Saturday 5 May 2007

It's F#$@ing Free Comic Book Day.

A nd that bloody publisher of mine is giving away a full color 32 page excerpt from The Black Diamond Detective Agency!
Douglas Wolk explains Free Comic Book day here: "Five years ago, the weekend that the first Spider-Man movie came out, the American comics industry launched an experiment: Free Comic Book Day, in which thousands of comic book specialty stores around the country gave away comics to readers young and old. It worked out well enough that it's become an annual tradition, and this Saturday, May 5, is the sixth Free Comic Book Day. Almost every major comics publisher in the country has at least one free title this year, as well as plenty of smaller publishers; the mainstream and indie presses don't always see eye-to-eye, but they've all found that giving away samples is good for business."

In fact this tradition was introduced around the time I stopped publishing my own books, and it added to my number of reasons for doing so. I was reminded of another reason why I stopped being a self-publisher when Eroom Nala commented on my post of march 1st.
"Typical we're supposed to have everything published in NSW at my library but we've only got Bacchus volumes #1-6 and 9."
As comics started to become more involved in selling to the book market (rather than just the comics 'direct market') this brought with it other administrational complificutions. For instance, the ISBN numbers by which proper books are identified all over the world. Campbell decided he was not going to line up and be given a number by the civil servants of the publishing world. Then I found that wouldn't take the books without an ISBN number. Okay, so how do we get them? Well you need to write off to the...bla bla bla and purchase a whole batch of them which you assign to your books as you go along. You register each title with the official governing body, then you need to send a copy of every publication thus registered to the national library. "What, gie away the books fur free?" (don't know why it didn't occur to me to treat it as a sale and bill'em for it). Anne used to handle all that stuff and I'd be throwing a spanner in the works saying, "ah let'em send in a postal order like everybody else!"
Anyway, more often than not I never remembered to do it, or didn't bother, and they were always phoning me to find out why there was a number in the system and no corresponding book on the shelves. Then you need to actually print the number on the books and while you're doing that you might as well put a barcode on there too, so you have to go and find somebody who knows how to make goddamn barcodes, and you're starting to feel like your in the supermarket business instead of the Art game. Now in order to get to take volume 4 I'm going to have to retroactively assign numbers to vols 1-3 (since I'd been a pain in the ass about this for three whole volumes) I suppose I could put the numbers on the book on a sticker. Of course when the time came I thought, what if I don't put the number on it, save the cost of a sticker, and just say that I've put it on.
Then I started losing sleep at night thinking somebody was going to catch me cheating. This was all getting me too far from the simple reasons why I wanted to draw my work and get it out there.

Between all that and Staros giving away free copies to reviewers, I decided I'd had enough of this bullshit. So I gave up publishing my own books.

First person to put their hand up in comments can have the little sketch shown above in the mail. For free.
"So help ma boab. Noo their givin' away ma originals fur nothin. Fuk this."
ad break!
I've had a tornado of traffic over the last 24 hours thanks to Dan Shahin linking to my piece on Vinnie Colletta of two days back on the boingboing site where some clot described Vinnie's work in disparaging terms. So with a view to fostering a Vinnie Colletta appreciation society, let me return the favour by drawing your attention to Dan's online graphic novel store at If you need a copy of one of my books or anybody else's, you can have a look there.

Anyway, I went along to Free Comic Book Day at the major store in our town here, as we have ours earlier than everybody else, except the New Zealanders, with a view to chewing the fat with local comics readers about my new book, only to find that the store had not heard of the Black Diamond freebie and didn't order any in. Once again the world of comics has reduced me to a disappointed and despondent state. I want to propose a new catch phrase, as I am sure you are aware of our liking for catch phrases here at campbell blogspot, and will recall such gems as "It's not a graphic novel. Percy," among many others.
When the world of comics has disappointed you, and you just don't care any more and can't be bothered to make the effort, you must say: "Make room for me, Vinnie!"
And speaking of catch-phrases, I gotta laff! While I was checking my statcounter I noticed somebody arrived at this blog with the following Google searchwords:
Frank Miller Roning.

whoever you are, "thanks for roning."

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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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Wednesday 2 May 2007

Home again home again

I'm busily scanning the pages from my book Three Piece Suit for its French edition. I just came across an odd one which demands to be seen at least once in colour. In those days I would occasionally paste collage onto the page as part of the finished artwork. I didn't bother about whether it was in black and white or colour, as it would be photographed for black only and the colours would disappear. However, my printer, Preney of Canada, didn't know what was going on the first time they saw me do this. "Do you want us to print these colours like this?" and I'd say, " Good lord no, just photograph it like all the other pages and I'll accept it however it comes out." But once or twice I noticed they excerpted and screened some of my details for halftone and then positioned them back in place on the page.
There was another time, the Gilgamesh story in the 1001 Nights of Bacchus, where there is so much collage going on I was able to run the whole five pages as a colour story on the back covers of five issues of Bacchus. Dave Mckean was in a similar circumstance with Violent Cases, where the first edition was in black and white but later ones were all shot for colour.

(click image for closer view)


Tuesday 1 May 2007

The Villains in my Home Town- part 10.

I was talking about technique earlier. This is one of the drawings I was happiest with, and it was quite a late one.

I had figured out how, using Pantone markers, to get a muted palette of tones for representing what was in front of me quite realistically, and more to the point, I had done the job enough times now to know the short cuts and not be daunted by various annoyances. This is the drawing that goes with the anecdote I illustrated in After the Snooter. Three men, prison inmates, were on trial for the murder of another inmate.

They were encased in the bulletproof glass cage I told you about on april 17, which I had now drawn on two previous occasions. The Queen's Counsel was laying out the details of the case for the court, using video evidence of the of the murdered man's cell and its environs. Each of the three accused had his own solicitor and barrister. I've never seen so many white wigs in one room before or since. As the story unfolded, one or other of the barristers would raise an objection. In their practised way they objected to everything you can imagine. One had just objected to the use of the word 'killed' for instance, since it remained to be proven that the dead man had been 'killed' rather than, for instance, taken his own life. "Objection sustained."

The QC got another sentence out and yet another objection was raised: "Your honour, it has come to my attention that my client is being sketched by a journalist and that he is being depicted in a cage." A discussion ensued between the judge and the barrister as to whether said 'sketcher', and I was the only artist on the premises, was within his rights to draw it exactly as it looked. "It will work badly for my client if the world should see him in a cage," "But your client IS in a cage mr Johnson. It is for his own protection.The jury are the only ones who matter here, and they can see him in it." etc. I had a bad feeling that I was going to have to stand up and talk at some point, so I busily composed my short speech. Eventually the judge looked around and said, "And do we have such a 'sketcher' here present?"
So I stood up before the court and said (as well as I can recall):
"I have drawn that 'cage' before, your honour, and the learned gentleman who objected is clearly familiar with my work. However, drawing it again is more work than I wish to take upon myself today and he may rest assured that his client will not be seen on television in the 'cage',"
The court was greatly amused. The judge asked the barrister if this satisfied him, he spoke his assent and the court got back to its business.


Monday 30 April 2007

the bottom inspector

This is not exactly what it looks like, which is to say, the wife of my bosom hoiking a cat's tail in the air, the better to peep up its bum. She was in fact caressing the animal, which presented itself in the posture most apt for enjoying the moment, in a photo taken by hayley campbell this weekend.

But our interpretation of the image is bound to be influenced by our memory of the story 'Grooming Yocky's arse'

(3-panel excerpt-click to enlarge)

I enjoyed this little movie by Kimon Christodoulides of London

After talking about new Penguin cover designs here yesterday, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of show and tell going on among collectors of the old ones. John Coulthart here.
‘Penguin paperback spotters’ at Flickr.
Acejet170 has a great set of photos. Particularly enjoyed the crime novels, having read most of them.
Joe Kral’s set here.
somebody’s made a wallpaper.
etc. etc.

James vance, writer of the excellent Kings in Disguise has a website.

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Sunday 29 April 2007

Thoughts of an insomniac

J ust got up to throw the cat out, Fred Flintstone style. I look on the floor to see if my pal Breach is home yet. yup. Callum's in a sleeping bag too. They forgot to turn the computer off. I'll just type something before I do it.
Last night the wife and I deposited our daughter Erin at her final year school formal. The lass has grown up beautifully. But I don't know what's going on in the heads of the young 'uns I confess. Why not so long ago if you arrived here unannounced on a saturday night you might have caught me in my bathrobe, intended for bed, momentarily distracted into confiscating the lass's party drinks as she headed out the door with a box full of bacardi boozers, (or breezers or cruisers or whatever they're called).
How did it come to this, I asks ya? Eddie Campbell confiscating people's booze???
hayley campbell is home from London for two weeks and Breach has been up from Sydney staying for a few days. Being saturday night he thought it odd that one does not 'go out ' any more, and so he 'went out'. It's a good thing I wrote my book about all that when I was young and thought an interminable round of sleeping bags on other peoples floors a romantic thing. If I were to write that book now it would be much too satirical and mean, for the notion of waking up in a sleeping bag on a strange floor, with the nagging thought that I might like to vomit, fills me with unutterable horror.

La Times on the series of Penguin paperback covers by Graphic novelists-april 29.
"Other jackets offer a denser and more verbal experience. Chris Ware's work for "Candide" is so typically elliptical that you can spend nearly as much time with it as with the novel. For a new and substantially expanded edition of "The Portable Dorothy Parker," the Canadian artist Seth created an illustrated table of contents, then used the inside back flap of the jacket for a funny and tender continuity life. Seth uses low-key art-deco colors, ruby-red and green, to hint at the classic Parker period of the Algonquin Round Table and the early days of the New Yorker. Bits of Parker's poetry are sprinkled throughout the design.
Most often the artists are selected by Penguin art director Paul Buckley, but occasionally authors chose for themselves. Thomas Pynchon said, grandly: "Sure, I'll put 'Gravity's Rainbow' in your series — but you have to get Frank Miller." Amazingly, they did."

things that happen while you weren't paying attention. (i think from three years ago, left on my desktop by breach)

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