Book Review: Smoking Kills by Thijs Desmet

Smoking Kills by Thijs Desmet has a simple premise. Though we don’t know how long he has been in the Afterlife, Ghost is jaded and bored and only has a mind for alcohol and cigarettes. Skeleton isn’t convinced he is really dead, and he still gives friendly, nonsensical advice like, “Smoking kills.”

Ghost and Skeleton meet at an abandoned train station where Ghost tries to convince Skeleton that they are in the Afterlife, that there is nowhere to go, and that there is nothing to do. Skeleton believes none of this. They slowly become “friendly” with each other mostly out of loneliness and, of course, the undying hope that Ghost is wrong and there is a way out of this insane world.

The story is capable of hard, exciting turns. Consider this little pathway through the pages: Ghost and Skeleton are at the supermarket, then a swimming pool, a forest, and then they find a live, beached-whale in the middle of absolutely nowhere. This is all right before they end up at the great black hole at the center of the Universe fighting the enormous beast Tchernobog, the Dark One. Later they meet a nice dog. It’s a lot of ups and downs.

The aesthetic of Smoking Kills is simplistic, yet playful, and Desmet is able to pack more than one grand adventure into this volume. Relying mostly on white, gray, red, and yellow, the palette adds a playfulness to the story and enables moments where the reader turns the page onto a grand, cosmic vista where you feel like you stepped off the world and into space and time.

Fantagraphics and Fantagraphics Underground make sturdy books with excellent color saturation and quality paper to handle rich, in-depth stories. The art here is so perfect, so succinct, and looks so simple, you may find yourself thinking drawing is easy. The translation was conducted by Trace Demon and Gryla Skulking.

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Greg Hammond

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