A Small Price to Pay - Kay and P / by Erik Sugay

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“If you're telling me the price of seeing them, feeling them, of having them in my life is my sanity, it's a price I will happily pay…When it comes to letting one of them go, I have no desire to ever make progress." - Detective Michael Britten to his therapists, Awake

After losing a loved one in a car accident, Britten’s mind fractures into separate timelines where in one, his wife dies in said accident and his son survives. When he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other timeline, where his son died and his wife survived, and the timelines progress in that alternating manner every time he sleeps. It’s a heady concept to follow, but all that really matters in the context of this review is Britten’s determination to keep both family members in his life, even if it means that his other relationships, his work, and his sanity assuredly deteriorate as a result.

Most people have lost loved ones, so I’m not going to go into the intricacies of the five stages of grief. It’s the “bargaining” part that’s most compelling here. Britten’s therapists, whom he is occupationally forced to go to in both timelines, claim he’s clinging to fantasy and suggest he move on. But, if you could actually pull off preventing the final grieving stage of “acceptance,” successfully keeping a loved one in your life in exchange for people merely questioning your mental stability, wouldn’t you?

As an ongoing webcomic series, Kay and P is not intrinsically about death, concepts of the afterlife, or coming to grips with either of those subjects (whether it tackles that remains to be seen). However, the emotional struggles that Kay endures make an astonishingly close facsimile. There’s a sincerity to her character and the lengths she goes to avoid loss are very real.

Kay and P’s focus is the titular Kay’s lasting childhood friendship with a sentient skeleton that no one else can sense. Understandably, having P (short for “Peaches”), the aforementioned being, as a consistent, caring presence throughout her formative years has made it difficult for Kay to maintain what constitutes a “normal” life.

People fear what they don’t understand and, whether it’s by playground cliques or immature college jerks, Kay constantly has to deal with condescending sideways glances and murmurs to outright ridicule. Even Kay’s parents have attempted to “fix” their daughter through ineffective therapy sessions (you can't fix what isn't broken), rather than try to empathize with her. Similar to Britten, Kay is told that she needs to let a loved one go; that it’s unhealthy to hold onto something no one else deems real.

The invisible, but corporeal P is the only one who truly knows Kay and the situation she’s in, going so far as to offer to leave her be, so that she may live a conventional life. P’s characterization is a refreshing change of pace, since most similar stories would paint the imaginary friend or unseen spiritual being as a nuisance who can’t accept that their human counterpart has moved on. Instead, the role reversal sees the adult Kay as refusing to give P up, perhaps the single most significant presence in her life. When the "reward" for doing so is the superficial approval from a prejudging, narrow-minded crowd, why bother? With society's shortsightedness bearing down upon Kay with disparaging words, you can't help but root for her when she curtly dismisses their attempts to change her.

After six issues in the ongoing series, you’ll learn little about P, the so far genderless skeleton whose interests are amusingly fueled by things aimed at adolescent females (People and Cosmopolitan magazines, E!, etc.). I normally dislike their inclusion, since they don’t really allow stories to stand on their own, but the pop cultural references – aside from the ones that are akin to Easter eggs in the background that showcase the attention to detail – actually serve to frame Kay’s simultaneously strong and independent, yet vulnerable personality, as well as her ongoing musical affinity.

That recurring musical presence is a hard sell in a predominantly audio-less medium. Luckily, just like the adept storytelling, the art is no slouch. Through colorful shapes and free-flowing text, creator Jackie Musto pulls off the various aural cues with aplomb. Similarly, the onomatopoeic “chatter, chatter” is cleverly added to P’s speech bubbles so that you know the skeleton is speaking even when no characters are present in a specific panel. The character designs are unique, realized, and above all, consistent. Vivid colors, animated poses, and detailed facial expressions communicate genuine living characters. Dynamic angles and expert panel placement (like the unorthodox thin, vertical panels) allow the intriguing story to flow naturally.

P’s origin and why Kay is the only one who can see the skeleton is a driving narrative, so I don’t expect it to be revealed anytime soon, and there are hints at larger narrative elements at work that I certainly cannot wait to see come to fruition. However, until those come to pass, I very much recommend investing in the duo’s enduring, heartfelt relationship. I value good characterization over anything else and Kay and P’s emotional resonance, particularly Kay’s persisting strength through adversity and P's compassion, makes for time reading well spent.

TL;DR: Adept storytelling and strong art drive a narrative about mental stability, love and loss with an interesting musical component.

Kay and P is an ongoing webcomic series written, illustrated, and self-published by Jackie Musto. You can read all available issues online here, or order physical copies here.