Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why I Hate Saturn Graphic Novel Review

Why I Hate Saturn
DC Comics - Piranha Press - Vertigo
Softcover Graphic Novel
208 pages
$17.95 (1998)
$14.95 (1990)
ISBN 9780930289720

Contributors: Kyle Baker

Synopsis: Anne is an insecure twenty-something living in New York City who manages to be a successful guerrilla columnist for an underground magazine named Daddy-O.  You can usually find her bar-hopping with her best friend Ricky who is a serial dater.  Anne drinks a lot (just like every good writer) and her life is full of angst.  She doesn't feel pretty and is hopelessly shy around any guy she fancies.  Most nights she drinks herself into oblivion yet manages to scrape together a column to keep herself afloat.

Anne and Laura don't exactly see eye to eye
Enter Anne's younger sister, Laura, who despite being taller and very fetching is apparently bat-shit crazy.  She dons a garrish space-girl outfit and proclaims she's the "Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn".  Anne is too self-absorbed to question Laura's weird behavior or ask about the gunshot wound she had treated at the hospital (where Anne was concurrently being treated for alcohol poisoning).

Laura ends up staying at Anne's place and they're certainly an odd couple.  Anne drinks constantly, is a complete slob, and never cooks her own food.  Laura is a health nut, kind to others, an environmentalist, and doesn't really drink.  If not for the nutty Saturn thing she'd be perfectly normal.  Of course Laura drives Anne crazy and something has got to give sooner or later.

Anne's best friend Ricky is black and Baker offers a little perspective
Is there some truth to Laura's story?  She seems convinced of her Saturn origins, but Anne is hardly buying it.  When weird guys start appearing looking for Laura things get even more strange.  Things start happening which prove Laura is in real danger (I guess the gunshot wound didn't really tip Anne off).  Anne is left to decipher the clues and find out what's really happening.  Does she even care?

Pros: Expressive art by Baker, interesting story with some good plot twists, lots of wry comedy, intriguing characters, witty banter, very New York/metropolitan, great period piece - it felt very late 1980s/early 1990s, won an Eisner award
How Laura met her second-to-last boyfriend
Cons: Black and white (with some grayscale, but not full color), pages/panels feel a bit repetitive, almost feels like the dialogue/story is stream-of-consciousness, last quarter of the book gets a bit silly and wraps up too easily

Laura manages to annoy Anne even from afar
Mike Tells It Straight: This graphic novel was completely different than I expected.  The cover (Vertigo edition) had a goofy girl in a space suit vacuuming while eating an apple.  The title letters are big and cartoony in bright colors.  Nothing could be more different than the interior story and art.  First off the book is black, white, and grayscale.  No bright colors here.  It's a story centered around dialogue and the characters riffing on everyday situations (think Seinfeld).  It's an interesting and slightly perplexing read, but very hip (circa New York 1990) and has some great lines.  I can't believe it's 20+ years old at this point and shows its age a little (good thing the '80s/'90s style is cycling back around nowadays).  This graphic novel was Kyle Baker's major breakout work and earned him both an Eisner and Harvey awards.  The original printing with Piranha Press felt gritty and underground, but Vertigo's version with the garish retro-1950s cartoon lettering screamed sellout.  It's okay, Baker has earned it and he would probably agree.

I enjoyed Baker's art and story for what they were - comedy with a tiny hint of film noir.  It would make a decent movie.  Baker started in comics, but went off to Hollywood and did animation.  He kept roots in the comic book world and added many great works (several one-shots for DC's Vertigo imprint, a run on Plastic Man, and Truth: Red, White and Black for Marvel which tweaked Captain America's origin slightly).

The original graphic novel cover
Why I Hate Saturn put him on the map and achieved critical acclaim.  It's one of the best works from his early career and is a good read.  The book is older and it's steeped in popular culture of the time which may cause a barrier for enjoyment today (no cell phones and Anne doesn't have a checking account, driver's license, or anything linking her to the grid).  I grew up in the 1980s and had no problem following along, but younger audiences (i.e. millennials) may not dig it.  Plus it's grayscale.  Enjoy at your own risk.

UPDATE 8/13/2015: Kyle Baker is apparently planning to publish new chapters of Why I Hate Saturn!  Exciting news as I would love to see an updated version for the present times.  Read the article here.

TO BUY and Recommendations: