“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
– Peter O’Toole as washed up actor Alan Swan in My Favorite Year and many others before and after him
Dying Is Easy is a new murder mystery series written by Joe Hill with art and coloring by Martin Simmonds and published by IDW Publishing. The first issue hit stands last Wednesday, the 15th. As is often the case with reviews I’m late to offer thoughts.
The series centers on Syd Homes, a disgraced former cop and a bitter human being who did something unforgiveable. Now Syd is a comedian barely hanging on to gigs in mediocre clubs which is where we find him throughout most of this debut issue. Habitually talking shit has earned him the dubious honor of having “Shit Talk” for a moniker. Sure, there may be truth in what he says but like with every word that comes out of Loki’s mouth you best wonder what’s in it for him. Then there’s Syd’s sartorial style evidenced by a Tommy Bahamas inspired off brand shirt that I imagine he got at Goodwill after haggling for a senior discount he didn’t deserve with a flummoxed cashier.
No surprise then that Syd Homes is not a likeable character. Neither are his two fellow down and nearly out comedians and Carl Dixon who they all hate for stealing their jokes. It isn’t Dixon’s joke stealing they resent. It’s what the jokes represent to them – chances to better their lives from their own hard work. The three of them sit in a back room and joke about killing Dixon for stealing their material which of course means they’re more serious about it than not. The only one who has a heart is a bar waitress named Veronica Diehl who looks out for Syd because she’s the closest to a friend that Syd has in his life.
If Syd were real I’d avoid him by every means possible. Yet somehow I was compelled to turn each page and read every single line of dialog and that’s thanks to the skill of Joe Hill for crafting such a deeply flawed, truth telling trickster. Hill made Syd get into my head with a remark from Veronica to Syd during a conversation: “The good guys gotta stick up for each other, Syd. It’s people like us against the ignorant, the unfaithful, and the irredeemable. You looked out for me a few times…” I wondered if Hill was saying Syd was redeemable then just what would his path to redemption entail and would Syd take it? A more immediate concern: of the numerous people who hate him — and Hill introduces several characters with legitimate reasons — who’s trying to get Syd arrested and thrown in jail?
While reflecting on Dying Is Easy a realization came to me. It’s been years since I’ve read an honest to god mystery story that wasn’t cloaked in superheroics, sci fi or fantasy. The last stories for me were a Stumptown volume and one of Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. A little more variety can be a very good thing!
I’m a bit reluctant to admit Simmonds’ art work is new to me. Let me tell you that looking at twenty two pages of Simmonds’ art seized my attention and I want more! Visually Simmonds work reminds me of Bill Sinkiewicz, David Mack, Tony Harris, and Phil Noto with an ample dose of Dave McKean but of course all his own. There’s a blend of elements — elegant contour linework, detailed yet relaxed, painterly and graphic, grounded in reality yet alternatively decorative — impressively balanced on the page. Even his panel borders reflect this tension with being straight lined with slightly imprecise corners. That may seem a trivial thing to point out but the choice shows Simmonds’ attention to detail. Most of all though Simmonds is a master of drawing facial expressions, gestures, and body language and bringing Syd and the other characters to life as cynical and downtrodden as they may be.
Similarly to the line art qualities, the coloring is moody and atmospheric but not dark and dull as can be the case when colorists rely on a flat color palette. The nature of Dee Cuniffe’s color assist isn’t clear to me but it’s a seamless enhancement regardless. Letterers are the unsung heroes of the comics world. Shawn Lee’s lettering is clear and concise and his slightly smudgy edged word balloons contribute to the story’s overall aesthetic.
Everything comes together for a very cinematic feel in a fashion like Greg Rucka’s and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown run. I’ll be surprised if a studio doesn’t try to option Dying Is Easy for film.
In short, Martin Simmonds is a perfect match for Hill’s sardonic script.
Now you’re not alone if the cover’s tagline ‘A “Shit Talk” Homes Mystery’ leads you to wonder if there have been previous Syd Homes series. The answer is no. and I’ll pray to the pulp mystery deities for more Syd Homes if the rest of the series lives up to the standards of the debut!