There Will Be No Happily Ever After Today: Saga vs Blessed Feathers

On November 23rd 2015

Image credits:  Left - Saga #1   Right -  Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Hazel, the narrator of Saga, opens up Chapter Thirty saying, “Every relationship is an education.  Each new person we welcome into our hearts is chance to evolve into something radically different than we used to be.”  

I think my problem with a lot of love stories, and love songs for that matter, is how they want to experience love without learning.  I mean, real learning; struggling and failing over and over and over again until finally you get it right, and everything clicks.  Not just looking at the answer key before you hand in your homework or copying someone else’s work.  These stories and songs want easy love, with easy answers to easy questions.  They want everything tied up with a bow after three verses and a chorus, three hundred pages, or ninety minutes of fluff.  They want closure, but don't want to ask the difficult questions to get there.

It’s easy to find hard questions, because they’re often short, and they hurt like hell when you try to answer them honestly.  For example, “What do I do?”  “What do we do?” “Is it supposed to work?”  “Is it supposed to hurt?”  These are the kinds of questions that Blessed Feathers cry out to the vast, open, and ever-changing landscape in front of them in There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow. They offer up no answers, only a new day.

Most of these questions can only be answered with time, because in their nature, the answer is constantly changing.  Time is unpredictable, and a new day always brings the possibility of surprise. Surprise is the enemy of the easy love story, because the easy love story mistakes surprise as the enemy of love. Good love stories need a Happily Ever After, after all, and a Happily Ever After needs a clean getaway.  A clean getaway requires sticking to a careful plan.  In Saga, there are no clean getaways and there is always someone who gets hurt.  It sounds like Donivan and Jacquelyn had a few rough ones of their own, too.

Love stories without a Happily Ever After are seen by many as broken.  I mean, why would Hollywood keep making these cookie cutter love stories if we as humans didn’t readily gobble them up with Milk Duds and popcorn?  Why would the Major Labels keep churning out toothless love songs if we didn’t keep listening to them a hundred million times on Spotify and belting them out at the top of our lungs in da clurrrrrb?

We crave closure, because our nature dictates that we seek out the path of least resistance.  That path leads us to the stories that move with our expectations, and songs that cater to our desires.  Our natural desire, or instinct, is to remain in comfort, and avoid pain.  If you want a great example, read Hazel’s introduction to this fifth arc of Saga in Chapter Twenty-Five, and watch how Landfall’s atrophy into planet-wide comfort and complacency vaguely mirrors how our culture has evolved since World War II, or Vietnam even.  

I tell people (probably too often) that I use art to indulge in sadness and pain, and sometimes they look at me like I have two heads.  When I question their preferences, I get a bunch of easy answers that average out to “I just want to feel happy.”  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel happy, because it’s natural, but we need sadness and pain to balance it out.  Otherwise, these feelings begin to feel increasingly manufactured and fake.  We can’t live in the yin and reject the yang, or vice versa.

On the back of the gorgeous sleeve for There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow, there is a brief paragraph about the album that describes it as “equal parts beauty and brutality.” I love this description for a couple reasons.  First, it evokes the essential balance that is vital to everything in nature, nevermind love.  Last, it is also an amazing five word description of Saga.

I think I got ahead of myself up there, so let me back up a bit.  Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is the best damn story being told right now, comic book or not.   The story is set in a universe free from the constraints of logic and the laws of nature where anything can and will happen in ways that are much worse than you could possibly imagine. It is the story of a large planet, Landfall, and it’s moon, Wreath, who don’t get along, and started a war that has enveloped the farthest reaches of its universe, forcing every planet to choose a side.  There is no compromise, only conflict, but really this conflict is just the backdrop for a much smaller story.  It's a love story.  A true love story.

Alana is a disillusioned soldier from Landfall, and Marko is a disillusioned soldier from Wreath.  They met in POW camp, where Marko was being held prisoner after surrendering in the name of pacifism.  Then they escaped.  The first issue opens with Alana giving birth to Hazel, the first child ever (well, as far as we know) between two races who have been sworn enemies for longer than anyone living can remember.  Saga is the story of their family’s struggle to escape this war, and survive.  They struggle to live and love another day, every day. 

Every day brings a new challenge, and the characters are often faced with terrible choices that force them to keep learning difficult lessons, or keep moving forward without knowing at all what they should do.  The characters in Saga, despite their fantastical appearance, are achingly human.  They have fist-pumping moments of triumph, only to go and make unthinkable mistakes.  They’re constantly changing while still remaining the same.  And they die (in horrifyingly beautiful splash pages courtesy of mad genius Fiona Staples), a lot.  (Side note: I think now would be a good time to mention something.  Saga is a beautiful love story for the full-hearted, but it is also not for the faint of heart.  It contains graphic violence, sexual content, and it will destroy your emotions if you let it.  It's incredible.)

Later in Chapter Thirty, Hazel’s narration continues: “There is no graduating from this education, couples keep growing and changing until they either break up or die.” There are no time-jumps in real life, you have to tackle each and every new day learning and loving along the way.  There are time-jumps in Saga, one large one so far, but to me it only provided a clean demonstration of the kind of havoc that complacency and unhealthy routines can wreak in a relationship.

When Blessed Feathers were announced as the Vinyl Me, Please AOTM for October, I had never heard of them, but one listen of Order of the Arrow got me excited.  I ordered it immediately (I want to mention that the confirmation email from straight from Donivan… at 2:30 in the morning.  Kudos man).  Still, I wasn’t prepared for There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow.  It feels like a time jump, and it feels like Donivan and Jacquelyn were being anything but complacent.  You can’t make music like this when you are complacent.  It's the best kind of time jump, the ones that cut straight back into the action.  They spent those two years exploring the world, and exploring themselves, and working tirelessly to translate their love and experiences into music, and it shows.  It's beautiful.

The first side of There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow doesn’t sound like love, it sounds like experience. The experience of loss, or getting lost.  “Hitchhiking,” finds Donivan especially lost, where he sings “Make me believe life can come easily” in a tone that sounds desperate for relief, but knows that relief will not bring him what he really needs.  “I know we’ll make it out alive, til then I’ll have to struggle and survive, I know,” Donivan sings on "Wymoing/Dakota".  Later, on “Worry Waste,” Jacquelyn sings in a soothing tone “Don’t you worry baby it’s OK, worry wastes our spirits anyway.”  The harsh truths and heartbreak pile up but the hope never dies, just like Hazel's family in Saga.

In “The Further That We Run,” the album takes a turn (which also makes it the perfect choice for the first song on side B).  It begins with a series of fragmented memories, but right in the middle, Donivan sings “The further that we run, we run away together, the less I can remember.”  They’re not running from anything.  They’re running towards tomorrow.  They’re running into the struggle to see what is on the other side.  The past is never forgotten, and it shouldn’t be, but as we learn from our mistakes and struggle towards new triumph, the past matters less and less every day.  

In a strong relationship, you always know that you will love your partner tomorrow, and that tomorrow is all that matters.  That requires a kind of trust that takes time, and requires continued effort to make it last.  “Hell if I know baby, what I’m supposed to say to you.  I trust you though, and I keep loving you so.”  Trust is hard, and honesty can be harder, especially when our nature pulls us to the path of least of resistance; a path that is often paved with lies.  Stories with happy endings are usually full of these lies. I could go on about this, but I like the way Hazel says it best. “Happy endings are bullshit.  There are only happy pauses.”  

Happy pauses, like the moments frozen in Blessed Feathers’ photo album, are important, and savoring them is even more important.  They help form memories, and memories help make the struggle worthwhile.  The bad memories keep our arrows pointing in the right direction, while the good memories remind us why we fight, and who we fight for.  That’s why it’s important to have a lover that you can fight with, peacefully and with compromise.  Fights initiate struggle (or, as we learn early on in Saga, the kind of events responsible for Hazel's very existence), and struggle is necessary for education.  The opposite of war isn’t peace, after all (See Chapter Seventeen), but the opposite of love is hate.

Saga’s universe is full of hatred, due to a war between two sides that refuse to learn from their mistakes.  They struggle to win, and that's what is making their war last forever.  Saga’s story is full of love, and a family that is constantly learning from their mistakes for the promise of a better tomorrow.  They struggle to love, until their lives and their story inevitably end.  When it ends, there will be no happily ever after, but until then there will always be tomorrow.  And when you face a new day with the one you truly love, there will be no sad tomorrow.   

Who knows what it will bring?

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