While I didn’t have to opportunity to pick up any new books this week, I did manage to check out an older graphic novel: Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn. Originally published in 1990 by the now defunct Pirahna Press, an imprint of DC Comics focused on alternative comics. The book won an Eisner Award and earned rave reviews at the time, but I was curious how it would hold up 25 years later.
Why I Hate Saturn is the story of Anne Merkel, a columnist for a trendy New York magazine, as she struggles through an endless cycle of alcoholism and trying too hard not to care about the world around her. Things take a strange turn when her sister shows up with gunshot wounds, claiming to be Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn. It turns out she’s on the run from an angry ex-boyfriend, but Anne is too busy not caring about life to notice. The story takes her from New York to California to an Arizona desert, but the entire journey Anne tries not to learn any lessons about life or herself.
This book is a strange read, irreverent and bizarre but still recognizably human. The dialogue is sharp, but twenty five years of emulation makes the themes feel tired. If I had read this at the time it came out, I would be heaping praise on Baker. It’s still worth picking up now, but the hype behind the book might make modern readers feel like they’re missing something. The book is something of a time capsule for the late eighties in a small section of New York, making it doubly interesting as a work of fiction and a glimpse at a time period many of us missed.
The art might be more divisive than the story material. Baker draws his characters with exaggerated expressions and highly stylized features. The book is in black and white, with all of the dialogue underneath the panels rather than in word balloons. It works well from a storytelling perspective, allowing the art to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of characterization. However, it’s a style that readers are either going to love or hate.
All in all, I’m glad that I finally read through this graphic novel. It’s a fun, if a little disjointed, story of self discovery and the pains we take to avoid it. The book is going to be available for free here, but the site is currently down so save it to your bookmarks and come back to enjoy the ride.