Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds’ Dying is Easy is a strange bit of comic noir. A wonderfully Illustrated piece of graphic fiction, the story follows cop turned down and out comedian Syd Homes. It is an interesting setup, and one that would lend itself to darkly comic moments.
The story begins with Syd giving a tremendously unfunny set at a small comedy club, before getting told off by the man who follows him as the next performer. The various comedians discuss their negative opinions of this second man, Carl Dixon, comparing how many jokes he steals and joking about paying Syd to kill him. In a fashion one can expect from such a story, it is not long before he turns up dead and Syd is the number one suspect.
While the core mystery of this story ends with the volume, it does so in a way that could easily lend itself to future narratives.
Joe Hill is something of a known quality in comics at this point, in no small part for his Lock & Key series. While there are certain stylistic similarities, one should not go into this volume expecting anything particularly similar. This is a darkly comic variation on the classic hard boiled noir story, and at its core it is one of the oldest mystery archetypes to exist. At the same time the particular expression, ranging from the frantic at times deliberately rough feeling artwork to the broad yet interesting mix of characters draws a reader readily.
The core of the mystery comes as Syd Homes tries to find the man who killed a comedian, while on the run from the police. A number of appropriately over the top or simply interesting suspects are introduced, some of them are more obvious than others. His years of experience serve Hill well in building suspense throughout the piece, horrifying incidents stacking one on top of the next as Syd muddles his way desperately through the story.
Martin Simmonds’ talent is particularly hard to overlook with this volume — bright almost neon color against the darkness creates images that are simultaneously rich and bleak. There are times the imagery might be difficult, the occasional character model that shifts a little more than expected or a decision to fade out the background into a rough shading of color when more might be appropriate. These are sometimes odd but never outright ruinous to the presentation.
An odd decision is made to put a gallery of characters at the very end of the book. While this is not bad as such, in comparison to other mystery novels it would make more sense to put them in the front, whereas if the intent this for them to be supplementary material they seem incredibly finished as opposed to the in progress drawings and sketches which usually appear at such a point.
This is not Joe Hill’s best piece of storytelling, however it is a good quality example of a genre that is not touched upon often in American comics. If someone enjoys the man on the run narrative, and it doesn’t mind rather bleak comedy, this is a fairly easy recommendation.