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

Mbleh! #1

Posted on July 20, 2002

Toenail Clippings contributor Bob Byrne goes solo with this impressively produced effort, mixing Renee French with 'Ed The Happy Clown', Al Columbia with early 'Jimmy Corrigan', but choosing to infuse the work with a kind of MTV madcap rather than any insightful, meditative element. As a result, Mbleh! lacks substance and composure, but provides lively read.

Two strips account for much of the content of this first issue: Clam Land, an energetic, fluid and frantic tale told with firm grasp of sequentialism, but with some silly, laboured dialogue; and Adictos, an earnestly dull affair with power fantasy undertones that, punctuated with tiresome pockets of exposition which disrupt narrative flow, is lamentably confused and fails dramatically on the story-telling front. In fairness, the latter is probably an early development effort, and on the positive side serves to highlight the strengths of the strips that surround it.
Speaking of which...these shorter efforts provide the more affecting moments in the form of the agreeably disturbing Fugue 1, the dippy Hot Coffee, and the just plain funny Ace That Interview, Airport Court and Freaky Facts. Most hilarious moment however comes with the first panel of the opening strip - Grated Cheese - in which a man in a supermarket examines a packet he has just plucked from a shelf. Incredulity verges on indignation as he exclaims 'Wuh? You can buy grated cheese?!' Priceless!

Gratuitously unpleasant at times (the rape-droid of Fugue 2 in particular), Mbleh! often strikes a hollow note and flatlines due to an absence of charm, but succeeds in providing a diverting entertainment hued with defective personality. The computer-enhanced artwork offers some neat, ambitious tricks reminiscent of Columbia and Ware, but more importantly provides energy to an otherwise stiff cartooning style. All-in-all then, a sound first issue that hopefully will be proceeded by a second.

US size, 36 pages, $2.95 / €3 - available from www.clamnuts.com