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

The Shiznit #3

Posted on August 7, 2006

A full colour, pocket-sized glossy with a print-run of 15 thousand, The Shiznit is a polished anthology of comic strips distributed throughout Ireland and, courtesy of some bong, bikes and gaming advertisements, is free, gratuit and frei to the general public. With mass-market ambition then, editor/publisher Bob Byrne abandons the uncompromising approach of Mbleh! and despite the occasional processing sheen, instead manufactures a tone of subversive-like mischievousness.

Amongst the satire and the stand-uppishness, the social and political commentary and the gag-fuelled funny, this issue's standout strip is Brian Kenny and Bob Byrne's Count Curly Wee. A biting expose of Irish attitudes to immigrants and the footholds allowed them, it's cleverly presented as pastiche of the newspaper strip of the same name, complete with rhyming couplets. Paddy Hickey's disarmingly simple/genius Web Pharmacy sees an over-the-counter exchange given the SPAM treatment, to hilarious effect. (Some "Vigagra" (sic) with your lozenges, anyone?) Harvey Richards: Lawyer For Children offers wit on top of its durable, funny conceit, and Caught Short by Phil Barrett is another perfectly realised (minor-) gem from an ever-reliable realiser of gems.

There's much else on offer in The Shiznit #3 (from Bif and FrankP, Ruben Bolling and Paul Rainey, from BrenB, Cian Hallinan and Robbie Bonham), and though at times gags seem familiar and are hindered by deliveries that lack invention and originality, it's a derivativeness that won't register with its target audience, and which fans of humour comics probably won't mind either. And anyway, who could resist the bastard child of Oink! and Viz? It's no money well spent.

32 A6 glossy pages, colour interior, free - available from www.clamnuts.com