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

Asthma

Posted on January 20, 2008

A remarkable offering from Tepid creator John Hankiewicz (and publisher Sparkplug Comic Books), Asthma is a handsome collection of short, intentionally evasive material that at times is indecipherable due to staccato sequences of non sequitur panels, but which is never impenetrable. Mercifully, despite its transcendental moments, it remains anchored to the push and pull of the universal stuff of regular narrative; it simply shows us familiar things in unfamiliar ways.

There's resistentialist struggle in the mesmerising Amateur Comics as a pathologically distracted man fails to get to grips with Feng Shui – a theme briefly revisited in the unnerving Epictetus. There's poignant, literate memoir in Where's The Wire, McCollum Park/Millennium Park, Lot C and Westmont Is Next. The Kimball House is part interrupted memory and part memory process; its attempted capture appropriately abstract as the narrative sparks in random directions. Dance is an oblique, funny, visually eclectic glimpse at the ill-fitting dimensions of the male/female relationship (or a particular male/female relationship); Jazz an elusive, surrealist pageant that frustrates and intoxicates and which, curiously, feels occupied by the watchful presence of the author; and in Martha Gregory the machinery of thought hums beneath some bemused reflection and the struggle to reconcile an inner life with physical events.

With andante storytelling amplified by obsessively applied textures – the crosshatch fill particularly impels one to linger – and with, at times, aloof tone, incongruity and difficult intent which mischievously obfuscates and purposely provokes a dislocated emotional response, Asthma's cumulative effects won't leave everyone breathless. Those reaching for inhaler though will have found the reading experience demanding but fun, and satisfying in a contorted kind-of-way.

108 A4-ish pages, $17 from www.sparkplugcomicbooks.com