Thursday, October 15, 2015


Smoke is a small but powerful book. It tells the tale of two small boys who are migrant workers in the tobacco industry.It is troubling to see them relegated to their circumstances, forced to work long, hard hours and not treated as children.
They also get exposed to the raw, wet tobacco plants, which has some adverse effects on their health. I don't want to spoil too much, but this situation is radically changed when they are visited by Xolotl, an Aztec god of fire, lightning, and the underworld. This mystical, mythical god looks after the boys and guards them through some tough situations.
For a small, seemingly simple-looking book, it packs a pretty big narrative punch. At first blush, I was perplexed by the subject matter. It seems like an expose of child labor horrors, but the story resolves in such a way that all is still well. I guess, what I take away from the beautifully rendered drawings and strong character work is that life is full of suffering and injustice but there is some hope that there are guardians looking out for us still. I am not sure if that is trite or reassuring, but I am glad to have to wrestle with those ideas after reading this book. It shows just how strong this tale is, packed with import and resonating like a modern parable or fable.

Author/artist Gregory Benton has been making comics since the early 1990s for a diverse bunch of publishers including Nickelodeon, Vertigo, Entertainment Weekly, Disney, Tower Records, DC Comics, and World War 3 Illustrated. I love his gorgeously colored and detailed paintings, and his prior graphic novel B+F was one of my best of 2014 books. He elaborates on his inspirations and work on Smoke in this interview.

I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I found it ever better to re-visit and re-read. I have not been able to locate many reviews of it, but the ones I have found have been very positive. The Pop Mythologist wrote that it "works as both modern myth and social critique." Adam McGovern gushed that it was "among the best things I’ve read this decade."

Smoke was published by HANG DAI Editions.

1 comment:

  1. And check out this starred review from Publishers Weekly!