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

Fragments #2

Posted on November 29, 2004

The will for things to be right with the world is commendable subject matter for creative endeavour. Fragments #2 is pretty much beyond reproach in this respect. However, in terms of the application of craft and imagination in realising a satisfying, engaging whole, this title is somewhat lacking. Certainly in its current not-quite-there state, it’s more document-driven than ‘arty’.

Much like the rudimentary narrative of Fragments #1, the pieces in this second issue are made symbiotic by the obvious, inherent ‘voice’ of author Christine Harper and by esoteric subtext. Among the offerings is comic strip ‘Nazi Sock Puppets’, juxtaposed dialogue/poem/illustration ‘The Tragedie Of Richard The Turd’, and text piece ‘Room 101’. Though there exists an inconsistency of cartooning style, the shared polish and bold clarity of the visuals provide the required cohesion, and the work just about hangs together as a curiously shorthand whole. That it resembles some form of ethics instruction booklet (with no hint of parody) cut & pasted to appeal to attention-deficient children, is unfortunate; but with some design-tweaking, subsequent issues could achieve the less free-form, more adult delivery of Totem/Icon Books’ Introducing/For Beginners series.

As the recent wealth of cinema-released documentaries suggest, there is an audience for pressing, universal issues discussed/raised with personality and intelligence. In this respect (and though no ‘The Corporation’), the brief soapboxery of Fragments #2 won’t disappoint. It’s a didactic, mostly relevant tuppence-worth.

12 A5 pages, £1 - available from www.chezchrissie.co.uk