Heart of Ice

*Hey Jog, why didn’t this update appear in the morning when it was supposed to?

Ice, my friend. Ice.

I would not get excited over the prospect of reviews of new comics tomorrow either; the entire area just got slammed with an ice storm, and everything is frozen solid for Valentine’s Day. My office was closed, I’ve already cleaned my car off once but it’s probably already been resealed in a block of frost, and there’s no guarantee that any of it’s going to let up in the next ten hours. And I was looking forward to getting all those valentines at work too.

Cartoon Workshop/Pig Tales

Oh hey, it’s the new book from Paper Rad! For those who need reminding, Paper Rad is three people: siblings Jacob and Jessica Ciocci, and Paper Radio co-founder Ben Jones. They make a lot of things, and comics is one of them. They also combine a lot of things, and comics is generally a component part. I haven’t seen this particular book pop up on Diamond’s lists anywhere; if the past is any guide, it won’t be moseying into your local store for another three or four months or something, but you can buy it now at various places online, like publisher PictureBox Inc.’s website.

PictureBox dubs this “the follow up” to the much-acclaimed-by-those-who-read-it Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs; it's a true statement to the extent that Cartoon Workshop/Pig Tales the second formal Paper Rad book to be released by PictureBox, but I think the comparison is otherwise a bit misleading. While Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs was a big fat chunk of visual approaches and colors and paper stocks and things, a hodgepodge of the best kind, Cartoon Workshop/Pig Tales is far more modest. It’s 96 pages, and looks and feels like an Archie digest, the type you’d see at the checkout counter at a grocery store, from its small dimensions right down to its low-grade paper quality.

It’s also far closer in feel to a fast-working minicomic than a proper book. - Paper Rad has released quite a lot of handmade, 500-copy minicomics throughout the years, and the two title pieces of this book are, respectively, the third installment in a series of those comics (Cartoon Workshop), and a reprinting of an actual limited edition minicomic that PictureBox itself distributed (Pig Tales), albeit one that was credited solely to Jessica Ciocci. I don’t know if the version of Pig Tales in here is revised, or if the other two contributed anything (doesn’t look like it). I’m never quick enough to find these minis.

So, it’s probably best to adjust your expectations. Certainly Cartoon Workshop sees Paper Rad at their loosest and silliest, though they assure the reader that this installment is the very best so far. There’s five sections, plus a making-of spread for what appears to be a music video collaboration with Canadian artist Beau Labute. It’s very Ben Jones-heavy, and seasoned Jones readers will know immediately to expect rambling dialogue, abrupt gags, odd transformations, and the repositioning of the most familiar, overexposed pop culture tidbits around into weirdly compelling forms.

Actually, that last bit goes for Paper Rad as a whole; I’ve never thought of the group as trafficking in irony or culturally elitist snark, but I suppose their aesthetic leaves them especially open to charges of such, so it makes perfect sense that they constantly appropriate grossly overexposed, still-present, and/or easily accessed things like Garfield or the Muppet Babies or Trolls or the Simpsons to plug into their quasi-mystic, pop-saturated worldview. You’d have to be a complete fucking idiot to start cracking Chuck Norris jokes now, which I expect is exactly why Paper Rad does it.

This is a silly joke book (er, this half is a silly joke book), so there’s no culling of the spirit from the most prominent of consumerist icons here - Chuck Norris is just a mean guy who walks around with an alligator and torments a “1990’s style hippy” named Patrick (“Jeez, nice try, maybe you should take a number, AT THE DRUG RE-HAB LINE! so SHUT-UP”) while waging war against the Super Ninja and generally being a belligerent tough guy asshole. And if you don’t think any of that’s funny, well, no explanation of the Paper Rad aesthetic is going to help you out, not with stuff this low-key. I respond well to this on a gut level, the funny drawings and funny words level, which seems to be where the work is pitched.

Pig Tales, on the flip side, is a little more obscure, a little more drawing-for-drawing’s-sake, and packed with conversations between Ciocci’s signature pig characters. They constantly eat, shoot the breeze about nothing, work on frustrated creative projects (best sight gag: a book titled “How to Draw Manga Dicks”), vomit, and occasionally seem to break through to something enlightened. It’s extremely scattered, but underneath there’s a compelling authenticity of experience, as if we’re getting a very nearly verbatim word-and-picture transcript of what’s running through the artist’s head.

It’s good that such work is being made more accessible. Well, somewhat more accessible. Eventually, reality crashes in and we all realize that unlike the cheap and fast Archie digests seemingly under emulation , this thing actually costs $15, which pretty much destroys the possibility of an impulse buy, and will probably scare off all but the more devoted Paper Rad followers; regardless all things considered, they’ll probably be the ones willing to track it down online or attend a show where it’s for sale anyway. Still, it’s always worth showing this stuff around. Everyone who’s borrowed my copy of the Paper Rad dvd, Trash Talking, has been pretty amazed by it, so I know their material doesn’t require a thorough grounding in the ebb and flow of the Providence comics brut scene or whatever the fuck to appreciate. This isn't as overwhelming a work, though, and is best approached as easygoing laughs and fun drawings. Attaching a grander import to it might cause collapse.

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