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 #3

Posted on March 15, 2003

This issue, co-crafted by O'Connell and Vincent, consigns to the deep the misguided ambition of #2's now-cement-shoed Vertigo pastiche, and with featured 13 page strip 'Adler', marks a welcome return to the Lynchian mood pieces of #1.

Discontented with the banjaxed nature of charity shop purchased typewriter, the would-be typist, while struggling both mentally and physically with writer's block, muses on the possibility of this ancient Adler's historical association with the Third Reich - prompting an abstract stream-of-consciousness distilled to brief, vague pseudo-sentences juxtaposed with reliably striking/haunting images of Nazi/Holocaust iconography.

Of its kind, this is a faultlessly realised, neatly crafted non-linear tale, satisfying in its suggestion of elusive sub-text, and bold in its refusal to allow the reader to settle. It employs what I term 'the Amaranthus fades' school of narrative, which, like my phrase, defies the audience to make of it what they will; but, pleasantly mysterious or impenetrably pretentious, leaves both camps with that niggling sense of one's own intelligence overestimated. (Had me humbly search-engining 'arbeit macht frei' at any rate!)

To be admired and/or to be enjoyed then, The Sound Of Drowning #3 boasts a moody montage of filtered photo that melts into the words, is well worth the wetting, and is of a perfectly collectible guillotined size - undecided between A5 and A6.

60p (+ p&p) - available from www.smallzone.co.uk