PAPERBOY: ‘Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire’ Edition

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!


CP: A dose of sobering, frightening shit this week, as CP investigates the wave of arsons sweeping Coatesville, Pa. The fire-swept Chester County town is an hour west of Philly, but Mike Newall and Doron Taussig’s reporting make it feel closer to home, populated with high-school dropouts, broken families, and a cast of characters that includes…whoa, wait, the town’s last serial arsonist?

When the fires started, Matt Juhas’ father asked him if he was lighting them. Juhas said no, and eventually his cp_2009_02_12.jpgfather stopped asking.

Juhas started setting fires after graduating high school. He set them all over Coatesville, in trash cans, sheds and garages, over a stretch of 366 days from 2003 to 2004. He went to jail for 22 months, coming home shortly before the new string of fires began. He says he has nothing to do with them.

We meet Juhas in an Applebee’s just outside town, and ask him why he set his fires.

“Because there’s no evidence,” he says. “The fire burns it up.

“All you need is a lighter.”

Juhas works as a mason now. He has a thick build and big hands and forearms. He speaks quietly. It’s lunch, and he’s eating a shrimp-covered steak.

He does not explain why he felt compelled to commit crimes in the first place — he seems detached from his own motives. When pressed, he says he was in his “mischief stage,” and that he had a rough childhood: His mother left when he was a teenager without giving much of a reason.

Between the multiplicity of theories behind the arsons, the wounded sadness of the victims, and the sense of a town’s entire populace on edge, Newall and Taussig did a bang-up job digging up these stories and setting them in a deeply affecting frame. Sometimes no commentary is necessary: they run down some of 2009’s cases dispassionately, one displaced citizen giving way to another, bam bam bam. It’s unsettling as only the truth can be.

PW: Stephen Wells’ cover story on comic-book scribe (and ex-CP editor) Duane Swierczynski doesn’t start with the man himself. It begins with speculative fiction, imagining the various atrocities Swierczynski could bring to his authorship of Marvel’s newest, Philly-based installment of the vigilante hero the Punisher.  I don’t get it. Why not roam the streets with him? Why not have him imagine the back stories of passersby and the grisly misdeeds that might lead the Punisher to strike them down? Why not show how “fucking bonkers” he is instead of just telling us?

pwcover2_14_09.jpgLast month Swierczynski and a dozen other Philly noir heads spent a cold, bleak Sunday afternoon in Roosevelt Memorial Park at the grave site of David Goodis, the Philly noir writer who died in 1967. Swierczynski posted about the ceremony on his blog, which also features mini tributes to the hard-bitten, chain-smoking, Remington-hammering real-life heroes of the great American “racy” pulp-fiction boom of the ’50s and ’60s. Like the superbly named Orrie Hitt, who sat at his manual typewriter in a trailer park in upstate New York, surrounded by iced coffee, screaming kids and clouds of Winston cigarette smoke, battering out an average of one sex- and violence-packed masterpiece every two weeks.

Given that Swierczynski worked as an alt-weekly editor and therefore almost certainly had to nurture college-educated writers through deadline-induced nervous breakdowns, it’s no wonder no-nonsense blue-collar wordsmiths like these are his hard-bitten heroes.

“Er, kinda,” says Swierczynski. “But I don’t want to spend my life writing porn.”

That, plus the preceding synopses of Swierczynski’s noir novels, doesn’t come off as bonkers. It sounds like a man with a healthy imagination who’s carved out a dark, bloody niche for himself. Maybe it’s just that I’ve always preferred comics with mutants, or that Wells doesn’t tap into what makes his subject tick until near the end, but I never thought that excess would leave me feeling empty.


CP: Lee Daniels: Push-ing the envelope and freakin’ everybody’s shit. Shakespeare and hip-hop: together since LFO’s 1999’s hit “Summer Girls.” Gamblor 2: Video-poker Boogaloo. Perfect title for an NBA article. Just have a Kobe vs. Lebron cage match instead of the All-Star Game and call it a season.

PW: Lois Griffin was right: Meth is a hell of a drug. New media: saving journalism while killing the Grammys. Super Size Me in reverse: next, Osama bin Laden will come find him. Sucks to be this waitress. Hope she doesn’t drown her sorrows in bundino.

WINNER: True crime vs. comic book crime? Sorry, but there’s no way PW can stack up this week. CP takes it.

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