Committed: Kyle Baker's "Why I Hate Saturn"

Kyle Baker has posted small versions of his graphic novels on his website for everyone to read for free. I'm hoping that this will lead more people to discover the subtle genius that is "Why I Hate Saturn", along with many of his other very clever, funny, beautiful, eclectic books.

For many years, Why I Hate Saturn was one of my favorite comic books, it was funny, silly, clever and wise. I gave it to at least three different friends so they would understand me a little better. This story  highlights all of the things that work in society, (as well as the many things that don't), and it makes me laugh while it does it. When I was growing into myself, it demystified a very awkward phase I was going through and the confusing changes in the ways that the world was responding to me. Even though that particular awkward phase is done, there are always new ones and this is still a book which is dear to my heart.

The story is simultaneously pretty straightforward and also quite convoluted, but basically Anne is a disgruntled New Yorker working as a columnist for a paper, drinking too much scotch, bemoaning her single status, when her life is thrown into chaos by the return of her annoyingly upbeat and slightly crazy sister. This comic came out before Sex in the City, Seinfeld, or Liz Lemon and 30 Rock, but it could have been the inspiration for any of those. Funny, biting, and drawn with real affection, this is ludicrously satisfying comic book to own and share. Maybe it is bad that I read this so young and thought it could teach me life lessons, but Baker never steered me wrong and to this day, I still quote the book to my confused friends.

"So basically you're saying that you're upset because you can't compete with anorexic women for unemployed guys?"

"Look, Black music is in, Black culture is in, but Black people will never be in."

"Nice legs. The goose bumps sort of ruin the effect though."

It also contains the best synopsis of the biography of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald that I have ever read. You'll see.

There are harsh truths to be told and learned by Anne and incidentally, by us too. That's the thing, it pretends to be a dumb humor book, but the characters speak truths and the line work has moments of echoing Toulouse Lautrec's drawings at their most heartbreakingly lovely. It might not have been intended to high art or great philosophy, but there are moments when it touches at the edges of that territory and that makes the book so much more than the sum of its parts. Apparently it was an Eisner award winner and I would say, deservedly so.

This came out right after Baker's amazing work on The Shadow and I loved the humor and relaxed irreverence he brought to both of these works. Kyle Baker's style has changed many times over the years, but this period is probably my favorite; he uses this oddly vulnerable, shaky line work which gives his characters a tremendous fragility and imparts the crappy, flawed humanity that he is so good at making amusing instead of tragic. At the time I found the two color print (well, one color if you don't count black, but printers will still count it) very clean and elegant. Now I understand that it was also probably a cost consideration, but I still like the way he uses the soft second color as a shadow throughout, gives the whole story the dimension it needs. Published in a single volume, these well-developed and nicely drawn characters never appeared elsewhere (much to my disappointment).

If you haven't already read this book, Kyle Baker has very generously posted it on his website to read for free (or at least he's posted most of it, 124 pages to be exact. I expect the rest of it is still to come) http://www.qualityjollity.com/Why_I_Hate_Saturn.htmlYou have no idea how happy this makes me, if only so that (finally) someone else will read the book and be able to laugh with me about it. I should warn you that this free, online version is low-res, (it is just big enough to teeter on the edge of legibility) and you can't see the lovely second color very well. However it is enough to give you a taste of the book and then if you like it (you will), you can buy it for under $20, which really isn't much for a lifetime of fun and a chance at unlocking the mysteries of the human condition.


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