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Paper Rodeo Ends With Issue #19, Special Issues Possible
posted April 14, 2006
 

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By Tom Spurgeon
Editor, Comics Reporter

As rumored, the free comics publication Paper Rodeo is no more, at least not in its regular, irregular form. The widely admired, avant-garde newspaper tabloid, featuring veterans of the Fort Thunder arts collective and various fellow travelers, ended its current run with last summer's issue #19.

"There are no plans to continue Paper Rodeo with any regularity," the artist Leif Goldberg wrote to The Comics Reporter when asked if the publication had indeed ended. Goldberg offered some hope that there might be future issues someday, although none are planned, by saying, "However, with special forces, special editions are not out of the question..."

Like many sites and comics-watchers, Comics Reporter became aware of the story when artist Aeron Alfrey posted to the Comics Journal message board that his submission to Paper Rodeo had been rejected with notice the publication had ended.

Issue #19 was the five-year anniversary issue.

imageFree in its home area of Providence and featuring advertisements for local merchants frequently as visually sumptuous as the comics content, the magazine found a national audience willing to pay for copies through the publication's post office box. Some fans even sent extra money in the hopes that older issues might be included in one's envelope. That informal method of distribution gave Paper Rodeo even more charm in some readers' eyes, and allowed new issues to remain events word of which would scramble up and down on-line networks with an energy denied the typical comics magazine. Paper Rodeo was also carried by mail-order services that routinely paid attention to mini-comics, like Highwater Books, Poopsheet Foundation and Bodega Distribution, as well as in the occasional music-related venue. Copies were even picked up and carried by cartoonists to conventions and distributed by hand, in the manner one imagines underground comics might have been 30 years ago.

Paper Rodeo's legacy may eventually be seen by those looking back as of the most important publications of the post-alternative era. It featured long serials like Mat Brinkman's remarkable Multi-Force, work from hard-to-find-in-comics artists like Leif Goldberg and Brian Chippendale, pages from rising stars like Ben Jones, and appearances from artists you wouldn't think of as working in that same general arena of expression, like Tim Hensley. In another sense, Paper Rodeo could be viewed as the last surviving expression of an explosion of handmade and handmade-feeling comics publications begun back in the mid-1990s with, primarily, Fort Thunder, a time where one could count on a dozen or two of new, silk-screened, wildly inventive mini-comics in a single calendar year. In that way, the tabloid's termination may feel to some like the end of the era.

imagePaper Rodeo counted among its fans several cartoonists, particularly younger ones. Matthew Thurber paid tribute to the publication by writing CR to say, "Paperrodeo unleashed the Charge of the Light Brigade into my brain. Really amazing art being distributed free like napkins at delis or chiefs throwing Potlatch goodies off the longhouse. I am sad that there might be no more, but at least there's reincarnation and the great flame burning under your ass started by them. Best advertising pages since the 19th century."

No one contacted by CR was able to come up with a specific reason why Paper Rodeo was coming to an end; two publishers who have put out work by Paper Rodeo contributors in book form, Tom Devlin of the now-defunct Highwater Books and Dan Nadel of Picturebox, Inc., had heard next to nothing about Paper Rodeo's end. While the demise of Paper Rodeo leaves those used to seeing so many interesting cartoonists working in that fun, disposable, newsprint format; nothing about the publication ending indicates a reduction in the artistic output of its most skilled contributors in various media.

pictures stolen from catalog entries for past issues around the Internet; I hope they'll forgive me.