Dying Is Easy #1
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Martin Simmonds and Dee Cunniffe
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Who says homicide is no laughing matter? Walking the tightrope between gritty murder mystery and Netflix stand-up special, writer Joe Hill and artist Martin Simmonds kill it in more ways than one with their first issue of Dying Is Easy. From its atmospheric artwork to its truly bleak protagonist, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a series debut with this much confidence and originality, let alone earn it unequivocally.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before - a disgraced cop walks into a comedy club looking for his second act. While he’s been getting plenty of headlines for his new Hill House imprint at DC, what might surprise you the most about writer Joe Hill’s work with Syd “Sh*t-Talk” Homes is that he’s actually deeply, brutally funny. He’s not only able to conjure up the smoke- and booze-soaked speakeasy culture, but he establishes characterization in a way where it almost feels like he’s trying to one-up somebody, peppering us with joke after bleak joke. It’s the kind of energy you don’t often see in the Direct Market, in part because readers can’t rely on an actor to deliver the gag, but for fans of black comedy, Hill is going to deliver the goods in a big way.
But even beyond the execution, there’s some really solid plotting going on here, as Hill drills down to find the surprising overlap between crime and comedy. There’s the predatory practices of the comedy club, as Syd and his friends admit they’re being robbed for the price of wings; but then there’s even more insidious transgressions at play, such as how Syd retaliates when he discover a fellow comedian is ripping off everyone in town for a coveted spot on Leno. It’s all tied up nicely with some allusions to what drove Syd from the police force, culminating in one of darkest beats I’ve seen from a series protagonist in quite some time. It’s a testament to Hill’s skill and humor that we see Syd as a deeply troubled, flawed individual in that moment, rather than it being just a complete character assassination.
And can we talk about artist Martin Simmonds for a second? That man has evolved in a major way even from his superlative work last year on Friendo - his style has graduated to something that’s like Alex Maleev meets Bill Sienkiewicz, a car crash of moody colors and sharp angles that promises danger and death underneath all the pointed one-liners. Syd himself feels like a dangerous protagonist, his eyes always concealed in shadow, just pinpricks of light as he winds up for a joke that can either leave you uncomfortable or in tears.
Teaming up with Dee Cunniffe for a coloring assist, the palettes in this book also speak for themselves - thanks to the violet and magenta club lights, there’s a sinister otherworldliness to the book, as the tone shifts while the settings largely remain the same. (Indeed, when we do get a scene in daylight, it’s almost an alien, foreign concept - like we’re not meant to see this.) In so many ways, Dying Is Easy is a story that’s defined by its voice, and Simmonds’ artwork has a uniqueness that makes him just as loud as Hill himself.
Walking up on a comedy club stage might be a terrifying concept for some, but I promise you, Dying Is Easy should be at the top of your pull list this week. Impeccably drawn and hilariously subversive, this is the sort of debut you’ll find yourself reading and rereading again. While some readers might be skeptical about the idea of a crime-fighting standup comedian, Dying Is Easy is a series that deserves to be laughing all the way to the bank.