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 #2

Posted on May 14, 2003

Yet more evidence that cartoonist Philip Barrett is a creator in control of his craft. With foundations of skill, sequential know-how and good judgement, even on automatic he is capable of affecting, absorbing work. More often than not, though, this sturdy, underlying support provides platform for achieving that effortless surface one associates with the likes of Eddie Campbell, which of course oozes its own kind of seductive charm.

Explored in opening strip, 'The Record', is an all-consuming obsession - of the Clowes Velvet Glove ilk. Executed with the kind of ease that requires meticulous planning, it's the tale of a life haunted by the sounds of mysterious vinyl The Landing, and of the vacuum its absence bequeaths. Gag-like but ambitious strip 'The Divils' follows with slightly indulgent page-count. Lacking the omnipresent finesse of the opening strip, it engages visually, proves both amusing and disturbing in equal measure, but ultimately provides superfluous script. In 'Touched', space/time is tweaked to resonant effect before (and after) the strip settles to offer a wonderfully knowing characterisation via a glimpse of domestic life - in which the omnipotent voice of mother organises the fates of those below her, and the daughter finally gets off with Paul Speers! 'Girl On Chair' ends the issue in bizarre fashion, somehow succeeding in making sexual beings of both Mr Benn and King Rolo while delivering insight into the mind-set of female gallery attendant!

One is seduced not so much by the slight stories of Matter #2 as by a close-to-faultless story-telling possessed of a lulling sentimentality. Even when a hollow note is struck - which is rare - compensation takes the form of a work ever imbued with infectious warmth and good humour, which marks something of a tonal deviation from the cynicism of earlier publication 'A Crack In The Shell'. Also added here - in 'The Record' - is an interruption to passivity by a decision made; a thing done as opposed to a thing happening. Recommended.

24 A5 pages - available from www.blackshapes.com