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Queer Comedy/Romance Gets a "Grim" Spin in Sarah Graley's Kim Reaper

Comics Reviews Sarah Graley
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Queer Comedy/Romance Gets a "Grim" Spin in Sarah Graley's <i>Kim Reaper</i>

Writer/Artist: Sarah Graley
Publisher: Oni Press
Release Date: April 5, 2017

kimreapercovermain.jpg As student debt has become the chief boogeyman for an entire generation, more comics are showing the less glamorous side of employment under the pressure of “great responsibility.” Not that this is anything new—Peter Parker has been struggling to keep an apartment and pay his bills for decades now. But the particular problem of paying for a decent education is the purview of creator-owned and independent comics. Maybe one day Billy Batson will spend some time considering how Shazam can help him get a grant.

Kim Reaper isn’t quite a superhero story, but it shares some traits. The titular Kim is, as the name of the book suggests, a Grim Reaper, using her part-time job to help pay for school and all the associated costs. Still an entry-level employee, she’s limited to guiding the souls of animals to the next step, terrified of her boss and of messing up. After all, as she says, it’s not like you hear about anyone getting fired from reaping. Maybe they don’t survive the exit interview.

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Kim Reaper #1 Interior Art by Sarah Graley

A new pickle pops up for Kim with the introduction of Becka, a fellow student who’s been crushing on her from afar. They’re in a class together, and the book opens on Becka’s friend trying to convince her to focus on their studies instead of the other woman. Becka’s interest is more infatuation than serious affection, informed by long-distance gazing and daydreams, but she bucks up the courage to ask Kim to join them at a pub. She then accidentally follows the Reaper through a portal and onto an assignment, where the pair gets tangled up in a failed reaping and with a cat’s protective owner.

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Kim Reaper #1 Interior Art by Sarah Graley

The book is written and drawn by Pizza Witch creator Sarah Graley, who’s a relative newcomer to print comics. She worked on a Rick and Morty spinoff title, but headlining her own book is a huge vote of confidence from publisher Oni Press. Graley earns that trust over the course of this first issue by subverting tropes and pivoting from expected patterns at nearly every turn. Kim reinforces her boundaries with Becka repeatedly instead of falling into the “stalking is romantic” trap.

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Kim Reaper #1 Interior Art by Sarah Graley

Kim Reaper fits in neatly with books like Jonesy, Giant Days, Coady and the Creepies and even Lumberjanes: books filled with young women struggling against responsibilities both great and mundane, their lives complicated by the supernatural or their own drama. They’re all strong books for different reasons, and Kim and Becka enter a market that’s more crowded than it’s ever been—which is a good thing for readers. The only slight disappointment is how quickly Kim caves to Becka’s unasked-for attention. Though she does push back hard on some somewhat creepy behavior, rejecting her offers of help and expressing frustration that Becka doesn’t appear to be listening, Kim quickly caves and accepts Becka’s assistance. If Becka were a young man behaving this way towards a young woman, the book would feel very different, and fall immediately into all sorts of narrative traps. For better or worse, Becka is very reminiscent of the titular character from The Mindy Project, and it can be hard to keep that kind of character sympathetic.

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Kim Reaper #1 Interior Art by Sarah Graley

Graley’s signature art style is sketchy, sharp and cartoony without lacking detail, and makes the book stand out. The pacing is rushed in places, but overall pretty smooth, no doubt because Graley both writes and draws the book, giving her more of an opportunity to tailor panels as she needs them. She’s particularly adept with facial expressions and body language, which serves to highlight the comedic beats and physical jokes on each page. It has the same kind of over-the-top, physical and nearly psychedelic humor as several Cartoon Network shows, and teeters just on the edge of being all-ages friendly. It’s fun and funny without rejecting serious themes, and offers Graley a great platform to hone her already impressive skills.

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Kim Reaper #1 Interior Art by Sarah Graley

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Kim Reaper #1 Variant Cover Art by Lissa Treiman

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