The Mini Deluxe: Papercutter #12

Posted by on April 26th, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Rob reviews the 12th issue of the Greg Means-edited anthology, PAPERCUTTER.

Every issue of PAPERCUTTER is attractive, well-designed and smooth to read.  Greg Means’ formula of three stories of varying length per issue totallng around 32 pages makes it a perfect, bite-sized read.  Means is always careful to balance visual styles and storytelling approaches in his anthology.  There are usually a couple of artists with a naturalistic style, but one might use a clear line approach while another might employ a greater use of shadow or a heavier line.  There’s usually at least one story with a cartoony or primitive line, though these are generally a change of pace more than the headliner.  Means also likes to throw in at least one funny story, though the tone of that humor can vary.  Lastly, I haven’t seen many indy anthologies that have had as many writer/artist team-ups as PAPERCUTTER, as opposed to a cartoonist doing both.  The tried-and-true PAPERCUTTER formula at worst produces a pleasant reading experience and at best has given us some of comics’ best short stories over the past few years.

This issue, true to form, was a mix of pleasant but unremarkable stories and a stunning, memorable piece.  “The Uncomfortable Gaze of Carlos Santana”, written by Rachel Bormann and drawn by Nate Powell, falls into the former camp.  It’s an amusing anecdote about a young woman attending a Santana concert with her father.  Though they have fourth-row seats, her father falls asleep, and she feels enormously self-conscious when Santana compels the audience to get up and dance.  What makes the story funny is Powell’s hilarious drawings of Santana, depicted with bulging eyes peeping out from underneath his bandanna.  The story’s climax is especially amusing, as the presumed Bormann stand-in desperately tries to project her excuses directly to Santana as she’s fixed by his withering stare.  It’s a light-hearted piece in an issue lacking a weightier story to juxtapose against it, and it seemed an odd fit as the issue’s spotlight story at 16 pages long.

The third story in the book, “Root Causes”, was a good old-fashioned funny animal story filtered through a familiar underground lens.  The anthropomorphic cat and rabbit characters were off trying to fix their fortunes through a root doctor, with mildly amusing results.  Mark Campos’ story was cute, but his cajun-inflected dialogue was grating.  What made the story pleasant was Dalton Webb’s character work and old-school use of zip-a-tone.

The best story in this issue of PAPERCUTTER was also the shortest: Joey Alison Sayer’s “Pet Cat”.  Known best for her now-defunct webcomic THINGPART, Sayers is a top-notch conceptualist with a highly-simplified character line that almost verges on the grotesque at times.  Now branching out into longer stories, Sayers’  story reminded me a bit of the meta-humor of Martha Keavney.  It begins with Sayers drawing a Garfield-like strip called “Oh No, Pet Cat!” for a national syndicate, only to have it taken away from her and given to another artist.  Sayers then goes into classic escalation mode, as the awful, formulaic strip is given to a hack, then the hack’s son, then done by committee through the syndicate, then by robots in the future after the apocalypse, and then taken by god itself (whose appearance is a callback to many past THINGPART strips).  The escalating joke is not just the increasingly ridiculous circumstances creating a new artist for the strip, but rather that each artist in turn thinks their work is brilliant.  It’s a perfectly-realized story from an artist who is really hitting her stride and taking her place in the first rank of today’s humorists.

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