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

A Crack In The Shell #2

Posted on September 27, 2001

I've no inkling with regards the source of inspiration for this title - perhaps a derivation best kept unknown - but I do know that Leonard Cohen sings of there being 'a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in'.
Un/fortunately the crack in this shell is minor and there is little on offer here of appeal to those who already subject day-to-day living to a revealing light through rejection of convenient ignorance and embraced myopia. However, for those obtuse beyond grasping a glimmer of pointlessness in their darkened reality, this publication may prove a gentle enough step on the road to enlightenment!

In the three page collection of 'Wage Slave' newspaper style strips, diluted themes of existentialism and helplessness in the face of societal expectation and enforced routine are played out by a once cuddly toy bear, now wearied with the cynicism of experience and a work/drink/hash prompted lethargy. (I added the hash bit myself, and dedicate it to the Barr bloke and sibling!) Sometimes purposely un-amusing, these slice-of-life bursts aren't quite substantial enough to be satisfying, but are well realised and competently crafted. A touch more care devoted to the chore of lettering could further add the polish required for syndication.
Less worthwhile, but technically equally impressive, the one page 'dole mole' offers nothing new in its 'Buddy Bradley' tale of slacker inactivity, but succeeds well in quietly capturing the laid back resignation of a generation-x character with damning Beatles 'Let It Be' poster on wall.
Two more one pagers 'The Wankers At Work' and 'Gombeen' continue the powerless tone of the publication, this time shedding some light on boy/girl interaction with blunt blows of humour that work well; and the back page is devoted to 'Whelan's Indie Bingo', an observational text piece that logically draws parallels between bingo and night-clubbing at a certain Dublin haunt!
However, the bulk of A Crack In The Shell is taken with the flimsy prose short story 'Sam McMac's Love-Plan' and the ambitious comic strip 'Touched' - five and six page efforts respectively. Though reasonably well-crafted and vaguely amusing at times, 'Love Plan' lacks substance and so desperately seeks to be funny that it can alone be judged on its ability to prompt laughter in response. It fails.
In contrast, 'Touched' is an awkward kind of 'Ghost World' told through the Chris Ware time/space story-telling method. Gentle in its execution, yet impressively striving to achieve more than the easy option of a common, flat comics work, on the whole it is not exactly successful, but is deserving of praise for its attempt to provoke emotional response and resonance through the capture of mood and tone. And again with further exploration of the theme of what I often refer to as 'powerlessmess', makes for a shining addition to this mostly symbiotic collection.

Ultimately A Crack In The Shell #2 lacks the diversity of its previous issue, but possesses endearing focus and unassuming subversion, and for a pound is a sound purchase and cheap means of widening your crack!

20 A5 pages, £1 – check availability at www.blackshapes.com