Eddie Campbell

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Edward Anthony "Eddie" Campbell (born Glasgow, 10 August 1955) is a Scottish-born comics artist who lives in Australia. Probably best known as the illustrator of Alan Moore's Jack the Ripper graphic novel From Hell, Campbell is also the creator of the semi-autobiographical Alec stories, and Bacchus, a wry adventure series about the few Greek gods who have survived to the present day.

His scratchy pen-and-ink style is influenced by the impressionists, illustrators of the age of "liberated penmanship" such as Phil May, Charles Dana Gibson, John Leech and George du Maurier, and cartoonists Milton Caniff and Frank Frazetta (particularly his Johnny Comet strip), and his writing is influenced by Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller.

Autobiographical comics

Campbell made his earliest attempts at autobiographical comics in the late 1970s with In the Days of the Ace Rock and Roll Club. This evolved into Alec, with the character of Alec MacGarry standing in for the author. Campbell self-published these early comics as short-run photocopied pamphets in London in the early 1980s, selling them at conventions and comic marts, until Paul Gravett began publishing his strips in Escape Magazine. In 1984 Escape published Alec, a slim collection of his semi-autobiographical stories. This was followed by two further collections, Love and Beerglasses (1985) and Doggie in the Window (1986). In 1990 all three were collected, together with some unpublished material, as The Complete Alec. These slice-of-life stories follow Alec, a reflective, intelligent underachiever, and his idealised, live-in-the-moment friend Danny Grey, as they work in a sheet-metal factory and drink in the King Canute pub.

Two further slim volumes, The Dead Muse (1990) and Little Italy (1991) appeared through Fantagraphics Books, in which Alec moves to Australia with his wife and is beset by self-doubt as he pursues his idiosyncratic approach to art. Graffiti Kitchen, which Campbell considers the highpoint of the series, was published by Tundra in 1993. Set before the move to Australia, Alec has lost touch with Danny Grey and his friends from the King Canute days, and pursues a relationship with an older woman despite an unrequited attraction to her teenage daughter. The Dance of Lifey Death, which sees a much happier Alec with a family life and a new social circle in Australia, and a more successful artistic career, followed in 1994 from Dark Horse Comics. In 1995 Campbell established his own publishing company, Eddie Campbell Comics, and released new editions of most of his Alec material. The Complete Alec was revised and republished as The King Canute Crowd in 2000; Three Piece Suit collected Graffiti Kitchen, Little Italy, and The Dance of Lifey Death in 2001. The Dead Muse, which contains Campbell's bleakest work, has not been republished. He then published a new volume of Alec stories, How to be an Artist, in 2001, in which, with the ironic conceit that his own career as a cartoonist is a template for artistic success, he recounts "Alec"'s creative struggles. In After the Snooter (2002) he abandons the alter-ego of Alec MacGarry and confronts growing older, and in The Fate of the Artist (2006), despite using his own name, he creates an entirely fictional story in which his family and friends investigate his disappearance, undermining the image of himself he has created in his previous autobiographical works.

Bacchus

The success of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles led to a short-lived explosion of black and white independent comics in the mid-1980s. Campbell joined in, creating the series Deadface for small British publisher Harrier Comics, featuring Bacchus, god of wine and revelry, and the few other Greek mythological figures who have survived to the present day. Campbell's Bacchus is an ancient, amiably lugubrious bar-fly, wandering the world with his acolyte Simpson and telling stories of his glory days, while his elder brother Hermes, deified hero Joe Theseus and the grotesque Eyeball Kid, murderer of Zeus, continue to fight old battles and settle old scores. When the Harrier series ended after eight issues, Campbell began publishing short Bacchus stories in a variety of anthologies, before Dark Horse Comics reprinted the Harrier series as Immortality isn't Forever in 1990 and the short stories as Doing the Islands With Bacchus in 1991. Campbell continued the story with Dark Horse until 1995 as a series of miniseries. Bacchus then became Campbell's first self-published comic in 1995, a monthly series combining new stories with reprints of earlier ones. By 2001 the series was complete and reprinted as a series of graphic novels. While his autobiographical stories are all his own work, Campbell worked with a variety of co-writers and co-artists on Bacchus, notably Ed Hillyer, Pete Mullins, Wes Kublick and Teddy Kristiansen.

From Hell

In 1989, Campbell began illustrating Alan Moore's ambitious Jack the Ripper graphic novel From Hell, serialised initially in Steve Bissette's horror anthology Taboo. After Taboo folded From Hell was published in installments by Tundra and then Kitchen Sink Press, until the epilogue Dance of the Gull-catchers saw print in 1998. From Hell takes as its starting point the theory that the murders were committed by royal surgeon Sir William Withey Gull, as part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. Using that to expose the misogyny, class and racial conflict and other political trends of the time and speculating on the nature of time, it examines the 1880s as the root of many of the conflicts of the 20th century. Moore and Bissette chose Campbell as illustrator for his down-to-earth approach, which gives the story a convincing realism and does not sensationalise the violence of the murders. Campbell, in studying the illustration styles of the period, discovered that advances in printing technology in the 1880s had led to the abandonment of wood engraving and the rise of "liberated penmanship". Illustrators like Phil May, Charles Dana Gibson and John Leech pioneered a more gestural, spontaneous line, a natural match for Campbell's own style which heavily influenced his approach to From Hell.

When the film rights were optioned in 1995, Campbell used the money to set up his own publishing company, Eddie Campbell Comics, which published the first collected edition of From Hell in 2000. The book is now published by Knockabout Comics in the UK and Top Shelf Productions in the USA.

Other work

Since 2006's The Fate of the Artist, Campbell has published through First Second. It was followed in 2007 by The Black Diamond Detective Agency, a crime story set in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century adapted from an unmade screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell, and in 2008 by The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, loosely based on the life of the 19th century French acrobat Jules Léotard and co-written with Dan Best.

References

  • Rob Rodi, "These Greeks are Crazy: Amazons, Epicurus the Sage and Bacchus", The Comics Journal 130, 1990, pp. 39-43
  • Sam Yang, "A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine and Eddie Campbell" (interview), The Comics Journal 145, 1991, pp. 58-87
  • Dave Sim & Alan Moore, "Correspondence from Hell", in Smoky Man & Gary Spencer Millidge (eds.), Alan Moore, Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman, Abiogenesis Press, 2003, pp. 307-345
  • Rich Kreiner, "Lust for Life, Mate! 25 Years of Eddie Campbell", The Comics Journal 220, 1999, pp. 45-56