By Corinne Mucha, Elijah Brubaker, and Jeremy Tinder
32 pages, black and white
Published by Tugboat Press
One of the best things about going to a show like the Small Press Expo (SPX) is that so often, creators time their new releases to be right around the time of the show. So by way of example, if it’s late September/early October, there’s a good chance that Greg Means will have assembled a new issue of Papercutter. And once again, I must say, if you aren’t reading Papercutter then you’re missing out on one of the best alternative-comics anthologies being published.
The lead story in Papercutter #8 is Corinne Mucha’s "Growing Up Haunted"—telling the story of how as a child, Mucha was convinced there were witches living in her closet, ready to jab her feet with syringes and then carry her away. What I really love about this story is how it works on more than one level. On the surface, it’s enjoyable to read just in terms of the creative ideas that Mucha came up with when she was much younger; the witches living in an invisible castle (complete with floor plans sketched out), their kidnapping plans, and their eventual departure. It’s about a lot more than that, though; it’s about growing up, for starters, and how Mucha slowly became ready to let go of the witches, and her reaction to them as both a teenager as well as an adult. More importantly, though, it’s fascinating to read in Mucha’s story how everyone else reacts to the witches, from a random stranger (who happens to be a faith healer), to each of her parents. Mucha’s father trying to send spirits away is surprisingly touching, with Mucha’s glyph-inspired art bringing a sense of innocence to the scene. I especially like how Mucha wraps the story up in a Lynda Barry-esque way, asking the reader and herself what one can believe about childhood when one of your memories is suddenly cast into doubt. It’s a strong conclusion to "Growing Up Haunted" and it’s really stuck with me since then.
Next up is Elijah Brubaker’s "High School," a two-page vignette using his characters Ray and Hubert. It’s not a bad story, but I can’t help but feel like something was missing at the end of the day. It feels like it’s the start of a much longer story that never happens, lacking any real punch. I’d love to see a version of this story that continues for another half-dozen pages or so; Brubaker is able to define his characters with surprising speed, and there’s a glimmer of something fun just around the corner. As it stands, though, it feels like a (very rare for Papercutter) slight misfire.
Last up is Jeremy Tinder’s "Pete at Night." Tinder’s Cry Yourself to Sleep really pleased me a few years ago, and "Pete at Night" follows up on that promise quite nicely. It’s a story that starts very normally—guy in a bar sees a girl he wants to talk to, but at the crucial moment bolts instead. It’s what happen after he bolts, though, that made me really stand up. I certainly wasn’t expecting a strange bird-like creature in the alley standing over a corpse, and to say anything else would really spoil the fun that waits. It’s a smart little story, one that brings the unexpected onto the page several times, but never in a cheap "surprise twist!" kind of way. When I finished "Pete at Night" I had a big grin on my face; it’s well-written, Tinder’s art is nice as always, and the ending was absolutely perfect. It’s a great ending to the story, accomplishing in just 10 pages what others would have used an entire graphic novel to barely achieve.
What I think I love the most about Papercutter is that I never know what I’m going to get; sometimes it’s creators whose work I’m familiar with, other times it’s someone brand-new. Means always picks interesting stories, though, and I think it’s safe to say that there’s never been a bad story in any of the eight issues to date. If you’ve never read Papercutter before (and there are reviews of #4, #5, and #6 on this site as well), you owe it to yourself to take a look. If nothing else, you’ll certainly end up finding a new comic creator that you need to follow. Check it out.