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

Doctor Sponge #1

Posted on October 8, 2001

A striking yellow day-glo cover sees the good doctor in hunched, damaged pose; his goofy grin etched with boyish psychosis, his hair a shock of nefarious invention. The promise of bloody surgery and awkward hair waxed from unhealthy hole seems certain to be realised. I all but get the pong of hardened faeces in month-long tangle...

Sound lettering, inventive layouts and a cartoon style caught somewhere between Ted McKeever and Jamie Hewlett combine to lend this comic a polish not alien to mainstream publication. A competent grasp of pacing and expert use of 'camera angles' further mark creator Chris Askham as an artist capable of achieving a financial stability among 'professionals' should he choose this route to his eventual demise. (I still await my cognitive therapy!)

The writing however is less impressive. With suspenseful, well crafted opening six pages in which the arrival of one 'General Synod' is eloquently captured in cinematic 'Mad Max' mode, the sudden scene-switch and plunge into the zany, mad-cap territory of Doc Sponge is all the more irritating. Here the mood is turned on its brain, when a deluge of witless dialogue takes over, and the doctor gleefully subjects his patients to a variety of physical and mental tortures. Funny? I nearly smirked between exasperated sighs!
However, that's not to say that this script does not flow, or that it does not exude appealing ease of reading. No, the only blunder of which Askham is guilty (in my eyes) is in his choice of subject matter - he chooses that which demographics proves is most likely to sate fan-boy tastes.

Not really my kind of thing, then, but technically impressive and skilfully realised, Doctor Sponge is definitely recommended for the British mainstream audience.

A5 - check availability with chris@caskham.fsnet.co.uk