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

The Scribblers: Thursday Nights

Posted on November 27, 2001

London writing group The Scribblers meet weekly on a Thursday night to encourage continued devotion to the productivity of creative thinking. This collection provides illustration of their endeavour, and proves that sound work indeed emanates from this huddle of harvesters.

Mike Weller's 'The Origin Story of The Invincibles' opens proceedings and offers seductive taste of both the environment and the musicality of his intoxicating 'Space Opera' tome. A short, promotional piece, really, it non-the-less succeeds in engaging that part of the brain responsible for eidetic memory and pleasure. My spine still hums to its rhythms.
Two delightful reminisces of cinema-obsessed youth, presented by Leslie Reeves, find voice through 'In Search of Rosebud' - wherein a nostalgic object succeeds in easing a sense of abandonment - and 'A Look Back at a First Love' - starring Ray Milland and Betty Hutton, with Dorothy Lamour, Joan Caulfield and Alan Ladd in support roles. Neither in Cinemascope nor glorious Technicolor, these memories still prove irresistible viewing.
In 'Another Evening With Sally Nearby', Frank Goodman has penned an enjoyable if frustratingly complex little tale that tells of its indecisive protagonist's sudden decision to choose to love being loved when confronted with the abrupt loss of an obsessed admirer's affections. It perhaps lacks the satisfaction of a resolution that focuses theme; but then, however men might attempt to attach logic to the emotion of love, it is ultimately beyond reason. Thought provoking stuff, this.
Goodman's second offering, 'It's a Spring Day, Sure', employs a flawed but diverting notion of the afterlife - as prompted by Christian philosophy - to write of the post-death re-uniting of young lovers. Amid romantic overtones and a kind of Robert Cummings maudlin, the tale comfortably succeeds in maintaining reader interest.
Poetry follows. 'Recovery' by Sharon Willocks, and two new poems from Kelly McKain - 'Holding on for Harriet' and 'Rosie's Book' - read with that lilting cadence one expects of poetry but often fails to find. Both poets deliver light-hearted, cipher-less fare, fluid and uncluttered. Technically conventional perhaps, but oh-so-charming.
Leonard Emerson's short story 'The Longing of Mr Bexleyheath' occupies the next seventeen pages and proves worthy of the space. Last of the Summer Wine trickles toward Blue Velvet in this humorous, engrossing tale of humdrum lives impacted by a sexual perversion. Polythene bags of pubic hair, salivations over ripe young breasts, a butcher with more meat than he can handle - what more could one ask for? Damn good stuff, this.
John Coventon offers three subdued children's stories told with Enid Blyton clarity and designed not to over-whelm but to distract five to seven year olds. In the darkened attic of her house Eleanor uncovers the mystery behind her magical red boots - there are white witches involved, spells cast, and the surprise assistance of a talking seagull. Later, powered by these red boots, Eleanor cleans her friend's bedroom, then falls asleep.
A collection of Coventon's 'Thoughts Of/On...' series of writings impressively completes this volume with strangely menacing work that drifts from poetic verse to lyrical prose. The dark 'Clue' is especially affecting, but all pieces prompt some semblance of unease, and prove refreshingly cynical in tone. (Or perhaps I'm just projecting!)

Often plagued with typos beyond the 'added character' excuse, and employing a page-numbering that fades then disappears completely, The Scribblers: Thursday Nights is never-the-less a thoroughly enjoyable production that requires little effort to drift through. Both inspiring and engaging, it provides an eclectic mix that never disappoints.

58 A5 pages – check availability at www.thescribblers.co.uk