Review: Dying Is Easy #1 (IDW Publishing)

Arriving just a few days too late for our Best of 2019 round up, Dying Is Easy is the latest stand out creator owned title from IDW that joins the ranks of Road of Bones and Mountainhead), and sees Locke and Key creator Joe Hill team up with Friendo’s Martin Simmonds to bring a slice of stand up noir.

Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Martin Simmonds, Dee Cuniffe
Price: £2.99 from ComiXology

Syd ‘Shit Talk’ Holmes is an ex-cop struggling to make ends meet as a stand up comedian. The series starts with Syd delivering is own brand of dark and acerbic stand up to a virtually empty room. He’s followed on stage by up and comer Carl Dixon, and as Syd and his bitter stand up buddies bitch about the world, they talk about doing harm to Carl for stealing their material. However, when Syd confronts Carl after the show it sets in motion a series of events that ultimately sees Carl dead, but by who and why?

From the opening pages which sees Syd’s routine told in a series of tight panels, before breaking out into a glorious neon-soaked double page opener, Dying Is Easy is a glorious tour de force of sleazy crime comics combined with the dark underbelly of stand up comedy. As you would expect with a writer of Hill’s calibre, the script is as tight as a drum, with every sentence carefully constructed and the story meticulously laid out. Syd’s act has the laconic drawl of George Carlin or Bill Hicks, but with the bitter resentment of someone who never quite made it. Meanwhile his buddies all talk to each other as if they are continuing their routine and practicing their jokes on each other. It’s a really carefully considered style of dialogue, and means that when you hear characters speak in a ‘normal’ voice, they sound alien, as it doesn’t have the patter of a routine. The whole thing reminded us a bit of the Todd Philips Joker film, especially the scenes involving Arthur and his fellow clowns in the dressing room, as both really play well with the depressing reality of people who work at the bottom end of the laughter business.

The set up for this first issue feels like a simple whodunnit, but Hill layers the story with so many potential avenues for answers. From Carl’s joke theft, through to Syd’s dark past with his ex-wife who committed suicide and her angry revenge seeking sister. Even the guys at the bar feel like they may be of relevance. As with all great mysteries, you know that there are plenty of twists and turn still to come in this story and Hill has lined them all up brilliantly. A bit like a creepy noise at the end of a dark alley, you aren’t sure what is hiding down there, and you can’t help but want to find out – even if it means an unpleasant discovery!

While the high profile Hill will inevitably get much of the plaudits for this book, artist Martin Simmonds is more than his equal in this one. After successful stints on Friendo and Punks Not Dead last year (as well as Death Sentence Liberty), his work has a real confidence to it. Returning to a more painterly style, Simmonds seems to be revelling in the distinct identity that the stand up world requires. This opening issue is bathed in the pink and blue tones of the comedy club lighting, which allows Simmonds to have his characters hide in the shadows and corners of the page. The use of multiple panels for the stand up routines feel like a series of character studies with Simmonds capturing every nuance of Syd’s downtrodden act and perfectly revealing his sardonic nature, telling us as much about his character as the words he is saying. These tight panels are then superbly contrasted with a couple of double page spreads, one involving Syd on stage and the other with Syd in a fight, and both have an impact to them which perfectly matches the gravity of the moment in the story – even though the level of action is very different in both.

Dying Is Easy is a superb first issue, packed with potential for greatness. While this first chapter is perhaps a bit slow and lacking in obvious action, it feels like everything is simmering nicely and waiting to build to a real crescendo. Despite it’s comedic concept, it is a long way from being a laugh a minute, but it is the book’s bleak wit which makes it such a tremendous read and manages to capture that dark heart at the centre of comedy in a truly compelling and visually stunning fashion.