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

Slow Science Fictions #18: 2001: After Space Opera

Posted on September 6, 2008

Given to mood swings of elation and depression, young Dylan Wilson displays no ambition to establish a foot-hold in society despite his mother's encouragement. But Margaret has seen the difference in her son since the arrival of third year cultural studies student Hannah. Unfortunately, this beautiful lodger is not interested, and Dylan's obsession with his recently discovered copy of Seventh World War Comics deepens. The giant globe has been blown off the Earth Corporation's headquarters; the Eight Guardians of Life and Civilisation need to choose a new band of Cosmic Crusaders to fight in the eternal war between good and evil; an Angel is sent to earth to call the new team. There comes a sharp knock on Dylan Wilson's front door, but why bother to do anything? The working classes are being mentally prepared to accept a war that has been made up by a Prime Minister full of zap words and a catchy turn of phrase. Surely this was how Capitalism worked: packaging things to make you want to buy them. Isn't the world in a terrible enough state?

Malleable courtesy of its non-linear time structure, the Slow Science Fictions series firmly positions 2001 story Fanzine Fiction into its loose continuity. No isolated vignette – indeed, the original publication proved of seminal significance – it is reproduced here with a contextualised introduction (which resonates with the series' dream-logic illeism) that nudges the story onto the tracks of author Michael J Weller's personal pilgrimage into the analogous Wellerverse, adding further to its emotional truth. Written with comic strip vocabularies and visual codes an ingrained characteristic, Slow Science Fictions #18 in part examines the metaphysical bubble, subjective existence and universal foibles of the power-fantasy fan, of the escapist and the fantasist; and to borrow from Oscar Wilde, uncovers the mask behind the man. But whether dreams feed our courage to carry off ordinary, everyday challenges, or convince us to sidestep them, SSF #18 is a thoroughly fun read that will have comics-readers, particularly, smiling from start to finish.

40 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk