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

Stiro #3

Posted on February 18, 2004

My osmotic take on writer Forstenski as foppish agitator struggling to shake his petit bourgeois mores is not always at odds with the tone and subject matter of the stories featured in Stiro, but read sans-misconception the third issue is infinitely more digestible and thoroughly enjoyable. Again capably aided by Mardou, here the artist mostly adopts an economical, cartoonish approach to the art, and though this retains only a fraction of the detail and character of her Manhole work, it should prove agreeably polished to those with an eye for evidence of a more conventional, developed style.

Opening strip ‘Marie Antoinette’ describes the winding-down of an off-kilter romance between a circus wolf-boy and an elusive character that may or may not be more than a circus-hand with delusions of Royal grandeur. Permeated by a deadpan humour, this two-page tale provides some amusing dialogue and contains the instantly classic line, "Your naivety is pleasing, wolf-boy."
In ‘33 Sleaford Street’, the slacker generation is spotlighted as the ennui of two unemployed flatmates is interrupted by the introduction of a friend’s girl to the scene. It’s routine slice-of-life stuff, but with adroit characterisation and a wit that isn’t too laboured, is well realised.

At ten pages the Manga parody ’My Name Is Stiro’ accounts for almost half of the publication and, I’m relieved to report, justifies this devotion of space. With ambitious narrative structure it offers glimpses into the animated lives of some pure and true youths as they join forces to battle the analogous Sea-Badger, sixty metres tall and terrorizing Tokyo. A casual deconstruction of the genre adds some weight to the laughs and the art is appropriately Manga-functional.
Three short strips end the issue: the slightly indulgent but visually inventive ‘Terence Gets Uppity’, the Clowes-like ‘First Date’ (which contains a priceless panel depicting the dating couple occupying the front seats of the ‘59’ double-decker. ‘It‘s just two stops more,’ says the bloke) and ’It’s a Sickness’, a half-hearted frustration with the fact that sex shades our every fibre - which fails to recognise that sex is a biological imperative and is indistinguishable from what we call ‘personality’.

Stiro #3 is no pseudo-Marxist ‘call to arms’ or demagogy - I’m obviously not absorbing information like I used to! What it is however is a thematically symbiotic collection of work that abandons sentiment and poignancy for dry wit and a playful edge, and which manages a kind of defective charm fuelled by intellect rather than emotion. It should certainly prove sound enough entertainment for adults, irrespective of class and degree of submission to the ageing process.

24 A4 pages, £2.50 - available from www.smallzone.co.uk