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

Matter #1

Posted on July 21, 2002

Prolific cartoonist Philip Barrett escapes through A Crack In The Shell to produce this new title, Matter; and in doing so, breaks from the confines of his usual newspaper-style strip and finds breathing space in the featured twenty-six pager, A Stagnant Pool.

A mundane tale this, about going through the motions in a kind of detached shock; that sense one gets of merely observing the life-on-automatic dealt you, little realising that increased emotional involvement (with the aid of Prozac) is the yearned-for panacea.
Owing much to the influence of Eddie Campbell and Adrian Tomine, A Stagnant Pool takes us through one night/morning in the life of a protagonist struggling to shake that 'left behind' feeling provided by a best friend now 'moved on'. Told with intimacy in first-person narrative and crafted with an informed judgement throughout, we are treated to a thoroughly engrossing, irresistible read that succeeds with deceptively casual ease in utilising those mechanisms of the strip-form required for affected response.

Expertly paced, modestly ambitious, and drawn-almost-as-an-after-thought with such uncluttered confidence as to make me wince, Matter is nothing you've not seen before (wha'?), but never-the-less is another flawlessly realised patch in the funny/sad, understated and poignant patchwork of resonant material with which we forlorn folk like to wipe the red stuff from our opened wrists.

32 A5 pages, €2 / £1.60 / $3.00 (postage included) - available from www.blackshapes.com