A Review Asks Only Whether One Can Live With It Or Die Of It

I've been reviewing small press publications on www.bugpowder.com for a few years now. Totemic small presser Andy Luke recruited me; he'd been impressed with my essay, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll, and was convinced that I could restore some cheer to the reviews section.

Ostensibly a scoff-mixture, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll discusses the pathogenic presence in UK small press of comics creators eager to produce work sterilized by an ambition to be adaptable to the strictures of an intrusive company bent on 'product development', and who derive a vanity-buzz of satisfaction from tucking themselves into deadlines and knocked-off scripts. "This budding hack is fuelled by little more than the desperation for a sense of celebrity," I wrote, "and must be destroyed."

My muscular reviewing-style grated with small press enthusiasts' indulgence in self-satisfied congeniality and writer/artist shape-throwing, but I refused to conveniently dismiss creators with throwaway compliments, employing instead a reviewing discipline based on four simple tenets: 1, perspective is to be achieved; 2, the standards by which one is judging the work are to be made clear; 3, credit is to be given where it is due; and 4, one should not be such a fucking misanthrope, you above-being-human narcissist.

Regularly achieving three of the four principles with my aesthetic evaluations, and quickly developing an obsessive-compulsive urgency for production of symmetrically paragraphed reviews, the meaningless absurdity of opinionative writing soon revealed itself to me. I was not deterred.

John Robbins

Beowulf Cartoon

Posted on July 20, 2004

Mike Weller, acclaimed creator of Space Opera, Fanzine Fiction and Madeline My Love In Death And Fancy, turns his attention to 1000 a.d. (ish) poem Beowulf and conjures a matter-of-fact prose retelling, suffused with suspense and intrigue. Present are those elements of ‘high culture’ that lend greater legitimacy to the superhero genre - which we all enjoy - and a sense of foreboding integral to the effectiveness of good horror - which again, we all enjoy. As Bill Griffiths puts it in his introduction, ‘what better than - a book of Beowulf!’

Hideous swamp giant Grendel, a half-man half-god cast out of Asgard by Odin and Frigor, wreaks havoc nightly on Danmark’s great banqueting hall, Heorot. When women, minstrels and poets alike refuse to enter Heorot for fear of Grendel’s thirst for human prey, and when all that remains of heroes in the morning light are bloodstains on benches and tables, once-great king Hrothgar is reduced to prisoner of his own kingdom. Enter: Beowulf - champion swimmer, Scandanavian-famed as the youth whose hands have the strength of 30 men, rumoured bed-wetter and same-sex fancier. Can he and his 14 loyal kinsmen be the first men in 12 years to stay in the banqueting hall after dark? And what of the hushed stories of a second unearthly creature, woman-shaped and giant? Our hero, it seems, has his work cut out.

Presumably what sets this production of Beowulf apart from others is Weller’s bloody mindedness in attempting to capture a visually lyrical quality befitting a story originally created for an oral tradition. Practically the whole of the book’s 176 pages is imaginatively hand-lettered, mostly in bubble-style, with illustrations used sparingly but to affecting consequence. It is either the startling work of a madman, or of one who understands the conditions of the world and who has found his own tranquillity and order. Either way, here Weller entertains with tales of long long before.

176 A4 pages, £15 – available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk