Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staple’s sci-fi epic Saga has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed and celebrated comic series published in recent history. Applauded for its narrative complexity, world building, and characterization, Saga is a pure example of a great sci-fi/fantasy adventure, an instant classic and staple for all comic book collections.
With its numerous awards and praise, though, it has also become one of the most controversial comics according to the American Library Association. Challenged for its “anti-family” and “age-inappropriate” content, collected volumes of Saga have had to face criticism and threats of censorship. In hopes of preventing any future bans of this modern classic, we’ve put together these resources for librarians and educators who may need to justify and defend the inclusion of the book in library and classroom collections or curricula.
Image Comics, the publisher of the series, includes this synopsis regarding the series:
Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, published monthly by Image Comics. The series is heavily influenced by Star Wars, and based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent. It depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series.
Reviews for Saga
Imagining that Juliet came from Star Wars and Romeo from Grimm’s Fairy Tales might get close to nailing the genre mashup delight of this interplanetary romance. The high-tech Landfall Coalition runs an endless war with the magic-making folks from Wreath, a moon of Landfall. When dark-skinned Landfallian soldier Alana (who has wings) is assigned to guard Wreathean prisoner Marko (who has horns), they swap the chains of captivity for chains of love and escape together to birth their daughter. So now everyone wants them dead: the Landfallians, the Wreathian High Command, and more, including the Robot Kingdom’s Prince Robot IV, the humanoid spidery creature known as The Stalk, and a morally flexible human known as The Will. The far-fetched world building paired with marvelous characterization and an underlying theme of parenthood under fire elevate this above your average space opera. Vaughan’s plotting and dialog are top notch, and so is Staples’s inventive painted art. VERDICT: This addictive adult read will be gobbled up by fans of cosmic sci-fi and fantasy dramas. Plenty of adult language plus frank sexual content take this out of the teen area. —M.C. (reviewing Saga Vol. 1)
Star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, with their interspecies child, made a huge splash in Volume 1 last year. In Volume 2, we learn enough about the freelancers hired to kill them that we want to root for both these assassins as well as their intended prey. We ache for The Will-a stoic bounty hunter-because of his doomed love for The Stalk-a very strange topless crab-woman now dead-and because he wants to free a child prostitute from bondage. And we begin to understand why Prince Robot IV has problems with his wife and may not have much interest in war despite his protestations against pacifism. This is suggested by two small explicit gay-sex images shown in the Prince’s monitor-face during a raging battle, giving us a nongratuitous clue about what was really on his semiconscious mind while being hit by Wreathean fire. As for our nuclear-family fugitives, we learn how they met and what happens when Marko’s don’t-mess-with-us parents track them down. VERDICT: Hyping character development and emotional action on par with the narrative action, creators Vaughan and Staples maintain appeal and excellence in this adult series. –M.C. (reviewing Saga Vol. 2)
Eisner-winner Vaughan (Y the Last Man) teams up with veteran illustrator Staples (North 40) in the epic, galaxy-spanning war story of a star-crossed couple protecting their infant daughter. The story opens with the narrator’s birth, in the middle of a machine shop on a war-torn planet. Her parents, Alana, a winged soldier from the planet Landfall, and Marko, a horned former prisoner of war from Landfall’s moon, have been on the run from both of their militaries. Betrayed, the family is almost murdered just as it forms; sheer luck gives Marko, Alana, and their daughter a chance to brave the wilds and make their way into the galaxy. Vaughan’s witty dialogue is laced with universal commonalities–the sharp fingernails of babies, burping techniques, love–that ground the alien nature of the characters and heighten the sense that the war between planet and moon and the hatred between enemies is tragically pointless. Staples s character designs are fantastic–even the weirdest aliens reveal human emotion–and her two-page spreads, whether of battle or of tree-grown rocket ships, are glorious. This is a completely addictive, human story that will leave readers desperately awaiting the next volume. For mature readers. (reviewing Saga Vol. 1)
Vaughan, writer of the hugely successful Y, The Last Man, isn’t one to think small. In this opener to his ambitious new series, bits of sf space opera and classic fantasy mesh in setting a sprawling stage for an intensely personal story of two lovers, cleverly narrated by their newborn daughter. Though recently soldiers from opposite sides of a massive intergalactic war, moth-winged Alana and ram-horned Marko simply want peace and anonymity to raise their daughter (an abomination to the powers that be) away from conflict and hatred. Vaughan’s whip-snap dialogue is as smart, cutting, and well timed as ever, and his characters are both familiar enough to acclimate easily to and deep enough to stay interested in as their relationships bend, break, and mend. While Vaughan will be the star power that attracts readers, do-it-all artist Staples is going to be the one who really wows them. Her character designs dish out some of the best aliens around, the immersive world-crafting is lushly detailed and deeply thought through, and the spacious layouts keep the focus squarely on the personal element, despite the chaotic cosmos they inhabit. Add another winner to Vaughan’s stable of consistently epic, fresh, and endearing stories, —Ian Chipman (reviewing Saga Vol. 1)
Vaughan and Staples’ wholly original Saga (2012) won Eisner awards for best new and best continuing series, and it’s no surprise. This smash hit continues to be a powerhouse: intergalactic intrigue, truly alien aliens, multifaceted characters, and a universe full of lush environments all wrapped around a compellingly told story of forbidden love in wartime. Marko and Alana are still on the run, evading the hired assassins in hot pursuit, but now they’ve been joined by Marko’s dis-approving but fiercely loyal parents. Hazel’s insouciant narration is a high point, punctuating dramatic moments with well-timed, trenchant wit. Vaughan has a peculiarly won-derfiil world at his fingertips, and he’s setting himself up for something big, but it’s Staples’ stunning and otherworldly art that makes Saga such a thrilling read. Her rich, warm palette complements organic shapes not often seen in space adventure stories, and it’s this appealing combination that makes it so fresh. Vaughan and Staples are seriously upping the ante for comics. Fans will be eager to pick this up, and intrigued new readers won’t be far behind. —Sarah Hunter (reviewing Saga Vol. 2)
Praise for Saga
“It’s easy to run out of accolades for this superb series… The dialogue is smart, arch and always rings true, and the visuals, rendered digitally, are alluring and inventive. The Stalk, an eight-eyed, eight-limbed female bounty hunter, remains a creepy favorite.” —The New York Times
“Mischievous, vulgar and gloriously inventive.” —TIME Magazine
“May it run for 1,000 issues.” —Rolling Stone Magazine
“A little bit Romeo & Juliet and a lot Star Wars.” —USA Today
“Staples and Vaughan, like L. Frank Baum or J.R.R. Tolkien, have brought to life a fantasy world so fully realized that nothing, no matter how incredible, seems out of place for a second.” —Library Journal
“My favourite comic lately has been Saga.” —Lyndie Greenwood, actress
“A beautiful, passionate, adventurous book.” —Tor.com
Awards and Recognition
- Eisner Awards: Saga Series
- 2013: Best New Series
- 2013-2014: Best Writer, Brian K. Vaughan
- 2013-2014: Best Continuing Series
- 2014: Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, Fiona Staples
- Harvey Awards: Saga Series
- 2013: Best New Series
- 2013: Best Single Issue or Story, Saga #1
- 2013-2014: Best Continuing or Limited Series
- 2013-2014: Best Writer, Brian K. Vaughan
- 2013-2014: Best Artist or Penciler, Fiona Staples
- 2013: Best Colorist, Fiona Staples
- 2014: Best Cover Artist, Fiona Staples
- Hugo Award, 2013: Best Graphic Story for Saga Volume 01
As graphic novels that have faced various challenges and censorship attempts, CBLDF has put together a series of Case Studies that help to explain more about a particular title or series and the specific challenges that they faced. Much like the CBLDF Discussion Guides, the Case Studies can be used as a tool by librarians, educators, and retailers to understand more about the obstacles that certain books have had to overcome to lead more informed and dynamic discussions. You can read the Case Study for Saga here.
What should I do if Saga is challenged?
Most challenges to comics in libraries come from well-meaning individuals, frequently parents, who find something they believe is objectionable in their local public or school library. These challenges are often difficult and stressful for the library staff who must manage them, but there are resources to help them in the process. Below we’ve identified a number of tips and links to assist libraries to increase the likelihood of keeping challenged comics on the shelves.
1. Make Strong Policies.
Strong selection and challenge review policies are key for protecting access to library materials, including comics. The American Library Association has developed a number of excellent tools to assist school and public libraries in the essential preparation to perform before books are challenged here.
2. Face the Challenge.
What do you do when a comic is challenged? Much of the material in this post can be used to help defend Saga against a challenge. The American Library Association has developed these helpful tools to cope with challenges:
- Conducting a Challenge Hearing
- Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges
- Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources
CBLDF can also help by providing assistance with locating review resources, writing letters of support, and facilitating access to experts and resources. Call 800-99-CBLDF or email firstname.lastname@example.org at the first sign of a First Amendment emergency!
3. Report the Challenge.
Another essential step in protecting access to comics is to report challenges when they occur. By reporting challenges, you help the free expression community gather necessary information about what materials are at risk so better tools can be created to assist. To report a challenge to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, call us at 800-99-CBLDF or email email@example.com. You can also report the challenge to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a CBLDF-sponsored program from the National Coalition Against Censorship and one of our frequent partners in the fight against censorship. Finally, you can report the challenge to ALA here.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!