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 Sound Of Drowning #1 & 2

Posted on December 19, 2002

Not so much the product of a cartoonist comfortable with the panel-to-panel consistency our beloved strip-form requires, as that of a writer/artist conscious of this requirement, 'The Sound Of Drowning' displays a developed grasp of design, is pleasing to the eye, and achieves a polish impressive enough to blind a prospective audience to the fact that issue two's montage/collage effect, for the most part, is redundant.

This second issue seems to strive for a kind of DC/Vertigo-impaired scripting, with self-involved delivery that strains for depth - which isn't to say it doesn't contain some competent, fluid writing, buoyed by a hint of knowing maturity; it's just the tone indulges in a self-pitying whine that grates after the first few lines and simply doesn't let-up. It is thoroughly professional, mainstream, mature comics writing then.

#1 however is the 'alternative' offering, and much more to my particular taste. It shares the angsty emotion of #2, but tackles subject matters with greater imagination and verve in the form of three strips that prove agreeably brief and to-the-point - albeit visually long-winded perhaps. And unlike #2's comic strip appearance, here some effective and affecting sequences are in evidence. Indeed, in some of its more successful moments of visual/word chemistry it captures the kind of agreeably disturbing interruption to cognisance that David Lynch often achieves. And at times I was also reminded a little of recent art-house hit 'Donnie Darko'. (It's those pesky wabbits, you see!)

Certainly there's a sound talent at work here in the form of creator Paul O'Connell, and though his efforts are perhaps not always easily digested in the near-relentlessly sombre tones employed - nor indeed in the script/art detachment dictated by photo-strip resemblance - he still manages to produce some impressive work that oozes mood and polish. Not yet the finished article then, and often more a close-relative of the comic strip than actual comic strip, 'The Sound Of Drowning' #1 & 2 nonetheless deserve your attention. Yup, well worth a dunk, methinks!

A5, £1.60 - check availability at www.smallzone.co.uk