Jog - The Blog AV Club

Paper Rad: Trash Talking

If you’re like me, you didn’t bother waiting for any formal distributor to agree to carry Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs, the often astonishing graphic novel/art book by the collective known as Paper Rad (members: Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci, Ben Jones), opting to seek it out online by yourself. It looked too good. You can tell what I thought of it just by peeking at its positioning on my Best of 2005 list.

Since then, Paper Rad has popped up every so often in the ongoing comics discussion, often attached to some new controversy or pursuit related to pushing the boundaries in comics. Who can forget PictureBox’s clash with Diamond over whether or not to carry their various wares, including the aforementioned B.J., the situation eventually resolved via Diamond’s reconsideration of their initial rejection? Or the group’s editorial in the debut issue of the free comics magazine Comics Comics (downloadable from here - scroll down, the sidebar might be screwy), a both memorably and infuriatingly satiric piece of aesthetic/patriotic faux-grandstanding (“The irony is the 9/11 of comics came when Art Spiegelman used that Photoshop filter in his 9/11 book. Are you kidding me? I mean, do you call that experimenting? Do you think that’s helping? Honestly… Did you even play with any of the settings?”)?

And there were even curiouser issues to emerge, like the Summer 2006 release of something titled Paper Rad, B.J. & the Dogs 2 (GRAIL QUEST!), a collection of comics created by unknown artists posing as Paper Rad, but now apparently calling themselves the Paper Rad Liberation Front - the book itself is actually a rather obvious 'response' piece, a sometimes brutal rejoinder to Paper Rad's aesthetic approach.

It's rare you see that sort of thing in comics.

But then, the inexplicable never seems far from the fingers of this trio. Case in point: the new(ish) dvd Paper Rad: Trash Talking, $16, 60 minutes, from Load Records. Save for a spine notation of the disc’s title, there’s no descriptive text anyone on the case, all space surrendered to blazing color art. Open the case up and you get assaulted with yet more art, plus you get to unfold a small poster of photos and drawings. There is no legal indicia. There are no credits. There’s four chapter titles printed onto the disc itself, so there’s a little bit of guidance, but once you pop the disc in you’ll also see that there’s no menus. You’re treated to the image of a bunch of characters watching television, then an MIDI version of the Bee Gee’s Jive Talkin’ starts up, and we follow a little blob character as he struts around a city street, settles into a studio, and delivers a speech about why there’s no menu, eventually getting flustered and ranting about CD-Rom drives and instructing the viewer to install DirectX drivers before getting mad and giving up. Then the show starts, although several minutes of what follows is still labeled Intro in the chapters.

You can get a decent sense of what to expect from the program by checking out the trailer. Much of the first chapter consists of various music videos Paper Rad has created, cushioned by extensive stretches of video collage - there’s a ton of old cartoons, toy commercials, video game cutscenes, obscure children’s show footage, and seemingly ‘found’ footage fused together, most of it additionally decorated with crackling video effects, vivid colors, strobe lights, weird noise, throbbing electronic beats, and odd animated characters (both Tux Dog and Garf make special appearances). I have to wonder what viewers who don’t happen to be from the US and currently between the ages of, say, 22 and 32 will make of all this, since it’s highly specific, personal work, virtually every scrap of recontextualized detritus hailing from somewhere in the depths of the ‘80s. The cumulative effect for me was one of staggered, recalled memory, tiny blips of lights popping on in my head at the sight of each new lost consumable. And I expect that’s what Paper Rad was counting on, since their own hyperactive, neon-washed approach serves not to merely present childhood memories, but present them in the way that an adult might halfway recall during a particularly deep slumber and dreams they can never hope to fully remember.

Now you can buy them, of course. I’m not sure if they’re region protected.

Chapter 2 settles down a bit for the ‘pilot’ episode of the new Paper Rad cartoon series, Alfe, featuring the cast of many of Ben Jones’ comics. This piece is a lot more tonally contemporary, in that it seems very heavily influenced by the comedic beats of Adult Swim, especially Aqua Teen Hunger Force, though the voice acting (uncredited, naturally) seems more improvisatory. The story sees Our Heroes, Alfe, Horace, and Roba, handing around in their home because they think the world is at nuclear war. Actually, they accidentally used Magic Cards to summon an evil version of Alfe, Ralphe, who must be stopped or something. As one might expect, not a lot of adventuring takes place, though the jokes are often pretty great (better than some Aqua Teen episodes I’ve watched). And, obviously, it’s all done in Jones’ familiar swooping and circling visual style, which loans itself remarkably well to the limited animation favored by Cartoon Network after primetime. Truly, if the idea of a Ben Jones comic come to life appeals to you, there’s no more perfect place to realize your fantasies.

But Paper Rad is as much about cracked art mysticism as laughs, and the rest of the disc takes on a somewhat moodier tone. Chapter 3, Rest Stop, offers plenty more video footage, accompanied by a bizarre wordless half-story about a monstrous Janus pig (I think) lamenting his/her lack of feeling, and meeting up with a green orb that holds dance parties. It’s baffling, though a good lead-in to the wild, breathtaking chapter 4, Shape Control, which suddenly snaps into the style of pixel animation to depict a war between rival forces searching for the shape of the future of entertainment, which is all that can save the world. Is it the new U2 iPod? It is a vhs tape with rainbow blood? Is it hypnotic, looped footage of a romantic musical number from a Christian(?) kids’ puppet show? All we know is that aesthetic war and greed can only lead to broken hearts, as the end of all things is depicted via home video footage of a bunch of giggly teenage girls attempting to put on a more homemade puppet show, about lynching and racial strife, though they often get distracted to go answer the phone and stuff.

And then the characters from the beginning return to protest that they don’t understand anything. Then they find out they’ve been watching themselves the whole time. And then we find out we’ve been watching ourselves too.

And then the disc ends with the image it began on, and shuts itself off. Turn it back on, and you’ll realize the whole program has been designed as a Möbius strip.

There are no extras that I’ve found.

It's quite an experience, this short dvd, and fully worth the asking price. If you don't want to get it at the Load Records page above, Buenaventura Press has some copies too. Mediums are mediums, and comics aren't video, but Paper Rad transitions neatly from form to form, its message never less than striking.