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

Talamander #8

Posted on November 14, 2001

For eight issues Talamander has remained a fascinating spectacle in the context of an artist’s determination to hone his craft and to maintain a relentless creativity. Throughout, there exists a genuine ambition to simply tell a good, entertaining story devoid of parable-like trappings and irritated expostulation. Talamander is/was something of a diverting relief.

Often a touch indulgent however, the series lacks density; much of its run seductively offering page upon page of attractive sequential art, but just a few panels of actual story. Put simply: artist/writer Tim Brown requires no text-heavy panels as means of side-stepping weak panel-to-panel draughtsmanship, but for the most part fails to recognise that the story-telling is not tight enough, and everything that is suspect in the work - explosions of exposition, fatigued illustration, plodding pace - derives from this fatal flaw. In essence, it is the quantity of work produced that is his taxing element, and the quality of output suffers as a result.
That said, stretched over the series there have always been enough glimpses of the artist at his best to maintain interest. Well crafted and technically impressive, his style has developed from hollow, inconsistent cartoon to Corben-like effectiveness. Indeed, with continued production of photo-realistic detail to provide perfect platform for showcasing some quality ink-work, Brown certainly demonstrates the potential to realise mainstream success. And with cleverer composition and firmer control of story-telling, he may well do so.

Talamander #8 sounds the death knell of this series. Previous efforts have frequently lacked coherency and failed to generate any semblance of involvement - this down mostly to inappropriate pacing and a deluge of somewhat confusing sequences of events - but at its best, the series has conjured a solid sense/feel of fantasy/myth writing; of a Princess Bride influenced take on sword and sorcery; and of an artist in search of his prime. With #8, Brown is getting there. I anticipate his next project with something resembling excitement.

20 A4 pages, £1.50 - available from Tim Brown, 22 Woodborough Drive, Winscombe, Somerset BS25 1HB. Email: brin@talamander.freeserve.co.uk