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

Fragments #3

Posted on June 7, 2005

Franchise-free but genre-hued, Fragments #3’s purposeful delivery of thinly disguised parables challenges the notion that truth is best served through fiction. It’s a personal detective story, sifting through what Dennis Potter describes as “the superfluity of clues”. Involved is “contending with all the shapes and half-shapes, all the memories, all the aspirations of life – how they coalesce, how they contradict each other, how they have to be disentangled as a human act by you yourself; by you, this unique sovereign individual behind all the selves that are being sold things.”

Again, as with previous issues, the pieces in #3 are made symbiotic by creator Christine Harper’s strong authorial presence, but here the autobiographical element heightens as the writer herself features in almost all strips. Despite this, and though the instruction booklet resemblance of previous issues is agreeably replaced by a more cohesive, more organic, more satisfying comic strip presentation, the ‘telling’ remains dominant over the ‘showing’ and hinders one’s involvement, leaving a niggling thirst for greater development of story structure. Ample compensation however is provided by a progressive ability to cartoon and by the fact that here is an author with something to say. Indeed, in Harper’s most accomplished work to date, ‘The Boys’ Club Talk Crap’, a sickly light is cast on male grotesques, and change fuelled by conflict is delivered in a disarming tonal mix of steaming venom and powdered vulnerability.

With high purpose and cathartic intent, Fragments #3 makes no apology for sermonising. Though absent of inventiveness in dealing with adult issues in a gripping way, this comic does have depth and meaning where others have only inventiveness and/or well-worn platitudes. Self-help philosophising of this kind is no commercial venture for the author – no evidence exists of pandering to the masses. But then, with Fragments there is the sense that Christine Harper has little choice in the matter. As Flaubert said, “We do not choose our subjects. They choose us.”

20 A5 pages, £1.50 - available from www.chezchrissie.co.uk