The One Comic (Yes, Comic) You Need to Be Reading

I have never been much of a comics girl. I am geeky about a great many things, but comics and graphic novels have not traditionally been one of them. I've never had anything against the medium — like everyone else in 2008, I read and was blown away by Watchmen — but as a feminist for whom realistic, well-developed female characters (and a lot of them!) is the number one reading criteria, I was never sure where to turn with comics. I knew that there were a ton of great comics out there for women readers, but the array of tiny waists, improbable stilettos and plunging V-necks skimming enormous breasts I saw at every turn in the local comic book shop didn’t bode well for me.

Intimidated, I usually retreated to the safety of the fiction or YA sections of the bookstore. It wasn’t until a dear friend literally put the first three trades of Saga in my hands, assuring me that I would love them, that I really got it. Guess what? Now I’m hooked. And it’s my mission to get you hooked, too.

My tastes sound like yours? Good. Then hang in with me for the five reasons why you’ll be hooked on Saga.

The writing is fantastic

Saga is a gripping space opera with fascinating characters, rich world-building, incisive social commentary, and a lot of heart. In its primary plot, Saga follows Alana and Marko, a young interracial couple from a warring worlds who are on the run from their respective authorities with their newborn infant, Hazel, in tow. The story of star-crossed lovers or young parents trying to negotiate the waters of their relationship post-baby is not new, but writer Brian K. Vaughan breathes warm, sharp, and witty life into these old stories. Narrated from the perspective of an unseen, grown-up Hazel, the Saga books feel more like a strange family scrapbook than anything else. And it's a tribute to Vaughan’s assured writing that Saga to skip from the sweet, funny, and bawdy to the truly grim and horrifying without ever giving its readers tonal whiplash.

The art is incredible

Artist Fiona Staples has won a number of awards and accolades for her work; one look at Saga and it’s not hard to see why. The artwork in this series is breathtaking, with the issue covers in particular being absolute showstoppers. For Saga, Staples has created a vast, imaginative, and highly-detailed visual landscape, but what is even more impressive is the rich, sometimes heartbreaking expressiveness of her characters. You’ll want to sit down and stare at every panel to make sure all the details sink in.

Like Vaughan, Staples can veer from the gruesome, absurd, or incredibly creepy to the absolutely adorable. Case in point, this guy:

I’ll wait a minute while you finish squeeing. Ready to move on?

It’s great for women

“Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” Those are Saga’s opening lines, uttered by Alana mid-labor. It’s an announcement right out of the gate: This is not a book that is overly precious about women’s bodies; this is not a story that positions women as sexual objects.And Saga makes good on on that unspoken promise. Alana is a fantastic character who rises far above the tired “Strong Woman” cliche. She is strong, yes — a cussing, maternal winged badass. But Alana is more nuanced than that: she’s a former solider who loves romance novels; she is, by turns, cocky, insecure, short-tempered, and affectionate. Alana obviously loves sex, but is never sexualized. And glory, glory hallelujah — the woman actually sports activity-appropriate footwear! Thankfully, Alana is not alone in her complexity: Saga’s universe is populated by a vast array of equally fascinating, flawed, fully-realized female characters. I would be remiss if I did not mention one character in particular. The Stalk is exactly the type of woman you would expect to see in the comic of your worst feminist nightmares: bleach-blond, pillow-lipped, busty, Barbie-waisted and constantly topless.

Oh wait. Did I forget to mention? She is also a ruthless half-spider assassin. Yeah, resisting or subverting gendered cliches is kind of one of Saga’s strong suits.

It’s diverse

Diversity in literature is incredibly important; many comics and graphic novels are making diverse representation a priority, and Saga is high on that list. Obviously, like any good space opera, Saga is species-diverse, with human-like characters, Earth-animal-like characters, and out-of-this-world creatures all interacting within a single panel. Refreshingly, Saga’s human-like characters appear racially diverse, with men and women of color making up many of the main characters. Saga features a number of interracial couples beyond its central pairing and same-sex couples. Saga also scores well with age diversity: while most of its central characters fall within the 20-45 range, it also has a number of well-developed older characters of different genders and races.

It features a large, adorably-grumpy hairless cat with the ability to tell when people are lying

Enough said.

Have I got you convinced? Good. Because it’s the perfect time to catch up on Saga: a special edition of the first three volumes is being released this week, which gives you enough time to catch up for the release of the next volume December 17. Come on: You can never have too many things to geek out about, right?

Images: Image Comics