To grossly overgeneralize (and use an annoying binary at the same time), comic book readers can be separated into two camps: those who exclusively read the Big Two and those who appreciate comics for the art form that they are. Am I biased, much? Completely. Because full disclosure: my day job is working on behalf of Image Comics, Skybound, and Silver Sprocket. But SAGA is objectively a phenomenon. For those of us who are even slightly familiar with indie comics, there are a handful of titles that are renowned: Hellboy, Spawn, The Walking Dead, and the technicolor dreamscape space opera that is Saga.
Saga is written by comics luminary Brian K. Vaughan (I'm not even going to try to enumerate the titles of his comics in these parentheses, because it's laughable how many them are blockbusters), and illustrated entirely by Fiona Staples in her distinctive hybrid hand-drawn and digital technique.
For anyone not familiar, Saga is Alien Romeo and Juliet in Space. Except it's a lot more than that. The two main characters, Alana and Marko, are on opposite sides of warring factions of an interplanetary war. Their people fight each other by proxy, on behalf of elites, who are the ones who actually have the beef with each other. Marko is a prisoner of war, and Alana his captor. They fall in love, basically, through a romance novel book club with only two members. Except the novel is a subversive text, showing the pointlessness of fighting a manufactured war that isn't even their own.
They love each other very much, and when two people love each other very much, they often have (or adopt) a baby. In Saga, the baby is Hazel, and she's the narrator of the story. The story has a less annoying How I Met Your Mother feel to it, because the stakes are high and feel real (Vaughan is not afraid to kill his darlings). But this is not your usual heteronormative love story, idealizing the nuclear family. There is nothing pedestrian about Saga. In an interview with The Verge, Vaughan described a crucial point in the way the story’s characters would be envisioned:
"Early on when I was describing the characters [to illustrator Fiona Staples], I said: 'oh, well, Alana the mom, has wings and Marko, the dad, has horns. And Alana can look however you want—I probably wouldn't make her a redhead because there's a glut of redheads in comics.' And Fiona sort of wisely pointed out, she said 'you know, these characters don't have to be white.'"
"And I blame myself that, particularly when thinking about fantasy, that white tends to be the default when thinking about characters. And then it's sort of adding in horns and wings, or bumps on their foreheads makes them diverse, and I think it's insane. It was Fiona who pointed out, 'Look if you really do want to explore the real world, this book should look like the real world.'"
In addition to having one of the cutest headline-chasing journalist gay couples in comics, in 2013, Saga stood up for the queers when comiXology briefly banned issue #12 from its app, via the iTunes store. Issue #12 had two blink-and-you'll-miss-them images of explicit gay male sex on the glitchy screen of Prince Robot IV's head. Vaughan was clear: every image and aspect of Saga is integral to the story, and therefore "we're not changing shit."
But the real story of Saga is how much it has resonated with readers, and what an impact it has made culturally. It's among the handful of titles (and one of the few non-graphic novels) that attract readers who were previously unfamiliar with comics. It's on just about every recommended reading list for readers new to comics, as well as a constant on most "Best of" comics lists (for brevity, I'll just point you to NPR).
It's a legit industry phenomenon. Since 2013, Saga has been nominated for just about every award a comic can get (Eisners, Hugos, international prizes, etc.) and has won almost all of them. It has been translated into more than 20 languages. Prada used Staples's artwork along with other female artists known for their strong female characters, in its SS18 Milan runway show. I dare you to go to any comic con (sorry, SDCC) and not find a Saga cosplayer.
Issue #50 comes out today, and it's a rare comic not supported by a superhero legacy that makes it past issue #6. When asked how long Saga would run, Vaughan replied, "... one issue longer than The Walking Dead. So it's whenever Robert Kirkman hangs up the hat." (Vaughan and his The Private Eye co-creator, Marcos Martin, wrote a one-off issue of the iconic zombie drama, available as a pay-what-you-want download on the Panel Syndicate website). The world of Saga is more than big enough to fulfill that promise, and it's never too late to jump right in.