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.