at Sarah Gailey Eat the rich (with illustrations by Pius Bak and Roman Titov, and letters from Cardinal Rae) is one of the most surprisingly original comics to debut in 2021. The premise is deceptively simple: In the City of Crestfall Bluffs, the rich literally to eat their servants when they get too old or tired to continue working. Despite how overkill this setup may seem, the dynamics in Crestfall are much more nuanced than they appear at first glance, and the satirical nature of the story is unexpectedly layered.
Eat the rich follows the story of Joey, a young middle-class woman, as she is introduced to her boyfriend’s absurdly wealthy family. Interior monologues reveal that she has been seeking marriage into a wealthy family for some time. Upon arrival, her boyfriend, Astor, gives ominous warnings about an upcoming “retirement party”, mentioning that the one he saw as a child really upset him. Sensing that something is wrong, Joey sneaks out of the Gardener’s Retirement Memorial Party. To her horror, she discovers that the Guardian massacre by the family, with their body parts thrown on a grill.
What makes the comic surprisingly humorous is the way Astor’s mother reacts to finding Joey. Rather than trying to cover up the cannibalism or attack the protagonist, she explains how formidable it is that the servants receive such generous benefits. Before she got married into the family, servants were killed for fun. But now, thanks to his persuasion, their workers are signing contracts that guarantee large payments to their families after they die. “It feels good,” she said, the irony completely lost on her, “to know that I made a difference here.”
A normal cannibalistic horror story might have an easier way to approach the conflict. Human consumption is secret, a protagonist finds out, they reveal this truth to the world, to the authorities or to anyone, and the perpetrator gets a violent death. In Eat the rich, it’s much less simple. When Joey first learns about the catastrophic Crestfall massacre, she desperately tries to warn the family’s nanny, Petal, whom she has befriended. To her surprise, the nanny is fully aware of everything.
It turns out that Petal is riddled with three chronic illnesses. Realizing that she was going to die anyway, the nanny signed a contract that would give her health insurance that would allow her to receive pain relievers. As for the gardener, his contract will pay for his son’s chemotherapy. By indulging in a brutal ending, he gave his son a chance to live. Although Joey’s instinct is to save his friend, there is ultimately no easy solution.
In the words of writer Sarah Gailey, “Eat the rich is not only about how rich people see the rest of the world as something to digest, but also the attractiveness of their lifestyle. This actually makes a lot of sense. Despite the upsetting nature of the plot, Roman Titov’s beautiful colors make Astor’s mansion and lifestyle ridiculously appealing no matter what happens in the kitchen.
“In a world where resources are increasingly difficult to access,” writes Gailey, “it can be difficult to resist the allure of the comfort and certainty that come with having access to unlimited means. But that kind of money can only be accumulated at the cost of human suffering, and it’s up to all of us to decide: how long are we prepared to continue to accept this compromise? This is an important question for the modern era which Eat the rich explores with a surprising amount of subtlety and nuance.
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