Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Smoke and Guns. 

The course of AiT/PlanetLar's publishing strategy has been, to me, an interesting track to follow. Just about everything they've put out is, in some form or fashion, a wild kind of escapism; But despite the generally wild subject matter, there's usually a point to what's going on. A sub-surface level that, no matter how quickly reached, at least gives impetus to the story. Lately the company seems to be dancing that line at an even finer definition, with releases and proposed releases for titles that, at first blush, appear to be nothing more than exercises in pop culture extravagance. In some ways this was welcome: Demo, while overall an excellent series and bonafide achievement for both the creators and publisher, could get dreadfully serious and heavy-handed. But at the other end of the spectrum s the aimless exercise in genre trappings in titles like Filler. I'm convinced that, had the proposal for Filler been brought to Larry Young by a couple of nobodies instead of Rob G. and Rick Spears, it would not have been published.

Nothing drives me crazier than a story without a point, even if that point is to just entertain the hell out of you for awhile.

Smoke and Guns, by Kirsten Baldock and Fabio Moon, dances on the line, meandering between kinetic romp and apparently random mixtures of pretty women and roaring guns. The story: Scarlett is a cigarette girl in one district of an entire city divided up into them, where the licensed cigarette girl gangs rule the streets and, quite often it seems, shoot each other in the fucking face. Scarlett makes the mistake of selling a pack in a district not her own, and from there on out things start dying and blowing up but good.

And that's pretty much it.

For the most part, that's okay.

The brief bio on writer Kirsten Baldock says this is her first graphic novel, and it shows: while Baldock can keep a story going and never let it drag, the dialogue has that spare-but-sometimes-colorful quality given to newer writers who are set on just getting the plot moving. Perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree if I'm expecting anything more than slight characterization, but I could've enjoyed a few more "quiet" scenes between Scarlett and her friend Annie. I say "friend" because we're meant to assume they're buddies, though Annie's appearances seem more dictated by necessities of the plot than anything as organic as camraderie. I could've used more scenes of the rival cigarette girl gangs just talking amongst themselves, being crazy or funny or interesting. Themed uniforms (cheerleaders, cops, etc.) weren't enough: more mileage could've been gotten out of the rival gangs than what we see here.

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the story. Baldock has obvious talent. My recommendation to her is she gives her characters a bit more time to breathe, but to trust her instincts on storytelling: this thing works and flows naturally from beginning to end, which is a bigger compliment than it sounds like. There are no "bumps" in the story, and thank god for that: Too many published, professional writers can't maintain the even and consistent tone and flow that Baldock does here.

Fabio Moon makes the book. Having only seen his work in Ursula, I have to say I'm a little surprised by how perfectly he composes action. The thick lines, the heavy blacks and whites, the smoky bars, the dimly-lit bedrooms, the expressive faces, and, of course, the Things Done Blowed Up... we have here a star in the making. Those first five pages (the ones glimpsed in the preview), which so perfectly illustrate the allure and danger of the cigarette girl in Baldock's world, are absolutely crucial to bringing the reader into the setting, and Moon handles them pitch-perfectly.

Is it worth the $12.95? I'd say so, with some reservations. That the book is fun is undeniable, the dialogue just spicy enough to have some laugh-out-loud moments, the art perfectly rendered... but there's not a lot of meat on this one. And meat is what draws people back for repeat readings.

ADDENDUM: I am informed that Filler was not a proposal brought by Rob G. and Rick Spears to Larry Young; it was more like the other way around. Apologies to all parties.

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