Saturday 8 August 2009

one of the things I've been trying to do with the Playwright, which is wrapped up except for a cover, and will be published in 2010, is to make it the brightest, most colourful book I have ever made. I have had enough of the purply brown. For me the rainbow!


Friday 7 August 2009

for the lover of From Hell who has never made it to my more personal books, here's a tip. There's a running subplot in After the Snooter where I contemplate From Hell and the movie which was still on its way at that time. There are various scenes in which things play out a little differently than in the big book and the villain starts to come alive in my nightmares. All done in the classic From Hell style. And Alan Moore is in there too. Here are a few panels.

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Thursday 6 August 2009

similar to the situation i described yesterday re my old pal Mike Docherty, here's another example of the world getting smaller all the time. When I was younger still, just finishing primary school, I discovered old early 1950s Batman stories in a handful of little paperback books published in black and white (by Signet in the US, Four-Square in Britain) at the time of the Batman TV show. They were reprinted several times in 1966 and my copies are dated October, so I would have got them fresh off the shelves close to that date. They were probably the first paperback books I bought with my own money, and it would have taken a great deal of conspiracy among the people in my head to give myself permission to take such a daring step. I lovingly defaced many of the pages with crayolas.

Even then I figured there had to be more than one 'Bob Kane,' in the same way that Walt Disney was a whole mob of people, though that was the only 'signature' on these stories. Dick Sprang was obviously a distinct personality though I don't think I had a name for him for another couple of years. This was all very abstract to me at the time, but there was certainly a suspicion that something was going on; I knew all about artists and 'inkers' from the credited Marvel comics I had been buying, and I had pored over Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes in my local library. Once I ascribed a number of the stories to Sprang or 'artist B' (Kane being 'A"), there still seemed to be two distinct styles among what was left. They remained unnamed people to me for many years afterwards, though I felt I knew them as friends in my hyperactive imagination. I once got in an argument with a small press pal circa '84 who insisted that a certain Penguin story was Sprang's work. I said, 'no, look at all these tiny scurrying little figures. That's 'artist D,' who actually happens to be my favourite. He looked at me like I was referencing some archeological tome. In 1999 I drew this little panel in After the Snooter:

A couple of years after drawing it I actually got to meet Lew Sayre Schwartz. After I wrote this article online, somebody emailed and put me in touch with him. I verified by phone and fax (I had collected many other stories illustrated by him in the interim) that I had correctly identified the artistic personality at work. It was a thrilling couple of hour-long sessions during which Lew kept worrying about my phone bill. Around that time he had discovered that DC was reprinting some of his old stories, as they had contacted him about forwarding some royalties. I warned him to watch out for the fact that they were still misattributing many of the stories, but that it would probably balance out as for every one of his they gave to Kane, there would be one of Moldoff's they gave to Schwartz and in the final analyisis he probably wouldn't lose out. Moldoff was 'artist C' though I wasn't 100% sure he wasn't actually Kane; it didn't look like the then current 1966 Kane who drew Poison Ivy at any rate, though I was late in figuring out that was Moldoff too, still ghosting for Kane after 12 years. Recalling my blindness on that one still annoys me. In contrast to Sprang, who was a Kane ghost hired by the publisher, DC Comics, Lew was Kane's personal 'ghost' on this stuff. Kane would proprietorially tighten the figures of Batman and Robin a little before sending it in to the publisher, with the understanding being that he'd done it all himself (The way the Great Comic Book Database characterizes the working relationship tends to imply that Kane drew the figures and Schwartz filled in the rest of the pictures around them, which both my eye and Schwartz himself tell me was not the case). All the stories would then be signed 'Bob Kane', presumably by the letterer, and then inked by Charlie Paris (usually), whose job it was to make it look like it all came out of the same ink bottle, as he expressed it. 'Inking' is often misunderstood by folk outside of the comic book business, to be a kind of 'tracing' activity. Back then the inker was often a particularly slick artist who was trusted with superimposing the house style over the work of a number of artists, giving consistency to all the parts (before I figured this out it had baffled me that Batman's head always looked consistent even though there were obviously different artists drawing the pages) (an aside: I once hired an assistant for a short term job who laid down at the outset that he didn't want to be 'just an inker.' I informed him, to his dismay, that I wouldn't trust him with the 'inking.')
Here's a great Lew Schwartz splash page from Batman #52, Feb 1950. This is from a coverless copy in my possession. Lew confirmed he drew it and was especially pleased I'd picked this one to run by him as he remembered drawing his wife, Barb, into the bottom left hand corner. (click for a satisfyingly large version)

Here's a favourite Lew Schwartz moment from The Joker's Journal, Detective Comics #193, March 1953:

Lew was at the San Diego con in 2002 and I interviewed him on a panel there, having already done the honours in my own Egomania magazine and proved myself the man for the job. A couple of years later I got the chance to ( co-)write and draw a Batman comic book myself and I dedicated it to Lew (these days we get to be 'authorial' and dedicate our comic books). Now, on the whole I detest the present day version of the character. he is a thuggish brute. My Batman was an old fashioned thing set in 1939, before the MTV age, when millionaires still tried to have nice manners.

Batman was invited to join a London club of gentlemen who wear animal masks:

Who'd have thought they'd trust me with a Batman book? Who'd have thought I'd meet the guy who put the notion in my head thirty-eight years before? He was a special guest at the San Diego Comic Convention this year but I wasn't there, so I missed "... that great panel we did on the Golden Age of Batman with Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff and Lew Schwartz. If you're interested in the history of comics, it doesn't get any more historical than that." (Mark Evanier... I wonder if somebody taped it.) (I wrote about Jerry Robinson at length here, for those following all of these names)
My good friend Pam Noles made sure Lew got a copy of Leotard and took this photo:

It's funny how things turn out.

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Wednesday 5 August 2009

kenny at Forbidden Planet International looks back to a 24 page insert in Scottish rock magazine Cut, on the happening comics revolution in 1988 and wonders where it all went: It was twenty years ago today. I place the turning point in 1991. I arrived back in London for the Tundra champagne party at the National History Museum. To my horror I had negelcted to bring a suit for the event. I wondered what on earth was going on? Comic book people obliged to wear suits? And when they all started turning up they were arm in arm with beautiful women. I guess it wouldn't be so hard to get a date for such a prestigious outing. But that was it. It all turned by the end of that year, when a scribe in the NME wrote:"If graphic novels are the literature of the future, then how come nobody's reading them?" I tell my own version, and shamelessly plug it here, of the first rise and fall of the 'graphic novel' in How to be an Artist.
And ever since then, I always travel dressed in a suit.

And I always go home disappointed.

Great interview with Dan Clowes at mcSweeney's
I assume you never had any interest in creating a syndicated strip for newspapers?
No, that's a whole different genre − an entirely different genus of cartoonist. The ones I've met tend to be these odd, suburban, country-club types. And just because the format worked with audiences in the 1920s doesn't mean it's still the greatest idea today.
I'm quoting that bit about the newspaper strip being a different 'medium,' or 'genre' because I agree with it but whenever I say it myself Steve Bissette turns up to say I'm full of cheese.
Oh, this bit is funny:
The script is not your typical Hollywood fare. Even the action descriptions are different than what one would normally find in a script. For instance, this is from the very first page: "A large, hirsute man, wearing only Lycra jogging shorts, watches the Home Shopping Network while eating mashed potatoes with his fingers."
[Laughs]" When Terry and I wrote the Ghost World screenplay, we would take turns handing it back and forth to each other. We were adding detail upon detail to crack each other up. We showed one of our producers the first ten pages, and it was packed with descriptions: "The high school graduation banner should be sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts" and things like that.
Never in a million years could we have afforded the rights to Dunkin' Donuts. The producer said to us, "You know, guys, perhaps you should have looked at another screenplay before you started."
aw man, and this:
After fifteen years in a room alone, you can start to feel as if you've unwittingly sentenced yourself to solitary confinement. It's no wonder that pretty much every cartoonist over fifty is totally insane.
arf! must show that bit to the wife...

"Over 50? You've been going that way for much longer than that, honey."

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around 1989 my thoughts turned to an old pal of mine named Mike Docherty, whom I hadn't seen since I sat next to him in school in Glasgow 1969/71, when together we ruled the art class. I've been thinking about him again over the last week. Maybe it's a twenty year thing.
In 1969 we both intended to spend our lives drawing comic books. American ones. On the other side of the world. Later I presumed that neither of us would. Notwithstanding, we drew some stuff together, as little comicky dudes do. Here's a detail from a Batman on which he inked and coloured over my pencil, when we were fifteen.

A year later he was doing very competent little ink drawings, among which this one is excellent. He was obsessed with Conan the Barbarian by this time:

My folks moved us down to the London area and I lost track of him. I surely would have done anyway as we were quite different sorts of people altogether. He wore leather jackets, after those school years I mean, and saved up to buy a Harley Davidson. And me, well you've read my blather here already I'm sure. Once in London I stood watching a long rally of bikers protesting against the new helmet law, hoping my old pal might turn up among the revving, thundering procession. Over the years apparently he had been keeping an eye open for me too. He was living in Santa Monica, California when he found one of my Alec books, the second Escape volume of '85 if memory serves, in his local comic shop in 1988. I was in North Queensland, Australia. I always figured as time moved on and we moved further adrift that catching up again would become more and more hopeless, where in fact the opposite is true. It is now easier to find people than it was twenty years ago. Anyway, we did hook up in California in 1989 and caught up and kept in touch. He came off the bike once too often and was now walking with a permanent limp. But it turned out he had achieved his goal and was drawing Conan for a living. Using the Grand Comic Book Database, an indispensible tool for this sort of thing, I see him first popping up in Conan The King #31 of Nov.'85. And the number of stories under his credit show that he was working hard after that. Regular readers will note the irony when I recall that he mentioned loathing it when the inking was sometimes assigned to Vinnie Colletta. Here's one of Mike's covers from a couple of years in, #43 November '87:

I had stopped following the American comic books a long time before, except for keeping a weather eye on them as a working illustrator might be expected to do. So I really didn't know what was happening there (apart from the obvious, like Watchmen), and it was a surprise to me to find that Conan didn't appear to be the big fan favourite it was when it started. After artist Barry Smith's tenure I always found it unreadable, like the original Robert E Howard books, from which I razored and kept the Frazetta covers. The character must have had its biggest popularity between the time Schwarzennegger played it in the first movie 1982, and the disappearance of the third one into development hell circa '86. Nevertheless there were three or four different regular Conan comic book titles all running at the same time in 1988. As far as I can figure out, Conan the King came to a conclusion that year and Mike found himself in the more prestigious Savage Sword of Conan from '89 and later in the flagship Conan the Barbarian, before the whole lot of them ground to a halt in 1995 and he found work outside of the comic book business, in animation mostly I believe. Mike has never bothered to put out much information on himself, so Lambiek has a rudimentary entry on him which doesn't include a year of birth (put 1955, Scotland, if you're reading). Here's one of his covers from Aug.1992.

And here's the only photo I can dig up:

It's from Glasgow paper the Evening Times, Sept 9 1992, one of those 'local boy makes good stories' that i always hate: "And while his former schoolmates shiver in a typical wet and windy Scottish autumn, Mike is enjoying the more temperate climes of Santa Monica..."
The story comes full circle as I see he is back in the funny book pages as an artist on a new work titled Jungle Reign, of which there is an online preview.

It's funny how things turn out.

(panel from my own The Dance of Lifey Death, drawn 1991.)

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Tuesday 4 August 2009

went to see the new Johnny Depp with the wife of my bosom, whose idea it was. Public Enemies. It all feels very real. the action is particularly good, all murky and unclear, like reality instead of all that Sparta slo mo flying around on wires stuff. But as soon as I got home I felt the need to check the movie against the facts, not because I think a movie should be obliged to stick to them, but just to make sure I don't find myself spouting some baloney in public that I picked up only from this source. The real story of that odd era of 'public enemies' is even more interesting than I first thought. All of the major ones seem to have been shot to pieces within a very short, nine month period. Bonnie and Clyde, May 23 1934; John Dillinger, July 24, 1934; Pretty Boy Floyd, Oct 23 1934; Baby Face Nelson Nov 27 1934; Ma Barker and her boys, Jan 16, 1935. The problem is that for movie reasons they had to rearrange some of that. You see, in films bad deeds cannot go unpunished. It's a rule. One of the interesting things they did on the Sopranos was to upend this rule, though upending rules isn't automatically by itself a guarantee of the good stuff. Guys got away with evil deeds all over the place. Like real life. Since Depp is Dillinger, according to movie logic, he must get shot up last, meaning that as Floyd and Nelson are also in the movie, their demises have to be brought on early, otherwise the viewers might get the impression that they got away with their evil deeds. It might be a good thing anyway, since if you go in knowing your history this means you can still be surprised. I'm reminded of this exchange From the film Gladiator, which itself took enormous liberties with the historical record. In ancient Rome a big spectacle is being presented at the Colloseum, recreating the battle of Carthage, but it's started going awry:
"My history's a little hazy, Cassius... but shouldn't the barbarians lose the battle of Carthage?"
"Yes, sire. Forgive me, sire."
"No, I rather enjoy surprises."
Also, the Billy Holiday recordings he's listening to on the radio were made between 1939 and 1941, several years after Dillinger's death.
Wait a minute, it's the phone ringing.
Hi, honeybee.
what, yes of course I'm capable of enjoying a movie.
no, don't say that. I' am not one of those...
uh okay...
anyway, thanks for roning.

This traveling exhibition is in our town:
Welcome to The Leonardo da Vinci machines exhibition.
Historical documents reveal that Leonardo commissioned local artisans to create some of his inventions. Unfortunately none of these original machines have survived and many of his inventions were forgotten. However, the last fifty years has seen a revival of interest in Vincian technology, spearheaded by the Niccolai family who have been interpreting the designs and constructing fine models since the beginning of Vincian studies. This exhibition presents over sixty models grouped in themes: War machines, Flying machines, Nautical & Hydraulic machines as well as devices illustrating the Principles of Mechanics.
Leonardo would never have got up our hill on this bike.

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Monday 3 August 2009

on Rowland Emmett:

Engines of Enchantment: The Machines and Cartoons of Rowland Emett- 29 July Until Nov 1 - Cartoon Museum, London,
Time Out gives the simplest summary:
A retrospective of cartoonist and creator of whimsical kinetic sculpture Rowland Emett. The exhibition includes three machines created for the 1968 film 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. During the war Emett worked as a draughtsman at the air ministry, supplying drawings to Punch at the same time of increasingly romantic trains, trams and boats. In 1951 he was invited to turn drawing into reality with the construction of three engines for the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway at the Festival of Britain. The show includes an original model of the train as well as associated drawings.

Apparently The Ontario Science Centre has the largest single collection of Emmett creations, which they exhibit every year. probabilityfunction made this video there in February. His Scott Joplin soundtrack works very nicely:

Simon Hoggart in the Guardian:
A few years earlier, Mum and Dad went to the Festival of Britain. We still have the record they made for half-a-crown in which they described for me and my sister what they'd seen and done. They rode, my Mum said in the fluting RP accent she lost years ago, on "a funny train, with a kettle instead of a funnel".
So it was another piquant moment when I went to the new Rowland Emett exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street, London. There is Emett's own model of the funny train, kettle duly in place, alongside several others of his wonderful baroque machines. We tend to forget how incredibly popular Emett was between the 1950s and the 80s.
photo of Emmett riding one of his contraptions at
another from LIFE magazine

update. I have just added the new label 'humorous sculpture' and gone back through the archive and applied it some posts that previously went under other headings. enjoy.


Sunday 2 August 2009

mark in your calendar. London November 7.
Eddie Campbell is the first confirmed international guest for the Comica Festival ‘09. Over from Australia, Eddie will be in conversation with a special guest on Saturday November 7th, 7pm to 9pm in the Nash Room at the ICA, and then signing books afterwards, in particular his new 640-page compilation Alec: The Years Have Pants (Top Shelf), collecting the whole saga, including the early episodes first serialised in Escape Magazine and three Escape graphic novels. Earlier that Saturday between 2pm and 4pm he’ll also be signing at the London comic shop Gosh!.
(My old pal, wee Paul Gravett, made sure to note in the above that he was my first proper publisher)


responding to my series of posts on 'them funny Professors' and more specifically commenting on Prof Bean's quotation from Sigmund Freud the other day, my father emailed me the following message:
Looking at your recent blog featuring Prof Bean and his lecture on Freud, I was reminded of Ken Dodd addressing his audience on the care of what he termed the "chuckle muscles". He quoted for them the famous man's pronouncement that "Laughter is the conservation of psychic energy." and then, after a moment's reflection, declared "Mind you, Freud never played second house Saturday night at the Glasgow Empire!"
My father is also named Eddie Campbell and I undoubtedly got my sense of humour from him. I was on a visit home once, when I was unemployed and obscure. I found that a young artist was briefly interviewed in one of the rock music magazines and mentioned me as an influence in a phrase carefully crafted for its effect in that it also included Shakespeare and Boy George. Naturally I read it aloud. My late auntie Ella, also visiting, and not quite getting the early '80s zeitgeist with respect to how a chap in second hand clothes partly held together with sticky tape could be a source of influence to another, said, "To be mentioned along with these famous show people, it must be some other Eddie Campbell they're talking about." My father, sitting in his big armchair reading his paper, muttered "Obviously it's me."

There were five of these Professor Bean cartoons, and they appeared in print more than once. But every time an editor wanted them he only wanted four pages, and i shuffled them so that each time it was a different selsction, but all five were never seen together. Admittedly this was twenty three years ago and I may be misremembering.

Here is the cover from one of those early appearances:

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