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

The Best Kind Of Comedy?

Posted on October 21, 2001

It's difficult to criticise humour when it achieves its ambition of prompting laughter. Usually adjectives such as 'formulaic' and 'derivative' are bandied about in an attempt to muster some semblance of resistance to a work which, though funny, provides nothing unexpected. After a while one even recognises the mechanical efficiency of a Harry Hill, or an Eddie Izzard, then suddenly reaches the tired conclusion that 'yeah, they're funny, but so what!' The Far Side rarely fails to amuse, but for the most part it's the same few gags remixed to fit constantly changing situations. But then, be it Max Cannon or John Callahan, Glen Baxter or Sam Henderson, that spark of originality that prompted fevered word-of-mouth reaction fades with prolonged exposure. The stuff remains funny, but so the fuck what?

Toby Tripp's The Best Kind Of Comedy? provides a version of a humour in which I have long ceased to indulge: those gentle, po-faced slants on the mundane that strive for odd-ball poignancy. You know the kind – toilet rolls that have lost the will to live; the nihilistic judge who spends his court time laughing. Tripp offers no added ingredient, but with inventive verve and screwball precision, he produces some quality examples of this kind of comedy at its best; and in doing so, alerts me to the fact that I had tired not of this humour, but of this humour done poorly. Tripp persuades me to take another look, and the results are both fresh and close-to-inspirational. This the kind of stuff to which one dampens jocular response, convinced that so obvious are these gags that you yourself must previously have thought of them. (I think it's called jealousy!)
My favourite cartoon is a three paneller in which a girl informs her boyfriend that if he really loved her he'd kill himself. By final panel, boyfriend having skidaddled, said girl is alone but in resilient mood: "There's someone out there for me - I know it," she says defiantly. Tripp then offers post-strip title: 'Impossible Demands of a Lover'. (er...You had to be there, I guess!)

The Best Kind Of Comedy? is a collectable booklet with hand printed cover. Its mostly primitive cartooning is not developed beyond doodles, but with Russian-doll figures, offers a childlike charm hard to resist. Ultimately however, it's the cartoonist's firm grasp of design that affords the work an attractive quality, and with hefty infusion of genuine laughs, makes for an appealing purchase.
Probably containing some of the funniest cartoons I've seen since David Shrigley's The Beast is Near,

64 A6 pages, £3.50 - check availability at www.feelwelcome.co.uk.