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

Matter #7: Weird Face

Posted on November 25, 2008

Another ooh in creator Philip Barrett's impressive oeuvre, this tale of the unexpected revisits the theme of obsessive struggle previously explored in The Record and Blackshapes as it chronicles a successful artist's hapless search for relief from a mysterious face that relentlessly haunts him and his work. When catharsis fails and this malicious muse encroaches deeper into the artist's life, his locked-in despair edges him toward the ultimate release, but instead delivers something peculiar and disturbingly twisty: a close encounter of the face kind.

With brisk pace, deft characterisation and curious plot, Weird Face proves an engaging read, and is simultaneously funny and disquieting. Barrett's Tomine-like cartooning exudes warmth and sophistication, and his adroit portrayal of elapsing time and a thoroughly lucid world add considerably to one's enjoyment of this classy comic. Not perhaps possessed of the subtly understated complexities associated with Barrett's more intimate work (Typical, See You Later Then etc.), Weird Face is a crowd-pleaser – a satisfying story, satisfyingly told.

16 A5 pages for 2 euros/£1.50 /$3.00 (postage included) from http://www.blackshapes.com/comics.htm