Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

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Posted by Don MacPherson on May 24th, 2017

The Last Paper Route #1
Writers: Sean Jordan & Alex Kennedy
Artist: Dave Howlett
Letters: Jason Loo
Cover artist: Kody Peters
Publisher: Decent Comics
Price: $3.50 CAN

I happened upon this indie, self-published comic while attending the East Coast Comic Expo recently, and it caught my eye for a few reasons, but chief among them was its connection to the newspaper industry, notably how the industry existed a number of years ago. As a reporter for a daily newspaper (and a former paperboy myself), I decided I ought to check it out. The creators offer up an over-the-top tribute to the lost childhood job of newspaper delivery, as well as to the importance of print journalist, albeit to a lesser extent. There’s nothing remotely realistic about their take on the concept of paper routes, but there’s definitely something nostalgic. The Last Paper Route is difficult to describe. I was put in mind of The Goonies and Back to the Future — not in terms of plot, but when it comes to the exaggerated adventure and weird characters that populate an otherwise mundane, suburban backdrop.

The biggest and most important paper route in Harbour City is up for grabs, as the previous paper carrier who serviced it for seven years has disappeared. District circulation manager Mr. Beagles taps his best teen paperboys, Mikey and Arv, to gets the news on more than a hundred doorsteps on time, but he also warns them about the importance of delivering to the mysterious and foreboding Mephisto Apartments before dark…

Cover artist Kody Peters’ figures, while consistent with those in the interior art, reminds me of the style of Matthew (Salt Water Taffy) Loux, and I like the motion conveyed in the image, as well as the urban nature of their environment thanks to the structures towering over them. Howlett’s cartooning inside the comic is effective and in keeping with the campy, rather innocent tone of the storytelling. The Alley Oop/Tintin eyes are nevertheless effective when to comes to being emotive. I find it interesting how the younger characters are distinguished from the more extreme adult figures in the story. The adults are more detailed but exaggerated while there’s a simpler tone to the look of the teen protagonists.

This comic is a bit vague about when it’s set, but it’s definitely not set in the here and now. Teens as paper carriers are practically a thing of the past, and it seems clear the creators have endeavored to capture a nostalgic and yet timeless tone. There’s an unabashedly ‘80s feel to things, save for the comic-book shop elements, which are more modern in tone, not to mention ham-fisted, given the 1990s tone of the discussion in the shop.

The notion of teens eager to take on paper routes is an almost laughable idea, not only by today’s standards but when viewed through the filter of days gone by. I delivered newspapers in my neighborhood when I was a kid, as did two of my younger brothers. It certainly wasn’t a badge of honor, but it was a job in which we took pride. The writers romanticize the “profession,” as it were, but that’s not uncommon in pop culture. Look back to Newsies. Look elsewhere in comics, such as Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls. Was there ever anything special about newspaper carriers? I don’t know, but it feels like there was. Today, newspapers tend to be delivered by adults, tossing copies of today’s thinner newspapers out moving car windows. The days of kids placing a paper in a mailbox are fading fast.

Ultimately, that’s what The Last Paper Route seems to be about: nostalgia. The creators recall not only childhood jobs and dreams, but the oddball adventures of ‘80s pop culture and the bombastic and industry-damaging trends of comics in the 1990s. That’s why it feels familiar and comfortable and, in the end, amusing.

This first issue was published in late 2015, though I hadn’t heard tell of it until recently. Subsequent issues have been published, and I’m going to seek them out. I’m curious to see not only where the story leads, but to see the evolution in the storytelling, both in terms of plot and art. While quirky and delving into subject matter that interests me, this opening chapter struck me a bit as though the writers and artist were still trying to determine when they wanted The Last Paper Route to be. I’m interested to see if greater focus comes into play in subsequent installments of the story. 6/10

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