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

Outcastes #1 & #2

Posted on January 16, 2009

In issue #1 of this supernatural series from True Stories Comics: Found mysteriously fleeing a cave on the moors, amnesiac siblings Winter and Summer are soon struggling to endure a sinister orphanage bent on purging their wickedness. With nothing to aid their escape but a strong familial bond, an urchin pal and an apparition, it seems unlikely that the pair can survive a paranormal presence with malevolent intentions. In issue #2: The orphanage behind them, Winter, Summer and urchin pal Geo find themselves the travelling companions of Elias, an amiable street magician whose family have been lost to the plague. But while Summer's success with a tarot pack hints at innate talent for magic, it also reveals impending danger; and, too late, a hidden agenda is uncovered.

Thus far this is polished, decent fare of the Misty variety, and perfect for the early-teen or the inner-child. Though the rattling pace amplifies the cryptic storytelling and results in a dissatisfying lack of causality – which may irk readers impatient to be drip-fed answers to narrative questions of the mystery ilk – compensation exists in the form of neat conclusions to the adroitly realised suspense of each issue. Creator Tony McGee's storytelling fluidity is singular yet unselfconscious: with eerily stark black and white artwork, understated borders and no captions, panels inexorably spill past to lyrical effect. And even though the obvious quest of the main story arc is as yet unacknowledged by our aimless protagonists, already there is reason-enough to recommend this promising new series.

US format, 28 pages per issue, £1.75 each – from http://truestories.awardspace.com/