Written and art by Kenny Keil. Published by Oni Press.
I’ll admit, R&B is not my jam. I’ve always been more of a rock guy. That being said, when I had the opportunity to review Smoove City by cartoonist Kenny Keil, I thought I would give it a chance as it looked like a whole lot of fun. And you know what, I’m glad I did.
The graphic novel follows the four members of Smoove City, an amateur 90s R&B boy band, as they try to navigate the music industry. They might not have their stuff together, but they have plenty of ambition and plenty of big dreams. In their quest for fame, they get caught up in all kinds of misadventures, some being the victim of circumstances while others are of their own making.
Straight away, it oozes with the first half of the 90s. It’s full of references to the period including gags around 90s R&B, mall recording booths, and how we used to consume our media. These establish the story’s world and allow for some great jokes. If you’re old enough to remember this period, then there’s probably get a hit of nostalgia from it. For younger readers, it will offer a window into how things used to be like.
What also helps transport readers back to the 90s is how it’s visually presented. From cover-to-cover, Smoove City uses a bright colour palette that’s accompanied by jazz design and geometric patterns of the era. These work so well, not only because they are evocative of the time, but because they intersect with music and fashion too. Not only do they set the scene, but also the tone and flavour of the book, letting readers know that there’s plenty of fun through these pages.
With influences such as Archie Comics and possibly Hey Arnold, Kenny Keil’s cartooning is expressive and compliments the 90s aesthetic. It has a bulkiness to it, full of rounded edges, but it’s not weighed down by it. As a result, there’s a lot of expression through the fluidness of characters motions, and gives them personality and carries the humour.
Smoove City is also very funny. It’s full of humour, littered generously throughout with a healthy mixture of comedic dialogue, odd situations, background gags, and making fun of the 90s. As is the nature of humour, not every joke is going to stick the landing with readers. But considering how many there are, there will be something tickle your funnybone.
As can often be with comedy, the characters are a little one-note. Although, I have a feeling this is by design. If you think of boy bands, especially of the 90s, every member was defined by one trait whether it be the bad boy, the sensitive one etc. It’s a commentary on the boy band structure but by giving a character a particular kind of joke that they can own, mixing up the gags.
In terms of extras, Keil includes a playlist of 90s R&B jams. This is perfect if you want to keep the vibes going after reading or those who want an introduction to the golden era of the genre.
With a strong retro aesthetic behind it, this Smoove City beams with personality and as a result is a lot of fun. You’ll feel right at home if you’re a fan of 90s R&B. If that’s not your jam, then you’ll enjoy the variety of humour.