Hello, this is the Trading Outpost, in which I, hostess of The Trades, further discuss some of the comics and concepts covered by (yes!) The Trades.

The Trades is a podcast by me, FST, and Aaron LaRoche (A boy, hence lack of onsite embed —Ed.). We trade comics, talk about our picks from the month, and digress into hypotheticals and absurdities. My taste in comics runs towards the avant garde, the hand made, the personal, the conceptual, the abstract, and romance manga. Urban legend has it if you tweet about Bernie Wrightson three times in a darkened room, I show up in your mentions and never leave again. Aaron’s interests concentrate in film and knows various useful words and ideas. He likes superhero comics, horror, Ronald Wimberly and Naoki Urasawa, and Murder, She Wrote—like, a lot.

We prioritize representation and social change from an intersectional perspective. Podcasting is one way to informally work out some of our thoughts on those subjects, while also joking about how good an idea a Martha Stewart/Punisher crossover comic would be. Mostly, we’re two comics fans who like hanging out and like talking about comics, and we want to do that with y’all. It’s like hanging out with your cool, comics-loving friends! So, if you don’t have cool, comics-loving friends, we’ll be those cool, comics-loving friends.

This is what we read (and watched) in May. Click here to listen. Please be aware of a content warning for brief discussions of violence in fiction, in both the podcast and this post-podcast piece below. For Women Write About Comics, I’ve written up a partial summary of what we talked about on the show, expanded a few points (and omitted a few others), and added a few more jokes (and omitted many others). It’s exciting to be here, on this website, together, with you.✨

Jonesy Watch: Jonesy is still cute! We both like how cute it is, although Aaron resisted at first. Also, Jonesy is an ongoing now, and we’re both delighted. How delighted? THIS delighted. [1]

JonesyModified

(Dialog may have been modified from the original.)

Civil War: Spiderman is pubescent, says Aaron. My ideal follow up movie for this teen Spidey would include a prom-posal to Gwen Stacy. Maybe bungee jumping?

In other superhero news, DC is doing something, we guess? We aren’t necessarily clear what, but certainly some characters are being changed, back to how they used to be, before they were changed, but after the time they were changed before. I think. Aaron clarifies that this is mostly about resetting back to pre-New 52 continuities, but I refuse to care, because continuity is the least rewarding thing in comics, next to being whichever woman is selected by the dread council to write exonerating blurbs for Chester Brown books. Similarly, I’d make a joke here about Marvel’s continuity changes, but it wouldn’t be meaningfully different from jokes about DC, although probably it would get mostly undeserved credit for progressiveness because there’s a white woman involved.[2]

Aaron’s been reading Real Account, which is like Lord of the Flies for the #followback generation. [5]

Aaron on survival manga: “A survival game is essentially a bunch of people get roped up in a nasty situation that’s like ‘Oh, we’re all getting free smoothies at the mall!’ And it’s like no, you have to play these games or I’m going to murder you.”

FST on survival manga: I’ve already watched Saw.

Hating SaturnWe closed out the episode with a relatively in depth look at Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, or, as relatively in depth as you can get when one person hasn’t read the book and the other person doesn’t know that until halfway through the conversation. During the episode, we talk about how I have mixed feelings about Baker’s pin-up art and Aaron’s misplaced and ill-founded skepticism about Baker’s ability to deliver a story, which isn’t willfully, falsely, cheerful. Just for you, sweet, beautiful internet nerdlings, here’s an expanded timely hot take on a book from the ‘90s.[6] There’s spoilers, but you’ll be okay.

WIHSBACKCOVER

(Back cover of Why I Hate Saturn)

Why I Hate Saturn is narrated by Anne, a miserable columnist for a painfully hip magazine, who drinks to support her self pity habit and pities herself to support her writing habit. Deeply unhappy for reasons she herself identifies as shallow, Anne unfavorably compares her appearance to “mini-skirted blondes” at bars and her problems to artists who live in torment: “Riding the rails, or singing the blues, getting arrested, starving, going insane, or being black”.[7]  As you might surmise, Anne has a lot of growing up to do. When she’s not drinking alone, she and her (best? only?) friend Ricky, who believes a woman who is both beautiful and intelligent must think she’s actually ugly, get drunk together and affectionately argue about relationships. Between drinking, complaining about her love life, and being rude to her editor, Anne has managed to make a classic New York life for herself, until her sister Laura, a vegetarian who doesn’t flush the toilet for environmental reasons and thinks she’s from Saturn, arrives on her doorstep with a gunshot wound. The gunshot wound doesn’t surprise Anne (“I never wondered why somebody would shoot you”[8]), but it is the inciting incident for a plot, which starts with a home makeover, ends with a breakup, and in between treats us to an armed showdown in the desert.

I want to justify my interest in and affection for Why I Hate Saturn by Baker’s genuinely sharp eye for hypocrisy and human foibles. That’s part of it; Baker’s writing here is a delight, and he delivers on his (I would assume) half-sarcastic back cover promise to deliver “intelligent, witty, socially redeeming, contemporary fiction … with pictures.” Why I Hate Saturn is black comedy; from heightening to the absurd to straightforwardly emotional scenes of private moments, Baker creates situations where people can say the things that sit under the surface of everyday life, and he creates characters who are smart enough to say them so they aren’t only true, but they work. There are moments of strong and direct social commentary, people saying things people don’t say normally say to comment on how Baker thinks people really are. The conversation between Anne and a homeless man about how “the creation of a polite word (for a group of people) always signifies a major fucking,” for instance, a conversation which happens after Anne has taken up living behind a dumpster in California.[9] It’s a little tidier, a little punchier, than how people normally talk, even aside from the relative unlikeliness of someone like Anne ending up in that situation to start with. But it works. It’s like the clown characters in Shakespeare—without a stake in social niceties, the rules of polite conversation are lifted, and people can say what feels true.[10]

That said, I mostly like it because of the pretty pictures and relationship drama.

Baker’s figures are stylish and expressive, reminiscent of hand drawn animation (I think of the classic Disney look, Aaron compares them to Tex Avery). The sensitively rendered facial expressions, whether characters are argue-flirting or having a screaming match about housecleaning, are not only real good at making characters feel real, but also astonishingly nice to look at. This is cartooning—it’s expressive, it’s funny, it’s easy on the eyes. If art nouveau was the concentrated essence of a wiggle, then Baker has found another way to capture exactly the right and most expressive moment for his cynical and profoundly damaged protagonists.[11] Maybe his cartooning is the concentrated essence of a shrug.[12]
WIHSpage20

(Why I Hate Saturn, page 20)

Baker uses this gestural sense to craft moments of human impact: Anne standing alone for three frames in the doorway after kicking her sister out of her apartment, Anne pivoting between indignation that her sister dated her ex and anger that her ex treated her sister badly with equal rueful self awareness and force of conviction; the way Anne and Ricky’s faces are positioned over each other as Ricky talks about being hired to be the black columnist, but not too black for a white audience; Ricky’s patience and world-weariness, explaining to Anne that she should “Take it as a compliment; I’ve learned to.”[13]

WIHSpage100

(Why I Hate Saturn, page 100)

I’m especially taken with the way Baker uses characters obscuring others to visually create the social dynamics of power, attention, and openness between them. Ricky and Anne are the most notable for this, because they argue and flirt and avoid saying what they mean a lot, or at least avoid saying how much they mean it. When they’re maybe-flirting, at the beginning of the book, their faces are layered so their mouths nearly overlap, saying provocative things about relationships between men and women to goad each other to react, and just getting really really close, while Anne tries to defend the possibilities of love and Ricky mansplains the patriarchy to her.[14] As they talk, and as Anne explains why she doesn’t want to take chances on relationships, the position of the characters in the frame switches back and forth, showing us one then the other smiling as the argue, moving at one point so close to each other that their glasses overlap and we see one through the other’s lens.[15]  Later, when Ricky tries to explain that the black column in the magazine won’t be for black people, the back of Anne’s head obscures Ricky’s face, preventing us from seeing either of their expressions. Diegetically, he’s walking slightly ahead of her, mostly not facing her, so we see that she’s not keeping up with him, and he’s partly hiding or working to control how he feels even as he generously explains the historical precedent.

WIHSpage75

(Why I Hate Saturn, page 75)

Actually, we see a lot of the back of Anne’s head in this book, possibly because it’s a great way to create a stark visual space, as a spot of pure black in the panel and repeated across the page. Or possibly it is a literal joke about how the book is from Anne’s point of view so we see more or less what she sees, but through (or obscured by) her, and possibly because Anne spends a lot of the book trying to turn away from or avoid showing who she is. This character arc is probably the least plausibly done part of the book, and Anne’s motivation for the things she does is sometimes vague. But that’s true of all of us, amirite, lol. #navelgazing #ifyoustareintoyourselfloathingdoesitalsostareintoyou #justmillenialthings

Anyway, the first issue is available on Comixology, and even though comixology had an extremely weird picture of Batman up, which creeped Aaron and I out a lot, you should go purchase it with money.

Footnotes

[1] Jonesy is by Sam Humphries and Caitlin Rose Boyle, colored by Mickey Quinn, published by Boom, purchased semi-regularly by FST, subsequently mailed to Aaron. Image modified by FST.

[2] I can’t knock this kind of inflated approbation too much, as it’s half of why anyone pays attention to my opinions. Also, both publishers have excellent creators with marginalized identities making excellent content about persons with marginalized identities, but DC and Marvel are also both still mostly bad. [3] [4]

[3] It’s got to be a weird paradox making a ‘diverse’ book at a major publisher, because if you’re not included in the big events, your book is ancillary to the main universe, but if you are included, nobody wants to read it, because events suck. What a difficulty.

[4] After this was originally drafted, the Captain America is Hydra news hit, and retroactively made this opinion the truest part of this whole piece.

[5] Real Account is written by Okushou, art by Shizumu Watanabe, published by Kodansha, scanslated by various ne’er do wells.

[6] Why I Hate Saturn is by Kyle Baker, published by DC/Vertigo

[7] p2, p28

[8] p 98

[9] p 165-166

[10] Polite language around identities is more nuanced than the punchline allows, but language without substantial political consideration is kind of a joke.

[11] This is the title of a book on Art Nouveau edited by Paul Greenhalgh, and thus presumably something somebody said at some point. Probably sounds sexier in French.

[12] Almost definitely not sexier in French.

[13]p 78

[14] p 10-11. Why I Hate Saturn was published in 1990, so this was before Tumblr invented The Discourse. As such, writers had an excuse to not know that we all already know men use mass media to harm women.

[15] p 7. Because the caption under panel text, and the direct address of the narration, to an unspecified person, presumably the reader of Anne’s novel, evoke a feeling of viewership as with a camera in a movie, I’m going to use language which suggests a vantage point held by the reader as if they were a viewer, but I mean that this sense is created in this text by Baker’s specific choices, not anything about how viewership in comics ‘must’ function.