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 #23: Now Here's A Tale With A Happy Ending

Posted on October 5, 2009

The final issue – relatively uncomplicated but with trademark oddball-ness – goes something like this: When the number 409 Zone 4 bus from West Croydon breaks down, two tourist passengers – Afro-American businessman Samuel L Poitier and New York script-doctor Mick Weller – take off on a woodland footpath and inadvertently cross into 3World in 4Time through a Zone 4 gap on a Surrey flyover. Addingcombe Hill leads them to the hometown of English superheroes, the Cosmic Crusaders, where, to the disruptive objections of Nasim Elmaz, the wedding of two past members – his brother Hussain Elmaz and Rebecca Schwaffer – is taking place. Addingcombe gives Weller the Robert Johnsons, and with good reason: Poitier is falling for local girl Michelle Jolly in spite of an enchantment on the village which dictates that Addingcombe can live and breathe only for twenty-three Thursdays one year in ten, and none of the villagers will ever be allowed leave. The pair of tourists have got themselves stuck in a weird comic book tale they can't get out of; or in a Brigadoon without the music. (Yes, the Key to the Universe and its nine-notched entry to the Heavenly Spheres of Reality has got mashed up with fucking Brigadoon.)

As author-in-residence in his own fiction – and at a side angle to it, also – Michael J Weller often pitched his Slow Science Fictions as both a celebration of- and lament for- admirable failure as a consequence of a refusal of the artistic compromises necessary for commercial success. Similarly, this artistic disconnect managed to find voice via a lineage of ideas partly inherited from popular culture: superheroes, parallel realities, angels, secret agents, and the battle between Good and Evil. With a magnetic Duke Of Hell sending moral compasses haywire, further tensions were evidenced in mental files wiped clean by corporate medication, or altered to believe in a benign privatisation; and characters scripted to be idiots who break the text that bound them to stupidity. Free will in the context of societal/religious duties, personal power as opposed to resignation, the writer and the written, a peace of Heaven with Hell and other elusive harmonies – Slow Science Fictions articulated a spirit of yearning for ennobling resistance and for the choices that set us apart even as we are compelled to draw connections in an attempt to link ourselves to one another. Mad to think that this series was also an entertaining, funny, funny-peculiar read.

32 A5 pages, £3 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk