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

Incoming #3

Posted on May 9, 2005

A hybrid of previous Shane Chebsey-edited publications CAOF Presents and Imagineers, Incoming is an attractive, polished and pristinely printed magazine that delivers an appealing, holistic balance of small press strips, interviews, news and comment, with in-depth reviews served by Steve Causer. Cumulative effects may cause a mild buzz.

Five complete strips are offered this issue. There’s gag-fuelled fun in Andy Vine’s to-the-point ‘The Pen Is Truly Mightier Than The Sword’ and in the space-indulgent ‘Sperm & Egg - Late’ by Mikey B and Andy Watson. ‘Origin Of The Species’, by thoroughly mainstream-professional pair Andy Dickenson and Sarah Evans, supplies science fiction of the Future Shock variety and boasts an impressive pencilled artwork. Equally eye-catching, though not quite as tight, is Rich Aidley’s ‘Staplebug Deicide’ – a breezy story concerned with a deity killing. My own sixth-class camping trip is revisited in the alternative-leaning ‘Three-Man’ – a text-heavy, ugly little strip that teeters on the brink of brilliance! (“Teeters on the brink of brilliance!” – TRS2)

Featured interviews are no less concerned with time travel and other worlds, though small press preoccupation with product management issues is indulged at the expense of much-needed creative/crafting discussion. All interviews prove insightful nonetheless. Shane Chebsey’s talks with Sean Michael Wilson of Boychild Productions and with Zulu: Water Cart Rescue creator Colin Mathieson take readers first to the manga scene in Japan, and then to a comics convention in Denmark. Meanwhile, Chris Atkins’ interview with Harrier Comics’ Martin Lock transports readers back to the labour-intensive days of late-seventies/early-eighties small press, a time when a ‘graphical user interface’ was just Asimov-speak.

No Redeye-lite then, Incoming is a good-natured magazine with wide appeal, accessible even to those with enthusiasm for but one facet of the small press trinity - be that community, business or creativity. Invested with personality and infectious zeal, it’s a fitting expression of the small press vibe.

40 A4 pages, £3.25 – check availability at www.smallzone.co.uk