Graphic novels too often get pegged as one kind of story: action and adventure, mainly of a superhero nature. And while I love my X-Men, it intrigues me when someone does something unusual with the medium and tells a widely different story. And Brian Rea’s Death Wins a Goldfish: Reflections from a Grim Reaper’s Year Long Sabbatical is exactly that.
First off, you could get pretty distracted and disappointed if you come to this book looking for masterful art. It isn’t that. Instead it is using simple line art drawn on pencils and then it uses some yellow, orange and red tones on pages that are roughly half the size of a comic book.
But the art is part of the charm of the book as well. It is unique in its design and it works well. So if you initially pick up the book and have an adverse reaction, consider this encouragement to push through because of the content of the work itself.
Because Death Wins… is a fantastic treatment of a look at rest, creating, and intentionality, without it being a didactic textbook on any of those things.
The premise of the book is that Death himself writes his story of a year sabbatical. HR calls him in and says that he has built up too many vacation days and needs to exhaust them for the next year. So you as the reader come alongside Death for this journey.
- Some pages are done as postcards from a moment of an adventure.
- Some pages are lists that Death has made that, acting like a sabbatical bucket list.
- Some pages are commentary about what Death has done.
All of it winds up being delightful.
Death Wins a Goldfish is also the kind of book that you can read over and over again and catch little pieces that make you laugh because you missed them originally. Rea has drawn with intentionality each part and small things sometimes speak loudly when noticed.
Part of why I like this work so much is that it does something that is a hard sell from the start: it makes Death a likable, funny character and you as a reader sympathize with him not as the Grim Reaper but instead as a guy that was just too dedicated to his job who, like most of us, would find it hard to think about what to do other than watch Netflix for the first month.
That it manages to do it without many pages of text and words is even more intriguing. (And even the pages that are full of text are still done in Rea’s freehand, which matches the art especially well.) And, if we are honest, we would mirror Death, having a hard time finding meaning outside of work. That kind of honest exploration is thoughtful, meaningful but doesn’t descend into darkness as much as honest self-reflection.
So, if you are looking for a unique, interesting read in a graphic novel form that isn’t about what superhero team is fighting what other superhero team, you should definitely check out this volume. It may be a quirky but great book for people in times of transition in their employment lives.