Eddie Campbell and the Mythology of Minutiae
Eddie Campbell was born on this day in 1955. Comics' greatest raconteur, Campbell has been chronicling memories, spinning yarns, and chasing trains of thought since the early 80s, influencing entire generations of creators along the way.
Eddie Campbell made his way into comics through a side-door and has kept using side doors ever since. As a Scottish cartoonist coming up in the blooming British small-press scene of the late 70s and early 80s, Campbell first made his mark with In the Days of the Ace Rock 'N' Roll Club, a self-published black-and-white comic about youth, music, and true life experiences that were still fresh as he was making it. Combining autobiographical elements with fiction, the memorable characters and laconic illustrative style made the book a favorite among a rapidly-swelling pool of talent in British comics.
He followed up his initial success with the first of his Alec stories, looking even deeper into his own life for content. In comics form, Eddie Campbell became Alec MacGarry (a move he's said he regretted, but Alec has a much better ring to it than Eddie, Eddie) and made subject matter of his friends, family, job, triumphs, failures, and routine.
A self-proclaimed impressionist, Campbell exhibited his ability to adapt his style early, capturing his memories in varying degrees of sharpness and fidelity with the consistency of his inks, zip-a-tone shades, and a light, sketchy touch that could bear down into certainty. Published by Escape in the early-to-mid 80s, the first chunk of Alec stories bolstered his reputation with the first generation of British creators to break into American comics, making lifelong fans of the likes of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.
When the American industry swooped upon the British scene, though, Campbell was already out through another side-door. After getting married and moving to Australia, Campbell continued on his own path with Bacchus, which at first seems as far-removed from Alec as one can be.
A wry and slightly bizarre "American-style" comic starring the aged god of revelry, Bacchus is as thoughtful and whimsical as his autobiographies, exploring the ups and downs of success and failure, the cost of aging, the lessons to be learned from art and mythology, and the miracle that is good wine. With an infectiously sketchy style, Bacchus developed into one of the premier creator-owned genre comics of the small press wave, lasting for approximately 1,000 pages of black-and-white unpredictability.
Concurrent with Bacchus, Campbell began his first collaboration with mutual admirer Alan Moore. In From Hell, Moore and Campbell autopsied the Jack the Ripper murders, the end of the Victorian age, and the birth of the horrors of the twentieth century. A massive and heavily-researched work that went through several publishers and took nearly a decade to finish, From Hell brought Campbell his greatest commercial success, placed him on a wider cultural map, and set him off on what turned out to be an incredibly productive decade.
In the 90s, reprints of Campbell's Alec stories made their way into the American market through publishers like Fantagraphics and Eclipse, while he continued working on new installments, like the exemplary Graffiti Kitchen. Lapses between issues and publishers encouraged Campbell to rotate between projects, and with his work on Bacchus, From Hell, and Alec, Campbell produced three definitive works of the era. Even if you subtract Bacchus and From Hell from his bibliography, Campbell remains one of the most influential and accomplished comics artists of the last thirty-plus years.
Alec is unique even among great biographical comics. In contrast to Stuck Rubber Baby, Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, or Diary of a Teenage Girl, it isn't distinguished by subject matter. At its most basic level it's about the same things that every life encounters; jobs, friends, relationships, money. The distinction is that Campbell is simply so much better at it than everybody else who's tried.
With an impressionistic, improvisational, and perhaps even holistic approach, he transforms the trivial into the essential. Over more than thirty years, Campbell has made his life into his art, drawing out the stories already stitched in-etween the minutiae of the everyday.
Happy birthday, Eddie Campbell: artist, storyteller, biographer, academic and raconteur; bio-comics' navigational beacon; mythologist of the quotidian.