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#21 [Oct. 4th, 2010|08:18 am]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#21 ALEC – Eddie Campbell
(Top Shelf)

“The nicest thing in this world is just to be with your friends. No big story need come of it. The adrenalin may not flow. But those things are necessary too.”

Eddie Campbell’s autobiography begins as a chronicle of the cheerful misadventures of his drinking buddies – you get the impression he’s writing it all down as proof against alcohol-induced amnesia to come – who gather around a pub that has its identity protected from the incursions of nosy future comics historians by being renamed ‘The King Canute’. Campbell’s best friend ‘Danny Grey’ is likewise protected by pseudonym, in his case because of one or two charges that may still be outstanding at the time of publication. Having renamed the pub and its best customer, Campbell goes on to rename himself as well, dubbed ‘Alec McGarry’ for the purposes of authorial distance.

It works well, as the Alec McGarry of the early chapters is a very different figure from the Eddie Campbell who has emerged 600 pages later. As well as eventually dropping the pseudonym he drops his youthful lack of ambition, becomes a successful (struggling) artist, marries and has three kids. The kids just sort of arrive and then insinuate themselves into the narrative until they’ve practically taken over in a way that feels very natural. Alec/Eddie’s not even drawn the same, as Campbell changes his art style back and forth as he goes. The pages fill up with borrowed panels from other comics as he gets caught up in the graphic novel boom and bust, widen out as he moves to Australia and acclimatises to the open spaces and then narrow back down again as he fills his new life with family and furniture, not to mention a crowded period running a self-publishing company out of the front room. Danny Grey helpfully reappears at each stage of Campbell’s life, their shifting relationship highlighting each change in circumstance.

The art becomes looser and more improvised for a while as Campbell’s life catches up to his retelling of it, turning into one-page anecdotes with titles like This Happened Last Night and This Happened Yesterday. It also begins to include odds and ends from his grand doomed projects, like a book about famous drunks and a history of humour that spins out of a mention in an earlier chapter about how difficult it would be to write a serious study of funniness.

The grandest and most doomed of all projects is the overarching one, squeezing an entire life onto the page. As Campbell gets older he starts looking back past the young Alec and towards the younger Anthony, the middle name his parents called him when he was a kid, who wore his father’s old shirts as painter’s smocks. Meanwhile he’s writing about going grey and ironing his pants for a new job as courtroom artist, pondering when he’ll travel to old man’s town and join the closed-mind fraternity. He’s taking two steps forward and one step back simultaneously, racing against himself while racing against death.

Campbell’s attitude to death is another thing that noticeably changes. Young Alec fantasises about his own funeral and who’ll turn up and what they’ll sing, while later he starts to imagine being caught up in ‘The Dance Of Lifey Death’ between the Grim Reaper and a naked, matronly mother life figure. Middle-aged Campbell is tormented by an insomniac terror he calls The Snooter who takes the form of an insect who buzzes around the bedroom on humid Queensland nights, filling his head with thoughts of the futility of existence.

Mostly what it’s about though is living the good life, and how he fills it to bursting with friends and family and far too many bottles of wine. There are worse role models to have.