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

Manhole #3

Posted on July 3, 2008

Contemporary relationships are explored in Pet Rock – the featured issue-long strip of Manhole #3 – as an assortment of males orbit the lives of two backstage rock-chicks: the placid Bea and the freewheeling Carrie. At first kindred spirits, the intimacy between the pair soon disintegrates when Carrie's boyfriend mysteriously disappears and she refuses to own up to her frustration and unhappiness. There exists here a sense of an emotional and authorial gap being filled by the daydreams and aspirations of cartoonist Mardou. Though she creates not so much a romanticised reality as an idealised one, there remains an absence of the kind of sustained conflict that fuels the dramatic conviction of a writer. Furthermore, what Mardou writes seems so defined by her reading choices that this work smacks of simulation. As a result, things like the bittersweet ending feel hollow and unearned, and the story has shape as it goes through the motions but possesses no satisfying thesis. The telling, however, is fine-tuned, the cartooning fluent and assured, and the scripting fluid and engaging. The issue is perfectly enjoyable.

40 A4-ish pages for $3/£2, available from http://usscatastrophe.com/itlives/comics/