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! #3

Posted on October 5, 2003

Not so suffused with the temporary mania celebrated in previous issues, Mbleh! #3 offers indication of a maturing, more composed Bob Byrne. Still in evidence is that penchant for tapping a cruel humour rooted in the imaginative abuse of cute, bug-eyed cartoons with vulnerable, child-like characteristics; but also apparent is a thirst for achieving more than a sequence of quick-fix pay-offs saturated in pathos to sate the desensitised appetites of South Park junkies.

No more is the success of this development evident than in 'Negative Space' and in 'Mister Amperduke'. The former is occupied with a boy victimised for displaying a right side of the brain perception. His struggle to find understanding in an artistic rather than autistic context is derailed by a mother intent on a correctional procedure that requires a surgical hell involving Tetris shapes. A minor structural collapse in the penultimate page of this story fails to halt one's sense of anticipation and involvement, and the thing reaches a satisfying, bitter-sweet conclusion.
In the allegorical 'Mister Amperduke', the serenity of a community of sentient, anthropoid creatures with Lego-men attire is interrupted by the arrival of three undressed strangers. Though the same beneath their Lego-men shells, the community refuse to accept the presence of these outsiders and set about rectifying matters. A 'simple' six-pager told in hypnotic 16 panel grids with affecting Chris Ware silence, 'Mister Amperduke' is quality, adult storytelling.

Mbleh! #3 is not without its flaws, though. At times derivative, disjointed and lacking succinctness of script, it is occasionally afflicted with sudden lapses in rhythm, but never falters in emanating a seductive gusto. There is a sense of the drunk finding his feet on a shifting surface; upright between awkward stumbles. Fortunately Bob Byrne realises that cracking a head open on the pavement loses its comedic effect after a while. His mad buzz fades, and methinks his vision begins to clear.

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