“You’ll want to keep it on your shelves for years to come” – The Smell of Starving Boys by Loo Hui Phang and Frederik Peeters

If we were purely talking about aesthetics, then The Smell of Starving Boys would be close to perfection. From the beautiful and intriguing cover, in which a naked figure crouches among a rock pool while a man on a horse with demonic eyes stares down at them, to the most intricate of details of the American West landscape in which the tale takes place, and even the impressive ways in which the artists differentiate the times of the day and the past and present narratives, this is a wonderfully put together piece of work that will match up to pretty much anything you already have on your bookshelves.

Sadly, when a work such as this looks so stunning, it is often let down by a drab or uninspiring story. I’m happy to say that, in the case of The Smell of Starving Boys, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Guided by a prospector, a photographer and a young farm hand have been led out in to Texas to investigate the virgin land. Flashbacks tell us that the photographer, Oscar, is escaping something strange and dangerous. And one scene reveals that the young farm hand is not what we first thought. Soon, their relationship will become the centre of a story that mixes the old tropes of cowboys and Indians with the supernatural, a consideration of sexuality, and a look at the evolution of prejudice.

Any Cop?: It is a lot to cram into 110 pages in which the artists do more with their pictures than their words. But it is done with an elegance and ease that many peddlers of the art form could learn from. Here we have characters that you’ll connect to, art you would hang on your walls, and a story that will keep you guessing and guarantee that you’ll turn the page. You can read it in a single sitting, but you’ll want to keep it on your shelves for years to come, working as both an ornament and something to return to when you want to be reminded of how simple storytelling can be when the storyteller knows their craft.

 

Fran Slater

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