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

Him And Her's Smuggling Vacation

Posted on July 21, 2008

A facetious mosaic of lives entangled in the environment of drugs smuggling, Jason Wilson's Him And Her's Smuggling Vacation chronicles the seemingly ill-fated attempts of a bickering couple of opportunistic Brits to transport a tonne of found-cannabis from Spain to England and dodge both gangsters and customs in the process. With a title that combines an Americanism with the idiosyncratic grammar of a British colloquialism, and with a storyline that echoes English sit-com double-length specials (when, more often than not, characters are sent abroad for exotic intrigue) but told in the European style of humour cartooning, this attractive volume inevitably struggles to find a fitting tone, though is possessed of a gleeful energy.

The writing, at times, lacks guile – clunkily omniscient captions prove particularly off-putting – but the story is structurally sound-enough to withstand frequent interruptions to suspense by inane dialogue, and relief from a script that struggles to be funny is offered by pockets of sober insights and facts on the smuggling business – fuelled by crime consultant to the book, Tony Spencer. Ironically, this absence of laughs is accentuated by quality humour cartooning that outperforms the script and raises expectations. Smuggling Vacation, then, offers a decent story impressively illustrated but encumbered with a gag-deficient humour. Best light-up for this one. (Demotivational Syndrome, anyway, otherwise requires years of dispiriting toil to develop!)

80 full-colour A4 pages for £7.98. Check availability at www.smugglingvacation.co.uk