May 30th, 2014
Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell – ‘Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.’
Back at the end of April the Guardian ran an experiment to see what would happen if real writers were involved with comics, and the results were pretty much what you’d expect, ranging as they did from the mediocre (Dave “David” Eggers’ ponderous buffalo comic) to the merely gorgeous (Frazer Irving’s whatever the hell it was that Frazer Irving drew) by way of the profoundly functional (Dave Gibbons and Gillian Flynn’s clockwork deconstruction of vigilantism).
As a showcase for a variety of semi-respectable comics art styles it was a success, but as a pop culture moment it lacked a sense of novelty or excitement.
The exception was Thursdays, Six to Eight pm, a modern romance comic with a faint hint of the gothic to it. A man and woman are in love and they get married, but she can’t stop worrying about why he wants two hours to himself every Thursday night. For his part, he keeps quiet about the details, so Ellen does what we all do unless we’re sinister enough to work for the NSA already: she calls in some spies.
The result of a long-distance collaboration between Audrey Niffinegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife) and Eddie Campbell (all the best comics), this strip stood out from the others by virtue of the fact that both of the involved parties contributed to the art. Well, according to the contents page Dave “Dave” Eggers was “collaborating with himself” but this does no damage to my argument: the lines on Eggers’ pages were the work of only one artist, while the Campbell/Niffenegger strip bears the mark of two “primary” artists.
According to Niffeneger’s write-up, she drew the Charles – the guy doing the proposal in the above panel – and the two spies his wife hires to investigate him, while Campbell drew Ellen, the suspicious wife and protagonist on the right hand side of the same frame.
Even though Campbell apparently modified Niffenegger’s line work to make it look of a piece with his own, my eyes mostly confirms that these characters are not made out of the same materials. This plays into a classic romantic conceit, suggesting as it does that while these two characters may share their lives with each other they’ll always be fundamentally distant. Charles’ thin, defiantly two-dimensional features provide an impermeable barrier between the contents of his mind and the blown out, fuzzy world he lives in with Ellen – being an Eddie Campbell character, she is made out of the same fuzz and clutter as everything else.
The fact that Campbell was also responsible for the lettering and page layouts will be immediately obvious to anyone who is familiar with his autobiographical comics.
This comment from Niffenegger struck me so forcefully that it left me with a mental scar I’d now swear I was born with:
Eddie always begins with the lettering, so there was an early stage of panels and lettering but no images, which I found intriguing. He letters by hand, and already the pages looked like a true Eddie Campbell comic.
More than any other comics artist I can think of, Campbell makes a casual mockery of the idea that the manner in which comics combine words and pictures needs to be policed to maintain the purity of the form. While works such as Bacchus and From Hell shows that Campbell is perfectly comfortable telling a story visually, in a comic like Alec - how to be an artist the continuity of the narrative can be found in the prose, with the visuals reacting to and reiterating the words in exactly the way we’re told they shouldn’t.
November 30th, 2013
Fresh from Thought Bubble 2013, it’s the zine full of comics and essays about suicide, hubris and social housing that everyone – well, at least one person! – is talking about, Looking Glass Heights!
This first issue features:
- THE BLOWNDOWN OF BARRY BROWN – a comic about a man who goes up a a building then comes back down again, though whether the man or the building are the same in the end is up to you to decide.
- REALITY WAR – US vs. THEM – an essay on social housing and the customer service reflex.
- FLOWERS IN A FOREGROUND – another essay on Frank Miller, Eddie Campbell, and art vs. reality.
- BREAKDOWN OF A BLOWDOWN – a deconstruction of the method used to create the art for Looking Glass Heights #1 (“a comic drawn by someone who can’t really draw, using a tool that wasn’t meant for the job”).
“…made me feel thing with a limited size and toolkit” – Twitter’s own James Baker
UK & Europe £2.00 + £1.50 postage & packing:
August 29th, 2013
I PUT DOWN MY BLANKET ON CIGARETTE BUT BEACH, I SAW THE OLD MAN HE WAS DOING OK
Don’t you want Disembodied Narratorbot X-15735 baby? Don’t you want Disembodied Narratorbot X-15735? Oh.
Those two unimpressive moons are once again orbiting the great planet of comics… That’s right it’s a full double-fisting edition of the comics podcast that might have been recently labeled ‘a national disgrace’ by frothing right wing cartoon knob-jockey Richard Littlejohn. You couldn’t make it up meatsacks! The Beast Must Die & Gary Lactus entwined in each others strong yet tender arms cooing sweet nothings into each others ears and letting YOU dear listener into their boudoir.
<ITEM> The Beast has a report from his recent sojourn to Caption Comics Festival, and Gary Lactus does some listening. There’s talk of kids comics, Al Davison, Eddie Campbell and tatty village halls. GLAMOUR.
<ITEM> The Reviewniverse is opened like a particularly large oyster and inside is the pearl of COMICS…a shame-faced Beast is soundly trounced i the comics reading comics competition by eager beaver Gary, with ensuing discussion of The Outliers, Solid State Tank Girl, Innvincible Haggard West, Resident Alien, Daredevil, Lobster Johnson, Batman 66, Justice League Dark, Infinity, Rocketeer & Spirit and The Mysterious Strangers…
<ITEM> Mention is made of the 11 o’clock comics podcast special with Brandon Graham and The Beast froths about the Batman: Brave & The Bold cartoon. Always so contemporary that Beast.
And that’s enough, meatbags. Disembodied Narratorbot X-15735 is going to kick back and listen to Kendrick whilst scanning vintage circuit board pornography. Bring me the cyber-vaseline and get out of here!
SILENCE! is proudly sponsored by the two greatest comics shops on the planet, DAVE’S COMICS of Brighton and GOSH COMICS of London.
January 25th, 2013
PART 1: PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
For Christmas this year I was given the prospect of impending joblessness, a gift that has a fine Dickensian heritage, though unfortunately it’s not Dickens but Shakespeare who has a cameo in the comic at hand:
You don’t need a Shakespearean imagination to understand that redundancy is not the sort of gift I’ve always dreamed of receiving, or to appreciate that it’s not the sort of unwanted gift that you can easily pass on to an unsuspecting relative…
Not that I’m so lacking in compassion for others that I’d *want* to inflict that on anyone else. Even in this post-Monneygeddon age, there’s a limit to what I’m willing to admit in public!
A few weeks ago an alternative version of this present drifted into view, a hot air balloon that looked like it might be capable of taking me somewhere:
Aww, fuck. Might as well start off with a quote from Millar, the Instigator:
“But I love that Kapow! is sold out. I want people to turn up, find that out and think: ‘Damn, I’m definitely going to get my ticket next year.’ There is something cool about that.”
(Kapow! Superheroes come to Britian – man, this even willingly leans in to those Zap! Pow! punches, eh?)
Ok so one of the weird things about Mark Millar, as a figure in popular culture, is that I’m predisposed to disbelieve almost everything he says in interviews. He’s like Tony Blair that way for me, only, you know, Millar’s not actually irredeemably evil.
He is the king of the obvious idea, apparently, and as such the first person to write a comic where a supervillain is the main character. The book in question? Nemesis (Icon Comics, 2010), except… that’s not quite right. You see, the weird thing about this particular boast is that Millar actually beat himself to the punch on this one, with Wanted (Top Cow, 2003). Or maybe the pluralisation invalidates that example, in which case all I have to say is: Zodiac (Marvel, 2009). Or maybe: Irredeemable (Boom Studios, 2009). If plural supervillains count then maybe I’d be saying Empire (Gorilla Comics, 2000) instead, but the point is that it’s a silly boast, one that’s easily proved to be untrue.
Still, at least it’s still a relatively new idea, eh?
Oh. Okay. Maybe not. Well… there probably weren’t any gay incestuous womb-bombs in those old Joker comics, but maybe that’s just because it’s a shit idea?
March 24th, 2011
Being: an index to my recently completed series of posts on stories, mirrors and what happens when you mistake one for the other.
Since I botched the timing of these essays, I thought I’d link to them all in order, just in case anyone felt like humouring me and reading them all as part of the one big story:
- Short and to the Pointless #1: The Like Trap (a short post on reader identification in Phonogram and Eddie Campbel’s autobiographical comics)
- Short and to the Pointless #2: Josie Long and Dodgem Logic (about the deadly combination of bad comics and bad romantic advice)
- Looking Glass Hearts Forever (a long post on the Scott Pilgrim comics and movie)
- Short and to the Pointless #3: The Playwright (on the fact that you can no more write your way out of a story than you can jump your way out of freefall)
Come on, take a dive with me – you might not regret it!
All of that blather aside, I’m pretty happy with this little essay series. It’s properly modular, just like Seven Soldiers wasn’t, but I also think it pays to read the whole thing at once.
Please feel free to let me know in the comments!
March 17th, 2011
Being: both a short postscript to my previous three posts AND a review of one of the best comics of 2010.
This series of posts is supposed to have been all about mirrors and vanity, so what better way to start this than by going on another weird tangent? I’ve probably written enough on this site now for readers to know that everything reminds me of something else. As such, it should come as no surprise when I say that I thought about Eddie Campbell and Daren White‘s excellent comic The Playwright yesterday while I was at an exhibition of the photography of John Thomson.
Dating back to the 1870s , the photographs Thomson took in China are a strange and striking mix of gorgeous detail and grainy noise. The photos themselves are beautifully composed, of course, and they range from the intimate to the respectfully traditional. More than any of this it was the scratchy, broken, physical texture of the images that arrested me. Each tiny abstract marking on Thomson’s glass negatives carries over a century’s worth of context, and each warped corner ruptures the illusion that you could feel fabric that’s in front of your face if only you could reach inside one of the pictures.
Some of the descriptive captions at the Burrell’s exhibition of Thomson’s work hint at the dodgier readings Thomson had of his own material – a stunning image of two Buddhist monks comes with a quote from the photographer about how no visitor to China could look at these men and decide to trust them with their loose change, never mind their eternal souls. The abundance of jigsaw puzzle cracks and scribbled notes can’t help but prepare the viewer for this prejudiced statement – the imperfections of age and reproduction haunt these pictures, ghosts of the photographer’s intentions, inescapable evidence of the fact that you’re seeing all of this through the mind of an adventurous outsider.
But what does all of this have to do with The Playwright?
February 1st, 2011
Being: the first of two short posts building up to a third, hopefully more substantial one.
This series of posts is supposed to be all about mirrors and vanity, so what better way to start than by quoting something I said in the comments to this Phonogram review? Cast your mind all the way back… to December 2009!
I like The Phonogram – it shows me something I like to recognise, namely, me!
I hate The Phonogram – it shows me how stupid that bit of me really is.
Which is why it’s good, and why I love it, and why this review gets to the core of The Singles Club better than any other (though Nina’s review was also very good, if far harsher). I’ll be happy to see more issues, and sorry to see it end.
Still, it’s a bit of a prick at times, The Phonogram.
Sometimes, I don’t think it likes me as much as I like it…
How does the song go? Oh yeah: “I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love/ Is to like the other slightly less than you get in return/ I keep feeling like I’m being undercut…”
Of course, much as I admire these tricky qualities in Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen‘s Phonogram, and much as I’ll always be grateful to them for dedicating an issue of their fanzine-as-fantasy-comic to a defiantly minor group like The Long Blondes, I’ve always known where to find the best example of this trick in all of comics.
Indeed, even back in December 2009, when I was young and naive and actually pretty cowardly about these things, I was still careful to give tribute to The King:
But then I thought of Alec – The King Canute Crowd: “yeah, all these books were written about you!” That Eddie Campbell’s a clever bastard, you know – I don’t think there’s a better laid trap in all of comics than that page.
And yeah, I’ll stand by that statement!
November 16th, 2010
OR: Alec – How to be an Artist, and why some stories are just too fucking massive not to be told
Another thing I remembered, and I don’t think I ever mentioned it to Alan, but I always felt a certain resentment that Billy the Sink got Big Numbers and blew it while i was stuck drawing Jack the bloody Ripper for ten years (I once described it as a penny dreadful that costs thirty five bucks). I stand by my opinion that Big Numbers was the superior idea and would have been Alan’s masterpiece. Of course it is also true that Sienkiewicz is a world class illustrator and there’s no way I could have done a job that complicated in 1992. I could have taken a crack at it later (post-Birth Caul/Snakes and Ladders), and offered, but Alan wasn’t up for that. I love the ease with which Bill shifts from photographic mode to outright loony tunes. The separated Gathercoles remembering their courtship and early marriage is a masterstroke (pages 19-21). That’s an odd note at the bottom of page 29 where he slips back into his Moon Knight style.
(Eddie Campbell on Alan Moore and Bill Sinkiewicz’s Big Numbers)
The first time you read Eddie Campbell’s Alec – How to be an Artist, you might find yourself wondering why Campbell spends so much time on the story of how Alan Moore and Bill Sinkiewicz’s proposed masterpiece, Big Numbers, never added up to much in the end.
I mean sure, it’s a good story – the fact that a project so well conceived with so much talent behind it could not come together for more than three issues (only two of which were published!) is just plain baffling. More than that, it’s good gossip!