Graphic Novel and Comic Book Series Analysis

Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker

Comic book series and graphic novels looked at from an editor's perspective on the craft of writing a story that works.

last edited on 02. Okt 2019

published on 23. Aug 2019 by Melanie Naumann

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Copyright of used images (photos takem from the book): Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker

Why I Hate Saturn: analysis of the comic book series

Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker - Why I Hate Saturn: analysis of the comic book series

Why I hate Saturn by Kyle Baker. Did the story work? Find out more by applying the Story Grid's Editor's 6 Core Questions to the comic book series.


'Why I Hate Saturn' first impression

I loved reading 'Why I hate Saturn' by Kyle Baker for the protagonist's fast-talking smart-ass witticisms that I occasionally use in my own writing when I switch over to first person Point of view.

The protagonist Anne Merkel and everything she is saying is so bittersweet:

"Californias bug the hell out of me. An entire state, the largest state in the union, consisting entirely of people who are oblivious to the fact that they live in hell.

The main thing I like about New Yorkers is that they understand that their lives are a relentless circus of horrors, ending in death. As New Yorkers, we realize this, we resign ourselves to our late, and we make sure that everyone else is as miserable as we are. Good town."

(Why I hate Saturn, Kyle Baker, Vol 3/3, page 14)

 

What is the story of 'Why I Hate Saturn' about?

Synopsis from Amazon:

Cranky Columnist Anne Merkel is only happy when she's complaining...about her editors, about being single in New York City, about running out of Scotch. But when her long-lost sister shows up claiming to be Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn, Anne's going to wish she'd never complained about anything...

 

1. What is the genre?

Gosh, the core of that story was so hard to figure out. I can definitily understand why people walk away from this story not knowing what it was really about. I had my troubles too, but here's what I have settled for:

 

External Content Genre: Love Story

Internal Content Genre: Worldview Education.

 

How did I come up with those two genres?

We are introduced to the main protagonist Anne Merkel in her ordinary world. She is gifted when it comes to writing her column for a too-hip magazine and her column is appreciated that she gets a pay rise no matter how she treats her boss. Anne is still very young. She hates beautiful people because she’s not one of them. She is insecure and not until she is trying to write a novel, her lack of work ethic causes her first mental and drunk breakdown.

The inciting incident of the global story is her sister Laura showing up at her door with a gunshot wound. Her ex-boyfriend wants to kill her. Now if that is the inciting incident of the story we expect an action story. But wait, we don't know about the assassination attempt on Laura until chapter four. Isn't a writer supposed to establish the primary genre as soon as possible as to give the reader a promise to what he can expect of the story? Will it be love? Crime? Action? A war story?

I'd even say that this story's primary genre is not an external content genre, but an internal one. At least that's what the beginning book (Vol. 1) promises. Personally, I thought this story will be a Worldview - Education story for Anne Merkel.

 

Worldview Education: When a sympathetic protagonist, with a naive or cynical outlook, experiences an opportunity or challenge that enlightens them to a broader understanding, they find new meaning in their existing actions

 

If we look at the progression of the story throughout Vol. 2 and Vol. 3, we see that Anne is trying to change who she is. She wants to be someone else. So she is unconsciously striving for a new social standing. She wants success. She wants to be seen as an attractive woman, but she is unable to change in thought or character. She experiences misfortune without the guidance of an adequate mentor and is too unsophisticated to see the consequences of her actions.

So is Anne Merkel's internal content genre: Status - Pathetic?

 

Status - Pathetic: When a sympathetic protagonist, who has a weak character and is too unsophisticated to see the consequences of their actions, experiences misfortune without the guidance of an adequate mentor, they will fail to rise in social standing.

 

But again, all this pretending of being someone else is just a fool's attempt to find meaning in one's life. So we are back to Worldview - Education.

 

Is there no global genre in Why I hate Saturn?

This story dips into so many external and internal content genres that it could be a thriller (if Murphy is the villain he makes it personal event o Anne), it could be a performance story (Anne's writing profession), a love story (Anne & Rick), a crime story (Who is Laura?), Worldview, Morality or Status. I can't say because when we look at the 15 core scenes of the story they do not change on the same core value of the global genre. Because there is no overarching global genre. Book 1 is about Worldview, Performance, and Love. Book 2 is about Status and Crime. Book 3 is about Crime and Action.

 

Global Story Summary:

Inciting Incident: When the protagonist's Anne's sister shows up at her door with a gunshot wound (Action)

Progressive Complication Turning Point: and Anne's life is ruined by a man called Murphy who wants Anne to help him find her sister. (Status)

Crisis: Anne must decide if she will try and save her sister or if she should stay in New York trying to fight for her old life. (Action & Status)

Climax: Anne travels to California and finds her sister (Action Quest)

Resolution: Anne has gained more confidence in who she is after successfully publishing her book. (Performance, Worldview Education)

 

Is Why I hate Saturn truly a love story at its core?

The more I think about it, I guess you could also turn the global story summary around to the love story. 

Volume 1 is all about the relationship between Ricky and Anne and their relationship towards the opposite sex. 

If we look at the beginning and the end of the story, we see that Anne was a dissatisfied young girl who is whining about so many things. At the end of the story, she is able to dump Ricky because he has become insecure making him unattractive to Anne. We could say there is a change in her character. In the beginning, she tells Ricky the reason it did not work out with Darrin was that if nobody's in charge in a relationship one always forces a power struggle. ANd it was Darrin who called the shots. We see that thought clearly mirrored in the end when Anne tells Ricky when two strong personalities get together it inevitably becomes a power struggle. And she won. So that shows that she has moved from feeling meaningless to a new form of self-awareness. There is confidence.

 

So what would the global summary of the story look like for a love story?

Inciting Incident: When the protagonist Anne can't get a relationship to work or even get on a date

Progressive Complication Turning Point: and Anne is told by her good friend Ricky that her attitude will not get her laid,

Crisis: Anne must decide if she should change her appearance to try and muster some self-confidence or if she should go on looking for her confidence in a bottle.

Climax: Anne decides to present her new self to the world

Resolution: Anne understands now that a relationship is always a power struggle no matter if the individuals are both strong or weak. She dumps Ricky.

 

But once again, the love story as the primary genre is only a guess. There's so much going on in this story on so many different levels that it's hard to decide which genre is the most dominant one. Especially when you have external forces at play that threaten life.

 

The comic books series 'Why I Hate Saturn' consists of three volumes:

 

2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes of the global genre?

Since I still think that Worldview - Education plays an important role in that story, even though not executed well, I will stick to the conventions and obligatory scenes of the Worldview internal content genre now:

Obligatory Scenes

  • There’s an inciting incident that challenges the protagonist’s worldview: Ricky tells Anne that woman are either beautiful and dumb or got brains and are demented (they don't know they are beautiful). Furthermore, relationships don't work because they start with game-playing.
  • Protagonist denies responsibility to respond to the opportunity or challenge: Sister Laura needs Anne's help because her ex-boyfriend tried to murder her, but Anne throws Laura out of her apartment.
  • Forced to respond, the protagonist lashes out against the requirement to change behavior. They resist change and rely on old habits: Anne is threatened by Murphy to help him find her sister. She thinks he can't take anything away from her because she doesn't value what she has.
  • The protagonist learns what external antagonist’s Object of Desire is: Anne understands that her sister is really in danger and that Murphy wants to find her. Later she finds out that Murphy wants her back.
  • Protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails: Anne tries to change her appearance and not to get followed, but she heads to the airport - the one place she is sure someone will be looking for her.
  • During an All Is Lost Moment, Protagonist realizes that there is/can be meaning in the world. The protagonist realizes they must change their black and white view of the world to allow for the paradoxical nature of life: Laura takes Anne straight to Arizona and Anne understands after the killing of the police officers that Laura wanted to be in that state, where everyone was looking for her, to get her story into the media. 
  • There is a clear “point of no return,” the moment when the Protagonist knows they can never go back to the way things used to be. There must be a precise moment when the protagonist’s worldview is knocked out of alignment: Anne realizes that she can never be with her sister again because she is a wanted woman. (too weak)
  • The action moment is when the Protagonist’s gifts are expressed as acceptance of an imperfect world: Anne writes the book about her sister's story and publishes it (off-page)
  • The protagonist’s loss of innocence is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the universe based on their action in the Core Event. SKIPPED - There is no resolution scene that shows Anne's deeper understanding because we haven't seen her gift expressed in the core event scene.
  • There is a paradoxical win-but-lose, lose-but-win, bittersweet ending. The protagonist gets what they need but not what they want, or vice-versa. There are clear sacrifices either way: Anne got Ricky as her boyfriend (WANT - yes), but she needed true love and he was not the right guy for her because a relationship is still a power struggle.

 

Conventions:

  • Strong Mentor Figure: Ricky
  • Big Social Problem as subtext: Man and Woman.
  • There is a clear threat of escalating danger, even if the danger is limited to the psyche of the protagonist: Murphy is more powerful than Anne had suspected.
  • Clues that tip them off that something is not quite right: Anne questions her past relationships, herself, men and women, love in general ... but she doesn't understand that she needs to trust in herself in order to have the confidence to master life.
  • The Truth is a direct revelation to the protagonist in a major way: Anne understands there is always a power struggle in a relationship and that Ricky can'T be her true love because she won.
  • Shapeshifters as hypocrites: Laura was at the beginning that non-violent and veggie-burger eating girl only to change into a kind of martyr.

 

3. What are the objects of desire?

The external object of desire (WANT): Anne wants to find a meaningful relationship that works no matter what everyone is saying about power struggles and game-playing in a relationship. (Love)

The internal object of desire (NEED): Anne needs to trust herself in order to find meaning in the things she does. (Worldview)

 

4. What is the controlling idea/theme?

In general, the controlling idea for a Worldview Education story goes like this:

Meaning prevails when we learn to express our gifts in a world that we accept as paradoxical and/or imperfect.

 

Depending on what's each individual own takeaway from the story, the controlling idea can differ. Especially when the global genre is not defined.

For the comic book series of Why I hate Saturn I came up with the following theme:

We gain meaning in our lives if we gain confidence through recognizing the things we've been through as obstacles we've successfully overcome (though wounded mentally or physically) and accept that we alone have the power to change our life.

 

5. What is the point of view and the narrative device?

The point of view character and the protagonist is Anne Merkel. It's first person POV because each scene has Anne in it and we follow her around through every hardship, adventure or conflict. We have access to her thoughts and know what she feels and thinks.

The narrative distance to Anne, our protagonist, is very close because we are in her head. Even though her thoughts entertain and question our own view on life at the same time, we can't help but consider that her thoughts are the truth for her.

The narrative drive is created through suspense. We know what the protagonist knows. There's some form of mystery because we think Anne might know her sister better than we do (just not letting it on because she does not care), but it turns out that Anne is just as surprised by how her sister turns out to be as we are. There's no dramatic irony when we know more than Anne because we never see anything happen outside of Anne's universe.

 

6. What are the Beginning Hook, Middle Build and Ending Payoff?

Since I already focused on the global story and the love story sum up I look at the most important events now (even though they do not belong to one overarching primary genre).

Beginning Hook:

Inciting Incident: When Anne is trying to finish a deadline for her work project and gets drunk

Progressive Complication Turning Point: and her sister shows up

Crisis: Anne has to decide if she wants to know why her sister was shot or just ignore her sister's problems.

Climax: Anne is not interested in her sister's troubles 

Resolution: and the sister's part ways.

 

Middle Build

Inciting Incident: When Anne is receiving a letter from her sister's in some form of code language,

Progressive Complication Turning Point: and the man Murphy threatens Anne to take everything away from her if she does not tell him where her sister Laura is

Crisis: Anne has to decide if she tells him about the letter or if she just ignores him and his threats, too.

Climax: Anne ignores Murphy

Resolution: and she loses her job, her column, her book contract and her flat.

 

Ending Payoff

Inciting Incident: When Anne sets out to find her sister Laura

Progressive Complication Turning Point: and she and her sister find out that Laura is the primary suspect in a murder investigation

Crisis: Anne has to decide if she stays with her sister and risks getting killed or if she should leave to a place where she has nothing left.

Climax: Anne embarks on a road trip with Laura in the style of Thelma and Louise

Resolution: only to find out that her sister has a rocket-launcher to kill the man who followed her and who tried to ruin Anne's life, too.

 

This story divides readers. Did they like it or not?

Some praise the conversational-driven story for the smart-ass and witty dialogues, some dislike all the talking and the confusion set around the question: What was this story about?

But the main question is: Did the story work or did it not? And why?

WHY I HATE SATURN begins with an ironic reckoning of big city people, their attitude, their lifestyle, and soon becomes a psycho duel of two sisters who couldn't be more different, and finally ends in a chaotic road movie with a sensation of Thelma and Louise returned.

Baker fails to deliver a well-done end of the story as he uses Deus ex Machina to finish the story by giving Laure a rocket-launcher that she fires on the police and the man who hunted her down. Even if this was an action story it was the sidekick who saved the day (main problem in Tom Clancy's book Patriot Games, too). But it should always be the hero who outwits or overpowers the villain by releasing their gift. Anne is a jaded alcoholic urbanite, full of wisecracks about everything and everyone around her. Her savvy talking should have brought the story to a satisfactory end. Almost like John McClane in Die Hard. It was his wisecracking sense of humor that made Hans Gruber lose his guard. 

But Baker finishes with an over the top action scene. A rocket-launcher! And that's the climax of the entire story? I mean, yes, we see how Laura turns back to violence as the means to change the world, but how could she change like this? There was hardly any setup except that she seemed very mysterious and calling herself the Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn.

The epilogue in New York with the break up of Ricky and Anne fades away and only shows that Anne has changed as a person, too. From having no confidence in the one who is in charge. Maybe it's to show how she has regained control of her life = prooving to herself that she can write a book and strengthen her confidence through that achievement.

 

For more than 160 pages of original ideas, Baker loses his grip on the story and throws out an ending that is not a resolution to the promise he gave in the beginning. Or is it? Laura is established as being nuts. An Astro-Girl? Yes, she could even come up with a rocket-launcher.

Anne Anne is shaped by the things she experiences. What a crazy life. So, yes, I liked her smart-ass, wisecracking dialogues. It was interesting to see this young woman struggle in a world she has already accepted as imperfect but also accepting herself as a victim of that society that can't really change a thing UNTIL she sets out to find her sister and stops thinking of herself as being powerless. She embarks on an adventure to sunny California and hits so many bumps in the road just to find out that with finding her sister her troubles might just have begun. They are on the run. And even though we might dislike our siblings, it's great to see how in this crazy world we can still find back to each other and be shaped positively by the experience to have stood by their side.

 

Conclusion:

The dialogue was great. But the story did not work.

Without a global content genre clearly defined the reader will end up confused. And just looking at some of the reviews to this book shows that people had no idea what kind of story they were reading.

So as much as I can see the noir/sort of comedy adventure and how entertaining the dialogue was, and how strangely true and authentic due to the portrayal of the protagonist, the story did not work. If readers are confused about what a story is about and hence leaving them irritated and unsatisfied, the story did not hold the promise it gave the reader - be it the love story with skipping about Rick and Anne finding each other; letting the sidekick be the hero of the Action story or skipping the core event scene of the Worldview Genre - the expression of the hero's gift.

Baker gets credit for innovation and ambition. His style is deceptively simple, slightly exaggerated, but the emotions come out of every expression of his characters. He’s a master of the unusual closeup. His characters are beautifully drawn with their physical distinctions, unique body, language and a whole range of their own individual characteristics.

Why I Hate Saturn: analysis of the comic book series


Now that you have made it all the way to the end of my blog post, it'd be really great if you could spend two more minutes and let me know your thoughts.

Did the story work for you? What did you like the most about Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker? What didn't you like?

Leave your answer in the comments below.

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Melanie Naumann - I help comic book writers craft authentic stories in every kind of setting. Melanie Naumann - I help comic book writers craft authentic stories in every kind of setting.
Editing Comics

Story Consultant

Melanie is a developmental editor and action/thriller writer from Germany. She specializes in applying the Story Grid methodology to the art of writing graphic novels. She is currently working on a case study to show how the principles of story structure can be applied for telling stories that work through the art of captivating pictures, captions, and dialogue.

Melanie has traveled the world and lived in New Zealand, Australia, and Spain before settling down in her home village in Saxony, Germany.

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