When Melbourne’s All Star Comics won the coveted Eisner Award last year for world’s best comics retailer, the Spirit Of Comics Retailer Award, I sort of thought to myself, “I’m still probably not gonna go”. Not because I harbour any particular ill will towards comics, but rather because my mental image of comic book stores is still contaminated by Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and, subsequently, that place in Footscray I went to as a kid where the man behind the counter was virtually identical to said Comic Book Guy.
There is also a feeling amongst non-comics folk that if comics aren’t a consuming passion or hobby for you, then you might as well not even bother. Now that almost all aspects of western nerd culture have been appropriated in some way by ironic middle class twenty-year-olds, loyally following the comic book world seems like one of the last incarnations of authentic nerddom available. While this is enough to put some people off, the nerdiness on show at All Star is pretty contagious. It’s a thriving environment where nobody passes judgement on you if you can’t name all the characters in the Justice League comics or don’t have an opinion on which artist did the best Batman. When I asked the long-haired, Misfits-t-shirt-wearing guy for what he recommended to someone who doesn’t read comics, he slapped the first issue of Saga down in front of me.
Now that I’ve plowed through the four volumes currently available, I can see why. Saga is an ongoing space opera series, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, in which a big planet – Landfall – is in the midst of an ongoing war with its own moon – Wreath. Landfall’s inhabitants are human-like creatures with wings, and those from Wreath are somewhere between people and goats. When Alana, a Landfallian, and Marko, a Wreathian, have a child together, they become embroiled in an intergalactic bounty hunt that involves a giant spider woman, a race of horny robots that have TVs for heads, and a giant troll with a scrotum almost as big as he is. With its addictive plot lines, sense of humour and general weirdness, Saga feels like the perfect place to test whether or not comics might be for you.
From the first panel, Saga wants to disrupt whatever preconceptions you might have about the comic medium. While it’s a serious story, it never seems to take itself seriously, and its characters are never overburdened with the humourless gravitas that fills the pages of so many high fantasy books. When you open the first volume, you’re greeted with a big frame of Alana mid-childbirth, straining and screaming, “it feels like I’m taking a shit”. And the tone is all downhill from there. After turning a couple of pages, you see a full spread of two human-like robots naked and screwing each other like animals. The comic is surprising at every turn, and is never simply satisfied to rely on old sci-fi clichés; Saga wants to build something completely new.
After finishing the series, I had that sensation that TV binge watchers are so familiar with, where it feels like a huge void is opening up once you finish the finale. What do I fill it with? Is there ever going to be another series that sucks me in like that? If buying comics wasn’t such an outrageously expensive hobby, Saga would have fully welcomed me into the fold.