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

Lolajean Riddle

Posted on April 5, 2005

This is a character study in two parts, written by John Dunning and illustrated by Mardou. The first: an excursion into the inner life of a young, passive woman; her obsessions and her relation to the world about her. The second: this woman’s vicarious life as a young, active man; and in turn, his obsessions and his relation to the world about him. It’s a somewhat self-satisfied but substantial story with literary aspirations, which mixes the spirit of the Beat Generation with trash pop-culture, and though it has its excesses and false notes, provides sophisticated writing and an unerring sequentialism that incorporates a Crepax-like elegance into a Tomine/Clowes narrative style.

When freelance illustrator and 'self-mythologiser' Lolajean Riddle returns to the solitude and imagined dangers of The Ann Bolynn Motel (sic) for another of her working weekends, progress on illustrating her masterwork – ‘an authoritative sexual biography’ – is halted by the arrival of the equally pseudonymous Kurt Nicole-Smith, a writer and kindred spirit. The flirtatious, narcissistic kooks make an immediate connection, sharing an all-too-brief period of Lost In Translation-like intimacy, before returning to their respective lives – Lolajean to her boyfriend and a cosy village life of, if not quite quiet desperation, then tolerable mundanity; Kurt to Hollywood, and a drunk, wired and horny rapture.

Charming as Riddle is - and however intentionally elusive, ambiguous and obscure the read - failure to focus theme is its major flaw. Also absent is the satisfaction of an inner conflict resolved – does Riddle genuinely crave personal liberation? Or is she content to romanticise it, indulgently identifying with Anais Nin and others, incorporating their attributes and values in a bid to sidestep her own deficiencies and negotiate her day? That such a question is asked of this ambitious comic speaks volumes for its courage and skill. As Nin herself once wrote: ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage’. The same goes for creativity. Respect to Lolajean Riddle - she deserves a shot!

36 A4 pages, £2.50 - check availability at mardouville.livejournal.com and www.smallzone.co.uk