Saturday, 3 March 2007


The American commandos had just disembarked behind enemy lines and Sgt. Rory Rockhead was posing for this photo when the entire squad was taken out by the Gecko Emperor.
Photo by Christopher Moonlight, a cameraman attached to the secret mission who was allowed to return home in a boat. "The geckos only went and et the helicopter." he said.

(I wonder if Mr moonlight was thinking of this post when he sent the above. Or perhaps he was just being a cheeky bastard out of nowhere.)

In other news:
Great article by Chris Ware, profusely illustrated, on the subject of Charles Burns' pairings of photographs. link via hayley campbell.

I'm developing an inexplicable fondness for that cranky fellow David Apatoff over at the flat earth society. Somebody, probably Dirk, linked to his inane blatherings about the emperor and his new clothes, which we have heard until we are in tears of boredom. But while I was over there peeking around in his closets, I found this little gem of a post about one Sarah Goodridge, which appeals to that part of me you see from time to time around here that likes to discover the world's little forgotten artistic charms and oddities. It is a little love story and those of a sentimental disposition like myself will be pleased that they strolled over there for a look.

By the way, the photo of the gecko on the window that started this whole Gecko War was taken by wee cal, who is doing photography at school. He left it on the desktop here and I plagiarised it. The second, with the lamp, was my own, and the other two I collaged in photoshop using bits of images from around the internet. The one above is as credited, though if you check the version at Christopher's site you'll notice we've colour corrected the gecko. The gecko aliens are of a colour that is not receptible by human irises you see, and our cameras are not made to recognize it either. Apparently on the planet of the geckos it is called smoollg, and it is considered the most appealing of the primary colours, of which there are zumteen.

(guess how many variations on smoollg I had to google before I found one that wasn't already a fictional planet. And Zumteen is a number invisble to the human eye. You think it looks like it's going to be thirteen or fourteen, but as you get closer your eyes go out of focus and you can't pin it down.)


Friday, 2 March 2007

!!!!!!!!!!!!GECKO INVASION BEGUN!! TOKYO DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The evil gecko emperor oversees today's carnage.

in other news:
Granny finds grenade in groceries
A 74-year-old Italian grandmother who bought a sack of potatoes at the her local market has found a live grenade among the spuds.
"I found a bomb in the potatoes," Olga Mauriello said...


Thursday, 1 March 2007

my books

A Pinch and a Punch.

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month (and all its variations and attachments). Where does that come from? I googled around to find the origin of that old saying and found a lot of people asking the same question.
Back in '96 when we were doing the last volume of Bacchus I had come up with a couple of characters named Transom and Mullion. There had been a tradesman in the house fixing windows and he had used the technical terms for the upright and horizontal in a window or door construction, at which point my mind left the matter at hand and my eyes probably glazed over. When you're galloping at high speed, writing a monthly book, you tend to sweep up everything before you and absorb it into your story. So I thought, Transom and Mullion, two characters who are always at cross purposes. Later I noticed the Hood's henchpeople in the Thunderbirds movie had those names (more wordplay since hood in Britain can mean the roof of a garage etc.), and they may have been in the original '60s series too, and if the names weren't used long before that I'd be surprised.

Once on paper, characters start to write themselves and these acquired a sado-masochistic relationship, and so, galloping at high speed from one month to the next I had them act out the first day of the month ritual in all of its violent potential. Pete Mullins, who worked with me in that period, always drew these two, and you can see his line is much cleaner than mine. (click for a larger reading version)

From Bacchus vol 10: Banged Up

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EXTRA: Gecko demands for Bush rejected. Will accept Harlan Ellison instead.

Full story at ten. With hourly updates


Wednesday, 28 February 2007


The terrifying Gecko Emperor, with his invasion fleet lurking behind the lamp on our front porch, broadcast a message to a fearful humanity earlier this afternoon. The Gecko leader has demanded that the human race hand over the President of the United States of America, and has made it clear that if this demand is not met that he WILL use weapons of mass destruction. We will post updates throughout the day as this story develops. In the meantime we will be setting up a petition to get the Americans to hand over Bush, for the sake of us all and of the planet we live on, for God's sake and the sake of all the other gods, and all the gods we haven't made up yet, to the geckos on our front porch. Talk to your neighbours, to your local political representative. If our last ditch effort is to save our world, everybody reading this must act swiftly.


Tuesday, 27 February 2007

TIME IN MY HANDS (rule #4)

We talk about timing in comics, but really there is no time except in a periodical sense. i.e. 'next issue'. All the pages of a comic book arrive simultaneously. If it happens that Magneto shows up surprisingly on the last page, I've never met a kid who didn't already know this before he got the book out of the store.
Here is a) the front cover of X-men 17 and b) here is page 20 of same. These two incidents are more or less synchronous, in more ways than one. There is a lapse of about 1.23 seconds while the kid gets the book open. (and another few seconds before he has disobeyed the imperative on the cover and told all the 'living souls' within earshot.) However, there is one whole month between image a and image c) issue 18, allowing for variation in promotional images getting out ahead of the book etc..

That's all that can be said for definite about timing. Unlike the movies, where good or bad timing is a measurable fact ( that's why they do test screenings), in comics everything else on this subject is fiction. And like all good fiction, it requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. In fact it requires a little more than that. It requires complicity between the artist and his audience. This thing that we do, we are going to pretend that it is analogous to time. That is the unspoken agreement at the outset. And because it is unspoken, we cannot complain that a reader didn't know about it, especially in these days when we expend so much effort in attracting new readers. We need to offer them a contract with no hidden clauses. And beyond that, we have no control. In prose novels it takes an act of will to read the ending ahead of getting there, but in comics it can happen so easily by accident. And I'm not even talking about the unavoidability of taking in a whole page at first glance. Part of the humour, or drama, of comics should involve an allowance for that. As artists and writers we cannot prevent the reader's seeing ahead accidentally any more than we can stop some lug from giving away the score of the match whose replay we are going to watch fresh later tonight.

I find myself recalling a very clever piece of work that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (I know Dave's reading this) made circa 1983 titled Chroncops, where the whole short story was playing mischievously with the concept of time. The authors quite cleverly laid all the information before us in panel after panel but we didn't see it because we were looking for something else. At one point the cops arrive back at hq in an earlier time slot and have to avoid themselves in the lobby. Sure enough, when we flip back the pages, we see what we didn't see before because we weren't looking for it, the two characters half-hiding behind the potted plant (even after pulling the trick once they pulled it a second time in the same short story).
edit to include: The mighty Dave Gibbons has commented at some length on two of my previous posts in this series, here, and here. One day you'll say, "and they were giving away all this information for free!!"

For me the conventional three-panel gag can never work again because I know there's supposed to be a gag in the third one, and If I haven't guessed it then I've glimpsed it. the third panel is not distant enough in space and time for me to avoid reading it simultaneously with the first.

Thus, if your piece of work involves some intricate business about the order of reading, and timing, you need to synchronise watches at the start, and a 'spoiler warning' ain't going to cut it. You cannot depend upon conventions of the form. You need to work it into the fiction in some way.
CAMPBELL's RULE #4: In comics timing is a fiction. Deal with it like the rest of your fictions.

(if this post has been too 'zen' for you, don't fret, the Geckos will be back tomorrow.)

Another thing about timing; in comic books, if a book's due out in June, you need to get it finished at least by June. In the book market it's different. For The Black Diamond Detective Agency, due out in June I had to have it wrapped up by the previous July. I'm disoriented.

Sorry those samples are very old. I think that's the last time I got excited about a villain showing up again(substitute your own). (art on the 'page 20' by the hugely underappreciated Werner Roth. He drew X-men for a couple of years following this one.)


Monday, 26 February 2007



The latest news on the geckos is that they are gathering behind the lamp on the front porch. They appear to be taking advantage of the moth traffic in the region, but intelligence informs us that they are mustering their forces for a more sinister purpose. A description of the ringleader has been issued by the police: "light is shining through him so that you can see his beating heart and pulsating squidgy insides." We are certain that they are up to no good and will keep you posted on this fast breaking story. News sources are saying it could be an international crisis on a scale comparable to the Martian invasion of 1938.

(Nathalie correctly noted that the label below is reminiscent of Gaiman. When I inaugurated the custom of labels here at Campbell blogspot, hayley campbell commented: "ah, brill. you should tag completely ridiculous things like neil does sometimes. his tags have become my favourite bit of his blog.". So I immediately decided, 'there's one idea I'll be plagiarising!.


Sunday, 25 February 2007

The last word in Speech Balloons. (rule #3)

About these 'RULES' of mine. I originally collected and numbered them for a talk I gave, which I titled 'Towards a rhetoric of comics'. In other words, a bunch of principles codified for assisting a cartoonist to put his thoughts across in the clearest and most persuasive way.
Jessica Abel drew a two page comic strip explaining how a comic strip works, and I have a problem with it. I don't think it's Jessica's fault. She has tried to explain something which under closer scrutiny proves to be faulty, but she's too sweet to say so. Now, me, I'd say: "this system is shambolic, I'm proposing a new one whether you like it or not."
The problem lies in the placing of word balloons. Convention (or Jessica) says that comics are a 'nested system'. You read a panel from left to right and from top to bottom and, when you've read everything in that panel you move left-right and top-bottom and read everything in the next one until you've completed the page. However, in all of my watching and noting over many years, the reader, even the experienced one, after reading the contents of a balloon, will be inclined to read the next nearest balloon irrespective of whether the rest of the balloons in the current panel have already been taken in. If the next nearest balloon is in the next panel, or even the panel underneath, then the cartoonist risks losing control of his/her narration. Therefore the very first thing the artist must do upon a approaching a page is pin down the balloons. In fact I go so far as to do all of the lettering first, because in addition to the above, lettering will take much less reduction in size than a picture, therefore it is essential to give the lettering priority. When I am certain that the lettering follows reading-logic, only then do I start drawing. Each balloon should follow clearly from the one before it no matter where the panel borders are placed.

example a: a page from Bacchus vol 1, Immortality isn't Forever (right above). The first panel is the tall one at the left of the page. My system dictates that the lettering in this panel go at the very top and there only, even though it might function better nearer to the heads of the speakers, otherwise the reader would be required to break a basic reading rule and move up the page to the next panel and its balloons, instead of following the conventional law of top-bottom.

example b: page at pencil stage from my cockeyed version of the Minotaur's story in Bacchus vol 3, Doing the Islands with Bacchus. lest you think that my system is inevitably going to require that all the balloons float at the tops of the panels, here's a variation. In this case the position of the balloons in the second panel have determined that those in the last panel must be placed very low, in fact at the foot of the page. The course of the balloons follows a downward sinuous line. They can only be read one way. This sample is also useful in that you can see I have ink-lettered the balloons while the pictures are only sketched roughly. In fact if you have the book you'll know that these pictures were replaced by others at the inking stage. I wouldn't normally do this much sketching (any) before lettering except that this was an odd layout that required special attention.
To summarize:
CAMPBELL"S RULE #3: In spite of what you may read, comics are not a nested system; a reader will read a balloon and then read the next nearest balloon even if they haven't already read all the ones in the current panel.

Other relevant thoughts on the general subject of balloons: Eisner has stated that giving a character more than one balloon in a panel gives the lie to the panel being a moment in time, with characters frozen in a pose relevant to what they are saying (therefore they can only be saying a limited amount). We all have our rules to make our specific way of doing things into a coherent system, but I don't worry too much about that one (you take your pick). I distrust the idea of comics being tied to 'time'. it's too close to the movie model for my liking. And there are bigger lies to worry about, like who said they didn't steal the tarts, or said they didn't kill Cock Robin.

Alex Toth wrote something about lettering that stuck in my head. It may have been here but I can't find it again. That site has Toth doing commentaries on a bunch of his old short stories. The 50s romance stories are the ones most worth checking out. He said that he liked a lot of 'padding' in the balloons, in other words, a comfortable amount of white space around the block of text. I have taken that one on board completely.

At the top of this post is a brace of word balloons from a detail of a panel in The Black Diamond Detective Agency that express my present aesthetic ideal. The balloon should be a thoughtfully designed shape that relates to the things around it in its pictorial context. I absolutely DETEST and ABHOR those goddam elipses they use nowadays in the comic books. I LOATHE them and will NOT TOLERATE them. I also don't care for them. I've heard all the economic arguments, so don't send them to me. Within the balloon the block of lettering should also form a designed shape, which need not echo the shape of the balloon around it, but the two should be aware of the existence of each other. It need not be said that I also have no time for computer fonts. But thirdly and don't forget this one, the space between the block of lettering and the balloon is a yet another element that needs to be carefully considered and shaped, the 'padding ' that Toth speaks of. Half close your eyes and you'll see it as a white stream flowing around the block of text.
In my last couple of jobs I have taken to painting the balloons onto the page of art (before the picture, and then tidy them up later) in a pale yellow. I want the balloon to be a painted presence on the page instead of a hole through it to another dimension. I arrived at this by an evolutionary process after I started doing the painted books (in Batman: Order of Beasts I used a font, with irregular balloon shapes but with a holding line around them. The holding lines proved to be a technical pain in the ass, so in the 13 page Escapist story I did I tried losing those and lettered onto a tracing paper overlay by hand, which is very simple to align with the time honoured manner without extra computer work. This proved satisfactory so I carried the approach over to Diamond and I'm also using it on my new one, The Amazing Remarkable mr. Leotard.

My pal Dave Gibbons felt compelled to throw in his two cents on my last 'rule' . Since he does his own lettering and it is always faultless, I'll be very interested indeed to hear his thoughts on this one .

Finally, if you click the 'balloons' label below you'll find an earlier post on the subject.

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