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 Summer Special

Posted on July 17, 2004

When the local wacky-backy supply runs dry and the chopped-up grilled skin-of-banana still refuses to smoke right, the world of Cheech & Chongers Whitey White and Sean Brown becomes all hard-edged and distinct. Worse still: their sex-drives are returning! In desperation the duo respond to a small-ad cypher and soon receive the kind of imbibation capable of transporting them through an interdimensional lesion and embroiling them in a covert corporate struggle for monopoly of this transporting/embroiling substance. Add to the joint a Ruskie hitman tamed by love, an out-of-this-world romance and a finale in which a friendship is saved with the aid of diseased skin and a mullet, and readers may find that they have long passed the five leaves left stage!

‘Serious Gear’ (being the title of this Coen-like story) is of course a trip itself. Creator Philip Barrett sheds the frame structure in favour of open panels and a thinking outside the box, adopts doodling-brush to complementary effect, and achieves a breezy, fluid reading experience that floats along with a kind of measured drift - an approach which enhances some inventively surreal sequences. Vaguely resembling a Health Board booklet designed to surreptitiously educate the masses, this little book of blow is a fun, funny read. Passive smoking, gentle reader, has never been safer!

80 A6 pages, €3 / £2.50 / $5.00 (postage included) - available from www.blackshapes.com