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

True Stories #2: Island

Posted on October 26, 2006

A grand folly, this, from Tony McGee, which throws all the shapes of a metaphysical examination of a couple of anguished lives, but just lacks sufficient exposition or dialogue or inherent analysis to achieve the kind of complexity that makes a story this brooding really involving.

The teenaged Gemma holidays on the remote island of her father – a broken man, detached and struggling for emotional sustenance. Conversation is brief, silences protracted; there is something not right with this relationship. Gemma retreats into fantasy, her father into reliable depression, but there is no escape: a sinister fog gathers on the horizon; it's moving their way.

Ambitious and downbeat, the narrative of Island lacks impetus due to the relative absence of a physical conflict, but with a beautifully conceived grimness, hypnotic rhythm, unearthly atmosphere and striking visual clarity, there is much to admire about this tentative yet devoted meditation on guilt.

Flip-side strip Isle is flimsy and conventional in comparison to its elusive neighbour, but boasts a polished story-telling which is technically faultless. Here, McGee's Sisyphus-like tale is superbly realised by the fine-tuned artistry of Chris Askham, to diverting, enjoyable-enough consequence.

56 A5 pages, £2. Available from http://truestories.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk