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

Freak Show #1

Posted on August 22, 2003

Atomic Diner's third title lacks the charm of In Dublin City and is without the finesse of Naked Lunch, but does offer a brash, ballsy appeal that should sate the between meals appetite of fans of hard-boiled detective fiction. Be prepared to pile on the weight, though - Freak Show is a thirty-five issue maxi series! (Hark! Does the death knell sound so early?)

Set in America during the 1950's, Freakshow #1 echoes elements of LA Confidential, but in it's urgency to deliver a complete story with its premiere issue, provides a purely surface reading experience, and ends before one settles to what semblance of a mid-section of story the thing offers. However, the scripting of Rob Curley is crisp, the pace fast, and the dialogue ugly.
Equally ugly is an artwork over-stylised in a bid to lend sophistication to an inappropriately cartoonish look. Panels of penciller Terry Kenny and inker Lisa Jackson at times are without clarity and without subtlety of expression due to lack of variety in the weight of inked line; but conversely, pages are attractive, utilising inventive layouts and competent compositional use of black areas.

Room for improvement then, but with a sound enough storytelling, a solid draughtsmanship and a sequential know-how already in evidence, there is reason to believe that, given time, Freak Show could develop into a satisfying series. One hopes the death knell will fade. (The fact, anyway, that it exists only in my pessimistic head suggests it may well just be a case of tinnitus. Hurrah!)

US size, 28 glossy pages, €3.75 / $2.95 - available from Atomic Diner, 2 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. Email robatomicdiner@eircom.net