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Minimalism Archives #6—Paper Rodeo
posted December 24, 2004

Rodeo Rodeo
By Tom Spurgeon

Two pages cut into thirds, at an angle. Feet planted on concentric circles, splitting the title into fifths. A bird hides his head in the ground amidst strange plants, as the words "Free For All" dance away from the line of its neck. A turtle carries a building on its back. More feet support the world. On the back, in cursive, a political message familiar to children of the 1980s: "Under the mushroom cloud, it is a far cry from living the way we intended! And still, our heads of state will barter for the last of our life." Heads pile up like mess hall potatoes. The feet are buried, not planted, fuel for the world that continues on.

Naked commerce takes center stage. A monster admonishes his son, and stick figures announce store hours. The promise of a book from the Heights appears one year and one month too early. One merchant offers Comics, books and crack vials. Another advertiser puts the price of his commercial into the ad, as a friendly reminder, shouted off the page Providence, Chapel Hill, Cambridge and Allston are represented, a roll call of east coast hipster enclaves. When you wish upon a death star… Jesus tips a few back, buys a Slayer CD and settles down with coffee and food. They are trying out faces for new money in the cause of urban ethics. Books make good gifts.

Divided into halves and then halved again at the bottom. At the surf laboratory, a scientist bearing a Mohawk and clear, plastic sunglasses makes advancements in melanin technology. Tan line fetishists rejoice, and implications are felt for racial discrimination. The billionaire snake enjoys a brief adventure that may simply take place in his mind, and everyone enjoys some ice cream. Above both glimpses into other worlds, strings float menacingly, like the threads from a wall hanging against the fake wood walls of a suburban home. They squiggle but largely refuse to touch.

The page explodes in dark ink, printed ribbon word balloons and snake-like gutters. An entreaty in the bottom right-hand corner suggests a way these comics might be read. I got a basil plant that sprouts forty leaves a day. Figures built stout and sturdy move through space in measured increments. A dog inflates. You'll never believe the things I've done for this place. The world of layered curves intrudes and overwhelms, albeit in bloodless fashion. There is a cut on a calf and regret on the face. Your eyes stagger to the end, exhausted. You're only as challenging as your sponsor.

A cherubic vampire prays for peace, as gently loping lines lead the eye to clouds and lines and slashed-out word balloons, making flat crystallized cloud-like creatures. Stairs blink to life and mountains grin. Let the cave rave begin. Childhood drawings of ET on graph paper bleed into designs for video game consoles. The nerd machine grimaces. It will take forever for somebody to figure out. Busey hides between the lines. Bugbears toss ice into a black hole working in concert under the watchful eyes and gaping maws of cliff faces. Meanwhile. You have 206 bones in your body. Surely, one of them is creative.

A gaggle of mismatched cartoon icons stumbles from the west Wim-Wik elementary school. It's 4:30, near Quiz Building H. But you probably won't none of you. Simon and Travis engage in insults that soon leads to lost face. Qrstl and Rita have a disagreement and someone gets called a dumb cunt. Linza admires Wolfie who no likes Linza. Dee! Fee! Tik tik tik. Zissy wants to play and points out what houses are for. Don't be fucking racist, Rita. And the alien goes, "Klek." Thin lines dominate, figures and heavy eyes seethe.

A pooping robot admires a worm woman's fake boobs. On May 17, 1842, something happens in Providence history in ornate letters from the mouths of statues that hardly makes sense in the context of American history. The crown pulsates, and the bottom panels feature advocacy and a structure made of bent plastic straws. Figures actually rendered and letters left big and blank follow a hooded man to the couch where he's straddle. Did you forget band practice? Bodies stack for no war. The Afghanistan discount store is open for business, come diddle my skittle.

A mountain of letters, tumbling out of the old Saul Steinberg coffee table books and settling on the page. Turning away, three photographs in black and white grace circles at the page's summit. Two unconnected non-words in all caps hide amid the alphabet ruins: esp and fou. Faces peek with curves for chins and folded angles for moustaches, and letters together fall just short of making any sense. Looking further, a few letters fail to scan at all, with an extra curl or an unlikely series of right angles or even training-bra like connected half circles posing as something other than noise.

Leif Goldberg up next, a relentless stew of fantastic political allegory, the ugliness of the depictions matching the underlying ideas. Eagles shit stars on civil rights. Please state becomes police state and angry pigs are confronted by uncontrollable visual cacophony. Conveyer belts stand in for consumer apathy and nature is assaulted by cleaning machines. The benign but neglectful mixes with the inane and creates life that has little meaning for the vast majority of people living it. Food orders art product, and a skull cries. Only then do you notice the balance of blacks and whites, the empty spaces ripping through the ink-soaked stage settings.

A green ink play in verse amuses without actually threatening the legacy of B. Kliban.

Get the Cash
Bet Your Ass
'Vette to Crash
Fret the Rash
Dodge the Draft
Wanna laff?
A Sona-Graph
Sawed in Half

Dogs and bunnies balance against tigers, with the rabbits revolving around a robot's body like a Jimi Hendrix album cover. There are shaved furs and a beach house covered in tufts. The copy shop is bypassed for items
that are cool, and the intercom spews nonsense. Two different artists make for one center spread.

The next page starts with wisdom. "One good thing about all this bullshit is that I love bullshit." Mat Brinkman pushes the tabloid into dense, tactile overdrive. Characters shove themselves up against nameless cameo players and tiny gnomes, but eventually fall away into curves and letters and stacked-upon idols. Battle Max Ace rips down Citadel City in a fit of impressive rage. A soldier riding a wingless bat is knocked from his steed by the workings of a renegade. Meetings are held, counsel is sought and ectodogh is consumed. A head full of micro-men means losing control. The drawing looks like dust on rocks feels between the fingers; the story feels like you're checking with the source for the madness on either side of this contribution.

Crudely drawn floating heads bump into one another, with flowers and birds marking the advent of spring. Some of the creatures feature the pointed ears of goblins or vampires, with pointed teeth to match. Ben Jones fashions a world of sentient airplanes and gun-toting dogs taken off-duty by their stern masters. Hands protect a diorama while in the opposite corner numbers are stacked sideways in a manner that suggests a compressed lettering guide.

Swirling up from the bottom of the page, The Anything People seek to make Simple Squamous rich and famous, although it may be they will star in a panel of their own and leave the hefty narrative work to more abstractly drawn characters. A hand flowers in order to grasp a small automatic weapon, and tiny imp assaults the story elements from outside the panel borders. "My Any Beans Necessary" and "Tedious Limbs" balance the bottom of the page.

Erin Rosenthal deals the reader backgrounds of black ink and gray tones. A story roars out of the first panel and drops like a roller coaster. The most interesting feature on the page is the depictions of thin arms with which the birdman in the story's last panel makes its point. In the cartoons below a building contorts its way around a diamond-filled background and person encased in rounded contours like a corn dog says "Fuck Shit Damn Fuck"
as they make their way across nicely manicured grass. Then they break into nonsense song.

Maps overlap to reveal menacing shapes outlined by the layers. They could be dungeons, sewers, mazes or simply drawings for drawing's sake, with little in the way of sense intended. Across the fold, faces touch either -- faces on torsos, or hanging alone, or dripping eyeballs from the sky or even connected to bodies cut from wood. Many smile but none seem happy. One turns the page and advertising takes over once again.


The preceding was a page-by-page description of a single Paper Rodeo, issue #11, published in April 2002, comics work so deliciously impenetrable that experiencing them on a surface level is sometimes the only sane reaction. The most efficient place to see current efforts by cartoonists from Fort Thunder's core and those who have been inspired by them, this free newspaper tabloid based in Providence is the new comics publication I look forward to most. If anything in this special Fort Thunder issue of The Comics Journal has caught your eye, or if you're simply a fan of the form, you owe it to yourself to order new issues of Paper Rodeo as they appear. Dense, mysterious, and soaked with the joy of making marks on paper and telling stories without worrying the result, Paper Rodeo is the Sunday comics section in a happy universe where Gary Panter has switched places with Mort Walker. No other comics publication being produced right now will make you feel like you're participating in something subversive and wonderful simply by reading it.