Cigs, Dames & Shooters: Kirsten Baldock talks "Smoke and Guns"

You've seen it on the "Sopranos" and countless mob films where a group of gangsters jack a shipment of cigarettes and sell them illegally. Fights and often wars have broken out over stolen smokes. But imagine that fight taking place not amongst members of major crime families, but women who sell cigarettes for a living, all while wearing some very enticing outfits. Got your attention?

Next Spring sees the release of "Smoke and Guns" by writer Kirsten Baldock and Fabio Moon through AiT/Planet Lar. Baldock's name may ring a bell if you're a regular reader of James Sime's THE COMIC PIMP column here at CBR. In addition to being a librarian, bartender, a costume designer and a former cigarette girl, she's also the Special Projects Director for the Isotope in San Francisco, James' store. Now you can add writer to that list of professions. CBR News caught up with Baldock to learn more about the book.

"'Smoke and Guns' is primarily about Scarlett, a cigarette girl who is overly ambitious, quick to break the rules, and even quicker to pull the trigger," Baldock told CBR News Monday afternoon. "She's sort of like a female version of Tony Montana from 'Scarface.'

"In 'Smoke and Guns,' only cigarette girls are licensed to sell smokes and they can only sell in one district. The cigarette girls in each district take enforcing those district lines into their own hands.

"So, when Scarlett starts selling cigarettes outside of her district, tensions rise and the seeds of an all out cigarette girl gang war are sown."

As was mentioned above, Baldock was a cigarette girl herself in San Francisco for just over a year. Four nights a week, a driver who drop her off in different neighborhoods around the city wearing a skimpy little outfit, carrying her full tray of smokes from bar to bar and club to club.

"It was a really fun job," admitted Baldock. "You get to go bar hopping and meet a lot of people who are out having a great time. It's full of adventure, with a new and different thing happening every night. And it's full of glamour. What girl wouldn't love all the attention, the fun outfits and heels, and the free drinks?

"But it wasn't all glamour. When you're out on the street in the middle of the night, sometimes in the rain, wearing your little French Maid outfit, with the short skirt and the off the shoulder top, Jack Daniels isn't just your friend, it's your coat. Being out there by yourself in heels, your tray, and not much else, with your driver out dropping off another girl in another neighborhood and no other backup, it can be kind of scary. Really, though, the worst things that happened to me, personally, involved breaking a heel or wearing through another pair of shoes. Man, that job was hard on my poor shoes! But even so, there were moments for me, as I'm sure there are for all the girls out there in a skimpy outfit selling cigarettes, when I thought having a 9mm hidden in my tray might improve my odds.

"But maybe the real genesis for 'Smoke and Guns' came from the fact that there were rival cigarette girls. I worked for an independent company, meaning that we weren't owned by a specific brand of cigarettes, which has been around for almost twenty years. At the time, Camel and Marlboro were muscling in and putting girls in a lot of bars as part of marketing campaigns. So, sometimes you'd be in a bar and there'd be another girl there, too. There are only so many people looking to buy cigarettes and all the girls are out there hustling smokes for tips. So, two girls in the same bar would get a little tense. Sometimes the girls would burn each other with lit cigarettes and the wild ones could get even more confrontational. So, maybe it's a good thing that none of us had guns in our trays."

All these warring gangs of cigarette girls in "Smoke and Guns" wear some very interesting outfits. Some of them dress up in bellhop costumes, while others dress more like Chung Lee from "Street Figher." Baldock says that costumes are a huge part of being a cigarette girl and without them, it wouldn't be the same.

"Partially, the costumes are a part of the nature of the job. But also the costumes are part of what distinguishes the girls from the different districts from each other. They're kind of flying their districts' colors, so to speak. And in that respect, they represent the different neighborhoods of the city.

"For example, the girls who dress as bellhops are called the Broadway Bells and they represent District 6, right next door to Scarlett's stomping grounds."

While in many cities cigarette girls are a dieing breed, in cities like San Francisco and New York City, they're still a very visible part of the club scene.

"San Francisco has a long tradition of cigarette girls. And during the dot com boom it seemed like there were cigarette girls everywhere," said Baldock. "I know that Camel had some trouble establishing cigarette girls in other cities, though.

"The crazy stuff is one of the major perks of the job. One time I met a group of guys who had evidently been trash picking while getting trashed. They drunkenly awarded me a wall plaque depicting the western states and a plastic jalapeno pepper pulled from the garbage, with a lofty, if slurred, speech about how these items were meant to represent that I was the hottest girl they'd met in all of those states. Priceless!"

CBR's James Sime has seen pages and the script to "Smoke and Guns" and proclaimed, "['Smoke and Guns'] is the ultimate fetish book!" We asked Baldock what she thought of that assessment.

(laughs) "Did he say that? That's really funny.

"Well, it's definitely not the way I would describe it, but there are certainly a lot of things in the book that are probably pretty fetishistic. There's the pretty girls, the smoking, the costumes, the high heels, and, of course, the girls with guns. But, really, creating an appealing, enticing look is part of the nature of a cigarette girl's job.

"I guess I would say it's a book about glamour and ambition filled with action and violence."

Baldock is joined on "Smoke and Guns" by artist Fabio Moon who recently published "Ursula" with his brother Gabriel Ba through AiT/Planet Lar. AiT's Larry Young and Mimi Rosenheim hooked Baldock up with Moon.

"Fabio is amazing! ...If you haven't picked up 'Ursula' yet, I really recommend it. It's a great book and it's beautiful. I'm convinced that Fabio and Gabriel will be two of the industry's next big superstars. I feel really lucky to get to be working with Fabio.

"I think he's just perfect for 'Smoke and Guns.' He has a way of making women look sexy and maybe a little bit dangerous without being lewd. His girls just exude attitude. I can't wait to see more of his work on this book."

This is Baldock's first foray into comics and so far the journey has been a pleasant one.

"My journey is really just beginning now, but I feel really fortunate to be taking it with AiT/Planet Lar. They've been really supportive and enthusiastic about this project ever since I gave them the pitch and asked if they'd be interested in reading the script.

"Like I said, I'm new at this, so I don't have a lot of pearls of wisdom to offer yet, but one observation I have from working at a comic store is that there just aren't enough books by women out there. When one of the most hyped and well-promoted comics of the summer is about the graphic rape and subsequent murder of a superhero's wife, it's not hard to see that the comic industry could use more women writers.

"That said, 'Smoke and Guns' isn't a book with a feminist message. That's not what I'm interested in writing. One of my biggest influences in writing 'Smoke and Guns' would have to be Joan Jett. She wanted to see girls up on stage playing rock and roll, and instead of talking about it, she strapped on a guitar and just started rocking. That was my approach to "Smoke and Guns," too. I wanted to see new women writers putting out fun, action-packed comics, so I just did it. If I can inspire new women writers like Joan Jett inspired new women rockers, that's great! More comics for me to read!"

And for those of you out there still unconvinced, we gave Baldock one more shot at pulling you in.

"'Smoke and Guns' is a look beyond the glitz and glamour into the unconventional world of cigarette girls. It's a tale of one woman's unchecked ambition, which leads to murder and mayhem and a citywide war in the streets with high heels and hot lead. I think this is a book that will really appeal to your non-comic-reading friends. Anyone who likes girls, guns, cigarettes, or the awesome art of Fabio Moon, will be in for a treat."

Look for "Smoke and Guns" in the spring of 2005 from AiT/Planet Lar.

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