Thursday 26 March 2009

this is an important event. I don't know the whole story of who did it yet, but the entire unpublished third issue of Big Numbers has been cobbled together. I recall asking publisher Kevin Eastman at the time why, even though the 12-issue series was abandoned, he couldn't put out the existing third issue. He looked at me as though I was daft. Who would want a third issue if they knew there wouldn't be any after that? Given the number of unexplainables he had already published, and the millions of dollars squandered, I couldn't follow his logic.
Photocopies of the pages have been going around for quite some time. I obtained an incomplete set from a purchaser of some of the artwork a long time ago. But even between this and filling in some spaces later, i only have 28 of the 40 pages. Add to that that even though the script also exists, nobody has ever taken the trouble to letter it onto copies of the pages. Until now. And the quality is good, or at least far superior to the copies i already have.You can see it in hi-res at Flickr.

The legend is that this was the last issue that Bill Sinkiewicz completed, with young Al Columbia assisting. Bill then dropped the project and Al allegedly drew a fourth issue, but his head imploded and he destroyed it. You can't make up stuff like that. I drew a detailed account of this muddle in my How to be an Artist, with no mercy for any of the participants. It's currently out of print but will be contained in The Alec Omnibus, due out in September. I've also added a new 2-page postscript to that story.

Bill changed the style considerably on the third issue, shifting the technique from grey wash and gouache to doubletone board, presumably to move things along quicker. Any attempt to see Columbia's hand in the technical change would be wrong, as Sinkiewicz tended to change his approaches just out of restlessness. And since Al got the job as he was able to imitate Bill's style, to try to ascribe this or that part of the job to him would be a waste of mental effort.

It's funny. Or sad. While reading it I felt that I was in 1992 and the fourth issue could be expected in June approximately. I was looking forward to it and had to stand back and remind myself it isn't coming. not ever.

Another thing I remembered, and I don't think I ever mentioned it to Alan, but I always felt a certain resentment that Billy the Sink got Big Numbers and blew it while i was stuck drawing Jack the bloody Ripper for ten years (I once described it as a penny dreadful that costs thirty five bucks). I stand by my opinion that Big Numbers was the superior idea and would have been Alan's masterpiece. Of course it is also true that Sinkiewicz is a world class illustrator and there's no way I could have done a job that complicated in 1992. I could have taken a crack at it later (post-Birth Caul/Snakes and Ladders), and offered, but Alan wasn't up for that. I love the ease with which Bill shifts from photographic mode to outright loony tunes. The separated Gathercoles remembering their courtship and early marriage is a masterstroke (pages 19-21). That's an odd note at the bottom of page 29 where he slips back into his Moon Knight style.

All we can hope for now is for a xerox of destroyed fourth issue to turn up.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The scanning and posting is the work of an Irish friend of mine, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, who is a scholar and a gentleman and a lucky bugger to have found it as well.

26 March 2009 at 23:59:00 GMT-5  
Blogger ramon said...

would you be interested at all in taking a crack at it now? :) seems a shame that it never reached fruition, so many people left hanging, moore included. wasn't the whole thing plotted out already on a mandelbrot set grid or something?

27 March 2009 at 00:54:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jody, please tell your friend that I love him more than I can say.


27 March 2009 at 02:32:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is seriously cool.
I think I'll reread 1 & 2 prior to checking out 3 though.

27 March 2009 at 04:16:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Nick said...

For some reason issue 3 seems to have a Bojeffries feel I didn't get from the first two, way back when. Always nice to see our beloved Bradlaugh statue in the arts, caught there on one of the rare occasions when it's content to stand still on its plinth and not go wandering around the town pointing at curiosities.

Now I'm speculating on what would have happened if you and Sienkiewicz had swapped books. A Campbellised Big Numbers I can visualise, but a sunken From Hell refuses to take form, despite the two projects' griddish similarities. Gull Catchers I could see working, I suppose.

27 March 2009 at 05:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

Two new pages in The Alec Omnibus? Do you have any idea how many copies I now have of the early Alec strips? And now I will get another set. What a good job that I so enjoy them.

27 March 2009 at 07:06:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Gerry Alanguilan said...

Yes, the Gathercole pages encapsulates just how brilliant both Alan is as a writer, and Bill is as an artist. It really breaks my heart that this project was never finished.

Still, I'm glad we're given the opportunity to read #3 in its entirety at last.

27 March 2009 at 08:32:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Though by the time you asked him about it the reason for not publishing #3 has become (the more diplomatic) that it doesn't make sense to publish #3 without a #4 through #12, you actually mention the real (or at least original) reason for not publishing: The radical style change in the midst of #3.

I was in the offices within a few days of the arrival of the duotone pages, and Kevin showed them to me. I don't have a recording of what was said, and I didn't take notes, so let me just say that my impression of his reaction was 'Can you fucking believe this? There's no way we're publishing this.'

27 March 2009 at 14:27:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Hi, old friend.
There are 45 pages of never before printed material in the omnibus.

27 March 2009 at 14:28:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Bill, thanks for the insight.

I can imagine how Kevin would have thought that way, with his leanings toward the slick Heavy Metal thing.

I think it's quite beautiful how Bill was taking the style away from the photo-real where it started to a more spontaneous, cartoony mode. Dave Mckean was wrestling with the same problems in Cages and coming up with completely different solutions.

Last time I talked to Alan about Big Numbers, he saw it as a thing of its time and had no interest in reviving it. I was thinking that while reading it, how it's become a picture of England in a specific year. An attempt to finish it would have have to treat it as a period piece

27 March 2009 at 14:53:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had seen a few pages from an issue of The Comics Journal back in 1998 or 1999. That was a cruel tease and the line going then was the same as what was previously posted- why bother publishing no. 3 if there wasn't any more to come. I agree that it was a horrible decision, surely there's demand for it and here we are looking at the bootleg anyway. From what I had heard, most or all of the series was written already, leaving whatever period touches that reside in the script already complete. The only person that would have to "go back" would be the artist tackling it. I haven't seen anything from #4. Surely it survives in some form?! Thanks for posting the images!

27 March 2009 at 15:52:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another thing I remembered, and I don't think I ever mentioned it to Alan, but I always felt a certain resentment that Billy the Sink got Big Numbers and blew it while i was stuck drawing Jack the bloody Ripper for ten years (I once described it as a penny dreadful that costs thirty five bucks).

With all due respect and my apologies, Mr. Campbell, but...

.. are you mad? FROM HELL is one of the very few graphic stories that deserve the name NOVEL in it, and it's the one book that I recommend to people who have heard about that "whole comics thing" and want to try reading something. As a work of art, I'd rank it higher and much more accessible than WATCHMEN, because it doesn't require even a most fleeting knowledge of "costumed hero mythology". And your artwork is indeed half of its artistic merit, since it is more in line with older illustration work. People can immediately understand it, follow it, even if they have never read something in graphic format before.

And while I am sad that BIG NUMBERS was never finished (poke Alan! poke him!), I am immensely glad that you and him made FROM HELL into something that just isn't a penny dreadful (the movie was, though) but a fully formed novel that is one of the few books I re-read and find new things in, both in art and writing, every time I do.

Thank you for that.

27 March 2009 at 16:22:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for the kind words, Eddie. (And that goes for Jody as well!) I really still can't believe that I managed to find this, and *really* can't believe I was the only bidder for it on eBay. I fully expected it to end up in a private collection, never to be seen again. I've been putting up some of the odd bits and pieces of Moore stuff I have for a while, so I was really glad to get this, and be able to share it, once I checked it with Alan.

And while I have you: I've been doing a series of interviews on the Forbidden Planet blog [ ] and I was hoping I could do onew with you at some stage?

I'm linking this to my Slovobooks LiveJournal, but I'm also Glycon, where the pages appeared...

27 March 2009 at 16:48:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Bill Anderson said...

In Kevin's defense, I have to say that the multi-generation photocopies don't accurately represent the startlingly abrupt transition between the wash pages and the duoshade pages. The copies are so corrupted that a casual peruser might not notice a difference.

Cages was an integration of disparate styles, Big Numbers was an unannounced transition from a more work-intensive style to a less work-intensive one. And while I think the duoshade pages are well-done, I can certainly sympathize with the viewpoint that it undercuts the project as a whole, and interferes with the whole "color slowly seeping in, until the finale is full color" aspect.

Consider me in line to buy the Campbell-illustrated version, by the way. Maybe it would help to convince Mr. Moore if you reminded him that you do have a successful track record with his "period pieces".

27 March 2009 at 16:50:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks, Thomas, Bill, Derek etc..
Padraig, you do good interviews, and I'd certainly be happy to be in line for one.
just let me know when you're ready.
I looked for an email add. at your assorted venues but can't see one.

27 March 2009 at 17:02:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Phillips said...

I remember seeing Bill having pages from Big Numbers #3 for sale in San Diego 4 or 5 years ago. Only around $200 a page but stupidly I never picked any up. Wish I had of course. None of them were duotone though, they were painted like the first two issues.
In fact those scans look more like the halftoning you used to get on faxes of greyscale images...

27 March 2009 at 17:31:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks, Sean. Long time no see.
Best to you

27 March 2009 at 19:38:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

by the way. Help me complete my picture of events. what was your connection to Tundra? Were you working there, or where you in the office pitching a project?

27 March 2009 at 19:43:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Bill Anderson said...

I was there working out the details of the schedule and contract for a project that was in production. My collaborator and I spent the day at the offices, during which Kevin showed us the original pages for #3.

Hey, our project was never completed either (though we managed to get out a sketchbook of preparatory materials) so I guess we were in good company :-)

27 March 2009 at 20:22:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

28 March 2009 at 02:58:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks, Padraig.
Address filed.

28 March 2009 at 03:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

45 pages? Excellent! And just who are you calling 'old'?

28 March 2009 at 05:31:00 GMT-5  

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