Why I Hate Saturn
Written and illustrated Kyle Baker
Published by 5150 Media
Anne writes for the magazine. Drinks too much and applies a liberal amount of self-pity to everything and that is actually working for her on the writer front. Her steady social life, as in disastrous, is the Titanic after it split in half. Anne is a shooting star, navigating Hot Fashionable Culture because it is actually Fun Sometimes and also Poor Folks Need To Eat, Too, until an estranged sibling (on the run!) shows up and cleans house. Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn is relatable, or fascinating, or unbelievable, but it’s all real. It’s all true. Even the bit about being from another planet.
Laura, Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn, cleans the house, puts away the laundry, organizes the fridge. Tries to establish a diet including solids and a circadian rhythm aligned to the sun. Ends up throwing Anne into an Out of the Past detective story, with one sister tracking another across the country. Anne Merkel is no Jeff Markham- more like the clownish Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, playing a solid hand after dropping the deck into the sangria pitcher multiple times.
Why I Hate Saturn isn’t 1947 or 1973. It is 1990 and oh, is it 1990. The attitude in this comic is a straight shot of pop culture rejection coming from burrowed deep inside of the entertainment industry machine. Anne is on the forefront of the professional death rocker aesthetic. I’m glad that comics have grown into creating masterful stories about the tenderness to be found in people caught in the rat race, but I’m equally glad to have a book like this. Book as dive bar commiserator.
Baker came up through the superhero circuit. He cut his teeth in the marvelous Marvel mail room, working up from background assists to name in the book creator status over the course of the ’80s, sick of all of it by the decade’s close. Baker’s zine fury found a good home at Piranha Press, DC’s then-new imprint meant to compete with the rising indie scene, the perfect home for him, until DC took what reads like fairly non-consensual ownership of Baker’s characters. Kyle Baker was out there before anyone else setting the tone for the next decade, mostly by documenting and lancing what the previous decade had come to.
A straight sibling drama, Saturn aside, might have been common enough in the underground to establish an imprint from a major publisher, and Why I Hate Saturn stands as a great read for people in and out of comics. But. No one but Goddard frames shots like Kyle Baker. A neck, earlobe, predominantly the back of a head, will edge the face of the person speaking out of a panel. Baker’s art is an impossible (for a realist) filling of space that comes without the juxtaposition of people looking unnatural. Nobody gets a full frame; it’s as if you are watching the faces of two hipsters as they are existentially murdered by a room full of Trixies and Chads through a pair of binoculars while you are seated just down the bar.
Baker’s beautiful linework in Saturn is particularly striking. There’s no one type of line, no reins on the strokes, crossing anatomical borders and panels walls because, who cares? Baker’s momentum is infectious. Telling stories with eyebrows, this guy. Like a kitchen haircut, sometimes a couple flyaway hairs are the cost of being punk. Baker falls into the camp of writing that beguiling way where each panel feels like a distinct gesture captured, a snapshot; to flow seamlessly from panel to panel in a narrative where each panel holds the essence of a complete moment shouldn’t be, but a style of sequential art storytelling embraces it and Why I Hate Saturn is a compelling argument on how to do it right.
Upon its initial release, Baker paired his slide show (Kodak, not PowerPoint) of panels without bubbles with a super-gutter, a trench, in which all the dialog was set. The eyes jump back and forth between a Polaroid and a bit of script. Maybe it’s the pair of deliberate hurdles that make the rhythm of the work step in time? I have a (fourth printing) Vertigo trade collection that is the equivalent of a Why I Hate Saturn mass market paperback, and each comic page is inset, wreathed in a frame of what looks like DOS computer textures. The title of the book appears as the header of each page, there are full page black title cards to break scenes (everything ’90s, Baker first), and the book’s style itself purposefully leans into the indecipherable territory between comic book and novel.
I can’t tell if the climax is satire or not. Is it important, or is its lack of importance the point? I did find the loose ends coming together to be as glorious and transcendent as one would hope—an armed showdown with the goon squad on a deserted highway, it seemed like one thing plausibly led to another, so how did we even get to this—but in truth I found more meaning in a conversation with a bum beforehand.
This philosophical man on the streets wonders what a society is worth if it is built to use and discard its most vulnerable members as if they don’t exist. The girl from Saturn wonders how everyone on Earth can be okay with such terrible things. How can something be terrible if everyone is okay with it? If it took a girl in a leather jacket and another in a body-fitting space suit to get mainstream 1990 asking itself that question, at least Baker figured out a way to have it be in service to the women who lead his story. An evergreen existential crisis if you can just see past the zeitgeist. Yeah, that’s a sentence. Go read a book.