Wednesday, 26 September 2007

colour me purply black

Here's a detail from another one of my comic book outings. This is from a story Neil Gaiman wrote for DC titled The Flame is Green. I think it may have been the first thing he wrote for them but it was shelved for twelve years until 2000. I drew the three page prologue, pencil and ink, which had a haunting romantic quality about it. A character who is not identified but is obviously intended to be Blackhawk steps down into the wreckage of a bunker in Berlin. A serious battle took place here. Among the deathly remains we see a skeletal Sandman (the original with the fedora and gasmask) and battered wings that could only be the remains of a Hawkman who did not survive his golden age. Blackhawk is obviously a little tipsy, and wants to get back to his barstool. I'm not sure how Neil swung that, as I was once catogorically told that DC heroes never touch the stuff.

I forgot to check the colorist when I made the scan, but I believe it was Matt Hollingsworth, one of the few colorists I've encountered who knew exactly what he was doing. The lettering looks good too.

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Thursday, 20 September 2007

colour me purply brown again.

M ore panels of campbellian X-men. Here's the panel I already showed in the gentleman's club:

And here it is in clubby smoky purples and browns.

Here's a panel which is all Pete Mullins' work.

And here it is in steampunky purples and browns:

I kind of like this little panel. Minotaur by campbell, cute girl by mullins:

Not sure how that blue got in there.
Those pages were the last time Pete and I worked on a job together ( 2001).

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

color me purply brown.

Iwrote yesterday's post after uncovering a pile of old artwork while looking for something unrelated. I looked over the pages of art I drew for the X-men thinking to myself: this isn't as bad as I remember it. It was during that phase when Marvel's colorists were doing everything in purple and brown, for reasons one cannot hope to guess. Here's my rendition of Wolverine:

An here he is in muscular purples and browns:

Here's a shaman character coming form the wilds, whom I modeled on Alan Moore. For those following my recent notes on markmaking, I smeared the ink into a thick gel medium and laid it on with a one-inch broad bristle brush for the effects of the tree bark (click to enlarge for closer detail.)

And here it is in foresty purples and browns:

More shimmering hues tomorrow. Watch for them.

Mother sues doctor over twin birth

Graphic novel a brilliant way to tell a disturbing story- The Ottawa Citizen- Monday, September 17.- Yann Martel, the Booker Prize-winning author of Life of Pi, is sending a book and letter every two weeks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.: "Maus by Art Spiegelman. Don't be fooled by the format. This comic book is real literature..."

Mini-comic vending machine.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

bit parts

Spot Campbell's pals. This isn't something I go looking for, but at the same time I enjoy it when it comes up. I'm talking about the odd occasion when I draw a few pages in a superhero comic-book published by Marvel or DC. Just counting off the top of my noodle, I think I've appeared in maybe thirteen individual books from the 'big two', including a complete art and writing job, a 2-issue art job and a 4-issue writing job, and assorted guest spots of three, five and eight pages. Here are a couple of panels that have similarities in that the two writers each kindly allowed me a crowded bar scene and I took the liberty of putting all my pals in it. First one is page 1, panel from an Orion five page back-up scripted by Walt Simonson. Far left, that's White doing the goggles effect when he plays 'dambusters', a game in which you hum the theme tune of the old Dambusters war movie and then pretend you're the bomber flying in low to cripple the Mohne dam in May 1943. The dam is a beer jug on the floor and the bomb is a 50 cent coin clenched between the buttocks. If you can't picture it, ask hayley campbell; I have heard that she brought the house down recently in London with a demonstration during a dinner party attended by several comedy writers (email her for bookings).

Left to right you can also see Staros, Minty Moore, Evans tipping the dancer, and me and Mullins. Pete Mullins chipped in on this job for me. The two dancing girls were drawn by him. This was in 2001. In the same year I drew an 8-page guest spot in X-men #400. Joe Casey successfully wrote me into the special issue in such a way that I didn't have to draw a superhero, if you don't count Wolverine with his shirt off. In the villain's history in flashback there's an old-time scene in the bar of a gentlemen's club. I'm on the left, White's behind the bar. Mullins is wearing a bow-tie and Evans is just arriving.

When you have to draw a bunch of people in a crowd scene it's useful to use people you know just to get a sense of assorted personalities in order to avoid falling back on stock types. Otherwise, it's self indulgence and this is a blog.

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Friday, 14 September 2007

The panels last night went very well. It was great just having a public conversation with Bryan Talbot for an hour. If you want a hint of what that might be like you should check out his new book, The Naked Artist, certainly relevant to the title and theme of my blog. It is a compendium of the anecdotes that comic book artists tell each other, gathered from hither and yon during Bryan's multifarious travels around the globe. I personally have had a drink or two with Bryan on at least three continents and we have dined together with the wives of our bosoms. One of my own yarns even pops up in here, the one about my meeting with the great Hugo Pratt, which I was telling as a bar anecdote long before I put it into my own book How to be an Artist. Some of the stories have been so exaggerated through retelling as to be near mythical. Others are quite charming such as the one where where innocent passerby Harvey Kurtzman is dragged into a swimming pool at the El Cortez hotel in 1977 by Linda Gebbie and two other female cartoonsists. A fanboy hears the splash and looks over his balcony. "Hey! It's Harvey Kurtzman! he's in the pool with three chicks! And they've all got their clothes on!" Harvey was mortified.
Bryan's book is in prose with a dozen large illustrations by my old pal Hunt Emerson

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Tuesday, 3 July 2007

About drawing paper. (part 2)


ore on the eternal mystery of what paper to use for drawing comic books. Campbell's theories on this important subject are guaranteed to baffle you. For the big double page (8/9) explosion in The Black Diamond Detective Agency I had this notion I could save time, since I wanted the finished thing to be very red, by painting it on red paper. The problem was that when I needed to fix mistakes I had to try to mix a red to match the colour of the paper. So, in the end, the red paper didn't save me much time. You can see other tints showing up in this detail:

The effect I wanted however was pure black on pure red and nothing in-between, so Danica at First Second tweaked the spread in photoshop.

The effect i was after, and nobody appears to have noticed this yet, was exactly that obtained by Wally Wood in the Kurtzman story Atom Bomb in Two-Fisted Tales #33 of May 1953. And to get this effect it would have been much easier to have done the art in black 'line' and add the red later at the production stage;

However, that effect of the black on red may have only happened on the back cover of a Comics Journal, a 1981 issue whose featured interview was either with Kurtzman or Wood, as the Russ Cochran EC reprint shows a completely different coloring:

Question: was I influenced by a Comics Journal re-colouring job when all these years I thought it was in the original?

Bernard Black responds to a rejection letter
"Thank you for returning my manuscript, and your enclosed niminy piminy little note. I am afraid YOUR letter is unsuitable for ME as I have just spent the entire weekend wriing the novel that you have smmarily rejected. I can only assume that it is company policy to reject all manuscripts not submitted in ten foot high braille. And yes, I am aware that it is bad form to respond to any kind of criticism or rejection, but in this as with all else I am an innovator, therefore I may freely address you as… pissmidget. Still, there’s time for you to change your views and I think you will when we meet and meet we most assuredly will, when I suck out your eyes and use them as stoppers for my ears to muffle the screams that you make as I head-butt you into a fine paste. I do hope you will not be disheartened by your sudden, violent death.
Yours faithfully,
Bernard Black."

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Monday, 2 July 2007

About drawing paper. (part 1)


ince this is the kind of question a beginner always wants to ask, I thought a few posts about drawing paper, or 'art board' might be fun. In fact, I think it's best to stop thinking of it as 'art board' right from the outset; just think of it as the paper you draw on, as opposed to the paper it will be printed on. I drew the entire 48 pages of my masterpiece, Graffiti Kitchen, on ordinary typing paper because I wanted to remove all thoughts that I was wasting expensive paper while I merrily inked on it without pencilling and shredded it and threw away three times as much as I kept. In fact it doesn't even need to be paper. You could draw on your bum and photograph it if you thought that would make your work any funnier.

A young guy phoned me out of the blue once for the purpose of finding out what kind of board he needed to use to draw comics. When I told him what I myself use, he went away very disappointed. Either that or he thought I was pulling his leg, or even protecting trade secrets from being purloined by outsiders. I believe he wanted me to tell him the secret of obtaining that paper with all the guidelines already printed on it in blue, as it seemed to be his belief that his drawings could never be considered real comic book art without it. I've used the official Marvel and DC boards at least once each in my life, as evidenced by the image at left, part of my very first panel of the two issue Captain America job I drew in 2004. It's usually a good idea however to use DC boards for Marvel, and Marvel boards for DC. I used to think it would screw with their minds, but since everybody does it, they never even noticed. My assistant on the Cap job is one of those dedicated comic book aspirants who gets his own blue line boards made up, with StewART in bold across the top in proud cyan, so when we I ran out of both Marvel and DC boards (we were spoiling a lot of them in our desperation) I just used some of StewART's.

The type of paper discussed above is called bristol board, and if you are a young artist with no job and no money you will be alarmed at how expensive it is, even without the samples with a publisher's bluelines on them that you may have stockpiled by pretending that you spoiled a lot of them. For my own work however I very early, for reasons of economy, got into a habit using what is called ivory board. I don't think it was ever meant to be an art paper and I deduce it's used for making printed cartons or other design purposes. Note that I'm not recommending it to you by any means; my purpose is to show that there is no single answer to the question, 'what board?'. But it was always cheaper than bristol board and its glassy surface made it good for the kind of fast pen work I had turned into a speciallty. The board also comes in a couple of other styles made by embossing a texture onto it in the manufacture, such as a linen effect which I used for two whole chapters of From Hell (#2 and #10). Here's an example from the Bacchus story Afterdeath. I would use a crayon across the surface so that where it touched the raised parts it was black and where it didn't, in the depressions, it remained white, making a halftone effect. I've scanned this from the art, but it usually printed more or less accurately, tending to be darker, but since I usually used this board on stories where I wanted a bit of murk, that was fine. The nice thing about it was that this toothy surface never arrested the nib, so I could use fine lines on it also. ( a certain yellowness you can see on this scan is caused by a layer of sticky-backed transparency I'd lay over the crayon areas to avoid smudging. Theoretically that should be a bad idea, not unlike all my other ideas, but it has served me well).

More silly art-papers next time.
Back on 13 May I mentioned Sarnath Banerjee’s The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers, and a fellow just linked me to his article on The Plight of the Indian Graphic Novel
You may enjoy it if you like delightfully impenetrable references without any links to pictures so we could get a grasp on things:
"We are talking about the Baboo Bankim Chandra of the Indian graphic novel..."
"And even when you have plentiful instances of intellectual foppery and postcolonial spin offs, our graphic novelist writes 'Nuncoomar' like a pucca sahib"

But the poor chap thinks it's necessary to erase all yer pencil marks. he obviously isn't familiar with Campbell's works:
"The Indian press is all praise for Sarnath, whose illustrations, simply put, are horrible! In some frames, you'll see that the artist in his hurry to fame has simply forgotten to erase his pencil-marks from the paper... a criminal offense I never found repeated in the comics and graphic novels he tries to emulate!."
in other news:
In Yangon, Burma, thieves are taking advantage of outages often lasting for more than 20 hours a day to steal the copper power cables, police said on Friday. "The thieves are risking their lives as it is impossible to know exactly when the power is going to be restored."

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Wednesday, 27 June 2007

covers- BATMAN: The Order of Beasts.

I gave up the self-publishing at the beginning of 2003 and spent the following year painting a 48 page Batman book. The cover was the last part to be done. I made a couple of sketches. My editor said no to the first (2), probably because the arrangement of characters in the foreground gave away too much about where the plot was headed. The picture on the right (3) is a scan of the finished cover without the logo (1). Daren White co-wrote and Mick Evans did all the production work including the lettering using a font designed by Woodrow Phoenix (Mick also came up with the title; he's always good at that sort of thing). I was pleased with the way it worked out and with the fact that we packaged the whole book ourselves leaving space for DC to add a logo and drop in the indicia and credits. I'm still not sure howcome they allowed me to do all of this. I'd never even done a whole issue of anything for DC before, never mind a 'prestige format' book with a shiny card cover.

Here's the story behind it, since I have gotten into the swing of laying out the business complexities over the last few posts, though that wasn't my original intention when I thought of showing some old cover sketches beside their related finished versions. I was already working on this when I drew a line under Eddie Campbell Comics at the beginning of 2003. It started with either my short Batman piece in Bizarro that Hunt Emerson illustrated, or my interview in Egomania #1 with old time Batman ghost artist Lew Sayre Schwartz (who has remained a very dear friend over the last five years), or perhaps both. I had let the world know that I was something of an enthusiast for the old Batman stories, particularly late '40s early '50s (Schwartz, Sprang etc. -Here's an article I wrote on the subject way back in 2001. I just reread it and I still like it.) I was invited to pitch a script idea for a proposed Batman to be drawn by Tony Millionaire. I wasn't interested in that and I don't know if it ever came about with another writer, but when I mentioned the whole thing to my pal White, he said he had been sitting on his own Batman idea for some time, and how dare I turn down the gig without asking him first. I mixed this up with half an idea of my own and pitched it to Joey Cavalieri at DC. Somehow we got in.

Then I made things complicated. I said that nothing would make me happier than to draw this myself. They said they didn't allow a situation where a creator would both write and draw the same book unless he was 'incorporated'. I mentioned this to Whitey, whom you may remember is a chartered accountant, so that's exactly his field. He said, "It's not as complicated as you think. A company's just a box of documents you can keep under your bed." And it doesn't cost too much either, well compared to the amounts I've been bandying about here of late. Now, companies are usually named and indexed by having two unassociated words hinged together (well, this is the campbellian explanation), so he finds a combination that he figures will embarrass me, runs the checks to confirm it's not already in use, and next thing you know I'm director of a company named 'Antelope Pineapple Pty. Ltd', just so I can get to draw Batman.

Then I asked if I could paint it too. For a week it looked like this wasn't going to fly until I explained that all I meant by that was that they take the amounts they were going to parcel out to penciller, inker and colorist and give them all to me instead.

Somehow or other I got what i wanted and It all worked out well. That was my first full colour book, and I've been working in colour on all my books since then. It was the beginning of a new phase in my career, leaving the self publishing one far behind. However, that damn Antelope Pineapple Pty. Ltd lately became a millstone around my neck. I have a hard enough time remembering one set of tax dates and duties without being legally obliged to remember another and different lot. More than once I have been fined for missing a superannuation deadline or some other important pecuniary obligation. I decided to get rid of the thing.

So three months ago I went to see my regular accountant, and it cost me more to get out than it did to get in, what with things being in a muddle. But while on the way I passed a tea room and I pulled over on my bike. I was reminded of my Bruce Wayne having a cup of English tea at the beginning of The Order of Beasts. Outside they had a blackboard with an interesting quote chalked on it. which has stuck in my noodle: "Reputation is character minus what you've been caught doing" (by someone named Michael Lapoce). Anyway, the previous tax year had been bad for me, what with From Hell being out of print all that year, but me still paying large in taxes, and I got a huge rebate of $15,000 bucks. My accountant's young assistant accountant was handling it all for me. In a moment of bravado I told him why I had the damn company in the first place, and how it got its daft name, and Whitey's assistance in the matter, all just so I could draw a Batman comic book, and I think he thought it was very cool and interesting.

And as we were finalising the paperwork I said, "Now do I have to hand over that box of papers from under my bed?"
He looked at me for a minute as though to probe my noodle and find out if I was joking.
And then he said, "uh, no, you can keep that."

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Friday, 4 May 2007


The epic saga began with the film Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), which was released by 20th Century Fox thirty years ago on May 25, 1977. But we here at campbell blogspot have decided to rewrite history, much like Lucas did and make it May 4.

Long time readers of me blog will remember me telling the anecdote of how writer Bob Morales used the "Han Shot First' motto as the springboard to a plot twist in which Steve (Captain America) Rogers, while on his way back to his own timestream, makes a detour in which to alter history and put the twin towers back up. I didn't have the art handy then, but I have it now and I've attempted to peel back one of the paste overs to reveal the original motto on the t-shirt, as it looked before our editor decided it was too risky. (though looking at my crap lettering it's undoubtedly a good thing that I got stewart McKenny, then assisting me, to put something more professional over the top of it.)

(Brian Reber was colorist)

Those R2D2 mailboxes... Are they up and running yet?

in other news:
This made me laff:
Gary Groth told to bugger off (or words to that effect) by Shannon Wheeler. (via Heidi, who shows a photo)
Groth vs Ellison. The last time we contemplated one of them here at Campbell blogspot our mind became unhinged and we gibbered incoherently about a gecko invasion from outer space for the rest of the week.
(my official opinion: there is not so much money in this game that idiots should be wasting it on lawsuits.)

Chabon's frozen Chosen
By Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop. Wednesday, May 2.
"Chabon's novel is laden with mysteries but the chief one is whether groups can claim that things are meant to be.
HarperCollins is probably just wondering whether the book can make a profit.
'The stakes are high,' spokesman Jonathan Burnham admits, 'for Michael and all of us.'"


Thursday, 3 May 2007

Vincent Colletta, my favourite 1960s "Inker"

T he word "inker" is another of those that are spelled with quote marks here at campbell blogspot.
Heidi Macdonald wrote on 30 april:
"Vinnie Colletta is a legendary name in comic book circles — legendary because he could be one of the worst inkers in the biz, but kept getting work because he was fast and reliable and had some powerful friends..."
She then links to a piece from the previous day at the blog 20th Century Danny Boy:
"Vinnie Colletta. Much has been written about Vinnie in the years since his passing (1991), not all of it is true or accurate. Speak to a professional artist and more often than not they'll have an opinion on Vinnie. "He was a no talent, no good hack," they say, "a bum that ruined Jack Kirby's artwork by haphazard inking and shortcuts." In some regards they're right, he was a bit of a hack. He also indeed did take a lot of shortcuts in his work, in some cases he erased the pencils so he'd not have to ink them. Jack Kirby would draw detailed backgrounds only to see them simplified by Colletta. Yet there were other sides to Vinnie.
When I first spoke to Don Perlin he chastised me for chuckling at the mention of Vinnie's name and told me that, "Vinnie was a very nice guy and Vinnie could do great work."

It's a shame that even the wikipedia entry on Colletta is full of the bad stuff. Something I observed while working on The Fate of the Artist was the sad fact that an artist's posthumous encyclopedia entry will tend to be discolored by that bad thing he perpetrated. It usually takes the form of a sentence about the circumstances of his death, which in a five sentence paragraph is surely out of proportion to the whole. I have a short papragraph on the 18th century composer Anton Filtz which manages to mention that he had a predilection for eating spiders, a five paragraph summary of the life of Louis Guillemain that spends one whole paragraph on the sorry mess of his self mutilation, death and hasty burial (I've mentioned these blokes elsewhere, and I do so again because I'm trying to relate this to a bigger picture)
On! Two years back I picked up a coverless copy of a 1954 (that tiny corner of cover you can see in the first image actually contains the part of the indicia that shows the year. what luck!) Atlas romance comic book. It has two stories illustrated by Colletta; he drew mainly romance stories after entering the field the previous year. Look at the big splash panel. That ear looks incorrect, but it's the only one in the story that does so, so let's overlook that (in much the same way that you forgave a clumsy ear of mine a couple of weeks back). What strikes us about this picture is the use of the chinagraph pencil to soften and model forms, most successfully on the pretty girl's cheek. The only other place I've seen that effect in a vintage comic was in Kubert's Firehair in the late '60s (but I'm no completist). The second image is the last page from the same story. There's one place in an earlier page where the artist doesn't seem to have entirely figured out a photo he's using for reference, but on this last page we can see that he does have an organisational skill. He makes an attractive arrangement out of a relatively static scene, focussing on body language and expression, with a restrained use of spotted blacks and once again various ways of softening the hard medium of black line art.
Colletta never generates the intensity that Alex Toth could with the same kind of material, but I always enjoy picking up these old things when I find them, and they never cost very much.

Colletta was an anomaly in 1960s New York comic books. Romance was fast going out of fashion which is probably why he found himself converted from illustrator to a full time "Inker" in the mode of the times, which became rapidly more assembly-line driven (and for all we know, his sense of self-worth may have taken a blow here). As such he in time became a standby workhorse who could be depended upon to get a job finished in a very short time. But then again his finishing style was distant from the superhero house styles at both DC (Murphy/Giella) and Marvel (Sinnott/Giacoia). But he was fast and dependable. Ah Fate! An artist's strength becomes his undoing. As always, the biggest mistake one can make is in not seeing far enough ahead and reading all the signs, but let's not dwell on that and attend to the mid-'60s.
As it happened he landed in the job that was perfect for his abilities. THOR is my enduring favourite comic book of the period and I have kept or at least reconstituted a good long run of the title from the five years that Colletta inked over Jack Kirby. Here is an enlarged view of the thumb of Hercules. Look at the inking on this, the rugged hatching with which Colletta models the arm.
Far from the softening process that we saw above, Colletta augmented the inherent strength of the design by contrasts of texture, of flesh and hair, wood and fur and steel, looking forward to a different kind of heroic epic that would become popular later. I'm thinking of the Lord of the Rings. A return to that kind of old-worldly adventure was unglimpsed at this stage in our progress, when we still thought we were all going for a trip to the moon, and the ideal was all shiny and perfect and automated. THOR had started as a regular superhero comic and was adventurously trying to evolve into something much bigger. There was so much potential in the very look of the art. And Colletta was certainly not skimping on his coverage of Kirby's detail here in this magnificent battle scene from the May 1966 #128.
My personal theory about the decline of Colletta's reputation, apart from the annoyingly futile habit of afficionados to take sides in arguments between parties long deceased, is that none of the reprints of the work have ever been adequate (Though to be fair I haven't looked at the more recent versons, the Marvel Masterworks or Essentials or whatever). In the years when I attempted to 'reconstitute' my collection of the Lee-Kirby-Colletta THOR, I noticed how poor the later reprintings of the stories always were. Sinnott and Giacoia and all the others never suffered in the same way; perhaps they knew how to make their lines indestructable. All Colletta's charming qualities, the softening lines and subtle textures tended to go blank. The finest lines disappear, unless they're close to other fine lines in which case they congeal into one thick line. Second generation versions of those great favourite books of mine never satisfied my longing to re-obtain the experience of my first readings. A fair assessment of Colletta can only be made on those first printings. And stick to the best years (Hell, I can't even make myself read Kirby after halfway through the New Gods). With age and experience we can come to understand how an artist who's been around this business a long time would lose interest in trying to do subtle and attractive things, and it's perhaps easier to undestand how a young and enthusiastic editor would not want that artist hanging around to cast a gloomy shadow over the proceedings.
Here endeth the art lesson. Please don't maul the model on the way out.

(footnote to the above. Marvel are still not very good at reproducing line art, though digital scanning at least means they can keep it without the further deterioration that used to occur. I have my own experiences in this regard. As a rule I would say that if you see fine looking detail in a Marvel book these days the artist probably scanned it himself rather than leave it to chance in the production dept. It's a bit sad really when you think how much work and expense goes into the colouring that goes on top of the linework. Anyway, but that's another essay.)

(If you don't know already, all the above images can be clicked to enlarge)

in other news:
from drjon
The Gull catchers go around the dance floor one more time.: Jack the Ripper ID'd by Historian

from Hayley Campbell:
Police call locksmith to break into jail-- Reuters--Wed May 2.
"Police in Germany had to call in a locksmith to break into jail when the lock on a cell broke, trapping a prisoner inside, authorities said Wednesday."

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Thursday, 26 April 2007

"There were so many cartoon characters in the bar at the time..."

I n reference to the court sketching stories I've been running here, my old pal Wayne Beamer at Newsarama says I should have been on hand to sketch the doctor who was arrested last weekend in Florida, dressed up as Captain America, since I drew two issues of the venerable superhero in 2004.
Heidi shows a good photo of him being frisked.
"On Saturday night, when a costume party full of medical professionals stopped at On Tap Cafe, police said Adamcik had a burrito stuffed below the waistband of his costume and was asking women if they want to touch it. When one refused, he allegedly took out the burrito and groped her.
The woman called police and, when they arrived, the officers wrote in their report “there were so many cartoon characters in the bar at the time, all Captain America’s were asked to go outside for a possible identification.”

Specially for Wayne, I'm posting this pencil sketch:

I drew it early in 2004 in order to prove I could draw the character and thus secure the two issue job. I think this has only appeared in print in the booklet for Swancon 2004 (Perth, Australia). A peculiar mishap befell this drawing when I went to spray it with fixative and picked up the can of adhesive by mistake (it was this drawing if memory serves.) When I later sold the original to a chap at the San Diego comic book convention I warned him that the preservation of the surface would be unpredictable due to the mishap and futhermore that I had worked it over with colour pencils in an attempt to rescue it. This resulted in a strange sugary-coated surface. Said purchaser was so amused that a professional of my standing could make such a muddle that he asked me to write the whole anecdote in pencil on the back of the drawing.

Speaking of Swancon, sci-fi author Tim Powers was the other principlal guest that weekend. I recall him telling me that he found out that the publishers of the Spanish (or another country's) translations of his novels had been inserting scenes for product placement, and that this was apparently standard practice. That is, they had a local writer on hand to add scenes into all the publisher's foreign novels where a character would go to the fridge and take out a coke, or whatever drink was contractually required.

My pal Breach, currently camped on our living room floor, has left this page open on my desktop. It's a round up of everybody who has been so far blamed for the Virginia Tech massacre, with a link for each one.
Cyncal-C Blog: The Blame Game. 24 april
"In case you were wondering who’s to blame for the Virginia Tech massacre, I’ve created a list this morning to keep track. Feel free to send in any that I’ve missed.
It’s fault of the Europeanization or nannyization of American behavior.
It’s Charlton Heston’s fault.
It’s the fault of immigration and/or asians.
It’s evil’s fault."
etc. etc.
Spiegelman Goes to College
Publisher's Weekly. Comics Week. April 24.
"Originally scheduled to deliver an outdoor lecture at Columbia University in early April, acclaimed comics artist Art Spiegelman instead gave the talk, "Comics Entering the Canon," indoors due to chilly weather, surrounded by neoclassical statuary in the rotunda of Columbia's Low Library. Considering Spiegelman's topic—how the comics medium is moving into the cultural mainstream—the move inside the library was appropriate."
In other news:
Drunk deposits horse in bank for night. - Reuters. Wed Apr 25
"A spokeswoman for the bank said that aside from an undesirable deposit made by his horse inside the building, the 40-year-old account holder had not breached any house rules."


Monday, 19 March 2007

"Dying is pointless." (and Rule #5)

My pal Michael Evans emailed me in disgust a few days ago to say he tripped over this nonsense about the death of Captain America in the Guardian of all places, while looking for the obituary for the philosopher Jean Baudrillard. It was only a couple of days later I realised how clever that was.
Obituary . Jean Baudrillard. Wednesday March 7, 2007 Guardian Unlimited
"Jean Baudrillard's death did not take place. 'Dying is pointless,' he once wrote. 'You have to know how to disappear.' The New Yorker reported a reading the French sociologist gave in a New York gallery in 2005. A man from the audience, with the recent death of Jacques Derrida in mind, mentioned obituaries and asked Baudrillard: 'What would you like to be said about you? In other words, who are you?' Baudrillard replied: 'What I am, I don't know. I am the simulacrum of myself.'
Baudrillard, whose simulacrum departed at the age of 77..."

March 12, 2007 02:19 PM Guardian blog. Why Captain America had to die
"The superhero's demise is being analysed in the blogosphere as a damning indictment of George Bush's America.
You've probably heard by now, Captain America - the comic-book superhero - is dead. Certainly if you live in the United States, it's a story that's been hard to miss."

Here stands the noble chap while he was still a picture of health:

That's from one of the two issues I drew in 2004. I thought it would be a good move for the overall benefit of my career to do a short stretch of that kind of work as I had once been in danger of getting a reputation for not being a team player. That happened way back in '93 when I was writing a thing for Dark Horse's ambitious superhero universe, and got to sit in on the script committee for a session. I figured the experience might make for some useful observation. Now those guys are good at their jobs and long may they thrive, but there was one odd issue that came up during the long conference. Having created the superhero team at the centre of this 'universe', they put one member in there who died at the end of the first story. This is standard practice. I call it the Eden effect. These characters lived in a state of grace, and then one died. Mortality has now 'been seen' (remember that phrase) to exist in this 'universe' (Junior Juniper RIP, Thunderbird RIP... I'm embarrassed to admit I know all this crap). The character that had to be offed also happened to have the power to restore mortally wounded people to life by the laying on of hands. No more immortality. Symbolically it all fit exactly so. But one of the notions that got kicked around briefly was of bringing this character back from the dead, except that her powers would now be in reverse and anybody she touched would be turned into a zombie. I exerted all my energy to shoot that one down since it threw the whole universe out of whack, as horror stories operate on reverse principles and you can't play it both ways simultaneously (matter/anti-matter). Or you could, and it would be shit, and besides I'd be the muggins who was going to have to write this particular series. And what would I know, the kids would perhaps have thought it was a 'cool' idea. I lasted five issues before I got the boot.
(The ideal zombie story needs to take place in a separate world because it will be an atheistic apocalypse. It must annihilate without hope. The scene going on behind the end credits in the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead is what a good zombie movie is all about. I threw that in just in case you think I'm being snobby.)

Death in comic books is just this kind of clay pigeon kind of death, a video game where everything is back in place the next time you plug it in. And I'm not the bloke that should be writing it. In my own books, every character I ever offed I can explain exactly why it was done. No gratuitous death in my 'universe'. The only vid game I ever had any time for is the original version of Mario Kart. In fact, I'd play it right now if wee Cal was home from school.
When wee cal was actually 'wee' instead of six foot two, he said a thing which had an effect on my thinking. This was way back in August 1997, when he was five and the news was coming through about the tragedy of Lady Diana Spencer. The lad was getting pissed off because he wanted to watch his superhero animations, and the adults had taken over the television, and eventually he complained loudly and said what was on his mind. "I don't think she's really dead anyway, because you didn't see the car hit the wall".
This would become one of Eddie Campbell's RULES*.
RULE #5: In a visual medium, an event has not occurred unless it can be seen to have occurred. Thus, you can't refer back to something that only happened in a word balloon. Technically it didn't happen at all. (Well, of course you can do it, but you must recognise that your reader will probably be doubting your veracity. You may wish to use that to your advantage, but now we're getting complicated.)

Without wishing to get into arguments about Baudrillard, as I am not equipped to do so, this line, taken from a review of his writings, strikes a note relevant to the current blather, and allows me to exit without leaving you with the bad taste of comic books on your palate: "(essay by Baudrillard...) proposes the familiar notion that we are imprisoned in a world of media simulations, video phantasms, and that we cannot come to know the real not because we are ignorant but because we are overinformed: 'we will never in the future be able to separate reality from its statistical, simulative projection in the media.' This isn’t an uncertainty we’ve experienced in the past, but a brand new kind of uncertainty brought about by an excess of information."

postscript. My pal Evans is the fellow who killed me inThe Fate of The Artist. He would perhaps be fair in claiming as justification the fact that I had killed him in three other books. One day, when I think my publisher is not looking, I will tell you the whole sorry story, and how he got his ultimate revenge, apart from killing me I mean, because as I have been at pains to demonstrate, in comic books Death is pretty bogus.

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Wednesday, 21 February 2007

In thrall to the cinematic principle. (rule #1)

A couple of days back I promised to explain my reasoning behind my reconfiguration of Alan Moore’s 'camera angles' in Chapter 5 page 26 of FROM HELL.
Back in ’84 I had my first in-print encounter with Alan Moore, in a ‘chat’ set up and taped by Escape magazine editor Paul Gravett (it's in issue 5). I confess I went in with the intention of sparking a printworthy argument by describing a ‘pictorial language of melodrama’, which was dominating the art of the comic book and maintaining it in a retrograde state. I then cheekily located Alan on one side of it and me on the other. Four years later Alan engaged me to work on From Hell, and there at the very top of the proposal was printed: ‘Being a melodrama in sixteen parts.’ I thought he was having a dig at my earlier theoretical position, but no, he’d forgotten all about that and this was to be the official subtitle of the book.

The essence of my thinking was, or is, since I haven’t reneged on it, that if we are seeking to use the comic strip form to tell a more sophisticated kind of story, the first thing we needed to do was to reassess the assortment of devices that we were inheriting. They may have been suited to the pictorialising of SUPERhuman drama, but were lacking when it came to examining the small but infinitely interesting business of everyday people. The first problem to be addressed was what I have usually called ‘the cinematic principle’, and if you can name it better, be my guest. It’s the idea that we’re always looking through a camera. In a comic book script it shows itself in ways that we have long stopped being conscious of. For instance, we will tend to automatically describe a view as being in long-shot or close-up. We have forgotten that these are movie terms. They have entered into everyday usage. But let’s look further. If we place a long shot beside a close up, we’ve introduced another cinematic technique, that of ‘cutting’.
And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, and most certainly not in the hands of a master such as our Mr Moore, but I have often looked at samples in aspiring artist portfolios where all the technical issues have not been understood.

My idea was to take ‘cutting’ away and replace it with a keen observation of body language. In order to see subtle interactions between two bodies, the leanings toward, the leanings away, the slight turnings, superior straightenings, lookings down, lookings away, while not necessarily leaning the same way, lookings inwards, subtle changes in the emotional temperature, but instinctively dealing with it and not categorizing it like this, etc, etc… then the two bodies need to be seen in each and all of the pictures. My thoughts along these lines developed further after reading an interview with Bernard Krigstein a long time ago (the one from Squa Tront*, probably reprinted elsewhere since then) where he complained that the fragmentation you get in comics goes against pictorial logic and usually works against the drama that the artist is supposed to be expressing. I formulated a rule from this:
CAMPBELL's RULE #1: The entire drama of a given situation must be contained within each panel of the sequence of that situation.
Thus, if you take Krigstein’s masterpiece, the short story Master Race, and look at the second last page (above), you will observe that in eleven panels ten of them show both the chaser and the chased. Add five at the foot of the previous page, and one at the top of the next one, and you get a run of seventeen panels showing both characters (with only one break). The subject of the drama is the relationship between them, and there isn’t a single panel where you could say that we lose sight of that simple essence.
So, given a situation such as the one in From Hell Chapter 5 page 26, I grabbed the opportunity to dwell on the subtleties that Alan wanted to focus upon in the scene, the strange undercurrents and suggestions of a different kind of relationship from the one that was being played out. Get all those cameramen and equipment, and the director and the sound engineer and the continuity girl and the boy with the clapperboard, out of that tight space and focus on the humanity.


* interestingly, there's a Dave Sim interview where he says this same issue of that magazine is one of his most important possessions and quotes a long extract from the Krigstein interview.

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Friday, 16 February 2007

BIG HEADS & fancy frocks

I've been showing a few pages from Chapter 5 of FROM HELL over the last three weeks (jan 25, 29, feb 2, 11, 12). As you've seen, this was a chapter where we thought hard about the differences between the well-off and the downtrodden. I pondered at some length over how different society must have looked then. It's a matter of historical record that Britain's officialdom didn't realize how far the relative health of the classes had drifted apart until they were drafting men in 1914 at the outbreak of World War 1. It was observed with some concern that the enlisted men were of a smaller stature than the officers. This gave rise to a more thorough health system in the years after the war, including free milk at schools etc.
It's interesting how since then, there is always some scientist with his eye on the height chart: "Americans used to stand tall as the people with the highest average height in the world. However, since the middle of this century, several Scandinavian countries have moved ahead and now have taller citizens on average than the United States."
The guy in the above link is measuring old bones, but from my point of view as an artist, it's not necessary to go that far. The eyes will do it. As every artist must or ought to know (and there is evidence to suggest they might not) the head to body ratio in a figure will tell you what height the person is supposed to be. (I couldn't tell you how many heads or whatever, that's for people who depend on rulers rather than eyes). The body grows more and at a faster rate than the head, therefore the ratio of body to head will always be increasing during the period of growth until it halts at its final relationship depending on total height. As a kid in the mid sixties I was fascinated with Jack Kirby's concept of the figure; his heroes were big, bold and blocky. But as I came to look at a lot of classical art and even other comic book art, it struck me that Kirby's figures, especially in the early sixties and especially when he was galloping through a job, had their own particular proportions. The figure of Giant Man (above right) in Avengers#4 from 1964 has not been conceived as a gigantic being, but rather as one of small stature simply scaled up. If you take away everything else in the picture, the figure would be read as a fit and well built adult male of around five foot one inch. Kirby probably noticed this tendency in his work, because it submerges as the decade advances. Later I came to know that Jack was a wee fellow himself, and this undoubtedly figured in his concept of ideal proportions. And so it should.
It would be difficult to not show Jackie Estrada's famous photo of Jack Kirby and Alan Moore together at this juncture (and I do so with permission). Even allowing for a natural distortion of perspective, it's the sweetest way to make the point.
I'm not saying I thought about this a great deal while drawing From Hell, but it was certainly a constant in my thinking that the world of Victorian London would look and feel very strange to those, or most of us, living at the far end of the twentieth century. Another question was: just how filthy would it have been? By many contemporary accounts, sickeningly so. "Streets were fog-and smoke-cursed, and the humbler houses noisome... the park was impregnated with a sort of black stuff left by winter smoke, and St. Paul's Cathedral was so besooted that it seemed built of coal". I was quite happy with the first printing of the big From Hell in 1999 because, in addition to all my efforts to contrive an art style that was dirty and sooty, Preney's printing job had increased the effect; you couldn't handle the book much without moving some of that soot around in the margins
Talking about those coloured dresses the other day got me thinking back to my childhood in Glasgow, another big sooty city, even as late as the early 1960s. Everybody dressed in economical nondescript colours unless they were going to a party (or else to bed; pyjamas could be gaudy). But I have to interrogate myself to ascertain whether the absence of colour in my memory is due to the tv and newspapers of the time all being in black and white. Bright dresses are what they wore in films based on Broadway musicals that your auntie would love, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (pictured) I was too busy watching Cagney and Bogart in noir, where everybody, including angels, had dirty faces. Even kids comics were in black and white in Britain. Discovering Marvel in the mid sixties was like opening the skylight of the universe.
I recall a line from Chabon's Kavalier and Clay, but I can't locate it again so this may be inexact. It's about the colorful costumes of the superheroes, created in a period when kids were dressed like small adults: "...created by people not given leave to dress themselves. No doubt about it, this was kids' stuff." The heroes don't dress like that so much now, or at least not in the movies, and kids now dress themselves, and the world is now run by kids, or at least the world now permits adults to remain being kids. It's just that their heads are out of proportion.

* * * *
And speaking of wee men with big heads, an email from Hayley Campbell, who types like archie the cockroach: 'oh by the way, it was revealed yesterday in a tabloid interview with robbie williams' ex-lover that he was 'obsessed with googling himself and wouldn't leave the house until he'd done it'.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Assorted artists, glimpsed from the back of a galloping horse.

Thought for the day:"I don't think much of my face. I think it falls somewhere between Fu Manchu and Desperate Dan - but a Robert Redford lurks inside." Michael Gambon.

Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter has an interview with Paul Grist, reminding me of a series Paul drew to my script way back in 1990 titled LUCIFER. It was a three issue comic book mini-series which was then collected in soft cover, but it's never been seen since then. I got to work with Paul again in 2005 when first rate DC editor Joey Cavalieri assigned him my five page script for a cockeyed Flash story in the second Bizarro collection. It's a day in the Life of superhero the Flash, narrated by him in abbreviated shorthand. Yet another illegible Campbellian offering! (Joey was a helpful editor by observing that 'parallel world' made for a difficult abbreviation and suggested instead 'alternative universe') There's a Mirror Master story (in an alt unvrs), and a Grodd the Gorilla story; the second one provides the solution to the first one and the whole thing is bookended by Barry (Flash) Allen and his wife Iris in domestic contentment. It's a lot like a 1960's comic; you got plenty story for your ten cents in them days.
And my old pal Phil Elliott provided the colours (he drew the first of the three LUCIFERS). It was like 1986 British small press all over again.

* * * *

I mentioned the apparently magnificent Hogarth exhibition a few days ago (and I'm wishing I was in the neighbourhood). Ben Smith, in comments two days back, alerted me to the fact that cartoonist Steve Bell has written on the subject. While I think he is supreme at what he does in cartoons, abusing the establishment and other pomposities, he is clearly not a deep thinker (as we suspected after reading his Comics Journal interview some time recently.) But then, it's useful to have big noisy uncontrollable dog around to deter people from coming in and stealing your bike.

"He was the first to take the idea of telling a story in comic strip form, in multiple panels, and do it justice."
"I think he must have been quite pugnacious."
(that second sentence is from a different papragraph.)

No, give me Jenny Uglow, whom I spoke of here on 26 Jan, a writer who has written extensively and well on the eighteenth century. her piece on the exhibition appeared on Jan 13
"While Hogarth's Progresses are still theatrical - telling Moll's story, for example, through a sequence of "dramatic" moments, such as her seduction by the bawd, Mother Needham; the crash of the table when her sponsor discovers her infidelity; the tiptoeing of the magistrate through the door - their suggestive use of detail and complex creation of character also link them to the emerging novel. One reason for the enduring appeal of the Progresses is their ambivalence, their reservation of judgment. Hogarth shrewdly marketed his prints, tabloid style, as moral lessons rather than prurient stories, but - rather as Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones are unlikely "heroes" - he also created a heroine, Moll Hackabout, and a hero, Tom Rakewell, who rise above typecasting to complex individuality. Each is both victim and predator: their fate draws our sympathy, rather than acquiescence in rightful punishment. Yet Hogarth is less optimistic than Fielding: his ironic titles, echoing Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, suggest that hectic urban society is more conducive to madness and decline than to spiritual progression."

Here, instead of a reiteration of that crap about Hogarth and the comic strip we get a genuine insight into what he was about. I have for some time felt that a connection to 'the emerging novel' is one place to start a discussion of Hogarth. It is this mainly that differentiates him from all the cartoonists who followed him, except perhaps for George Du Maurier in the late 1800s, whose informal assortment of cartoons in Punch lampooning the aesthetic movement built a recurring cast of characters and provided the cartoonist with a trying ground for the novels he eventually did write, including Trilby, which gave the world the character of Svengali. There is a great deal to consider there, but the comics fraternity is hung up on the simplistic obsession with a single formal procedure ('multiple panels'), and their mindless blatherings, like that of Bell referenced above, give me no pleasure at all.
Uglow's final remarks are relevant to my theme of the Fate of the Artist, that growing suspicion that it will all add up to nothing.
"In his final print, The Bathos, the artist's palette lies broken. The main actor, old Time himself, lies prone, croaking: "Finis"; the backdrop is a gallows on a lonely plain, the scenery is collapsing in ruins. Yet even this bleak print shows Hogarth as a man of theatre. In 1766, two years after his death, his long, intricate, back-and-forth relationship with the stage, as well as his bluff nationalism, received due tribute in Garrick's prologue to The Clandestine Marriage, which drew on Marriage à la Mode... (etc)"

* * * *

Weeding my list of bookmarks, I find this Guardian review of Reading Pictures by Alberto Manguel, from march 11 2001. I had been googling the phrase 'The Fate of the Artist" in preparation for using it as the title for my book (in case somebody else had used it recently etc.)
"This leads Manguel into a discussion of the career of Edward Weston who, in his attempt to 'see' his subject with the least possible interference, refused to crop his final prints. But, as Manguel goes on to note, this commitment to the 'truth' can become addictive and lead to the abandonment of art - photography, even - altogether. This was the fate of the artist Tina Modotti who gave up photography because seeing and portraying the social reality of Mexico's poor was too mediated a form of witness. She had to get much closer than her camera would allow and so she retreated into artistic silence."

* * * *

Drjon links me to a piece about the lately rereleased Walt Kelly's 'Songs of the Pogo' album. Walt Kelly! Now there's a voice I miss in the world.

"Break out the cigars, this life is for squirrels
We're off to the drug store to whistle at girls."

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Sunday, 28 January 2007

Tower twins

I’m mentioning Foer’s Extremely loud and Incredibly Close a third time on this blog, not because I like it more than books I’ve mentioned only once, but because it’s parked nearby and I keep tripping over its mooring ropes. The business at the end of the book …

Spoiler. If you’re precious about endings go and read somebody else’s blog.

The thing about this ending is that it’s a flick-book, which means that you see and read that part of it before you get the book out of the shop. Stills from the video of a man plunging from one of the doomed towers are reversed so that he is defying gravity and going back up. I had thought there would be a whole genre of books putting the matter of the towers right by just imagining it backwards. Foer’s ending works in its context, "He would've spit coffee into his mug, unbrushed his teeth and put his hair on with a razor..." and I don’t mind the sentimentality, as some have done. This reviewer does but allows that the book is a linguistically sophisticated fable, and 9/11 is a smokescreen obscuring its true nature.

I found myself dutifully illustrating a similar wish fulfilment in Captain America when I drew the art for two issues in Early 2004 (it's the last 44 pages in the 176 page Captain America: Homeland, with all the art otherwise by Chris Bachalo. A tough act to follow, what? But don't go buying it unless you're interested in that sort of thing.). The script was by Bob Morales, and it worked on its own terms. Or it would have if Marvel hadn’t nobbled it. But Bob was way too hopeful. First he wanted to make Steve (Cap) Rodgers president of the USA. When Marvel nixed that one, just so he could get the story done, he had Cap whisked away to an alternate time-stream where the black Cap, Isaiah Bradley, got to be president. When we finally get to see him, Isaiah is wearing a t-shirt that says, “Han shot first!” which, in due course, gives Cap the idea of going back and changing history. Marvel nixed the t-shirt too, not wanting to invite a tangle with Lucas. That was after all the art had been done, so I got my assistant on this job, Stewart Mckenny to put a different emblem on all the t-shirts through the piece (I think I still have xeroxes with the original version somewhere around here…) and the narrative logic doesn't quite scan now. There was also a bit of time-twister malarkey where a problem gets solved in panel 4 of a page and then chucked back into panel 1 to head the problem off in the first place, but Marvel decided that metafictional devices don't occur in the Marvel universe. And that seems fair enough to me. You wouldn't want piss takers in your camp. I don’t know what gave Bob the idea all this was feasible in the first place. Me, I just wanted to do a job and get paid. But anyway, it all ends with the towers back up, suitably not quite right with huge blimps moored to them. It's the final page in the book:

(click to enlarge.)

It’s Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn, and happy people are out walking in the sunshine and yachts are sweeping by on the river in this sidelined continuity that never happened. Nobody has ever commented on this before, and I guess Marvel didn't notice it either, but I made the cheerful strolling people into poignant stages of might–have–been in the finished romance between Steve and Rebecca. They are the two children playing in the fountain, they are young parents with a baby-carriage and a toddler, and they are the elderly couple with the poodle in this sad sunday afternoon metafiction of impossible reversals.

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