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

Small Pets

Posted on April 4 2005

The challenge for creators to work-to-theme can be fun and can sharpen crafting ability, but the results are often rightfully received with reader indifference. Working off a ‘small’ handicap, contributors to this Mardou-edited anthology disprove the theory that themed publications are about nothing but the process. Here, a flurry of formidable cartoonists responds with a felicitous confection.

Eighteen short strips account for this anthology. There’s whimsy in the guise of Phil Barrett’s exquisite Wee Creatures and in his perfect Small Change – the latter a Swift-like glimpse into the daily struggles of a maladjusted giant. Conflicts aroused by childhood interdependence are described, and vulnerability exposed, in Richard Cowdry’s hilarious Fatty, in Jeremy Dennis’ poignant Poets & Revolutionaries, and in Ted May’s pedestrian but amusing Beauty, Thy Name Is Agony. Also pedestrian but with deft characterisation is Arthur Goodman’s Small.

Jeremy Dennis too offers Small, as does Lee Kennedy, both producing wistful celebrations of childhood that linger lovingly on more innocent, less cluttered times. Clutter however is to the fore in Lucy Sweet’s delectable The Magic Bra (“Eat your heart out Eva Bosnia Herzogovnia!”), and the drudgery of the adult working world is dealt a final warning via the sexy antics of a waitress-minx in John Allison’s Scary Go Round, and via the wearily familiar predicament of the under-appreciated slogger of Ellen Lindner’s Coming Out Of A Coma (Or, How I Stopped Being A Museum Administrator).

Describing the early-hours rescue of a mouse from the clutches of a cat, Open Your Heart is Sean Azzopardi’s saccharine ode to empathy, which is unusual but nice. Peter Conrad’s illustrated list of life-fragments offers subliminal weight and proves curiously affecting; while diverting, gag-led folly with a smattering of charming surrealism is capably provided by David Robertson, Lucy, Jon Chandler, Herc and Andy Konky Kru. Not-so-slight is Mardou’s A John So Small, which flips/reworks Woody Allen and immerses the queasy reader in a fug of male perversion - to vaguely ill-fitting effect.

Though the diversity of styles, for the most part, shares a polish and a mainstream friendliness, it is the emotional centre at the core of this expertly produced anthology that makes it satisfying. Elbert Hubbard once wrote: ‘Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds in the commonplace.' Small Pets then is both the work of innate talents, and of some great minds.

40 A5-ish pages, £2.50 - check availability at mardouville.livejournal.com