Saturday 16 December 2006


Big Thanks to Marcus Gipps for sending me the three little books by Barnaby Richards, whose work I mentioned here on Dec 6th, but only from second hand knowledge since I hadn’t actually handled one of his books at that date. The books are small, about the length and width of the palm of my hand (A6). Their titles are: 20 Enchanting Things, 20 Scary Things, and 20 Artistic Things. These are lovely little objects that take me back to the mini-comics of the early ‘80s. The essential aesthetic of mini-comics is the simplest possible expression of an idea. Here’s the cover (pleasingly matt) and a page from 20 Artistic things. I like the muse idly admiring herself. These are all marvellous little books in the same style, with a series of witty observations around a theme. There’s no address on them except an email:

They connect with a query in comments from Andrew on 14 dec.
“I just picked up Fate of the Artist and it provoked a debate: Are comics necessarily narrative? Something you mentioned about single panel comics still being comics brought this off.”
I would no longer wish to argue about what is and isn’t comics. That would be futile, but I have noticed a growing conservatism in that department over the years. The process has been reductive rather than expansive. In the ealy ‘80s, in the heyday of Raw, we would have been too busy enjoying it all to split hairs over, say, what medium Richards was working in when he made the little books above. The business about ‘who is to be allowed in’ probably starts with McCloud’s Understanding Comics. McCloud was the minicomics king and his every little booklet was as pleasingly odd as the those mentioned above ('Some words Albert Likes" was a favourite of mine). He was also the great inventor, with Five Card Nancy etc. But 'twas he, or so I'll pretend for the purpose of this rant, who invented the idea that it is worthwhile to argue about whether a thing is or isn't a comic. He excluded single panel comics and then fought for the inclusion of digital comics.
Personally I have never equated comics wholly and exclusively with sequential art, but it has become a foundation stone in what is turning out to be an 'academy' of the comics world. Thus you find The National Association of Comics Art Educators: ”Comics, An emerging medium: Sequential art is pictorial storytelling. Its most widely recognized form is comics…” If you listen you can hear an intimidating edifice of rules and terminological complexity being built.
The point of my Dec 6th essay was to say: I like the way ‘graphic novel’ is regarded as just another illustrated book (in the two situations examined), not an autonomous art-form, inviting us to take a mental sidestep around all the obfuscation that is swiftly becoming the order of the day (is The Complete Peanuts: study guide likely to render that strip, the simplest and most perfect of all strips, more lucid?). And I thought, what if I avoid using, as I did in my discussion of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, the official terminology of the comic-book academy, such as ‘panel’, when the much more commonplace and easily understandable ‘picture’ is more readily to hand (and never mind ‘closure’ or ‘aspect to aspect transition’). Just to be stubborn.

I'm sure somebody somewhere is already misinterpreting the above as an anti-intellectual rant, and ending with this ain't gonna persuade them otherwise (It's also from Andrew. he's been a busy bee tonight):

That's Moore and Campbell in the Simpsons comic book (slightly doctored, with a new word balloon). See yesterday's post, and go check out the tree-house of horrors if you haven't read their lampoon of From Hell.
* * * *
The Ripper Files, Part 4
(By hayley campbell, age 7, 1993, see previous posts for background)

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Friday 15 December 2006

"Tumbling into Madame Tussaud's."

I don't want to become a self-appointed commentator on all matters concerning the word 'ripper'. I once declined a television magazine-type program when they wanted me to comment on-screen about Patricia Cornwell's nutty theory about the Ripper, DNA and Walter Sickert. (though I'm sure we'll have something to say about it when we do the Dance of the Gull Catchers, part2). But I do find myself curious about the phenomenon of commentators and explainers who all come out of the woodwork on cue, 'ripperologists' if you like. Thus I found myself drawn to this interesting snapshot of the current flurry of ripperology in England in a commentary column in The Guardian: "...this country has a surprisingly large number of shadowy individuals whose profession is described in a variety of ways, from the colloquial "real-life Cracker", to the flexible "reader in personality", more formal "criminal psychologist" and catch-all "profiler" or "leading criminologist". Between lurid criminal events, little may be heard from these individuals, as they ply their trade in obscure corners of the semi-academic world. Indeed, in the absence of eye-catching crimes, some of these experts on the deviant mind may struggle to survive, diversifying into comments on football and celebrity, stress and compulsive shopping. In recent days, however, many of these men have been restored to prominence and prosperity by the murders in Suffolk..."
and: "Meanwhile, the British media tumbled, en masse, into Madame Tussauds. The killer was, naturally, a "Ripper". Forget the details: centuries-old, penny-dreadful tradition holds that this is what serial prostitute-killers are called."
* * * *

This next item went the rounds just before I started this blog.

The news was that Alan Moore had been written into an episode of The Simpsons. "'Husbands and Knives' is an upcoming episode of that will air during in 2007, as part of the show's 18th season." That link will give you a short summary of the episode. "The sub-plot of this episode sees a new, 'cool' comic book store open in Springfield, which competes with Comic Book Guy's store, The Android's Dungeon. Alan Moore will guest star." A blogger responded to the original posting of the news by pointing out that Moore had already appeared in the Simpsons, albeit in the Bongo comic book version. This is from Gary Spencer Millidge's From Hell and Back or: The Truer Story of Jack the Ripper, which was in Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #9, from 2003, and which was subsequently collected in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror: Hoodoo Voodoo Brouhaha. Whaddayaknow! Campbell's there too. I liked the way Millidge used hand lettering (when i saw it in the 2003 appearance), which made his story stand out among all those others with the godawful computer fonts.
* * * *

The Ripper Files. part 3
(by Hayley Campbell, age 7, 1993)
this is one of my favourites. Count the toes.


Thursday 14 December 2006

The Ripper Files. part 2

I probably picked the wrong time to be talking 'Ripper ' here with another fucking lunatic on the loose. I used to think Alan was making too much of the recurrence of names and odd details in the Whitecahpel Murder cases, but here it is all over, with a Police Superintendent Gull, and one of the victims named Nicholls.
* * * *
You should read yesterday’s part 1 before this. And while you’re looking for something to read, make sure you have a copy of The Fate of the Artist.
* * * *
The Ripper File: this 'book' consists of 35 A4 size loose pages (regular typing paper to you Americans) on which wee Hayley Campbell, age 7, catalogued, with one or two digressions along the road, all the ways of dying. I’ve dated the work from one of the pages which imitates the cover of the Kitchen Sink Press edition of From Hell volume #5 (dated 1993), in which Hayley , in a very rudimentary drawing that is not one of those I wish to present here shows us: “Rotton Kidney on a Hang Kachef.”
In her final edit and arrangement of the work, that appears as page 1. It is rapidly followed by “Witches cooking babies”, “Being Shot”, “Being buried Alive”, “Being bitten on the neck by a vampire,” “Being hit by Lightening,” and “Being left hanging up for the birds to eat.” And an early sign of genius, this one:

You can see how it has gone completely beyond the parameters of From Hell, and who could have put these notions in her little wee head is anybody’s guess. This morning she told me that this one came from the movie Gorillas in the Mist, which she was probably encouraged to watch on account of it being a nature film:

It is certainly one of the best pages in the series, for the clarity of its design, and the vibrancy of its execution, though the next one would be my choice for the best selection:

And finally for today, at the end of the book I submitted for inclusion a little sketch by myself, which has been given the red pen editorial touch by ms Campbell.

We will append some more pages from this precious artefact to future posts.


Wednesday 13 December 2006

The Ripper Files. part 1.

And it's not about what you think it's going to be about. If Hayley Campbell should ever end up going bad, god forbid, then the revelations I am about to lay before you may come to be entered as exhibit A at the trial. But what was I to do? In my defence I urge you to consider (your honour), that I was a 'house-husband' at home with a wee'un, and just given my big break, the task of illustrating the heinous doings of Jack the Ripper. Should I have closed myself away in a private part of our very small apartment, leaving the child to fend for herself in the daily round?
(that first panel is from Dance of the Gull-Catchers.),

The child had shown her talents quite early. During a visit from my old friend Daniel Grey esq. the child sought to emulate the attractive illustrations upon his arms, by copying in blue inks upon her own arms the hearts and roses, the proclamations of love and other mementoes. The wife, on returning from her day of drudgery and finding the two men full of alcoholic beverages, charged the errant husband with having drawn upon the child for his own misguided amusement. "I don't like you drawing on Hayley while I'm at work!" were the specifics of her accusation. And I narrate this epidsode in order to show the level of ability in the child's work, that it should have passed so easily for that of the father.
It was away back in 1989 that I drew this next picture of wee Hayley Campbell and me. When she was about four she had her own drawing table, an upended cardboard box, set up next to mine. And now that I look at the first panel again I notice my phone is sitting on a cardboard box too; for a wardrobe we used the big box the fridge came in, with a length of curtain-rod shoved through holes cut near the upper edges. The table probably came from Anne's brother. That second panel appeared in the last page Of The Dead Muse, which is long out of print. Not wanting the thought to be lost to posterity (the words spoken in the cartoon remain the subject's signing-off phrase before retiring to bed every night; indeed she tells me that she used it in London recently, resulting in the immediate bafflement of those present), I drew it again in After the Snooter in 2002. The composition is much better this time. Perhaps all those years of intense drawing yielded some improvements in my ability, though I'm more inclined to think that I had lost my way during the period of 'The Dead Mouse", as Hayley Campbell tended to call it, (that book took the form of an anthology in which I narrated my own story and at the same time introduced the work of other artists whose paths crossed mine, so it would be somewhat difficult to ever revive it outside of my own pages for their interest as odd and disconnected pieces of Campbelliana.)
Now, readers of yesterday's post will remember that I was rummaging in the attic, which is where I once more became acquainted with the documents wich have come to be known as 'the Ripper Files'. The pages of this artefact were drawn by the aforesaid Hayley Campbell shortly after her seventh birthday, which date has been deduced from external evidence, the excuse for their fashioning being the a gift set of colour markers. I will call a recess until tomorrow, at which time any of the ladies and gentlemen present who have no stomach for viewing a catalogue of all the possible ways of dying, seen from the point of view of a seven year old, will be permitted to absent themselves.
* * *
To anyone who bagged a sketch from previous posts; I've mailed everything out, hopefully in time for Christmas. And none of the sketches in this post are up for grabs as they're all part of archived art pages.
* * *
Just in. The December issue of the online magazine Dystopia has five pages on From Hell and ripperology, with a couple of my old color covers for those who may not have seen them before.


Tuesday 12 December 2006

Some moore photies.

As promised in an earlier post, I went looking for some photos in the From Hell reference box. What I was looking for was missing. I presumably took out all the atractive stuff when I did the article in Bacchus #60 back in 2001( or whenever). I looked for the folder in another box of photos, couldn't find it there either but found this instead.
This trio of pictures has never seen the light of day anywhere. I obviously picked the best of the bunch to use on the back of The Birth Caul (taken the day before in a different location) and threw the rest in a box and forgot all about them.

The girl in the pictures is Melinda Gebbie, Alan's pictorial collaborator on the colossal Lost Girls. If Alan and I are wrapped up in our own thoughts it's probably because we're discussing From Hell chapter #7 (approx?), this being my flying visit to the UK in 1994.

Looking at these I'm reminded of a 1930s piano-playing duo called Stanley Black and Norman White (after the black and white keys on the instrument.) The 'White' was a nom de plume, just for the effect. Or was it the other way around?

The location is the Grand Hotel in Northampton. We (me, Anne and the wee'uns) were staying there and Alan and Melinda came on down. The first thing Alan said upon entering was: "I haven't been in here since I was the janitor's assistant , cleaning the toilets." "It's almost nostalgic." Actually, I just made up the last three words, but it''s what I would have said, and without sarcasm, since I remember every stupid job I've ever had with an absurd fondness.
(photos by Anne Campbell)


Monday 11 December 2006

The Arrival.

On Nov 7 Tom Spurgeon ran a recommendation from me for Shaun Tan’s book, The Arrival. I had some notion then of being a ‘guerilla blogger’, and if I wanted to make a thought or link known I’d offer it to Tom or somebody else if I didn’t go so far as to write a whole essay for my publisher’s blog, and if it was a quote I'd see If Dirk Deppey had a place for it in his 'thought for the day' (he always credits these offers and I’ve seen some thrown into the hat by other folk. They’re always on the ball and worth writing down.) But now that I’m on my home turf here I should say a few more words about Shaun's book. I first made the acquaintance of Shaun at a sci-fi convention in Perth Australia in 2004. That was a show I really enjoyed for some reason I can’t put my finger on. I met a great bunch of people for one. Great town too. I was introduced to Shaun’s work by my pal Justin Ackroyd of Slow Glass books. Justin doesn’t have a store front these days, but when he did, in Melbourne, and I first walked past it I strode into the place and demanded to shake the hand of the proprietor, who didn’t happen to be in at the time. Justin is one of those very rare store guys who would phone me up and patiently request that I send that damn invoice from however long ago so he could pay me and clear the nagging thought out of his brain. A couple of hours later I found myself on a panel with Shaun (one should always prepare oneself. I say ‘one’ because I don’t mean me. I do.)
Shaun’s work has always clearly fallen into the category of ‘children’s book’, and when we have read and enjoyed them, we have done so cheerfully and willingly as adult children, and without any sense of there being anything wrong with that. I say ‘we’, but if you’re outside of Australia you may have to exclude yourself from that as I’m not sure his work has been disseminated widely enough. Hopefully this is about to change.
Of Shaun’s earlier work I have the two that he authored himself. (connect this with my essay a few days back on ‘authorial illustration’. Everything connects in here and I’m building up to something big, so you’d better pay attention. ) Firstly The Lost Thing of 2000, and The Red Tree of 2001. The power of both of these books has something to do with their evocation of a feeling of alienation from physical things. One double page picture in the Red Tree has a huge reeking fish suspended over a workaday street and nobody notices it. I imagine I hear the clanking soundtrack from David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The little girl who is the protagonist of the story finds security and warmth in a red tree growing in her bedroom.
The Lost Thing reverses the situation. It’s about a sentient thing for which there is no use in the world. It looks like a big industrial steam kettle with assorted appendages that it could be breaking in for Cthulhu. It eventually finds its place in the universe, in a dream that Dali probably had.

In The Arrival Shaun tan carries his themes forward into a fully realized ‘graphic novel’ (I’ve run it through the Campbellian program and I think all four schools thought would accept it withpout argument) (I’ll only use the term if I see no obstruction to communication, and even then only in quote marks) The author has told the essential story of the universal immigrant using a photoreal style of period clothing and artifacts, except that there also all his trademark alienated things. In fact the cover is a brilliant introduction to the whole shebang. The traveler in this book is wearing clothing that is familiar to us from old photos and film, and everything he meets is an extraordinary alien creation. The purpose of things cannot be deduced from their appearances and the labels and the instructions on them are all in an alien script. The book is a hardback of 120 pages (in contrast to the softcover 32 page volumes of his childrens' oeuvre), with a division of the page more often than not into twelve pictorial parts, though there is are sequences with twenty and thirty parts each. And elsewhere sprawling vistas across two pages. You will think yourself an arrival at New York’s Ellis Island, but wait, that is not the statue of Liberty, and what is that odd looking longtailed beast on its shoulder? In all of this, not a single word. At least none that you or I could understand, being ‘lost things’ ourselves in front the majesty of this masterpiece. It’s a beautifully moving and human work, and my favorite picture story book of the year.
When I asked Shaun about the book he told me: "It's the first book of mine to be picked up by a US publisher, who I think were previously unable to categorise my 'children's' books. This one has a lot of references to Ellis Island that a US audience might pick up even more acutely than an Australian one. Scholastic should be putting it out fairly soon." I don't have a date , but if I get one i'll let you all know.
At his own website the author has an essay: Picture Books: Who are they for?,
"One of the questions I am most frequently asked as a maker of picture books is this: ‘Who do you write and illustrate for?’ … It is interesting to observe that when I paint pictures for gallery exhibitions, I am never asked who I am painting for." This would be worth discussing except that I know from many years experience that this argumnent always degenerates bathetically into one about filing. I once suggested that Seth's Vernacular Drawings was to be counted among the great 'graphic novels' (when I still admitted the use of the term) but was met with the retort that it should instead be filed with the 'art books'. Comics fans being what they are, vocational filing clerks, it ends up being about where things get put in the store, which is not what we really should be concerned with. What we should be asking is where do we file it when we get it home? Do we file it with the other monuments of Parnassus, with our Mozart and our John Donne and our Cervantes, or do we keep it upended in the water closet of our cultural memory, as an accompaniment to our bowel movements?

There is more info here: "Shaun Tan was born in Australia in 1974. In 1992 Shaun won the International Illustrators of the Future Contest, the first Australian to achieve this award. He has been illustrating young adult fiction and picture books since 1996. If you live in or visit Perth take time to drop into the Subiaco Public Library to view Shaun's amazing mural, which spans 20 square metres of wall in the children's section." And how we envy them wee'uns.

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Sunday 10 December 2006

Alexander Dumb-ass writes again.

Thanks for being too polite to mention it. Whoever puts their hand up first in the comments can have the above cartoon in the mail.