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Sad Chemistry by John Robbins, Sean MacRoibin
24 Hour Reviewing
andyluke
Sad Chemistry is part of a revival of publishing from Robbins, who with prolific proficiency brought out thirty Leaflits between 1999-2001. A mixture of short text and comics stories, Leaflit was an example of perfectly concentrated creative output, and a treasure to indulge in. Last years 'Negotiating The Beast', collected a number of these strips and highlighted how well the booklet form serves them. Sad Chemistry is Robbins' first original comics collection since 2002 - a combination of a few pieces from Leaflit, an assortment from other publications, and a few pieces which have never seen print before.

'Bird Song on Even Tide' is the first strip: John's uncanny knack for multi personal partial narrative highlighted. 'The Mine Sweeper' re-presents the microcosm of that society with eared dialogue and exploration, and also schoolyard tales of gender relations quite authentically. One of my faves, another new strip, 'Patrolling Wired Borders' has as its lead character an environmentally aware bitch of a man whose observations on justice in context become more and more ludicrous, while the author ponders our place on this planet. 'The Man Who Thought Himself To Death' is a bit bare, though showcases John's knack for expressing troubling mind patterns through some of the more skilful lettering around.

A major part of the book is the twelve page reprint of 'A Protocol Love', An exchange between Robbins and classmate Karen via email is relayed (perhaps) Robbins comes across in his spectrum of a hotbed of brilliant wit, aloof smarts and kindness, and a self-admitted doom and gloom case without hope. Karen ranges from flighty, and bland, to pop and more private levels of responsibility. This tale of a nasty breakdown of people, and a relationship turned me off when I read it. Also, its as far removed from Robbins trademark motifs as it gets. Subsequent re-readings later, I'm willing to admit I were wrong.

I'm too tired to relay renewed thoughts on 'Protocol' now. Theres a jarring sense of darkness in some of Robbins work that tests the reader: like some control zone, or riguor, which is all for the best really. A little anecdote from my first reading. I was en route from a Camden session to the airport for an early morning flight home via the train. I slipped off to sleep after reading through to the end of 'Protocol'. Re-awoke near starion, taking my place middle standing in tight formation that passengers do under these circumstances. I reached to my back to pull for my satchel strap, affix it over my shoulder more. I tugged, but the strap wasnt moving. I pulled again, looking behind as I did. I was pulling the handbag of the woman behind me. I apologised, embarrassed. As if straight from a Robbins strip !
 
There are another eight strips in this marvellous collection. Notables include marital arrangements and sexual disenfranchisement portrayed through Disney's Aladdin, 'girl on chair' - a real life exhibit, a tasteful disability sex strip and the burdens of illness in marriage depicted through woodland cartoon actors. Robbins talks about a lot of subjects many cartoonists would not dare to venture near, a sadness he will hopefully not get lost in. Though we're all the richer for having this pioneering talent in our midst, its wrong his work is not more recognised and praised. (A5, 32 pages)

Sad Chemistry is available at special discount from London Underground Comics in Camden for one pounds fifty pence. Though please advance request where possible as we can not guarantee it will be on sale any particular Saturday.

You can order it and other publications direct from the author at  Bockedy Books
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For some online comics of Robbins, MacRoibin, do go and check out Leaflit On-Line.

 

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Thanks for the considered review, Andy. (Yeah, 'A Protocol Love' probably does need seven years to fully digest!)

Ha! Your satchel/handbag strap anecdote could fuel an episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. Larry, though, would inadvertently get his penis caught in the strap of a training-bra worn by an obese ten year-old. He'd get off at the next stop!

New project for you: the 24-Word review!

John

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