Halfway through Cartoon Workshop, itself half of this Paper Rad salvo, the California Raisins appear. Without singing, they bask in their fame, none more than the giant one made of smaller Raisins, like a fruit-aisle Voltron. Then we go back to the story, which pits Dr. Trustwell against a morphing Spanish Peacock. In other words, typical Paper Rad.
In this book, Paper Rad overtakes the Archie-style digest with degraded Hannah Barbara characters on one side, fashionable pigs on the other. Chuck Norris beats up a 1990s hippie; the pigs vomit glorious colors. The faux-amateur art serves up deadpan humor in collages and doodles. If it sounds stupid, it is so quite marvelously, delivered straight, no wink. If you have read their previous book BJ and Da Dogs, you will find no surprises here, as long as metaphysical puzzles don’t count.
These comics would be sui generis were they not part of the conversations surrounding gallery art. Taken just as comics, the work of Ben Jones and the Ciocci siblings looks amateurish, but they work in the context of readymades, appropriation, and culture jamming. They go further than just cultural commentary, though. They infuse the detritus of middle class kids’ stuff with both irony and spiritual earnestness. They don’t condescend, but illustrate how such things can contain emotion and meaning. In other words, even if your life’s full of crap, you can still write poetry in it. As one of the pigs says, “anythings can be cool if you do something cool with it.”
Not everything’s cool, though. The title page has an oblique quote: “stop comic snitching.” If “snitching” means “stealing,” it’s an odd statement for a group who freely appropriates others’ characters. The quote seems to refer, however, not to the practice itself but a case of Internet impersonation.
In 2006, several Paper Rad sites appeared on MySpace, followed by a book on the self-publishing site Lulu. Entitled BJ, Paper Rad and da Dogs 2 (Grail Quest!), it seemed like a friend’s prank. It was really an attack. In 177 hacked-out pages, the author(s) lampooned not just Paper Rad’s art, but the artists themselves, offering up photos and CVs. They criticized the use of appropriation, throwing in liberal riffs on He-Man and Hinduism before culminating in a tired Marxist critique.
Paper Rad responded on their Web site, but without condemnation of the book. They understand borrowing and parody, to the point that they made their character Tux Dog open source. They did, howvever, condemn the impersonation. It’s a fine line, but I wouldn’t want my name on Grail Quest! either. Reading it is a chore. It seems motivated by professional jealousy, perhaps because Paper Rad make it look so easy. For critics who find their work tossed off and meaningless, I suggest the free download. Then compare it to Cartoon Workshop/Pig Tales, and bask in the glow.
(This review originally appeared in the May 2007 Comics Journal.)
Related fake sites:
- Fake Paper Rad Myspace page
- Another Paper Rad Myspace page, though frankly, it’s hard to make a MySpace page that doesn’t look fake
- Fakeish Blogspot blog, since we all know how hard it is to set up one of those
And remarkably, Lulu’s still got the Grail Quest thing on there.