Comics Reviews

Why the Dark and Horrifying Cannibal Comic ‘Eat the Rich’ Is So Ironic

In Sarah Gailey’s Eat the Rich comic, class disparity is addressed in the form of cannibalism, and it somehow comes across as humorous.

Sarah Gailey’s Eat the Rich (with art by Pius Bak and Roman Titov, and lettered by Cardinal Rae) is one of the most astoundingly original comics to debut in 2021. The premise is deceptively simple: in the town of Crestfall Bluffs, the wealthy literally eat their servants when they grow too old or weary to continue working. Despite how over-the-top this setup may seem, the dynamic at Crestfall is far more nuanced than it seems 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 rich family. Inner monologues reveal that she’s been seeking to marry into a wealthy family for quite some time. Upon her arrival, her boyfriend, Astor, gives ominous warnings about an upcoming “retirement party,” mentioning that the one he saw as a kid left him really disturbed. Sensing that something is wrong, Joey sneaks out of the party commemorating the groundskeeper’s retirement. To her horror, she discovers the groundskeeper being butchered by the family, with his body parts tossed onto a grill.

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What makes the comic unexpectedly humorous is how Astor’s mother reacts to Joey’s discovery. Rather than trying to cover up the cannibalism or attack the protagonist, she harps on about how wonderful it is that the servants get such generous benefits. Before she’d married into the family, servants were killed for pleasure. But now, thanks to her persuasion, their workers sign contracts that guarantee extensive payments to their families after death. “It feels good,” she says, the irony completely lost on her, “knowing that I’ve made a difference here.”

A normal cannibalistic horror story might have a more cut-and-dry way of tackling the conflict. The human-eating is secret, a protagonist finds out about it, they reveal this truth to the world, the authorities, or whoever, and the perpetrator gets a violent death. In Eat the Rich, it’s far less simple. When Joey first discovers Crestfall’s catastrophic butchering, she desperately tries to warn the family’s nanny, Petal, whom she’s befriended. To her surprise, the nanny is fully aware of everything.

It turns out that Petal is riddled with three chronic diseases. 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-relieving medication. As for the groundskeeper, his contract will pay for his son’s chemotherapy. In giving himself up to a brutal ending, he has given his son a chance to live. Although Joey’s gut instinct is to save her friend, there is ultimately no easy solution.

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In the words of writer Sarah Gailey, “Eat the Rich is not only about the ways in which wealthy people see the rest of the world as something to digest— it’s also about the allure of their lifestyle.” This actually makes a lot of sense. Despite the upsetting nature of the plot, the beautiful colors from Roman Titov make Astor’s mansion and lifestyle ridiculously appealing, regardless of what happens in the kitchen.

“In a world in which resources are increasingly difficult to access,” writes Gailey, “it can be tough to resist the draw of the comfort and certainty that come with 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: just how long are we willing to continue accepting that trade-off?” It’s an important question for the modern era that Eat the Rich explores with a surprising amount of subtlety and nuance.

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