if you really peek behind the scenes, is Alana running through the sewers WHILE doing(?) the afterbirth? or did that happen before the fight scene. I think if you wanted to be picky it is quite ridiculous to have someone trekking through the forest for three days solid straight after giving birth. On the other hand, we did cover a paragraph in history of a woman herding cows all day before the birth, and the very next day, back out herding cows with the baby on her back.
So I can’t decide: is stuff happening between the scenes (yes), is Alana really quite tough, but no more so than us, are they using a lot of magic or is Alana superhuman compared to us?

A further point that struck me in this first book. Izabel is young women with several younger siblings and parents who were off busy fighting the war. This would suggest Izabel spent a lot of time bringing up her siblings (i.e. she knows exactly how to burp Hazel). How come someone who has brought up 7 children by the time she is a young women, know so much. “I think they preferred freedom fighters”, that recognition of the terrorist/freedom fighter dichotomy requires some education/schooling. In a war zone, who from? I’m quite curious to see if more will turn up about Izabel.

 

 

OK, on the ‘Saga volume 1’ has no story thing…
 
I suppose I did come to Saga with some baggage, that baggage being Vaughan’s previous work ‘Ex Machina’ which I hated with the fiery passion of a thousand suns and possibly, based on what Ilia said below, is actually due to Vaughan’s ‘super-tight plotting and killer cliffhanger pages’ which squeezed the life from what might have been an interesting idea and that’s an argument for another time. So Saga had to work a little harder to win me over and, by now I’ve read all 4 volumes of the trades and love it. It’s not that volume 1 has no story, it’s that volume 1 is the juggler getting some of the balls in the air and it’s only with volume 2 that we really get the bulk of the cast into action and then we’re away. Volume 1 tells me some things that happen to a few people. It’s only at volume 2 that I started to care.
 
And can we talk some about Fiona Staple’s art? She says she uses mainly real-world influences for the designs but she also cites the Narnia books as something she liked as a kid and I’m seeing a lot of the illustrations for those and the Alice in Wonderland books turning up in this, if sometimes at a severe Dutch angle to reality. What do others think?
 

 

Thanks again, Joel for adding me. And hello, everyone. I really enjoyed your discussion of BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and am looking forward to exploring more of the London Graphic Novel Network. (I’m picturing brick catacombs that fell into disuse and disrepair “after the last war.”)

At the risk of seeming like a horrible person, if you want to read even more by me in addition to the links Joel kindly sent, here’s something I did on the X-Men:
http://sequart.org/author/a-d-jameson/

Also, I drew a picture of Wolverine once. It’s here:
https://adjameson.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/i-drew-a-picture-of-the-wolverine/

I’m afraid I haven’t read SAGA. A friend loaned me the first volume, and I tried reading it, but didn’t find it much to my liking, and quit after, um, five pages? And now I can’t get it because it’s in the front room of my apartment, which is, no joke, barricaded off, because that part of the apartment is uninsulated and freezer-like. 

 

Welcome to the network Adam. That’s a nice picture of Wolverine btw.

Regarding your exposure to Saga; you weren’t reading it right. This series definitely has something worth deciding to commit to. Especially when you get into the later volumes.

Picking up on a point that Christine made, I’d be tempted to think that Alana’s people may be “super”human based on how Alana is able to get up and go right after giving birth in the first few pages. However, I’d suppress that thought by remembering that;
1) I’ve zero experience of how quickly a woman can do things right after childbirth and
2) Alana (and Marko) aren’t humans. So can’t we suspend our potential disbelief of the exaggerations of some of the more relatable aspects of the story (i.e. childbirth) with this in mind?

Given that this is only Volume one that we’re discussing, is it necessarily bad if we conclude that there’s no real story here? If one were to read the Volume as effectively scene-setting for the whole saga, then what kind of reading do we make of it?

 

I’ve been drafting this in my head like hundred times over and over (and boy in my head – I’ve gotta say it all sounds really smart and cogent and insightful and all the rest of it: but then saying words to yourself in your head is easy – actually typing them down into emailness is much more difficult): but what the hey right? 

 
Sorry to everyone else that has contributed so far – but yeah: this is basically all going to be a reply to Ilya’s six lines of email (lol – so yeah: turns out there’s a LOT that comes out from just six lines of text – who knew? Lol).
 
 
If it helps any – I promise at some point I will get to talking about Saga. 
 

 

 

 
I wanna start by saying sorry to Ilya: Ilya – I’m really sorry if I upset you any way. Like. For serious. I mean – I don’t wanna turn this into an undignified scene of emotions (I mean – “no hugging. no learning.” right?) but come on: I mean – at the risk of over-sharing the whole reason I became a librarian (and not an investment banker or whatever / LOL) is because one of my aims in life is to try and leave the world a better place you know? And so when I write something and it sounds like it’s made you frown or whatever: I mean – I take that as a failure on my part. I mean – the aim of all this (The London Graphic Novel Blah) is well – you know: to generate positive emotions not negative ones. 
 
Especially because yeah: I kinda the one who invited you here so it seems like common courtesy to be a good host and make sure that everyone feels happy and cool and everything. I mean – it’s like a party: and only a douche hosts a party and insults the people who show up – right?
 
(Right). 
 
Ok then well – ok: here’s the bit where it gets a little bit more complicated maybe: (you guys might want to hold on to something – or better yet: maybe grab a coffee?). Because yeah ok: at the end of your email Ilya you said that if we’re here for anything it’s hopefully to celebrate the fact that we live in a beautiful world
 
And yeah ok – I mean that’s definitely a part of it for sure. Hey! Check out all these cool comics and etc. But man – I guess when I started this crazy experiment I was kinda hoping for something more than just celebration. I mean – I imagine that the Eastbourne Graphic Novel Network is a lot more civil and everything: “Hey. Did you guys read that book?” “Oh yes. I did. I thought it was delightful.” “Oh yes – me too. What a marvellous book!” “Hurrah for us!” “Yes – and hurrah for comics!” but come on: London is one of (if not the) most diverse cities on the planet. And yeah – ok: while it would be much coolness if that diverseness was just everyone shaking hands and praising each other well – the reality is a lot more complicated than that (I think “it’s a lot more complicated than that” is gonna be the theme of this email). 
 
I mean – I am all for harmony across all races and creeds and classes and beliefs and etc: but looking at the facts on the ground (you know: all the feedback loops of hostility on all sides – mixed in with unchecked inequalities and a lack of basic knowledge of how the other half live: or hell – even how many of the other half there even are: I mean at this point I’m kinda tempted to throw in some links to articles and stuff about misunderstandings and myths about immigration and all the rest of it – but hey it’s the internet and if you’re curious you can always ask Jeeves or whatever right?). 
 
Point is: thanks to the fact that we live and exist in a very unequal and unfair society just being like “hey – lets just celebrate the good stuff” is kinda well: kinda like just wanting to swig champagne and dance to music when the Titanic is not only sinking but is also on fire. I mean yeah – I totally get the impulse. Paying attention to bad things isn’t the best way to have a good time (and we all wanna have a good time right? That’s like the human condition right there). And so well – that’s not what was in my mind when I started up the good ship London Graphic Novel Network. I mean yeah sure – I wanted to bring people together who were like “hey – comics are neat right?” and (yeah yeah) set up somekind of community of fellow-minded people (because communities are very cool things to have and very cool things to be a part of) but also (also!): I wanted to – you know: start some conversations – get people to rethink some of their assumptions – get myself to rethink some of my own assumptions: and all of that sort of business. You know: to get different people from different walks of life to talk to each other and share their thoughts and feelings and opinions on not just comics – but everything. 
 

 

 

 
Yeah yeah: I know it all sounds a little utopian: but a guy can dream can’t I? 
 
I think I might have said this before: but one of the things that I discovered back when I doing the Islington Comic Forum blog (and I remember the kind of eureka moment when it hit me) is that you can use comics to talk about ANYTHING. I mean – politics, entertainment, ideology, life, whatever. I mean – I guess because it’s all just stories right? And because of the way we’re built (sorry – I’ve been reading The Unwritten) everything we see or do or are is basically just another type of story to try and unpack and understand. 
 
Of course the big problem with that kind of approach is – as we’ve seen (and didn’t this type of thing happen with The Dark Knight conversation too?) is that – to use a totally corny metaphor: if you’re trying to take flight then you’re going to have to ruffle some feathers. By which I mean – if we’re all trying to understand each other and we’re being honest and open then – well yeah: there’s gonna be bad stuff. There’s gonna be disagreements because we don’t all think the same thing. You know – despite what some people may say (and despite what I sometimes feel) – there’s no such thing as Objective truth (apart from 2+2=4 and Scott Pilgrim is the best comic of all time) – it’s mainly just our own opinions and whatever small fires we can rustle up to try and keep them warm and alive: you know? (Actually what the hell am I talking about? Think I’m starting to lose it a bit maybe….).
 
I know that we’ve kinda been taught by the world around us (and yeah – I’m mainly looking at you pop culture) that the best thing to do to someone we don’t agree with is to call them a bad guy and shoot them in the head or – better yet – drop them off from somewhere very high (see: Batman, Die Hard and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) – what’s a lot harder to try to understand an opposing point of view and to try to come to terms with it and go – well ok: you think that / I think this – let’s talk it through a little more and try and come to a fuller understanding with each other (of course I realise that the end of Batman wouldn’t have been so exciting if it had just been Batman and the Joker sitting around and having a cup of tea but what you can you do?). 


Although – that’s a good image of what I think the London Graphic Novel Network should be about (if anything): Batman and the Joker and Poison Ivy and the Penguin and Bane and Catwoman and Ra’s al Ghul and Talia al Ghul and all the rest of them sitting around and talking about comics and sharing their ideas about stuff.

 
What was I saying?
 
Oh yeah. 

I mean – of course I also get that we’re all led to believe by our brains (stupid brains) that our way of thinking about things is right and that everyone else is just wrong or misinformed (and therein I think lies a lot of the attraction of the idea that there exists stuff like Objective Truth and all the rest of it) but I would humbly suggest that it would do us all a heap load of good if we all learnt to maybe take a small step away from our brains and treat it’s pronouncements less as God-like truths and more like – well: a subjective point of view. You know? Because if someone is saying something that needs a true or false then that’s a direct challenge to our own beliefs (“You think Batman is the best superhero of all time? But I think Superman is the best hero of all time! Therefore we must fight – TO THE DEATH!” or whatever…). Because of we’re dealing with Objective Truth and true and false then one person is right and one person is wrong and so yeah – there’s something that’s really important there to fight about (because another human condition thing is that: none of us likes being wrong). 
 
But instead – if we fall back just a little and go for a more Big Lebowski-type thing (“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man”) then we don’t all have to feel so threatened and under attack and get our noses put out of joint. I mean – I’m not arguing for an “anything goes” attitude or anything (like – if someone said that Jurassic Park was actually a costume period drama then I think we’d all say that they were wrong: but then that gets us into notions of like what’s reasonable and inter-subjectivity and stuff like that – and this is probably already going on quite a lot and I still haven’t got to the bit where you called me “needlessly classist, racist and, heck help us, genre-ist” yet so maybe we should push on?). 
 
But just to kind of wrap things up in some kind of midway conclusion: I know that I am a smart, beautiful, witty and divine kinda guy but it’s very very important to keep in mind – that just because I say something it doesn’t mean it’s true – you know? And in fact (true fact!) I’m not looking for people to agree with me (although it is very nice and makes a warm feeling in my tummy) rather – what I really like and think is very good for me and for others (like eating vegetables and doing exercise and stuff) is listening to people who disagree with me: because that’s the only way you can learn things – about yourself / about other people / and about the world. 
 
 

 

 
Ok then: the universe. 
 
What’s next on my list? 
 
Oh ok: the funny thing. 
 
The funny thing for me is that when I wrote the opening remarks for this thread I really wasn’t in any way trying to be contentious (I swear). I was just like: this is one of the reasons I really like Saga. The comics world at the moment seems like it’s mainly just middle-brown comics (or – to be fair: superheroes. I totally forgot about all the superheroes) and so it’s really nice to have something that is different to that. It’s like living in a world where the only real choices are between brown and superbrown and then – suddenly! – this new multi-coloured beautiful thing appears and yeah: you know: it’s cool and fresh and different – and seeing how I grew up on 2000AD where they would have stories like people fighting armoured dinosaurs on Mars (whoop!) – seems to be to be the sort of thing that comics “should be doing” or whatever: showing me things I have never seen before and making my eyes bulge out of my sockets. That’s the good stuff. 
 
I then you replied with this: “If you are not keen on the direction you feel comics are going, then you’re just reading the wrong comics (for you), or else chose to get out of the wrong side of bed. Every sort of comic is going on, for every sort of person – it’s a big world out there.”
 
And ok – so: at this point you know that I mean no harm (right?) and you know that I’m making some God-like Objective Judgement that must be responded to in kind – but am instead just going on my view of the world: and so I say (with all due respect) I think you’re wrong dude. 
 
I mean – ok you’re right about the fact that there is every sort of comic out there for every sort of person but well: there’s a difference between what’s out there “in the world” and what’s actually in books shops and libraries: because – well – in my experience (and I’m guessing with most other people’s experiences too) what’s in bookshops and libraries is superhero comics and middle-brown stuff. 
 
And well – that’s not even the start of it: because the really really insidious thing isn’t just what is there and available – it’s what culture deems to be “good” and “worthy” and “important” and “valuable” all of the rest of that kinda stuff. Which isn’t just a comics thing but stretches into all mediums. I mean – I don’t think I really need to hammer the point home but basically we’re all lead to believe by society (damn you society) that certain stories are better than other stories. That a nice slow-moving art-house film is of a higher value than a smashy smashy action thingie. You know: one is art and one is entertainment. And in the rock, paper, scissors game of culture: art crushes/covers/breaks entertainment. And at the risk of sounding high and mighty – I think this does a great disservice to us and to all the comics and films and stuff out there. I mean – the cultural context is that all the middle-brown books are more good” and “worthy” and “important” and “valuable” than – well – stuff like Saga because Saga is space-ships and aliens and wars and romance and all of that gooey low-brow stuff that is looked down upon by you know: the world at large. And so I guess that i was trying to do with my (obvs ill thought out) introduction is to say: no society. You’ve got it wrong. You think your middle-brown books are where it’s at: but there’s more to London to Islington. There’s more to the world than what’s happening in the middle-classes. There’s more to stories than just awkward crossed wires and boring boring realism. And in saying that – I am drawing a line in the sand and saying: you know what? These are the stories that I find valuable and the stories that I think the rest of the world should find valuable as well. 
 
A good example of this: earlier this year I went to see the First Graphic Novel Competition Award at the British Library and ALL of the comics nominated where autobiographies and all were made by nice middle-brown people. I mean – I don’t have any problem if it was just one or two (because yeah – it’s a big world and there’s room for us all). But if all that is being produced or celebrated (or the only thing that is being nominated for awards) then – well – that’s something that I think ought to be kicked out against. You know? Someone should say: hang about – this isn’t right? And what the hell: if no one else is doing it then I guess it’ll have to be me. 
 

 

 
Which I guess (finally!) brings us to: “needlessly classist, racist and, heck help us, genre-ist.”
 
Oh boy. I mean – where to start with this?
 
How about Skunk Anansie?
 
I mean – I was never much of a Skunk Anansie fan (well – ok: I was never a fan at all). But there was line from a (pretty terrible) song of theirs that has always always stuck with me: Yes it’s fucking political / Everything’s political.
 
(I mean if I was ever going to get a tattoo then I think it might be that). 
 
To expand on that a little: the idea that seemed to be offered was that: hey – since we’re talking about comics then let’s not bring in troublesome tricky things like class and race. And yeah – wow: ok: I totally disagree. 
 
I mean: we live in a country that is massively classist and racist. Only well – the people under threat is not the white middle-class. In fact well – not to put too fine a point on it (spoiler alert): it’s working class people and everyone who isn’t white. 
 
As should be clear at this point I’ve been thinking a lot about all this stuff a lot and the thing about being accused about being racist. And I was like: oh hey. Maybe I am a racist? Maybe I do hate white people? Maybe I do think that they’re somehow inferior to other races? 
 
Except (and pay attention because this bit is also a little bit complicated): if I’m racist against anyone it’s against anyone who’s not white isn’t it? Because well – the obvious retort is racism is something that only really punches downwards. If you’re the dominate group in a culture than it’s actually kinda hard to be racist against you (a good example: this guy’s article about how it’s hard to find a racist word for white people). But actually – there’s something else too: I mean – I don’t know about you guys but for me – ever since I was little pretty much every story I’ve seen or heard has been about some white guy having adventures and doing stuff. I mean – there’s that nice little factoid about how if you’re talking about that Marvel movie starring that the good-looking white guy called Chris you could be talking about Captain America, Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy. And the result of that is that in my head there is very much a propensity (which I spend every day trying very hard to be aware of and to try to shake) that straight good-looking white guys are somehow the “norm” and that people of other races and creeds and sexualities and genders are somehow deviations of that. To be crystal clear here: I do not think or believe that that is true but that’s what our culture and the stories that our culture tells us likes to lead us to believe (hey? I wonder who the people who control our culture are mostly like? OMG! Straight white guys? What a surprise!). 
 
Therefore: knowing that I live in a culture where the vast majority of all the stories and entertainment are racist and sexist and classist and all the rest of it (I mean – I know I haven’t touched on the class stuff: but come on – watch Benefits Street and work out the rest for yourselves yeah?): then yeah ok – because I think that’s all wrong and a shabby way for us to view the world then every chance I get (the London Graphic Novel Network being one of them) then I will say: actually… you know what? There’s something political happening here. Or rather – there’s something that stinks. And it doesn’t need to. It could be better. You know: everything everywhere could be better. All that’s stopping us is ourselves… 
 

 

 

 
(At this point – I wanna just say that yeah: In a way then I guess it’s the “needlessly” in that sentence that peeved me off the most. I mean – if it had been: “needfully classist, racist and, heck help us, genre-ist” then I think I would have just replied with a “thank you” which would have saved us all a whole lot of time: lol). 
 
Of course what maybe doesn’t get talked about so much (and just makes things even more complicated) is that – according to this Wikipedia page (at least ) and something that as a lifelong Londoner kinda slips my mind all the time – is that England is actually “ethnically” just under 90% white: which is – wow – kinda strange (at least to me) but also makes issues of representation something which requires more than just a simplistic: the stories we tell need to be reflective of the population because – actually: yeah I guess if you keep in mind that 90%ness (well – ok: 87.1% if you want to be exact): I mean – I guess that’s already the kind of representation that already exists but but but: it’s not really good enough: because what is needed is not some careful balance of representation – eg there’s only 3.0% of the country that is “Black or Black British” so out of every 100 people on TV only 3 of them should be Black people. No no no. It’s something deeper and a little more well wayward maybe: that the stories being told are helping to break down the things which divide us and open us all up to different points of view and other utopian visions yadda yadda yadda (but I’m hoping at this point you’re maybe starting to see a through-line in all this?. 
 
Of course – a great heckle at this point would be: well – what about Persepolis? I mean – come on: it was the last book we were talking about and I pretty much hardly said anything at all (hell: in the end I didn’t even bother to read it). Because yeah – come on: an Iranian woman talking about her life: what could be more opening us up to different points of view than that? I mean from all you said that should be your bestest book ever no?
 
Well yeah – but no. Because I guess the thing that’s also vital is how: even tho we need cultural medicine to cure us of all of our small little minds we don’t need medicine that proudly proclaims that it’s medicine and goes around going: “hey this is really going to be good for you” “this is what art and life is all about” “reading this will make you think you’re clever and make others respect you” and etc etc. Which yeah – is how I feel about all those middle-brown books stinking up the place. 
 
Instead instead: we need medicine mixed in with sugar. Stories with a single-minded obsession to entertain you as much as they possibly can with a fearless commitment to expanding the limits of your mind with wild possibilities. I mean – if you can get your head around Lying Cat then how hard can it be to imagine a world where we take all that money we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.
 
Oh no. Wait. Sorry. That’s Bill Hicks. 
 
Oops. 
 
Sorry. 
 
But yeah – I guess what I’m trying to say is that while middle-brown books are about showing you the world as it is (and gah – I see enough of the world as it is every day of my life thank you): I think instead things would be better for everyone and everyone would be better at things if we read stories about the world as it could be. You know: not just settling for what is. And instead – just making stuff up.  
 
Which – I mean – hopefully (oh so finally): brings me around to Saga. 
 

 

   
But maybe that’s something I’ll talk about next time. 
 
Lol. 
 
 


 

I don’t quite know how to respond to this thread. Escapism/ ‘stories as a vehicle for imagining a better future’ has its place, but there’s a reason social realism/ kitchen-sink dramas emerged in the twentieth century. Because we have a definite need to understand our world and the issues we face, and transposing all that into galactic empires/ ‘alternative earth where the Nazis won’ isn’t always the best way to contextualise them…

I’m tempted to go back to Joel’s earlier assertion that he aims to leave the world a better place than he found it.  The only way I see it happening is if he writes that suggested ‘1984 Redux’ version – where poor Winston Smith is tortured into denouncing Truth, Mathematics & Ramona Flowers…

(Back to the Main Event)

Its already been mentioned that Saga is a great looking comic. Its won all the critical plaudits going, but its super accessible for new readers too, and I think the art has a lot to do with that. Whoever mentioned the Alice In Wonderland-angle is definitely onto something, it seems very immediate and relatable, despite its obvious eccentricities.

Sure, its beautiful to look at (which helps [cue argument about the philosophy of aesthetics]), but the consistency of the visuals really helps contribute to keeping the more exotic/ ostentatious/ “out there, man” elements bound together. The story is a curious mix of fairy tale (someone mentioned the Princess Bride?) and sci-fi/ space opera, and I think the artwork reflects that. (NB I know nothing about art, so I’ll leave it to someone else it comment more knowledgably on this. Although it wouldn’t be the LGNN if we didn’t allow people to have free reign on subjects they know NOTHING about…)

 

 



 
I mean, check out this image – Alana doing her best Tank Girl slouch on top of a huge killer robot. The blowing chewing gum, cheap paperback & earphones could imply she’s the sort of Manic Pixie Girl Buck Rogers might fall for – if not for the military fatigues she’s sporting and death-dealing robot in shot (I’m assuming its deadly intent of course, it could be for crop-dusting for all I know).  But that irreverent lampooning of genre/ character expectations (someone mentioned Alana being the hothead, the guy with the sword being the pacifist?) is what makes the book so great. Just think of the opening page and close-up of her sweating face (“Am I shitting myself? I think I’m shitting myself”). All space-spanning romances should start this way…

Does anyone else feel that a discussion of a space opera of this sort (packed full of lovingly rendered characters, loyal pets, robot families, and oh-so-many domestic concerns) wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Halo Jones…? I’m reminded of it, but its just too damn late in the day for me to bother working out how…  

… Helpfully, I’m sure Joel has an opinion on the subject… (*smiley winky sarcastic emojii*)



 

Also, even though I happily suspended disbelief, I also kind of want to know. CAN you really go on the lam with a tiny new-born baby? So re my question earlier about walking for three days, I asked a nurse at work who had worked in South Africa, and yes, there woman would regularly walk far enough to get blisters on their feet, give birth, then be shunted out to walk home. So I guess Alana is ‘only’ normally tough and not superhumanly tough.

I don’t have Saga in front of me so I’m limited to the things I remember, and I just remembered a good joke.

So Saga is fantasy, with all kinds of weird stuff, like ghosts with their intestines hanging out that we can quickly accept as cool characters. 


Yet when Marko woke up out of his coma, he was all ‘AARGH what the hell is that!’

Also the pictures included here are such fun, the part about ‘cuhhing thu mbilical?’ is really funny (you are WEARING a sword, neat segue into the vow), and it’s a pity (albeit topical) to include the bit about Marko saying ‘no more barbaric religious nonsense!’ without including Alana’s look: ‘it’s not religious it’s cultural’.

So I would go on to point out that this series is such enormous fun. Not just well written, fast pace, lots happening, but really fun.



 

Ok. So yes – Saga. Let’s talk about Saga. 

 
Or rather: maybe I’ll just skim through what everyone else has already said about Saga and just make a few quick points / questions / sentences with words in: 
 
Ilia – seriously man: I’m like a tiny bit in awe in how you manage to pick out the themes of books and films like it’s the simplest thing in the world – like: I don’t know if anyone else has even heard of Blackgas (let alone read it): but this thing you wrote on the Hot-Doll Pages is like: well – the first time I read it I was like: oh yeah OF COURSE: which you know – is always a nice feeling to have but yeah… I mean – I think I’ve read Saga about 2 or 3 times (like – rereading from the start when a new volume comes out): but I completely missed the whole fatherhood thing: which makes me feel a bit like a dunderhead: but there you go. 
 
Of course the fact that it’s about fatherhood is maybe a bit of a black mark against Saga’s PC/right-on credentials (it’s late and I can’t think of a better way to word it – but you all know what I mean right?). It’s like – I remember watching some film one time a few years back and was like: hey – I wonder what the reason is why there’s all these films that keep doing the whole fathers and sons thing (I mean – Spielberg’s entire career is basically just that and awe faces right)? And then was like: oh yeah – oops – I totally forgot: the patriarchy (damn you patriarchy!). 
 
Re: Ramsey’s: “narrated by the older Hazel would normally annoy me because you know the babies safe no matter” – well that’s interesting because hey – is it true? (Maybe she’s narrating it having just been shot or something you know?) And also – does it really matter? Do all stories have to be: OMG any one of these characters could die at any moment? I mean – don’t get me wrong: I totally totally love it when I’m reading a story in which no one is safe and main characters can die (which I think is a very English thing and which I would like to blame/thank 2000AD – “Don’t forget whose shoulder you cried on when the last one dumped you.” “I won’t.” “Or when Johnny Alpha got killed by that big flying monster in 2000 A.D.”). But yeah – it’s not about who dies when: it’s about what happens to them and how (like Hazel might grow up to be somesort of Galactic Space Hitler or something you know? The fact that she’s narrating really means bupkis apart from the fact that Brian K. Vaughan is really really confident about knowing how this story is going to work out – you know? Having a story being narrated by a baby is a sign that you’re in good hands (or is that just me?).     
 
And (finally) Adam: omg – five pages? What the hell is wrong with you? That’s like watching 1 minute of a movie and then turning it off (hell – I watched at least 20 mins of The Thing remake and that was one of the most god-forsaken things I’ve ever witnessed). I mean – I thought you were a cultured guy and stuff? (and goodness me that Wolverine picture looks like some-sort of desperate cry for help: maybe you should stick to the words from now on yeah?).
 
But yes – if it helps any: on the Network we’re all dressed as chimney-sweeps and will shine your shoes for tuppence and as Malcolm put it so very very well: we allow people to have free reign on subjects they know nothing about (just so you know: I’m having that printed on all of our stationary).   
 

 

I think Malcolm has it right about Saga’s artwork and production values giving it a visual autonomy and quality that enables this “out-there” story to hang together. So, as someone who, “just really (doesn’t) like science-fiction, banter and/or sweets (and) prefer(s) my comics in black and white with people looking sad and talking about their problems and stuff”, maybe it even rivals the black and white graphic novels that I usually relate to now.

But since fatherhood transpires to be such key theme it turns out Saga is not so out-there after all! On with the marigolds and back to the kitchen sink (which Malcolm also mentioned) – hooray!

First, I notice there is a shortage of midwives on this planet, too. Also, this couple were not reached by antenatal services and we need to look at why they were excluded: not to pick up Hazel’s horns on a scan – no wonder the birth was so uncomfortable! However, the horns act to bring us in on the guy being the biological as well as the social father.

I like the way our heroes are trying to forge their own parenting together, breaking swords and the bloke admiring the foyer decoration – I am on for all of this. However, I notice a couple of things heading in a potentially less progressive direction:-

We are given the breakdown of time the father holds Hazel compared with the mother– although breastfeeding is clearly an element at Hazel’s stage, this could set a pattern impacting on which parent returns to full-time employment after SPL (Shared Parental Leave).

The thing about the father being the only useful one in the Universe, or whatever, and the implication elsewhere that earning tends to exclude caring. Now, I am not so sure – aspects of these ideas look progressive but often carry a socially conservative freight:-
  • characterising all dads who have ever existed so far as losers is an artificially low bar to raising the fatherhood game today and

  • why are we even so sure that raising the fatherhood game is necessary, given that privileging caring over earning sits within a wider pattern of gendered measurements of parental involvement?
  • The irony is that the growing acknowledgement that dads of the past were more closely involved than is commonly now supposed, and not just in earning, is not to rehabilitate patriarchy – it actually contests it.
  • Yet more strange is that some progressives really hate this idea. They hold to the need to undermine Patriarchy as the rationale for parenting being the property of women. But this is called Matriarchy – simply another form of social conservatism.
But, clearly, the grandparents coming to stay will be the biggest challenge this couple faces if gender-equal parenting is the goal. It’s probably less of an obstacle that they are his parents, rather than hers, but let’s see where this goes…

Lastly, turning to this point made at the beginning of the thread, “Of course the fact that it’s about fatherhood is maybe a bit of a black mark against Saga’s PC/right-on credentials”, well, I reckon this is true only to the extent fatherhood is understood as a gendered term carrying the baggage of patriarchy, rather than as the observation of parenting by men… and this guy is really getting stuck in on his own terms – but has he bitten off more than he can chew?

 

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