Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Notable Book of the Year 2016 - The Saga Series

“Once upon a time, each of us was somebody's kid.
Everyone had a father, even if he never provided anything more than his seed.
Everyone had a mother, even if she had to leave us on a stranger's doorstep.
No matter how we're eventually raised, all of our stories begin the exact same way.
They all end the same, too.”
This edition of Notable Books of 2016 covers Comic Books/Graphic Novels.

(A disclaimer: I will not cover essentials and must haves such as The Watchmen, Maus etc. You should read them as soon as you get the chance)

The best comic book series of the year came to me in late November. In the middle of solving Real Business Cycle Models and finding General Equilibrium Pareto Optima, I was handed the series by a classmate and friend... to whom I am eternally grateful.

Saga is by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It's not new - the series started way back in 2012 - but it's still ongoing and is expected to continue for many more years.

To give you a tl;dr summary and at the risk of shameless self-indulgence this is what I wrote in my diary immediately after completing its third volume,
"Damn, it's been a while since I read a good comic book! The Saga series is just about everything you can possibly demand from an awesome comic book series and it's a gift that keeps on giving. A combination of satire and über-cool imagination laced with humor and gripping characters it comes at the top of any must-read book lists I can think of this year."
Two days later and all volumes down my opinion only metamorphosed from calm admiration to crazy addiction. There are six volumes that are out at the moment and the series has been met with wide acclaim from critics and immense love from a growing legion of fans.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35115924

is what you get when you blend a story of war, of love in the time of war (with the lovers from the opposite camps), of robot royalty, of mercenaries, and, in general, of well chiseled characters that are surprisingly relevant in our own modern world.

The backdrop of Saga is a war between Landfall, a large and important planet in the galactic neighborhood, and Wreath, its satellite. The two worlds are vastly different from each other. For instance, people from Wreath routinely use magic in their lives (including as a weapon). Landfall and Wreath went to war a long, long time back and eventually wearied of it so much they decided to outsource the war to other worlds, recruiting or forcing other civilizations to fight on their behalf.

Alana (from the Landfall side) falls in love with her prisoner Marko (a native of Wreath) and that's disastrous for both sides, not least because Alana has given birth to a Landfall-Wreath baby. That's where we begin.
“Never worry what other people think of you, because no one ever thinks of you.”
Alana and Marko form the initial mainstay but they are soon supplemented by an impressive and intriguing set of characters who are slowly fleshed out in detail, their backstories opening up at different points leading inexorably to the impending grand finale. That's the thing that stands out for me in Saga - its medley of characters.

There are robots
A coalition partner of Landfall is Robot Kingdom, led by blue-blood robot royalty. The robots are fascinating analogues to Rorschach - inscrutable and hidden behind a veneer of inhumanity while burying a maelstrom of emotions underneath.

There are mercenaries
A neutral group of mercenaries can be hired by either side to execute more devious and nefarious plans. There are a bunch of them and their paths intersect, in wicked ways.

There's a lot more - a whole lot more

Making a list of all important characters is hopelessly futile - there are just too many - and pretty boring - for the writer and reader alike. The story makes you love them all and this is the moment when I should just ask you to go ahead and procure the series.

Before I conclude, however, let me note another praiseworthy feature of Saga. Through all the action and drama and laughs the series subtly weighs in on gender relations, on race and ethnic relations, and on the collateral damage a war creates. These are complex and multi-layered issues and Saga's magic is to elicit empathy from the reader, an invaluable and rare lesson newspapers and dry debates pathetically fail in achieving. All this without batting an eyelid or dropping pace. Indeed, you can probably finish the series in a day and leave yourself waiting until March 2017 (like me) when the next volume is scheduled for release.

Must Read. A story of war and love and, somewhere in between, a story of a family as it tries to sort itself out.
“All good children's stories are the same: young creature breaks rules, has incredible adventure, then returns home with the knowledge that aforementioned rules are there for a reason.
Of course, the actual message to the careful reader is: break rules as often as you can, because who the hell doesn't want to have an adventure?”
Honorable Mentions
I am late to works by Joe Sacco but I would highly recommend them. Safe Area Gorazde (duh, I can hear the fans saying) must be read. Sydney Padua's The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage was also a smooth read. And the graphic novel I would've covered if I hadn't read Saga? Daniel Clowes' Patience. It's just awesome.

What was your favorite work this year?

(This is second in a series of 5 posts on the best books I read through the year. The last one was an Autobiographical work. The next in this series include non-fiction, fiction and science fiction novels! Follow me at hamstersqueaks.blogspot.in)

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