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

Bullet Proof #1

Posted on August 25, 2007

This is the first handsome volume of Bulletproof Comics' anthology series, presenting new work by an accumulation of pro and semi-pro UK comic talent, and featuring a genre mix of fantasy, adventure and humour. Production values suggest that this US-sized glossy means mainstream business, and with a striking cover design (albeit with overly-busy illustration by Lee Langford and Klaus Belarski) and polished artwork throughout (particularly lovely is the scratchy-lined, Alfredo Alcala-like inking style of Jon Haward on Sideburns), there's little to deter the casual browser from parting with £2.50 for eighty pages of comics. And to further entice this page-flicking punter-in-waiting, The End is thrown-in a couple of times when a Next or To Be Continued would prove more to the point. (Count five complete strips.)

Ranging in length from one page to twelve, eleven conscientiously crafted strips are offered, with – in the main – neat, lucid storytelling the rule. Nigel Kitching's and David Hankin's lively Occultus rummages through Judeo-Christian baggage to realise its otherworld of flaming swords, its indigenous hierarchy and tree of eternal life. This is technically flawless stuff, and boasts a structural know-how; as does Snowstorm, an intriguing, cinematic story of small town Canadian lives impacted by a seemingly unprovoked act of violence, written by Paul H Birch, pencilled by Michael Perkins and inked by Garen Ewing. Curious superhero team Armageddon Patrol feature in the wonky Friends Like These, by John A Short and Simon Ecob: the patrol act as a superpowered special ops squad during the Vietnam War, to vaguely unsettling effect – it's either unpleasant misjudgement or finely-tuned cheese. And in Alan Grant's and Alan Burrows' Funguys, two annoying time-travelling mushrooms crash The Last Supper and buzz off Jesus and pals, to hilariously profane consequence.

Like most anthologies, this one dips and lurches, and inevitably some subject matter appeals-not to my jaded tastes, or some storytelling fails to satisfy my particular demands. However, while Editor-in-Chief and publisher Matt Yeo recognises the need for talents to emerge fully formed if the anthology is to realistically compete against a mass of always-available mainstream material (both past and present), the space allowed for those still in need of development is vital for the well-being of underexposed UK creators. And though spoiled-for-choice readers these days are inclined to easily lose patience with the second-rate, Bulletproof #1 provides quality enough for the mainstream comics fan and, with adult sustenance found elsewhere, for the small press enthusiast attentive to the demands of their inner teen.

US format, 80 pages (B&W interior), £2.50. For further details: http://www.bulletproofcomics.co.uk/