The Eddie Campbell Interview (part three of four)

Posted by on June 24th, 2010 at 1:35 AM

The following interview originally appeared in The Comics Journal #273 [January 2006].

Part One   ♦   Part Two   ♦   Part Three   ♦   Part Four


(Click image to read longer excerpt.) From King Bacchus, with dancing girls by Nick Mullins; ©1997 Eddie Campbell.


How to Not Be a Publisher

DEPPEY: I’m under the impression that Eddie Campbell Comics ended when LPC [Campbell’s bookstore distributor] went bankrupt.

CAMPBELL: No, there was more to it than that. That was certainly in the mix, but it wasn’t the $50,000 they owed me, because I was actually doing so well that I was able to wear the loss. Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? What was more to the point was I was annoyed that I didn’t see it coming. I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the right things any more, for the guy in charge of a business. Too much nodding off at the wheel.

DEPPEY: You were too busy being the artist.

CAMPBELL: I can’t have my head down here at the desk and be looking out for these things. Oh, by this time, we also had a website that we were updating every couple of weeks. Chris Breach was running the website for me, or I was contributing to it for him. I can’t tell anymore. In fact, most days I have trouble recalling how I ran a studio. Anyway, he did an excellent job on that.

I didn’t just cancel Eddie Campbell Comics; I stopped the website. I even canceled my P.O. box. I got into a strange paranoia, because after the movie I was getting letters, e-mails from people that I knew 30 years ago. I thought, “How did I suddenly become visible?” I felt vulnerable. I felt that I was on view.

DEPPEY: In your interview with Milo [George] on Graphic Novel Review, you talked about how people you had written and drawn about were suddenly finding the stuff that you’d written and drawn about them.

CAMPBELL: Nothing bad had happened yet, but I just… I created so much of the work in the total certainty that nobody would ever see it. You know, being my autobiographical-life stuff. It’s easy to think that way when you work in a factory and nobody else in the place even knows that you draw pictures. [Laughs.] And suddenly everybody’s seeing it, and I thought, “Oh no, I hadn’t anticipated this. What do I do now?” So that was part of it. I had a kind of meltdown where I just wanted to disappear.

Not only that, part of what I’m talking about in Fate of the Artist, I actually didn’t want to be an artist any more, and furthermore, I didn’t want to be me. You know, when you’ve spent all day writing a comic of your own life, how do you get away from that? You can’t go home and leave the job. You can’t put your pencils on the desk on Friday and disappear for the weekend, when you’ve created a living for yourself that involves writing about the intimate details of your own life. Then you publish them, too, these books that you have come to loathe in the way that an artist loathes his old work, except you have to keep putting them back in print and promoting them.

DEPPEY: Well, you could just stop and do a Batman comic book.

CAMPBELL: Which is what I did.

DEPPEY: Right.

CAMPBELL: I dropped all that, and I really enjoyed just spending a year — I spent far too long doing it. You have no idea how pleasurable that was. It shouldn’t have taken me a year, given what I made from it, really; it should have been six months’ work, but I spent the whole year on it, just painting a Batman comic set in 1939. Batman in London, drinking tea. I shouted to Frank Miller, across a bar in San Diego “Fuck your brutish Batman, my Batman drinks tea! With the little finger up, too!” It was a totally harmless gig. It couldn’t get me in trouble… well, as long as Frank has a sense of humor, that is. I didn’t have to deal with any other human beings for a whole year. Usually when you do this kind of job, you send the pages in bundles of 12 or whatever, and get paid for it as you go along. I decided that I didn’t even want to deal with DC intermittently through the year. I didn’t invoice for anything until the whole job was done. Once you’ve invoiced for 12 pages, they’re going to want to know where the rest is.


(Click image to see larger version.) From Batman: The Order of Beasts, co-written by Daren White; ©2004 DC Comics.


DEPPEY: Was this your first time working for a major corporation?

CAMPBELL: No, it’s the first time I did a whole book with my name on the cover though. I can count on one hand the little jobs I did. I wrote four issues of Hellblazer. I guess my name was on that cover…

DEPPEY: Oh, that’s right.

CAMPBELL: Back in ’94. I did a little three-page intro to a Neil Gaiman thing where Blackhawk’s coming — you know the old character, Blackhawk — he’s coming down the stairs and he finds the Green Lantern contraption. What was that called, “The Flame is Green” or something? Little jobs like that. I did a five-page backup that Walt Simonson wrote in Orion. Walt is one of the sweetest guys in this business. Pete and I did that together. That was fun; we got to draw Darkseid, and I also drew all my pals in the bar scene. Walt’s a considerate pal. He gave me a bar scene. What else? I did eight pages in X-Men #400. Pete was on that, too, anonymously so we didn’t have to do a whole lot more contractual paperwork. Joe Casey gave me a bar scene too. And Blackhawk was tipsy now that I think about it, with an empty bottle in his mitt. Ya just gotta love comic-book writers.

Add two things for Joey Cavalieri’s Bizarro books, Batman, Flash. So I’ve done little things here and there. The funny thing was, after I finished The Order of Beasts and handed it in, through curious circumstances, I ended up doing two issues of Captain America that came out the month before Batman. Actually, no, they came out the same month. One 30-day period. I had 44 pages of Captain America and 48 pages of Batman out. My pal, writer Bob Morales, needed an artist and mentioned me to the editor, who asked if I wanted to do it. I said, “Yeah, all right.” So I put everything to one side and drew Captain America for a couple of months.

DEPPEY: Now, is it a big adjustment to work for a big company as opposed to someone like Dark Horse or Fantagraphics or Harrier, or does it wind up being just another job?

CAMPBELL: I just thought of it as a job. The Batman I enjoyed doing. I’m proud of that. The Captain America was just a fill-in thing. I was part of a team getting the job done. I accepted to do pencils and inks, two issues, two months, which for me isn’t possible. Since I closed down the studio, I didn’t have anyone hanging around waiting to help out; I had to go find an assistant right away, a guy named Stewart McKenny. He did a first-rate job of backing me up, rushing ’round to the house picking up new pages and delivering finished ones. For anyone who cares, he did the mechanical beetles and all the little robotic guys in the second part, and backgrounds everywhere. I actually interviewed people. [Laughs.] I put the call out that I needed an assistant and I ended up looking at portfolios. I thought, “This is why I got out. I don’t enjoy this, either.” [Deppey laughs.] It’s another thing I don’t enjoy. But with Captain America, in a way I wanted to prove I can do that, too. It was kind of nostalgic actually. Somebody wrote that my Iron Man was very “retro.” The truth is I didn’t know he’d changed since 1965. I was completely lost in a time warp. I thought, “Any minute now the Lava Men will show up.” So, after all that, I just wanted to be left alone to finish Fate of the Artist, which is what I’ve been doing for the last year.


(Click image to see larger version.) From Batman: The Order of Beasts, co-written by Daren White; ©2004 DC Comics.


How to Not Be an Artist

DEPPEY: I’m kind of curious as to the genesis of Fate of the Artist in terms of its publishing history, because when you talked with Milo last year, you had sent him some black-and-white sketches, and First Second hadn’t been created yet.

CAMPBELL: I sent him a jpeg of a couple of panels. It was in black and white at that time, or more correctly, it was in grays, like The Birth Caul — painted grays, and I was going to do it as a 48-page book. I thought, “I’ll get back into publishing my own books, or I’ll do it with Chris Staros at Top Shelf, something like that.” I hadn’t worked it out yet. I’d done about 30 pages of it, and I kept putting it down to do other things. I was starting to think I might never get this finished. Then I get a phone call from Mark Siegel; he’s the mastermind behind First Second. I don’t know how he got my number or whatever — sometimes I think my career is this curious chain of accidents.

I said, “Well, as it happens, I’m in the middle of a book. I’m looking for a publisher.”

He said, “Well, we want 96 pages.”

And I said, “I’ll make it 96 pages.” [Laughs.] I envisioned 48, but I thought, “96, that gives me room and somebody’s going to pay me, I’m going to enjoy really expanding on the themes and building it all up.” In fact, you probably look at it now and you think, “How could this possibly have fit into 48 pages?”

DEPPEY: I can’t imagine the O. Henry story ending it.

CAMPBELL: [Laughs.] That was actually one of the first things in place.

DEPPEY: Really?

CAMPBELL: That was completely done, right at the beginning, I showed that as part of my package. I said, “Well, here’s the beginning and here’s the end.” And the middle was just going to be half of what it is now. But I had it worked out as a graphic novel from the beginning. Actually, remember how I was telling you, I’m figuring out comic-strip ways of doing things, of metaphors for this or that? I thought, “The only way I can express what I want to say here is to do a seven-page adaptation of a certain O. Henry story [laughs] and drop it right into the narrative just here. Right into my graphic novel.” Now, you can’t do that in prose, can you?

DEPPEY: No. Well —

CAMPBELL: You can’t just steal O. Henry’s story and drop it into in the middle of your prose.

DEPPEY: Well, it has been done. I seem to recall… oh, what is her name, some punk writer did a sort of William S. Burroughs-esque cut-up book called Great Expectations, basically riffing on Charles Dickens. She would sit there and insert her little bits, mixing her work into Dickens’ work.

CAMPBELL: That’s interesting.

DEPPEY: That may not be exactly what you’re talking about, though.

CAMPBELL: Nothing we can imagine hasn’t already been done.

DEPPEY: Right. Kathy Acker, that’s her name.

CAMPBELL: Kathy Acker. Yep. Hayley’s reading Acker at the moment. Yeah, so that’s…

DEPPEY: Sorry, I didn’t mean to derail you there.

CAMPBELL: This was going to be in The History of Humor as well, O. Henry’s “The Confessions of a Humorist.” That actually goes back to the original plan for The History of Humor. It was one of the things that has carried over from that abandoned project. The best ideas from that project reformed themselves in the new one, although none of the artwork has moved over, I hasten to add. This book is entirely new work. But there’s where I was headed with The History of Humor.

Where was I?

DEPPEY: I think we were talking about First Second.

CAMPBELL: Yeah. So he says, “It’s got to be 96 pages.” Then he said, “It’s got to be color.” So I had to go in and convert what I already had into color. What I already had was in very subtle shades of gray, and I didn’t want to — I’ve added in little touches of color on top of the paint, and it’s turned out looking rather silvery and interesting. I didn’t want to upset the delicate balance of things that were already there. I’m thinking of that picture of Vienna on the page where Mozart appears. There’s a lovely silvery quality that I don’t know how I would have arrived at, except as doing it as halftone gray art first and then slightly touching in the color.


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