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

Bulldog Adventure Magazine #2

Posted on October 11, 2001

'BAM's back now,' announces editor, Jason Cobley, 'and I'm glad to report that British independent comics are back on course.' If nice thoughts and good intentions alone could deliver proof of a revival (?), then this anthology makes for a convincing argument. However, this is sterile, fresh-less, uninspiring stuff.

The bulk of strips on offer are concerned with 'the Blighty Universe', and in the main provide tongue-in-cheek sci-fi tinged tales occasionally punctuated with jarring stabs at emotional depth, handled awkwardly and with almost parody-like mis-judgment. There is however a degree of scripting know-how in evidence, and though at times signs of a struggle with page limitations are obvious, one senses a competent storytelling craft at work. Craft and know-how alone make not a diverting read, though. (That said, the near-relentless exposition of the non-Blighty offering of this anthology adds to one's appreciation of the skill involved in constructing those Blighty-related efforts.)

For the most part however, the artwork is impressive, but betrayed somewhat by awful computer lettering, poorly applied. 'Duty', though static and stiff, displays some solid pencilling, ably inked. 'Spook Fog' desperately needs background detail and a cleverer approach to layout and composition, but offers a sound-enough draughtsmanship; 'Oak' seems sloppy and rushed, but has about it an endearing gristly feel and occasional Wolverton grotesqueness; and 'Nippon' is cartooned with an easy energy that is both vibrant and fluent, and hand-lettered quite beautifully.

In essence, I guess Bulldog Adventure Magazine smacks of the pre-Alan Moore eighties, when comics in general were simply crafted by pedantic hacks devoid of the will to produce emotive work; when art was everything, caricature was king, and an artist's strengths dictated the 'reliable' writer's ambition.
Yes, BAM #2 is past its expiry date, but passes the time. So, like, if passing time is your thing...

32 A4 pages, £2 – check availability at www.bulldogcomics.co.uk