“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” actor Edmund Gwenn purportedly said on his deathbed. But there are harder things, like proving your innocence when circumstances point to you as the only suspect in a murder.
So Here’s the Setup
Take this guy, for instance. Syd “Sh*t-talk” Homes. A former police officer trying to work as a stand-up comedian. His life seems to be the things comedy skits are made of: he’s divorced, his jokes are tasteless, and his former colleagues at the precinct would turn him in if given an opportunity. So when a fellow comedian gets murdered, an unfortunate turn of events makes him the only suspect.
Thus begins Dying Is Easy, from creators Joe Hill (Locke & Key, NOS4A2) and Martin Simmonds (Punks Not Dead). It follows Sh*t-talk as he evades capture while he tries to prove his innocence. The resulting mayhem is part Kevin Smith and part Quentin Tarantino, presented in murky visuals reminiscent of what one would think an acid trip would have been.
There’s a Punchline in There Somewhere
Like his celebrated father, Joe Hill is known for his work in the horror genre, such as NOS4A2, Horns, and the acclaimed series Locke & Key, among others. His recently-concluded miniseries Basketful of Heads and Plunge are also top-notch.
Most of the time, I find it a treat when a genre writer tries out something different. Dying Is Easy is Joe Hill’s take on a murder mystery. On paper, it should have worked. It has all the right ingredients: an Agatha Christie-eque plot, utterly ridiculous chase scenes, and a sweltering city setting that seems to have a mind of its own. Hill and artist Martin Simmonds are both brilliant on their own, but the combination somehow didn’t work.
The protagonist, Sh*t-talk Homes, is yet another take on the down-on-his luck loser archetype, which has been explored many times before...Nick Sax from Grant Morrison’s Happy! immediately comes to mind. But there usually is something that makes readers care for the character, or at least enough to make them curious enough to follow him to the ending. It’s not like that with Sh*t-talk. I understand he’s not supposed to be likeable—among his many shortcomings, his father-in-law blames him for turning his daughter into a lesbian—but I didn’t feel enough to care whether he’s innocent or not.
In This Haze of Neon and Gold
Martin Simmonds’s linework and colors channel a mix of Bill Sienkiewicz and Duncan Fegredo, draped in loud neon colors that evoke the seediness of comedy clubs and strip bars. Daytime scenes are washed in a haze of golden yellow that perfectly captures uncomfortable hot tenement buildings that have never seen an air conditioner in its existence.
On slower-paced stories, this style would have worked. Imagine a gumshoe moving about in a city that’s searingly hot by day and lit by garish neon signs at night. In Dying Is Easy, Simmonds’s art didn’t work well in fast-paced sequences. A scene with an Evel Knievel-type of stunt could have worked just by its sheer outrageousness, but it didn’t. Which is a shame, really, because Simmonds is simply brilliant. His art in the new ongoing series The Department of Truth is one of the best I’ve seen recently.
Last Call at the Bar
Don’t get me wrong, I love Joe Hill’s work, and Martin Simmonds is on my list of artists to watch out for. I’m also a big fan of neo-noir graphic fiction. Dying Is Easy just didn’t seem to hit the right notes. It could have used maybe another 40 pages (about another two issues in its original serialized format), to flesh out Sh*t-talk’s character. Is the book any good? I can’t say it’s one of my favorites, but it’s worth a read, if only for the ridiculous escapes and a twist ending that’s par for the course in good mystery novels. And for Joe Hill completists, it’s a definite must-buy.