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

Space Opera: The Artist's Book

Late-October, 2000

A transcendental text combines with strips and illustrations to send secret signals that spark all manner of electrical activity in the brain, and down my spine – that leaves me tingling. Mike Weller can write rings around 'himselves', and others, and in Space Opera casts a spell difficult to resist; wherein things are lent focus, the metre (or something) seduces, and my Anhedonia is interrupted. Always involved and involving, at times such was the suffocating convolution of the read that I fully expected the book to collapse in on itself – in truth, I'd been sucked-in from word one.

Somehow simultaneously deconstructing and constructive, the combination of imagery and text is decidedly jolting, and with seductive child-like luminescence, is often a source of tickling unease. In a sense, Space Opera is a 'powerless fantasy' – like the believer relieved of responsibility by 'the will of God'. Ultimately however, despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we create the illusion of convenient relief ourselves – it is present only because we allow it. (Perhaps "Get writing, or get written" emerges the book's intrinsic message.)

Space Opera, I think, confirms what we have all suspected in our obliquest moments: that fact is not stranger than fiction; that we have allowed ourselves to be dummified and nothinged into invisibility. Though often confusing (in an endearing way), this is certainly not the impenetrable work a thematic synopsis might suggest. For all the intellectualising this book could generate, it is essentially a spirited, fun read (for adults), that intoxicates in much the same way that the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four once did. Pretty much then a Negative Zone for the New Millennium!

400 A4 pages, £25 (inc. p&p) – check availability at www.homebakedbooks.co.uk