That’s life, really. Everyone’s got a broken heart now. They’re all the rage.
Maybe I’ve got a broken heart and I’ve been sitting here trying to decide what I wanted to say about Sarah Graley’s Kim Reaper, the first volume of which – aptly titled Grim Beginnings – was delivered to my address by anonymous courier. I like the comic: I want to get that out of the way right up front. It’s not a perfect comic but it’s really solidly put together and very cute. Oops! Did I say cute? I didn’t mean to say cute.
In an Irish Lit seminar in college our professor informed us that “cute” was an Irish insult. Even over here in the wilderness cute can be a kiss-off. I try to remember the Irish definition whenever I use the word. It’s not a word I want to abuse in any way. I’d certainly never wield it as invective, because not only do I respect the idea of cute, but as an aesthetic mood I consider it a virtue worth promoting.
There’s nothing at all ironic about being cute in 2018.
Have you ever stopped to think about how much mainstream entertainment product essentially advertises happy people living fulfilling lives? Like they’re trying to convince the audience that somewhere, somehow, real people are still doing all the things real people used to do before the world was on fire. The TV is populated by people who have time to get paid to go on road trips or cook a nice meal or play with puppies. I stop on the puppies a lot, I can’t lie. The puppies are cute – cute in a completely good and pure way. And you know on some level of your brain that it is literally the most brute force endorphin release vehicle the television could possibly deliver to you brain, I mean OH MY FUCKING GOD IT’S THE PUPPIES WILL YOU LOOK AT THESE MOTHER FUCKERS
And you’re guilty because you know you should be watching the news right now, or reading something about the subtle but important divisions in contemporary online leftism, but honestly – sometimes you and I both know it’s all you can do at the end of the day to crawl into that chair and turn on the puppies. And you know the idea of a TV channel broadcasting pictures of cute puppies into your house twenty-four hours a day really is just directly out of both Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury, specifically the incisive parts of the former and the hectoring parts of the latter. But . . .
It’s just so easy to do that! It’s so tempting to pick apart and belittle the fact that we take the most basic form of pleasure from seeing cute things, from seeing cute things be happy, from seeing cute things frolicking and all that other Hallmark card bullshit that you know and I know civilization on every side of the political spectrum would grind to a fucking halt without. Because of course I feel guilty for watching the Puppy Bowl. You do too. But we do it anyway.
And I think the reason we feel guilty is that we were supposed to think we were above those kinds of things. Who is “we”? We is everyone who feels guilty watching the Puppy Bowl. Honestly, you know, I just dropped out of graduate school so I’m really on a big kick of trying to justify my choices to myself. I take the time to watch the puppies but I can’t focus long enough to finish a book without pictures. I grew up in the 90's, I have a very deep seated need to frame any kind of emotional response through the lens of some kind of ironic remove. It’s exhausting, to be honest.
So the fact is that in 2018 we are officially over faux-Calvinist detachment from direct emotional engagement. Yes, indeed, it is escapism of the purest kind, but it’s only a peevish kind of emotional regulation that begrudges the pursuit of ethical escapism. Because I didn’t have time to even think about the fact that my heart has been broken for twenty-five years and counting and that there are two kinds of women, those who pine and those who are pined for, and that I am perpetually and achingly the former. It’s a hard thing to continue to live in a world that resents the hoarding of even the smallest crumb of happiness.
Believe me, then, when I say that even though Kim Reaper is a trifle, it is a joyous trifle, a trifle to give the balm of Gilead. Is that hyperbole? Sure! Put it on the second printing of the trade. It’s a fun book. It’s a fun book that makes absolutely no bones (get it, because the grim reaper?) about its status as a darling little trifle, and fulfills its aesthetic objectives with complete aplomb. It’s just – cute. Aggressively, deliberately, and methodically cute. Kim and Becka are the best supernatural lesbian cuties in the comics, they are good and pure and I swear by the Doc Martens I got for Christmas I would take a fucking bullet for them.
As the kids say, UwU.
Kim is a lifestyle goth who moonlights as the Grim Reaper. She’s got a lot of debt, see. Becka falls for Kim in art school. Becka is a completely normal person who accidentally gets sucked into a dimensional portal following Kim after class in order to ask her out. Now, look: we’ve all been there. There is something indelible about a woman with a scythe. But – the fact is that the stakes are played just light enough throughout the book that the real focus is allowed to remain more or less squarely on the romance between the two primary characters. Fun plot things happen – they fight a cat hoarder, explore sunken treasure, battle zombies – but more importantly they go from two complete strangers whose rocky relationship begins with more than a few pretty big red flags to being pretty much inseparable traveling the world for picnic lunches in the space of four issues. That’s – yeah, sigh, I mean. Like the joke about Grindr for lesbians, U-Haul.com.
Trifles have power sometimes. Because it’s nice to see cute and perky goth lesbians on fun adventures across the world that have absolutely no real consequences. Because there's joy in watching Graley put this adorable pair through these paces – Becka is a bundle of bulging eyes and overpowering enthusiasm, Kim is tuff but smol. It’s more than just a trifle, really, to see Graley improve at drawing these gals just over the course of these first few issues. The first couple are a bit stiff but by the end of the book you completely know these characters, can recognize their distinctive body language and – through that body language – distinctive way of existing within the frame of the panel. They’re alive.
There’s something else about the book that I realized as I was trying to focus my thoughts. Something I wouldn’t have understood just a couple years ago. I found joy in these pages that you might not because I recognize the people in this book, recognize them in a way that I’ve never before seen reflected in a light-hearted all-ages adventure comic. It’s important to see yourself reflected in as many different worlds as you can because representation and reflection create new emotional possibilities for the human organism. It’s as important to be able to see an emotional life defined by being happy and cute as one dominated by suffering and longing.
I finish Graley’s book empowered to seize the means of improving my own life by embracing cuteness as a triage aesthetic in an age of debacle – self-care as #praxis. It is more important now than ever to find the strength within ourselves to be the goth girlfriend we want to see in the world.