Graham Chaffee | Light It, Shoot It (Fantagraphics)

204 pgs. black & white | $24.99 softcover

Billy Bonney was the kind of kid who never fit in: quiet, with a mild stutter, an obsession with counting everything (arithmomania, they call it), and, unfortunately, a penchant for starting fires. He got busted for arson while still in high school and now finds himself 20 years old and fresh out of prison—but since the place he burned down was the main source of employment in his hometown, he does not find himself very welcome there. At his parents’ suggestion, he heads to Hollywood, where his brother Bobby has a job on the set of a cheesy horror movie starring the boys’ uncle Larry, a Lawrence Tierney-style grizzled old tough guy. Since his uncle has a bit of a drinking problem (and a bit of a showing-up-on-the-set-when-he’s-needed problem), Billy suddenly finds himself working as Larry’s assistant and getting a crash course on how 1970s exploitation movies are made.

Saul, the owner of the studio financing the picture, is a total sleazeball. He and his no-nonsense partner, Kate, have a bit of romantic tension smoldering between them, but right now they have bigger problems: their picture is running over-budget and the real financier—Jackie Cohen, a local mobster—has sent one of his goons with a proposition for Saul and Kate: burn down the studio and get enough from the insurance settlement to set Jackie right and finish the movie. And what could possibly go wrong? An unexplained fire, a kid who just got out of the can because he likes to start fires…you see where this is going, right?

Thankfully, Light It, Shoot It isn’t nearly so predictable: the collision between those two plots happens, sure, but it’s foreshadowed so heavily that it doesn’t come as a surprise, and it’s not the climax of the story—there’s still a full third of the book left for things to go from bad to worse to even worse. Light It, Shoot It has more pleasant surprises up its sleeve, starting with the fact that it seems at first like it will be Billy’s story but it really turns into a Tarantino-esque ensemble piece, its intersecting stories only amplifying the unfortunate circumstances set to befall damn near everybody (this is a noir story, after all). Many of these characters and their circumstances could have come off as tropes, but Chaffee has such a great ear for dialogue and such ample skill in conveying his characters through their action rather than exposition that the story still feels fresh.

The cover to Light It, Shoot It by Graham Chaffee

All this is captured wonderfully by Chaffee’s artwork. Chaffee has a style that would have fit in well in early underground comics. His style is lightly cartoony, drawn with thick, slick brush strokes. He tops it off with gray washes that give the drawings depth and a suitably 1970s grime and grit. Yet he doesn’t overdo it—much of the story takes place during daytime, and L.A.’s stereotypical sunny aridness comes through thanks to Chaffee’s restraint. The resulting artwork reads like a cross between the thick-lined realism of Chris Samnee (Fire Power, Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters) and the hyper-noir realism of Sean Phillips (Criminal, the similarly Hollywood-themed The Fade Out)—two great tastes that definitely taste great together here.

Simply put, Light It, Shoot It is an excellent example of noir storytelling at its finest, soaked in a uniquely 1970s mood. Fans of hard-boiled ‘70s cinema, modern ‘70s-set cinema like Licorice Pizza, or the modern noir comics of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips will find much to enjoy. | Jason Green

Click here to buy Light It, Shoot It or check out a 6-page preview, courtesy of Fantagraphics.

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