Concerning: Smoke and Guns by Kirsten Baldock and Fabio Moon
It is almost like a Wes Anderson film. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson say that when they make their movies, they try to describe a world that follows the rules they like, rather than the rules of the real world.
Smoke and Guns — without ever really coming out and saying so — kind of imagines a prohibition-esque world where beautiful girls sell cigarettes on the street… and lethally guard their street corners and local bar real estate with… you know… guns.
Kirsten Baldock was herself a real-life cigarette girl before writing this graphic novel… Though I assume the more conventional type rather than one of the heat-packing adventurettes depicted in this story; you get this sense of sisterhood and hidden knowledge and almost pride from reading the book that you might not expect given the plot.
Smoke and Guns follows the story of ambitious cigarette girl Scarlett who gets into trouble picking a fight with another merry (and murderous) band of cigarette girls, ends up hostess-ing the wrong party after she is disciplined by her madame-esque cigarette-hawking boss-lady, and ultimately excites a gang war. She is not so much the hero as the protagonist for no other reason than the story mostly follows her. I mean she has a really big chip on her shoulder and I think you want to cheer for her in the same way that you want to cheer for Tony Soprano versus any of the other dirtbags and murderers who happen to share screen-time with him. Beautiful? Yes. Nice? Not so much. You get the feeling that Scarlett has everything coming to her, but she has enough Indiana Jones to her that you don’t care.
Pretty girl, pretty girls, cigarettes, turf war… that’s it?
If it sounds like a thoroughly superficial story… It is.
Yet it’s freaking great!
Smoke and Guns moves with a rare velocity in modern comics. Fabio Moon’s visual storytelling can flow from frame-by-frame, panel-by-panel description of a single cigarette being lit, to ice cold ultra-violence, gun-play, and grenades lobbed between nubile cancer-peddlers. The story tries very hard to be crass — cigarette girls dressing up as everything from sexy nurses to Chun-Li from Street Fighter — but it manages to be demeaning… never. Really never. The book is so overloaded with girl power, the fact that the violent participants are also sexy kind of never comes up.
In that sense, it is a storytelling triumph.
Of course I found this indie book because of Fabio Moon, previously mentioned in my Ursula review. Smoke and Guns was Moon’s first work without his brother Gabriel Ba; and it is well worth the look.
While no one is going to mistake this quick read for Watchmen, Smoke and Guns really does have something unique going for it. It is one of my favorite graphic novels, I read it several times a year, and love almost every page (the Chun-Li stuff is sadly more cheddar than cheesecake).
You can get it for a whopping $1.49 on Amazon 🙂