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 #3

Posted on June 27, 2002

The melancholic cover illustration and subdued, no-nonsense logo/title design of this publication offer perfect indication of the tone and mood of the issue. Indeed, thematically the weight with which the previous Cracks have been imbued is maintained, and that sense of there being meaning lurking beneath the surface always present. I guess, as with previous issues, it's all about the frustration prompted by passivity, and the resentment that festers behind such assertive-lacking behaviour.

A collection of 'Wage Slave' strips account for much of this issue's content and continue with last issue's diluted themes of existentialism and helplessness in the face of societal expectation and enforced routine played out by a once cuddly toy bear, now wearied with the cynicism of experience and a work/drink prompted lethargy. Ranging in length from three-panel to fourteen-page, in the main they provide sound amusement, at times contain some absolutely lovely, neat artwork, and, with occasional shifts in rhythm, often prove strangely affecting. That said, the longer, main presentation 'Wage Slave', though spot-on in its observations, pales in comparison to the shorter, punchier efforts. Lacking a tightness in its scripting and in its design, it reads slightly sloppy, looks slightly sloppy, and the search for poignancy toward story's end seems quite laboured. It's still a worthwhile effort, mind - the illustration is of a consistently sound quality, and the message of the piece flies in the face of current self-help book favourite 'Who Moved My Cheese': ultimately change simply affects environment - no matter the hue, we simply substitute one stagnation for another.
Also on offer: 'Danny and Clare', an oddity of a short story that had me feeling lost and abandoned throughout. Similar to the experience of reading two pages ripped from the first draft of a novel-in-progress, it fails to read well, lacks direction and form, but provides good characterisation and dialogue that seems to ring true. More impressive though is the Charles Burns inkiness of the accompanying illustrations - some lovely stuff.

So, all-in-all a very worthwhile issue then that, as the 'How To' books say, successfully draws parallels between the particular and the universal, and is peopled with a character with whom we may share no detail, but with whom we connect on an emotional level.

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