May 21, 2017

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Death Isn't Proud, But She Is Funny in Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley

Written and Illustrated by Sarah Graley
Published by Oni Press

Don't even pretend that you haven't kept staring at a classmate because you have a crush on them, then make it a little weird by jumping into a dimensional vortex with them.

Okay, maybe not. But Becka, a young woman who digs the Goth look of fellow student Kim, does just that, only to discover that the potential love of her life, whom she hilariously refers to as "fine art" and "100% cutie with a booty," is actually the Grim Reaper.

Sort of.

You see, apparently they contract out to college students who need money, kind of like that Student Painters scam that was all the rage in the 90s, and Kim's job is to help people's pets move on to the afterlife. It comes with some great perks, including the ability to travel anywhere, but when you have a chaotic wanna-be love interest tagging along, mixing work and pleasure complicates things in a story that's both full of over the top comedy moments and really strong plotting.

A comic like this isn't really a hard sell for me. As soon as I saw the cover above, I knew this was one I wanted to check out, but the question was: Would it live up to the promise of that cover?

The answer is a resounding yes, yes it does.

From the opening pages, where Graley makes it clear that Becka is obsessed with Kim, we see the tone of the book. Becka claims she is Goth because she has a skeleton inside her, a line that made me laugh out loud as I was reading. Naturally Becka reacts strongly to the idea of a portal, and then again once she sees Kim doing her job. Meanwhile, Kim plays the perfect straight man, upset at the interruption to her work, which she finds perfectly normal. When the pair get caught, things go into joke overdrive, as an energy-drink freak turns out to be the owner of the soon-to-be-dead pet and finds them mid-reaping. 



The whole thing is absolutely absurd, and Graley knows it. Instead of trying to keep a lid on the premise, she blows it open in a splash page that's so great I don't want to spoil it by including it here. Suffice it to say: Never mess with a crazy cat owner of either gender, ok?

And that's another thing I really like about Kim Reaper. Across these first two issues, Graley doesn't worry about what gender usually is assigned to what role. Becka's antics at the opening are particularly funny to me because she's a parody of the geeky boy who wants the girl. (Ironically, the one that first came to mind as I thought about this was Oni's own Scott Pilgrim!) The gender flip on the crazy cat person also works well, because we expect one thing and get another. Graley does a great job with this in the first two issues, including a dramatic change in Becka's feelings, once she comes face to face with what it might be like to be part of Kim's life. Understanding tropes is a key part to subverting them, and Graley shows off her knowledge at every turn.

After setting up the premise in issue one, Graley shifts the focus in issue two to what it might be like to wield Kim's power. What starts off as being pretty cool (especially to love-struck Becka) turns increasingly dangerous, as we see that Kim's enjoyment of her job as a part-time reaper comes from a desire to take risks. In this way, she's a walking metaphor for those who seek thrills, by both living close to death and working for it. It's absolutely brilliant. Becka's reaction to this revelation puts a different spin on the premise, as Kim keeps making decisions that could hurt her--and those around her. The consequences of which look to be playing out as we move into issue three.



It's a great story, and Graley's art style works well by making everything slightly exaggerated in the first place. Her people have gigantic heads on top of spindly necks, allowing her to have them emote with expressive eyes and eyebrows. Mouths grow and shrink as needed, and pupils are easily replaced by symbols. She does a great job with making clear how Kim and Becka feel based on their facial expressions. We can tell when Kim is starting to show her love of danger, for example, based entirely on how she looks, even as we can tell that Becka is losing her interest in her new crush. Graley's bodies are short, only about three heads big, and they don't change much from panel to panel, as the focus is on the oversized faces and their features. However, I do like that her body shapes are different for each character, something we don't always see from creators.

The background panels are also designed to be functional, rather than the focus. Taking a cue from manga, there are a lot of times where Graley opts for the fictional representation, such as when Becka has pastries surrounding her after trying to talk Kim into working with her at the bakery instead of stealing cat souls. Most of the time, however, it's easy to see where we are, whether it's in an old pirate ship or inside a crazy cat person's home. Helping this is a willingness to adjust the panel grid structure as the story dictates, being willing to cut panels diagonally, for example, to heighten the effect of a scene.

I really enjoyed the first two issues of Kim Reaper, and I'm looking forward to more. Sarah Graley is clearly having a lot of fun creating a story about a person who might just be in over her head, and the slightly serious touch to an otherwise outsized concept is a lot of fun. If you haven't tried this one yet but you enjoy romantic comedies, make sure you pick up this one right away. I think you'll dig it!