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 Sound Of Drowning #6

Posted on September 4, 2007

More eerie and disquieting tales from maverick small press creator Paul O'Connell, whose idiosyncratic fusion of the surreal and the mundane are given expression through monochrome photo panels which employ the language of comics, but which exist at a side angle to evocative montage. With a skewed perspective and minimalist narrative, this is very much art-house territory.

Six strips feature. In Maskon a husband-with-a-fetish reveals himself by donning a female latex mask – to upending consequence. Dolphins On Film is a mockumentary charting the celluloid splashes of the beloved angels of the sea. The ill-fitting but eloquent Giants Of Jazz #2 is a straight, affectionate potted-history of Duke Ellington. The manic, esoteric Oh No, It's Gallo! presents the idea of a David Lynch-directed sitcom based on Vincent Gallo's publicity stunts. In Ambulance an art-fag pines for her ex and discovers that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And in Baby a Ray Milland look-alike suffers the consequences of not insisting on a receipt when parting with a score for a black-market bairn.

A work of art is not about anything; it is the thing itself, says Irish novelist John Banville. The Sound Of Drowning #6 is certainly a thing itself, and yes, a work of art, too. But, crucially, it's also entertainment, and much like its TV equivalent – Chris Morris's Jam – will have you jazzing to the bleak tone of a life-support machine that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter.

40 A5 pages, £1.60 – check availability at www.smallzone.co.uk