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

Spell Maffia

Posted on August 7, 2005

A graphic novel from Aeon Press, the plush format of which elevates expectation, and consequently disappoints with clumsily placed computer lettering, sloppy, ill-shaped word balloons, and shifts in dialogue often relegated to a single panel. However, with a structurally sound story not dissimilar to teen-targeted territory covered in hip Irish film, writer John Lee and Hankiewicz-ish draughtsman Denise O'Moore provide harmless malarkey in which the light tone and laid-back protagonists fade the drama, but keep things agreeably mellow.

Despite assistance from the Wiccan community, passive widower Jack Kelly - proprietor of Dublin's New Age store, The Wizard Of Od – is no nearer to solving his escalating problems with Russian protection racketeers. When shop assistant Ben is abducted and ransomed, Jack has little choice but to involve an Irish Equaliser – the mysterious, deus ex machina-like 'Stan'. Inevitably all hell breaks loose as gangsters grapple with geomancy and gunfire; and, amid half-baked spells, romance flickers.

In short backup strip, Father Further Investigates, Bob (The Big Fellow) Neilson and Denise O'Moore mix clerics Ted and Dowling with The X-Files to diverting effect, as a sighting of Satan at a Dingle disco attracts the discerning gaze of the Church and the reader gleans a greater understanding of Irish folk tales. Much like the lead strip, this is slight stuff, with the same jarring sequential missteps tripped beneath stamina-lacking rotring. A graphic novel with more niggles than giggles then, but pleasant enough light-comedy for the undemanding reader.

102 pages, £6.99 - available from www.albedo1.com