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

Trains Are... Mint

Posted on October 9, 2008

Despite the plushy format and intellectualising-foreword provided by new publisher Blank Slate, this collection of Oliver East's self-published Trains Are…Mint comics vitally remains the work of a bemused underdog: the drawings are crude, colour-washed insinuations of urban localities, and East writes just like regular folks, too. The subject matter is congruent with this common man crafting: shops, pylons, factories, terraced housing etc. all come into view as East's good-humoured record of loner treks between Manchester and Blackpool maps well-worn haunts and the things we live a little distance from. It's uneventful stuff, which speaks of mortal tedium, but which seductively offers a creator at peace with his crafting ability and with his environment.

Hardback, £12.99 / $24.99 for 124 A5-ish pages, available from www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk