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

Train To Shanghai

Posted on October 9, 2003

Poorly crafted with Mark Beyer-like graphics (mostly) and an often clueless narrative which finds little rhythm and jarringly switches tense half-way through, 'Train To Shanghai' has nothing going for it save for a thoroughly disarming charm, a matter-of-fact honesty and an author with something of actual interest to relate. Detailing (presumably) creator Rob Jackson's 33 hour train journey from Harbin to Shanghai, this travelogue captures with bemused detachment the alienation and the physical and emotional discomfort of cramped conditions shared with a culturally and linguistically different people. There is intrigue, deftly realised characterisation, and towards the end, some photo-referenced cityscapes imbued with nuance. Certainly there's no polished swagger here, but the primitive shapes this title throws are both captivating and distinct.

28 A5 pages, £1.20 - available from www.smallzone.co.uk