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

Naked Lunch #1

Posted on September 15, 2002

There's a startling courage and confidence about recent developments in the Irish comics scene; a focus and belief reflected in production values that elevate publications above small press status and into the realms of 'independent'. But, impressive as this trend is, quality presentation without quality content can easily be dismissed as pretentious posturing, and beneath the elaborate bows and expensive wrapping-paper may lurk little more than a pair of Marks & Spencer socks. However, this has not been the case with the sudden Irish explosion. Toenail Clippings, Mbleh! and Ructions have each offered content worthy of their professional trappings, and now Robert Curley's Naked Lunch delivers with equal skill; no socks in sight.

Opening strip, 'Beating The Rap' by James Mason and Stephen Mooney, is a John Constantine-inspired detective story, faultlessly scripted and competently illustrated, but with a breathless pacing that, though demonstrates an impressively economic story-telling know-how, leaves little opportunity for one to find a foothold in its world of other-worlds.
'Cookie Corral' by Dave Smith is the more satisfying read with seductive pace and subtle character-driven humour. European in flavour, and cartooned with disarming finesse, it manages to emanate an eccentric warmth and tantalising Zen-like message.
'Duplicitous' by Murra Mac Rory and Stephen Thompson ends the anthology in similar fashion to its beginning: accomplished scripting, lovely art (shades of Fabry's 'Bricktop' here), but again a pacing that effects the reader's sense of involvement - too much 'telling', too little 'showing'. This one mixes The Thomas Crown Affair with Mission Impossible to appealing consequence, but ends abruptly with weak twist.

Despite the counter-culture associations of its title, Naked Lunch certainly offers greater mainstream consideration than those alternative-effected contemporaries listed above. Its short stories are of the A1 ilk: adroitly crafted tales, at times overly ambitious in confined space, but always entertaining. And though occasional computer lettering typos might betray a small press imperfection, NL is 'independent' in production, content and attitude. For sure, me hopes this is one lunch that will be repeating.

US size, 28 glossy pages, €3 - available from Atomic Diner, 2 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. Email robatomicdiner@eircom.net