The Art of Reading Graphic Novel Book Club

The Art of Reading Book Club

Sep 21

Saga, Volume 1: The Questions

Posted on September 21, 2021 at 5:00 PM by Zach Berkley

The word saga can be used to describe any sweeping drama that involves multiple, interacting people (often a family) over a long period of time, sometimes generations. It is also a Danish cheese and a type of cricket, among other things. This feels right. Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is mostly the sweeping drama involving a large cast of characters over a long period of time. I say ‘mostly’ because, while it doesn’t specifically involve an anthropomorphic cricket-man with a penchant for blue cheese, it certainly could at any moment. The crazy randomness of this story fits nicely with the potential ambiguity of the word, and its stranger meanings in particular. The story and the art both manage to be bizarrely fantastic while being very real at the same time.

So…? What did you think?

I know that’s a big question, and that it works better for in person discussions, but I still think it is a good place to start. This is a big, crazy story, with a big cast, and it is easy to be swept along with it and not really think too much about why you are enjoying it (or not).


Whose side are you on?

One could argue that one of the marks of a more sophisticated brand of story is the lack of a dualistic outlook; trading in the black and white of the evil monster verses the flawless hero for the shades of grey that tend to more closely resemble reality. Whether it makes for a better story or not, it is something that Saga does well.


Marko and Alana (and Hazel) are our protagonists of course, and we are all rooting for them, but they are far from perfect people. In fact, we aren’t told much in this first volume but what we are told doesn’t seem to paint them as the best people. Most of it comes from the enemy and snatches of conversation but we are left to think that Alana is a screw-up and a shirker and that Marko, recently made (and broken) vow of pacifism aside, is a vicious, almost feral, killer. Then they have a kid and decide that they want to do better for her sake. They don’t really have any idea what it is they are doing, but they are trying so hard against such insurmountable odds that you love them for it.

Then there is The Will and Lying Cat. Sure Lying Cat is a bit unsettling (and a big fan-favorite) and The Will is a cold-blooded bounty hunter/contract killer, but they are loyal to each other and The Will clearly cares for others beyond just himself, even if he is rather selective about it (and expresses it mostly through insults, brutal murder and threats in this volume). Even the arrogant and ruthless Prince Robot IV is also a decorated war veteran with PTSD that just wants to finish this last mission and go home to start a family. As the books continue and these characters are explored more and new characters are introduced you will see and learn more about many of them then you perhaps would want to know. The “heroes” suck at times and the “villains” have people they love and are loved in return. Yes, they have horns and wings and TVs for heads but in many ways that count, these are very real characters.   


Storytelling with the aid of narration?

This is Brian K. Vaughan’s first use of narration in his graphic novels. Does it work for you? For the story? Hazel’s voice as a narrator is wry but affectionate. She pulls no punches when talking about her parents (or pretty much anything else) but her irreverence is tempered by a clearly stated understanding that these were people that were doing the best they could in often horrible circumstances.

Her somewhat mundane relating of events is often humorously juxtaposed with the normally dramatic or adventurous happenings on the page. Aside from being funny, these moments also serve to ground the crazy sword and planet, epic space opera shenanigans in a way that makes us remember that it isn’t really about blue, lie-detecting cats and spider-women (at least not entirely) – it’s about life, more specifically family life, and all the crap that comes along with it.


There is something else as well. Hazel couldn’t be narrating the story if she hadn’t made it. To some this may be tantamount to a huge spoiler, but I think it is a nice balm for some of the harsher moments. No matter how bad it gets – and it can get pretty bad – you know that Hazel at least has made it through.


Graphic graphic novels – Too much?

This book doesn’t shy away from much of anything. As someone that has read on I can tell you that it continues as it begins. If anything, it might get more graphic as it goes. The graphic depictions of sex and violence can be too much for some. I get it. It can be a bit intense at times. Still, I think it makes sense. I have already written about how this story presents its characters, not as two-dimensional caricatures or archetypes of good and evil, but as people. It follows that it would depict events and life in general in the same way; sometimes good, sometimes bad, often in between somewhere, occasionally ecstatically or horrifically skewed to one extreme or another. In other words, as if it were real (or at least semi-real, it is still fiction and conflict and drama need to be focused on if not flat out inflated for the sake of keeping the readers interested). It only makes sense that this approach would be reflected in the art as well. The good with the bad, the base with the sublime, the gross with the beautiful. Childbirth is a miracle. It is also, for many people, pretty gross. The art reflects both those things because they are both true. The violence is gory and horrible because violence is gory and horrible. Makes sense to me.

Ultimately, it won’t be for everyone (and will probably be at least a little unsettling even to those that can handle it) but it is how this story is best told.    



Have a response or a question? Just want to say something (preferably something related to Saga)? Please, comment below. I will try to respond to all of your comments. 

Sep 02

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Posted on September 2, 2021 at 12:57 PM by Zach Berkley

Saga, Volume 1 - The Art of Reading September Read

Saga, Volume 1 - Cover

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.


Why are we reading it?

The short answer is because it’s popular… But it’s popular because it is so good!

It’s Star Wars and Romeo and Juliet and The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones all sort of mashed together around two new parents just trying to do the best they can for their new baby girl. It is also as graphic, violent and profane as it can be beautiful, sweet and hopeful and manages to be very real in a very unreal setting with a lot of bizarre characters. 

All of that seems to resonate with readers, since it is one of the most lauded comics in print today. In 2013, the year it was first collected as a trade paperback (the single issues began printing in March of 2012), Saga, Volume 1 won three Eisner Awards for Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer. That same year, it also won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, the British Fantasy Award for Best Comic/Graphic Novel, and six of the seven Harvey Awards it was nominated for, including: Best Writer, Best Artist and Best New Series. That was just the first year! Subsequent volumes have gone on to win several other awards in the following years, including seven more Eisner Awards and eleven more Harvey Awards!

And it is still going, sort of. So there should be more for everyone to enjoy… eventually. The creative team decided to take a break when the series reached its half-way point (54 of a planned 108 issues). In the fall of 2018. Still, they are working on it. So you have plenty of time to catch up and familiarize yourself with the story and then, if you like it, more to look forward to as well. It’s a great situation (if you look at it just right and squint a little). 

About the Authors

Brian K. Vaughan is the writer and co-creator of comic-book series including Saga, Paper Girls, Y the Last Man, Runaways, and most recently, Barrier, a digital comic with artist Marcos Martin about immigration, available from their pay-what-you-want site Vaughan’s work has been recognized at the Eisner, Harvey, Hugo, Shuster, Eagle, and British Fantasy Awards. He also sometimes writes for film and television.

Fiona Staples is a Canadian comic book artist known for her work on books such as North 40, DV8: Gods and Monsters, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Saga. She has won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. In 2015, Staples was voted the #1 female comic book artist of all-time by readers of Comic Book Resources.

Aug 30

And that’s August (and March) done.

Posted on August 30, 2021 at 7:16 PM by Zach Berkley

We are wrapping up March: Book One this week. It’s a book that seems like it should be bigger - it encompasses big events and big personalities and big ideals. 

March: Book One - Change

Physically it avoids being a daunting length using the two strategies available to the format. The first is obvious from the ‘Book One’ part of the title – the story continues in further volumes. The second is that you can get a lot of storytelling done quickly with pictures. Aside from the actual physical dimensions of the book it still feels big though, weighty even. At least it did to me. 

March is one of those books that is informative without being bogged down in dates and names and facts. It manages to flow smoothly despite the danger of it being stifled by its own gravitas. In short, I think it does what it meant to – to tell a genuine and heartfelt story about a bleak and challenging time in our history, about an anger and a struggle that needs to be remembered, but to do so with kindness and hope at its core.    

March: Book One - Liberated

For those that are interested in reading on, I strongly recommend the second and third books in the March series. When you are done with those you can move on to Run: Book One, out just this month. Follow John Lewis into the next stage of his life, his entry into political life as he battles against the inevitable backlash that always come after times of great change. 

For The Art of Reading though, September will be Saga month.  

Saga, Volume 1 - Cover

Stay tuned for more info!