Serious About Serials: Eat The Rich, vol 1
a Review for the horror-comic reader
Audience: Mature Publisher: BOOM! Studios (May 24, 2022) Length: 128 pages ISBN13: 9781684158324 Spoilers below! Read at your own risk. 6 minute read
Sarah Gailey, 2018 Hugo Award For Best Fan Writer, pens this latest horror series from Boom! Studios. Eat The Rich has middle class Joey, a law school student, visiting her boyfriend’s parents at their family home, Crestfall Bluffs, in the land of the 1%. Schmoozing with the upper class is not something Joey’s comfortable with, but if she want’s to join the elite and start her life, she’s willing to swallow a little social anxiety for the sake of her beau, and his connections of course. Joey thought she could handle the eccentricities of the rich and the famous, but what’s in store for her is a stomach churner, with a side of bizarre hope, topped with a ham-fisted helping of socialist revolutionary sentiments.
Pius Bak’s illustrations ask us to return to the pulps of the 70’s, with his edging and panelling focused on the characters and their engagements with one another. With a stylized retro feel, Roman Titov’s decision to use sepia and a perpetual dusk (or is it dawn?) as majority lighting, adds a level of displacement from the plot, as though one were either waking from – or falling into – a dream. Gailey’s plot has the engine to make this a true page turner. While not perfect, this title fits well on your Pride Month reading list.
This book has problems. Though Gailey’s story has the potential to strike fear in the reader, she misses her mark in several categories. It’s clear that Joey is an awkward, nervous weirdo that we’re supposed to relate to. Her stress and erratic thinking in the initial pages indicate an internal struggle, whether brought on suddenly at the sight of the luxurious Crestfall Bluffs community, or by something mulled over ever since buying Astor’s drunken, freshman charm. The relationship doesn’t fit naturally with the story.
We learn that Joey and Astor are starting law school, and Astor’s major challenge during this intense summer family vacation (aside from avoiding his slipping into old habits with his bender-enabling hometown friend “Bump”) is popping The Question to our anxious heroine. As for the credibility of this affair, with post-graduate studies and marriage in the works, we’re led to assume she’s been with Astor for a reasonable length of time. This makes the concept of Joey meeting Astor’s parent’s for the first time, at a most vulnerable moment, difficult to appreciate. Even more so, as this time of the year appears to be crucial to their ritualistic contract fulfillment, and the premise of the plot.
Your challenge will be accepting the this twenty something, lower-middle class law student with the social-emotional skills of a 13 year old, has the desire to bed and wed the Chadliest of Chads in order to rub elbows with the elite and “swing an internship at a major firm”, all under the pretext of a moral dichotomy. Bak’s portrait of Joey matches her constant anxious language, but the character development through Gailey’s writing makes it all the more contradictory. The audience is left asking: “why this path for Joey?” She’s meek, unsure, and entirely out of her element while vacationing with these people. Imagine working legal cases with them! Again, with sparse retail space for exposition in the panels, Gailey needed to do a better job of convincing us Joey belonged with, and was therefore willing to sacrifice her soul to, the uppercrust of Crestfall Bluffs.
Sinking our teeth into the main plot, Joey discovers that the lavish lifestyle of the 1% includes personal staff with bizarre dedication to the service of their masters and mistresses – Even unto Death! For the wealthy have discovered that employing the most vulnerable and hard-pressed people, and throwing cash at their problems, will have them signing their own death certificates. It’s not explicitly explained why the rich eat their employees at end of service (retirement). In fact, we’re shushed into quiet compliance with the classic “it’s tradition” explanation.
Honestly, if you’re an adult with a basic understanding of 20th century world history, you’ll come to understand fairly quickly that the brutal cannibalism undertaken by the elites in Eat the Rich is a clumsy allegory of the industrialist-worker dynamic, and the union revolutionary ideology which shaped the entirety of the last century. If socialist subtext wasn’t clear in the panelling, Gailey discusses it in an author postscript, answering the singular plot-hole seemingly posed to her: why would anyone willingly sacrifice their lives, their actual flesh and blood, for money?
Explaining that this is the life cycle of the working class, minimum wage earner in America, Gailey argues that the poor strive for the services the rich so easily attain, particularly regarding medicine and therapeutics. While private and public health care options in America are certainly a modern concern perhaps requiring a fresh perspective, signing your remaining healthy years away in pursuit of wealth – however meagre and with the goal of it becoming generational – is actually the most believable plot point of Eat the Rich. One could say it’s easy to swallow.
Some reviewers of Eat the Rich have shared their feelings that the Joey-Petal love affair was a cultivated relationship over the course of the events leading to the climax, approximately five weeks. We aren’t shown this, as a blackout panel wipe is applied. This proves nothing. Rather, it makes the actual blossoming event of their “new love”, as the notion appears to persist, unbelievable. The reality is, Petal and Joey had bashed Astor’s brains in, passionately kissed, then cannibalized him. It is erotic, violent, and certainly a shift in power dynamics. But it’s inorganic, post-traumatic, and hardly something to be celebrated. Under different circumstances, Petal and Joey would be great together. Now, as victims(?) of this Hunger, are we to believe they will perpetrate the same horrors out of necessity, and not the exuberance of their former masters?
It’s the same fulfillment every utopianist pontificates in public but practices privately. Sure the wealthy fall, become supplanted with alternative systems, but the poor are those who inevitably suffer the greatest. The author chose to neglect this harsh truth. They chose not to acknowledge the results of the system for which we are to support razing. That is, there has never been a time where the quality of living, nor the likelihood of human potential fulfilled, been greater than now. Like it or hate it, we are and continue to be, much the better under the imperfect economic capitalist system.
Perhaps this sentiment came through in the final panels of Eat the Rich, where we are treated to a portrait of a bloody, insatiable Joey and Petal, staring at us, post-revolutionary coitus, posing the metaphorical question: “are you with us or against us?” Any potential for this lesson is lost immediately in Gailey’s postscript: “If you take enough away, its easy to get workers to accept jobs that ask for too much and don’t give enough back . . . jobs that feed on human lives to nourish profit margins.” It’s hard to imagine Gailey is talking to her audience of North American English speakers. A message to the sweatshop worker in Communist China, okay, but the eighteen year old making $16 per hour (with health benefit options) at insertcorporatemachine? That is perhaps the hardest to swallow. One can’t help deduce that Gailey’s implications are in changing a system from something that has never had to resort to cannibalism to an actual system which did, and doing so boldly and unironically. While not perfect, our world is a far cry from the grinding serfdom and enslavement implied in the pages of Eat the Rich.
2.5 out of 5 stars. Check it out and support your local comic book sellers.