Good On Paper: Tales From San Papel

Posted by on October 25th, 2010 at 5:42 AM

Rob continues his look at the work of artists from the Center for Cartoon Studies with a review of the anthology Tales From San Papel, edited by Nomi Kane & Jon Fine.

The genesis of the Tales From San Papel anthology was not unlike that of Seth creating a fictional paper model town and then populating it with people and their stories.  Editor Nomi Kane and Jon Fine crafted an entire town of old-west paper models and dubbed it “San Papel”.  They then asked their CCS classmates (as well as teacher Steve Bissette) to come up with stories of its inhabitants across time.  The result was a 100-page anthology printed on cheap paper at 8.5 x 11″.  While there were certainly some inspired moments, the anthology fairly screamed “student work!” at times, resulting in some stories that felt purely perfunctory.  A number of stories instantly left my mind moments after reading them, indicating that a tighter edit was needed to produce a better read.

The stories in this anthology tended to fall into three categories: variations on typical old west melodrama, old west spoofs, and genre-mashups like western/horror and western/sci-fi.  The old west melodrama stories were generally the least interesting, with “The Cashout” (by Jon Fine) and “Bluebell” (Carl Mefferd) both variations on dirtbags who abuse women getting their just rewards.  Betsey Swardlick’s work is usually good for a laugh or two, and “Sad Cowboys” was one of the better spoofs in this book, along with one of the few stories that really made strong use of its large page size.  G.P. Bonesteel’s “Beautiful Sunrise” was a deadpan story about a sheriff who knows he’s going to meet his demise in the morning at the hands of outlaws, done entirely with funny animals as its main characters.  It’s one of the few stories in the book that manages to balance spoof and sincerity with success.

A solid, short anthology could have been built around the Swardlick & Bonesteel contributions, along with four other standouts.  Lena H Chandhok’s “It Never Snows In San Papel” and Jen Vaughn’s “Lonely Rattler” are both variations on San Papel being a modern-day tourist town.  The former is striking in terms of the way Chandhok uses simple but thick & bold lines to fill up panels while the latter is loosely rendered but carries an emotional impact.  Holly Foltz’s “Paper Hearts” is a cute (and adorably-rendered) gender-bending take on the marshal vs the outlaw.  Nomi Kane’s own “Jailbreak” shows a level of commitment in its conception, rendering and execution that few of the other cartoonists in the anthology matched, even if it was a completely ridiculous story about a pair of cacti who talk a drunk lawman into placing them outside.

I think Kane pretty much exhausted the possibilities of this particular concept in this volume.  The better CCS anthologies tend to be those with a tighter and more obscure theme, like Caboose or Nymphonomena.  The Sundays books have better production values and the Werewolf & Four Square anthologies have the advantage of being shorter and more finely curated.  It’s simply difficult to create a 100-page anthology with a high level of quality throughout, and I think Kane was overly ambitious here.  I’d be interested in seeing her edit future anthologies to see how she develops, especially if her own work continues to be of such a high quality.

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3 Responses to “Good On Paper: Tales From San Papel

  1. […] If you need somethin’ to read in the meantime, why not check out the Comics Journal’s review of Tales from San Papel, an anthology that I contributed to back in the day (by which I mean during winter break last […]

  2. […] great review by Rob Clough of the San Papel Anthology. He had some great things to say about my contribution, Beautiful Sunrise, as well as some of the […]

  3. […] Comics Journal. The first review is for the latest Abortion Andy and the second review is for the Tales From San Papel anthology that I contributed to back at the beginning of the year. Both reviews are positive about […]