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PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!

ON THE COVER
CP: An unusual but effective cover this week, with a short graphic novel telling the story of life-sentenced prison inmate CP_Red_Dog.jpgHaywood Fennell. It’s image-heavy, with a concise but evocative text by Jacob Lambert—where has he been, by the way? Saw his byline in PW a little over a year ago, I think. Anyway, it starts like this:

Haywood Fennell is one of the 5,000-plus prisoners in Pennsylvania serving life terms for murder. “Red Dog,” as he is known, has been in prison since he was 17. He is now 60. This is his life story in graphic novel form.

It continues to unfold in epigrammatic sentences that are at once bleak and whimsical. The frames depicting Graterford Prison and the world that “he left in 1968″ are among the most affecting. It’s a great blend of journalistic reporting and artistic rendering—worth picking up in print.

PW: 40 years. 40 f***ing years. Many of the famous and infamous names that have graced the pages of PW over the last four decades return for this anniversary issue. Stretching all the way back to the days of the Welcomat, the entirety of the paper’s colorful history gets a Memory Lane-style walkthrough. Liz Spikol — glad to see her name again, too — lays it out, taking stock of changes over the years:

In the process, the paper became an essential translator of the city’s text, with opinionated columns, news briefs, cover stories, arts reviews and listings. If a visitor wanted to understand what Philadelphia was all about—really—they could pick up an issue of Philadelphia Weekly and get the idea. Writers were encouraged to do long-form journalism and burrow into PW_cover050411.jpgan important, overlooked issue until change took place. People who could write, not just report, were nurtured. There was infinite flexibility when the paper was large; as an editor, the space was a gift. Seem like a weird idea to have moneyed Republican WASP City Councilman Thacher Longstreth—he of the bow tie and argyle socks—give advice in an alt weekly? Then let’s do it!

PW made space for just about anything readers might enjoy, no matter how outlandish.

The paper won award after award for writing, photography, design, even headlines. Candidates longed for a PW endorsement; restaurants and theaters cringed at bad reviews. Communities that had been ignored for years by local government were attended to quickly after a story in PW’s pages; and individuals got their day in court far more quickly than they’d anticipated. PW got people out of jail. PW put people into jail. PW advocated and won. PW advocated and lost. At the end of the day, PW was an essential square of fabric in the city’s vast quilt-in-progress.

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, which is the governing body of North America’s alt weeklies, describes the mission this way: “What ties [AAN member papers] together are a strong focus on local news, culture and the arts; an informal and sometimes profane style; an emphasis on point-of-view reporting and narrative journalism; a tolerance for individual freedoms and social differences; and an eagerness to report on issues and communities that many mainstream media outlets ignore.”

This is precisely what Philadelphia Weekly has been devoted to since 1995.

Former editors Tim Whitaker and Sara Kelly chime in; hard-hitting writers, including Steve Volk, dish on days gone by; Jeff Barg praises and embarrasses former interns; and the whole thing unfolds with but a single mention of Phawker’s boss-man. At least they spelled his name right. [In fairness, they did invite me to contribute, but did so on Facebook which I NEVER go on, for reasons even I don’t fully understand, and so I didn’t find out until the party last night. Told Liz I would contribute to the next 40 anniversary issue — The Ed.]  I have to say, this issue looked big, bigger than most recent issues. With all the nostalgic features and backward-glancing interviews, I figured they’d top the 100 page mark for sure, and seeing Liz Spikol and other reflecting on the days of 200-pagers, I was really hoping this one would deliver. I checked: 80 pages. So it goes.

INSIDE THE BOOK

CP: “Get out of jail free” cards? I’d much prefer “a bank error in your favor.” Bykovsky considers the lobster. Love it: Yoo-Hoo reference in a fine dining review.

PW: Conversing with cauliflower. Offal = not awful. When blogging was new (plus the name origin of Philadelphia Will Do—I had no idea). Loved, hated and brainsoap-ed.

WINNER: CP has the artistic flair this week, but I have to give the honors to PW. The paper’s history is deeper and richer than I could have known, and the struggles it has taken to produce it over the years are worth praising, rather than unceremoniously crapping on them each week. In Valania’s words (also, Joey Sweeney’s words sometimes—what’s the deal with that, guys?): God save the Philadelphia Weekly and all who sail in her.*

*Paraphrasing Queen Elizabeth christening the QE2 in 1967.

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