Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Think Galactic: Saga

For the last meeting of Think Galactic, we discussed "Saga" (2012-), the comic series by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples. We focused on the earlier volumes, but a few of us had read out as far as Volume 5/Issue 30 or so.

Fun discussion. We were pretty forthright about not being terribly versed in the current state of comics and graphic novels, which made it a little interesting. One of the more interesting parts of our discussion was looking at reading strategies when visual art is present, some of us noting that we missed details in the imagery while rushing to the next text-bubble.

We definitely mostly liked it. Definitely mostly. Much discussion of the core themes of parenthood, violence, sex, and the nature of open-ended serial works. Possible spoilers below!

One of our biggest topics of discussion was the serial nature of the work: Does it know where it's going? Is there an overall story that these stories are in service too, or is it one of those series (we referenced a few different television shows) that just run until they're cancelled? We noted a shift in the later volumes (4 & 5), and wondered if this might be a symptom of the initial tension (escape) becoming attenuated.

Some of us also noted a certain kind of "plots fatigue"--because one can read through these very quickly, we're very quickly hit with a lot of dramatic moments and new storylines. Compared to binge-watching a show like "Buffy", which can result in too many villains & developments with not enough time to process each.

I've had narrativity on the brain lately (especially after the CNSC "Cloud Atlas" discussion), been doing some reading about plot structuring, and so it's interesting to look at a series like this, where I don't know ahead of time if there is a grand plot or not. "Anticipation of ending structures the reading of the beginning and middle", to paraphrase Brooks & others. There are obviously indications that this is Hazel's story, or pre-story, but one doesn't know. And that's okay, it's a different kind of form, but it makes it a little hard to figure out what's important, what the real aims of the individual stories are. And it may contribute to the frenetic nature of the comic--exuberant would be another way to put it, but it's kind of a constant onslaught of detail, image, sex & violence--because each issue has to carry itself. We contrasted to television like Gilligan's "Breaking Bad" (2008-13) or Moore's graphic novels like "V for Vendetta" (1988-9), which can afford to have fairly long slow or introspective arcs, because the tension of the overall story carries the reader through.

That moment when you
realize Scorpius is kinda
the real hero. Weird.
Christine coined the term "Farscape Villain Syndrome", wherein, over time, villains become understandable, sympathetic, anti-heroes, etc. Definitely a feature here with The Will & Prince Robot IV. We found Prince Robot very interesting, initially just an enforcer-villain, but we eventually come to see him as as much a victim of the war as anyone else. Lot of PTSD kind of stuff going on here.

Talking about the decaying villaininess led us to talk about the real issue here, which is the system: a conflict between military-industrial complexes, "poor people who get paid to kill other poor people". Weren't able to come up with a one-to-one match for the Horns/Wings proxy war, although really most post-WWII military history could be put forward.

One doesn't know quite how angelic/demonic we should read the wings & horns, although it's obviously pulling on that imagery a bit.

"Saga" does seem to contain an opposing, pacifistic philosophy, embedded in the trashy novels of D. Oswald Heist. We spent some time teasing those ideas out--particularly the notion of a kind of mundane domesticity as the real paradise. And we like that the comic sometimes subverts "tough guy" moments, with the right action sometimes being non-violence or something else altogether.

Furthermore, there's a strong "don't consume, create" moral at least aspired to here. There's also this notion that sex, not peace, is the "opposite of war", and we don't quite have enough material yet to say what we think of that. Those three ideas--make love, create something, get domestic--line up pretty neatly with the the overall parental themes and concerns.

We also tried to figure out Heist's inspiration.
We're thinking mostly Delany with a pinch of Hemingway.

And indeed, parenting--especially first-time parenting--is really the core motif here, and we discussed the way that the earlier issues/volumes here have a frantic, everything-is-a-threat attitude that may be a mirror to inexperienced parents with a newborn, and that the later developments may be somewhat in line with Hazel's development, as well. A neat theory, but we'll have to wait for more to come out to see how that plays out.

Counterbalancing the parenting ideal, though, is Alana's repeated insistence that "family first is bullshit": the idea of self-sacrifice for the group is a hypocritical and destructive one. So there's this (granted somewhat small) thread shot through here, of not losing oneself entirely to family or other responsibilities. Indeed, Prince Robot's arc thus far could basically be seen as an illustration of that, someone who sacrificed and toed the line as commanded, only to lose everything. There's also some commentary on the parenting double-life in Alana & Marko's masked/costumed identities in Volume 4.

"Saga" also has some interesting self-awareness re: storytelling, evident in the later importance of "the Circuit", a kind of viewer-participation improv super-hero theatre soap. Yes. We gave a shout-out to the Neo-Futurists.

Seems to be playing around with the comic's fourth wall, especially with Yuma making comments on how "sexiness" (in the media sense) is needed for any story, no matter how important the actual message may be. "Saga" and Think Galactic also discuss the difference (which may be subjective or context-sensitive) between "art that changes you" in good ways, and junk-foody binge-watchy stuff, which works only on the level of surface emotion.
Highly recommend Dahm's work.

As mentioned above, none of us Think Galactagons at the meeting were particularly comics-savvy, but we did share some recommendations and talk a bit about the art style. Without having a ton to compare to, we nonetheless feel pretty sure that Staples' work here is absolutely top-notch. I caught a few visual references (or at least striking similarities), such as the cover that called out to "Tank Girl", and The Will/Lying Cat's panel-similarity to Veidt/Bubastis from "Watchmen" in a few places. I was most struck by Prince Robot's similarity to The One Electronic from Evan Dahm's "Rice Boy" (2006-8), although to be fair that may be an issue of convergence rather than allusion/borrowing.

We were terribly amused by King Robot's rather large...head. Also intrigued by the robot's device-based caste system, and we wondered if the use of very clearly contemporary technological bits there and elsewhere was a conscious/playful decision on Vaughan & Staples' part.

Loss is another major theme here, particularly The Will's mourning for The Stalk. I really liked Heist's line to the recently-widowed Klara, that "every day from here on out will kind of be shit". More honest than one is used to seeing. I also liked how The Stalk, though definitely dead, remains part of The Will's life. And I liked how permadeath is a feature here; as a side-effect of the over-the-top violence, one isn't too concerned about the story-cheapening "no I'm not really dead" issue that plagues comics and other serial work. (Avoiding Death is Cheap by way of the Chunky Salsa Rule, in TV tropism.)

Other things:
Don't you do it,
Staples & Vaughan.
  • Ghüs is the cutest and he better not have a lethal ejection scene later.
  • Lying Cat is pretty great, but Izabel might have been our overall favorite character.
  • Slave Girl/Sophie: "Give her a name and some pants!"
  • Nun Tuj Nun! Loved this board-game and this sequence, blending silly with serious and art commentary.
  • We like the prominent and extreme diversity, noting some lingering lookism though.
  • Detachable lizard tale is possibly the height of visual humor.
  • Some wandering discussion of other worthwhile/unusual graphic novels & comics/webcomics, including:
  • It's a ways off, but we also talked a bit about the Chicago Alternative Komix Expo, which is GREAT.
  • Nonlethal weapon comparison of the Heartbreaker to the Bowel-Voider of Ellis's "Transmetropolitan".
Also also, we now have a great desire to create a new artistic form, a hybrid spoken-word/tableau-vivant approach to theatrical comic book presentation...on a swivelling stage.

NEXT TIME, Think Galactic discusses selections from the collection "Octavia's Brood".

No comments:

Post a Comment