Saturday, 8 August 2020

When is a review genuine?

Yep. Back on the subject of reviews again. I’m asking a question of when is a review genuine and written without prejudice? Without a horse in the game? Without a few quid maybe being exchanged? When can you trust what you are reading or is it just a comment of a friendly aunt?

It’s nice to get a good review isn’t it. Something with insight and well written it lifts the spirits with a small dopamine dose. What it also does have is the propensity to bring eyes to the comic, series or creator. Some people live for that attention we see that every hour of every day on ‘Comics Twitter’ and elsewhere in social media. That crackhead need for someone to love us! Please say a nice thing!!! PLEASE!

Over the last few years I’ve been noticing the change in attitudes towards reviews. I’m sure you’ve heard or read me bemoaning the lack of actual critical analysis in comics these days. I’ve personally turned a corner and will now only be totally honest about a product. Scroll back and you will see a few examples. A piece written with no fear or favour. Without a sense that they are all mates and giving out cuddles for needy creators. If that’s what you it to your mum and never sell it!

Comics reviewing is not and never should be a byword for promotion. But that is the way that they are being treated by many websites and publishers and how they are seen by many creators. Get a review and sell another couple of books? Maybe. Start getting your name out there, whether you are competent or not and there’s a chance that a publisher will spot you and consider paying you actual real money to make comics for them.

There’s also quite a bit of competition to get a review. There aren’t that many sites or reviewers these days. It can be difficult to get a review into print even when you send the site a hard copy - something that I have experienced this year a couple of times.

So what are we left with?

Sadly we are left with this.

This is from the review section on the Comichaus reading app. (I took a screenshot before the comments were deleted by the app who spotted that they were fake). It is a series of reviews for the Markosia comic ‘Clockwork Inc’. Written by Stu Perrins with art by Ron Gravelle.

Before we examine the review linguistically lets make it clear that I have no data regarding who left these reviews. I can tell you that I reached out to Comichaus and they removed them and they were not responsible. I reached out to Harry Markos from Markosia who told me that he had no knowledge of them and I believe him. I also reached out to the writer Stu Perrins. He has, at the time of writing this, read the message but has not replied (proof below). I do not have a point of contact for the artist at this time.

Comichaus is a subscription comics service who pay creators per click on views by subscribers. Full disclosure here that they also sponsor a podcast I am co-host on. The more attention you can gather to your comic on the site the more clicks it gets and the more money you make. There is a chart of the most clicked on comics as part of the home page set-up. You can register for a free month on sign-up. I highly recommend it as a great source for indie and small press comics at a reasonable rate.

It’s a great model but like everything seems to have been in the past hi-jacked with this sort of behaviour. (It is worthy of note at this point to say that the site has changed it’s protocols and will now spot this behaviour).

I first became aware of this particular example when the comic was unusually in the top five for a few months. It didn’t seem to have the quality of a book people would flock to and/or be read and reread and in doing so remain at the top but somehow it did. Who was clicking on it? I am not sure.

So I looked at the reviews.

They are all very short. They also appear to have been written quickly without a proofread. For example the repetition of ‘You you’ in the first review and a lack of full stops in three of them.

Two are written by ‘Comichaus Member’. I’m guessing that this is the default username on the site. This also shows a high possibility of rushed writing.

One is written by ‘KidJesus’ and one by ‘CrazyJesus’.  Maybe they are related?

Three use the incorrect spelling of the tv series Doctor Who and refer to it in three different reviews as ‘Dr Who’! this is a big signpost indicating that they were written by the same person.

Four of the reviews compare the comic to a TV series or movie - ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Dr Who’, ‘Twelve Monkeys’, ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘Blade Runner’. Only once does a review compare it to a comic.

They are also written in a two month window from the start of December 2019 until the end of January 2020.

Let us be clear here....


I will leave it up to you dear reader to draw your own conclusions. It may be a creator or it may be a friend or relative. Or it may just be someone thinking they are doing the right thing?


I looked at the reviews on the Comichaus site for other comics written by Stu Perrins. And look at this! ‘KidJesus’ turns up again in Megatomic Battle Robot 1 as well as the anonymous ‘Comichaus Member’. How miraculous!

Stu Perrins also wrote a story in issue 12 of the Comichaus anthology. ‘KidJesus’ rises again like ‘KidJesus’ at Easter. This is again a short review that doesn’t say much.

In fact quite a few of Stu’s comics have very short reviews written by anonymous Comichaus members who have nothing written on their site profiles. No website, social media or identifying biographical material. One might assume they were created during the free trial period and then left? I’m no expert. Linguistically they use short statements/sentences that only say how great the book is and all give five star reviews.

In fact - Everything is a five star review. How lucky can one creator be!


If somebody is benefitting financially by falsely creating Comichaus free accounts, leaving a review and then closing it down then this is highly unethical. (At least).

Why post numerous reviews of your own or friends comic? It’s can be both financially beneficial sure but you can also include in a CV or application that you have such great reviews and are clearly a creator worth working with? When there’s a good chance you are not.

It is also cheapening the reasons that we post reviews. Listen, I’m no naive millennial and understand totally that this goes on throughout the media world. I hear that Amazon will pull reviews if multiple ones appear from the same IP address. I’ve also seen a number of podcast reviews that have been written by somebody with an Apple Username that is basically the name of one of the hosts!

But it’s still jolly bad behaviour if you ask me!

Many thanks for reading.

Update - 9/8/2020.

I received a reply from Stu Perrins. I’ll let it speak for itself as I’m not completely sure I know what it means.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

In Review - ‘Love on the Isle of Dogs’ by Jude Cowan Montague.

Love on the Isle of Dogs

Created by Jude Cowan Montague.

Published by Friends of Alice Publishing.

197 pages - Black and White Comics and Prose.

The Story. 

LOVE ON THE ISLE OF DOGS is a true story about my marriage to a man who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It's a poetic tale told in pictures.

The Review.

I have settled down to read this over coffee at an outside cafe in a square in London. I was kindly sent a preview copy of this new graphic memoir by Jude herself who contacted me by Twitter. I’ll say from the outset that I found the reading experience both frustrating and involving. I will attempt to explain why.

Let’s start with the cover. It is a simple scratchy and seemingly instinctual image of Jude herself. This time in colour, as the interior art is black and white, and shows the bright yellow of her hair, the blue of her dress and the visual shortcut of a baby in her arms. Jude stands on a dark and murky background and I anticipate something emotional and insightful on the inside. The title is bold and eye-catching and overall I enjoyed the simplicity and iconography in it’s and the cover’s overall design. 

There is no doubt at all as I read onwards that this is a heartfelt account of Jude’s life, her husband, a child and a home. For those without the important geographical grasp this is a tale that is situated in The Isle of Dogs in central East London. An area I worked in the late nineties and a place embattled by the encroachment of big industry, the usual fat cat banking bastards and ridiculously expensive rentals. It is an area that has changed much since the seventies and can be seen as a mirror for what has and is happening elsewhere in too expensive to live in London without a millionaires bank account.

The initial part of the memoir is in comic form. Or for the Hampstead hipsters what is often described as a graphic sequential form - if you prefer? And so we find the area that I found frustrating. The art seems to mimic the drawings of children the type that parents pin to the front of the fridge. I’m not being cruel here as you can see above. What they have in good intentions is completely wiped away by the rushed and badly drawn figures and scenery. Initially at my first glance i presupposed that these images were part of a flashback to junior school or the drawings made by a child. They are not a momentary visual shortcut but rather fill the comic section. If I wasn’t reading this for a review I would have put the book aside. 

This book is of course a memoir a book that is personal and so should obviously be a reflection of the creator. But Jude’s  art does not communicate the story and is far too abstract and without the required personality. In basic terms it looks rushed and without skill. It’s also worth noting from a graphic design POV that the pages look like they have just been copied onto the bright white paper stock without any attempt to blend or visually join the bright framing with the dirty uncorrected scan. Of course this may be intentional and art is always subjective but for this reviewer whose review you are reading it is far from successful.

I’ve watched a couple of online videos of Jude talking about and showing her process. She makes use of a large page and a brush dipped into ink. The smudges of ink to me would be a good starting point. The child/baby imagery as below for example. But these pages need more. They need a depth that I’m not seeing. A comic page is not something so slight. It needs more.

As I say, this is purely my opinion and the eyes of others may see something else. Sure it can be seen as experimental. Comics are of course allowed to experiment and I always welcome that as a reading experience. But I am at a loss to discern what this particular book achieves. Have we had enough of this underdone style? Does it do a disservice to the more accomplished line-work that this book may sit next to on a book sellers shelf? 

I wonder if this and I are part of an elaborate artistic prank. Am I part of this mischievous act. 

The last quarter of this book is autobiographical prose which I read that with much more interest. I didn’t feel the frustration I had felt earlier. This seemed to communicate with me more successfully. It held me with its moments of reality.

‘When I found a star, it fell into my hand. But it burnt me, so I let it go.’

I felt that this was more of a direct pipeline into the mind of the creator. This was the aforementioned insight I was in search for. I’ve watched Jude’s online poetry readings and found that they have much of what I am seeing in the prose. A frankness of the realities of urban living and the rollercoasters of relationships but mixed with the romantic and fantastical. You feel the often very painful life in each paragraph. Jude shapes this prose with quick and exceptionally well crafted paragraphs. Each opening angles to see lives from a different place. 

The evenings grew dark and he grew more worried. He’d sit in the darkness. I’d surprise him when I turned on the light.’

Jude also makes some brilliant use of dialogue. It occurs to me that this could have formed the basis for a more traditional and coherent comics script. Maybe with someone more able to carry off the sequentials.

Who are you?

So what did I walk away with? I certainly have an impression of Jude and emotionally I connected with her life. But in total honesty this was due to the prose a lot more than the comic. There is something here. Something that’s should have, in my opinion, been developed artistically differently. Comics have their own special language and I didn’t feel the movement or the people. It needed more thought put into the passage of time and sense of place than I was getting. The prose was dynamic and practical yet also showed an eye to the magical and the life of the interior. I could have read that all day.

We should as always value all art. Part of this wasn’t for me but for you that may be an altogether different bucket of apples and pears.

You can find more about Jude by visiting her website here

Many thanks for reading.