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

Whatever #4

Posted on August 13, 2002

On the surface, this is an impressive piece of comics work by creator Adam Jakes - a tale concentrated on lovable loonies of 'The Dream Team' ilk enjoying a day release from their hospital, all told with a competent scripting polish and boasting an artwork crammed with photo-referenced faces and figures, skilfully inked, and with a compositional know-how that makes insignificant the lack of background detail. With such obvious craft on offer then, it's regrettable that the publication presents a misguided and uninformed take on mental illness and those associated institutions.

Though undoubtedly well-meaning, there exists this niggling sense of unhelpful subtext, and of naive author incapable of discerning between the criminal institutionalised to suffer and the patient institutionalised because of suffering. The thing just lacks insight. Really, it's boyband promo masquerading as meaningful drama. It's 'girl power' disguised as feminism. It's a comic with an illustration of Davina McCaul on the cover!!!

With a little more research - and subsequent adjustment of attitude - Whatever may just lose its romanticised view of mental illness and discover the substance and poignancy the work so desperately craves. Meanwhile, #4 anyway is a strictly shape-throwing exercise, for those who don't like their surfaces scratched. And that, unfortunately, is one massive audience.

US size, 32 pages, £1.95- available from www.smallzone.co.uk