The Eddie Campbell Interview (part two of four)

Posted by on June 23rd, 2010 at 11:57 AM

 


(Click image to see larger version.) From Bacchus: Earth, Water, Air & Fire, ©1998 Eddie Campbell.

 

Bacchus

DEPPEY: Of course, you have a foot in both worlds — and that’s as close as a segue as I’m going to find for Bacchus magazine.

CAMPBELL: OK.

DEPPEY: Now, Bacchus ran for six years. It started in May of 1995 and it ran until May of 2001, and I think it’s one of the very few independent comics that actually managed to come out on something resembling a monthly basis. You actually published 60 issues in six years.

CAMPBELL: In seven years, I managed to get something out more or less every month, so I managed to get 84 separate publications out; if it wasn’t an issue of the mag, it was a trade paperback or it was a reprint or something or other. There was even a poster-print. I managed to put out something every month between ’95 and the end of 2002, allowing for missing a month here and there and doubling up in other months.

DEPPEY: I’ve heard you credit Dave Sim with the inspiration to start Bacchus magazine. Prior to that, you had been doing Bacchus in a series of miniseries for Dark Horse.

CAMPBELL: I’d been doing Bacchus all over the place, ’90 to ’94. I think like five years running, I had a series out from Dark Horse. So yeah, that was its home. Sim had talked a lot of people into self-publishing, for whatever his political ends. [Laughter.] I don’t even know. I’m skeptical of a lot of the stuff that’s he’s written. Sometimes I think he writes that stuff just to wind you guys up.

DEPPEY: Oh, sure. In TCJ #263, we did a big roundtable on Dave Sim, and I think half the reason I arranged that was just so I could just put it to bed. I gathered a whole bunch of people in a room and said, “OK, talk about Dave Sim. OK, you’re done? Great! Now I can talk about Cerebus as a work, without having to talk about the feminist-homosexualist axis. Hooray for me.”

CAMPBELL: I think I was one of the last people that Dave talked into self-publishing. He tried it with Alan Moore, and it ended in disaster.

DEPPEY: You were probably the most successful of them, too.

CAMPBELL: Yes. There was Veitch and Bissette, Tundra and so on. In the end, I thought, “This is easy. Why did these guys make a mess of it?”

DEPPEY: Well, because of the way you’ve come up, you’ve kind of looked at it from a business angle to begin with. You’ve not just been a cartoonist, you’ve also been a manager, Eddie Campbell’s manager.

CAMPBELL: It’s funny when people treat you like an artist, like you don’t know… Like, for instance, whenever I arrive somewhere with Chris Staros, they always talk to Chris Staros about me in front of me about the business stuff. [Deppey chuckles.] It’s like I can’t manage myself. And I guess it’s self-fulfilling, because in the end I’ve handed all the business stuff over to him and he publishes From Hell now.

The thing about the Direct Market is that once you start in, everything seems to run by itself. It really was dead easy. I see people now talking about how now is not a good time to be self-publishing, nothing works anymore, it’s not like it used to be. But when I started publishing in ’75 there was nothing, nowhere to go. The 500 copies of my first book, I found I was able to sell 40 through the channels available in ’75. There was no Direct Market. I gave up and I went and worked in the factory. What was there to do? There was nowhere to go. So when I hear people saying that it’s not like it used to be: Fuck off. It was worse when I started.

The problem with it is that it’s very difficult to make a thing grow within there. Being a collector’s market, it tends to run on first issues, so you sell twice as many of your first issue as your second, and then there’s a falling off, and it’s very difficult to pick up readers.

DEPPEY: When I first started going to comic shops, there was a tiny little — well, compared to today, a relatively tiny collection of Marvel and DC and then enough rack space left over where, even in stores where the owners really had no interest in anything but Legion of Superheroes, there was still enough room left over for a shelf or two full of wonky stuff from Fantaco and Comico and Pacific Comics.

CAMPBELL: A minute ago I suddenly felt guilty because it sounded like I was complaining about the Direct Market. It’s very difficult to get the orders up. But actually, looking back on it, the thing was foolproof. It virtually worked by itself… which is what Dave Sim said to me in the first place. He said, “This is the easiest thing you’ll ever do,” and he was right, it was. All I had to do was get my book out every month. You could draw a curve where the sales are going to go down, but I made a really good living out of it for six or seven years.

DEPPEY: And you managed to get virtually your entire back catalog back into print.

CAMPBELL: That I did.

DEPPEY: With exceptions; there are stories in The Cheque, Mate that Fantagraphics published that you never brought back.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, but if I haven’t brought them back it could be because I don’t want them to be still around.

DEPPEY: There are a couple of stories in there that I liked. “How to Avoid Sex,” that was a neat little story. [Laughter.] It’s not the high poetry of The King Canute Crowd or anything, but it was a neat little story.

CAMPBELL: It’s an oddity. “How to Avoid Sex,” I did that originally for a book about sex, aimed at 14-year-olds encountering sex for the first time, or when you’re young. I did a story called “How to Avoid Sex” and they were horrified. They said, “This isn’t the attitude we want to promote.”

DEPPEY: The story was half a lecture, half Danny Grey going to the bathroom.

CAMPBELL: This is my repressive Catholic upbringing coming out. “We don’t want to promote this.” So I had to shelve it. Anyway, that was the origin of that. To this day, I find it very difficult to produce work to order like that. When somebody phones me up and says, “We’d like a comic on this and that theme,” I go into it knowing it’s probably going to end in tears.

DEPPEY: Well, as long as you continue to own it, you can always find a use for it elsewhere.

CAMPBELL: I’ve never drawn a story I couldn’t use somewhere.

 


T-shirt design ©2001 Eddie Campbell.

 

DEPPEY: Where was I? King Bacchus. You did this at about the same time Sim was doing Guys, and there are actually remarkable similarities between the two.

CAMPBELL: There’s a lot of taking potshots at each other in those stories. I pop up a few times in his things.

DEPPEY: And he pops up in yours.

CAMPBELL: [Laughs.] Yeah, he gets his willy cut off in King Bacchus. Inevitably there was the criticism: “How can you put this in Borders when it’s so full of in-jokes, who the hell’s going to know what you’re talking about?” The fact is, Dave has no interest in moving outside the Direct Market. I don’t think he’s ever gotten into bookstores.

DEPPEY: I’ve actually seen a couple of Cerebus books in a Borders three miles north of me; it’s the only place in a chain bookstore I have ever seen Cerebus.

CAMPBELL: One suspects it got in there by some tortuous route, by accident.

DEPPEY: Could be.

CAMPBELL: I don’t know. Or the ordering clerk had gone to the trouble of getting them directly from Dave, or more likely Gerhard, without going through a distributor channel. That’s possible. But Dave’s attitude was, “Who are the most interesting characters in comics? It’s not Batman or Wolverine, it’s Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and so on. Why can’t we just as happily put them in the story.”

DEPPEY: There wasn’t any formal interplay between the two of you? Were you discussing King Bacchus versus Guys?

CAMPBELL: No, but we were on each other’s comp list, so we were both seeing the other guy’s stuff as it came out. You’ve read all those?

DEPPEY: Yes.

 


Campbell’s family and friends posed for this 1999 fake funeral photo, taken by Hayley Campbell. ©2005 Eddie Campbell.

 

CAMPBELL: What do you think of Bunny Wilson?

DEPPEY: Bunny Wilson. Oh, Jesus, I’ve drawn a blank. Which one was Bunny Wilson?

CAMPBELL: You haven’t gotten them all in front of you? I think he did the back cover on issue 12.

DEPPEY: I’ve got them here in book form.

CAMPBELL: All right. You know he drew for instance, remember the wedding in King Bacchus, he drew the card just before the wedding chapter.

DEPPEY: OK. That’s toward the end of… oh, there’s the fight scene; the cops are coming in… OK, got it right here.

CAMPBELL: You got Bunny Wilson. He’s a hoax, he doesn’t exist. See I had this idea that I’d put all these real cartoonists in there, like Dave Sim, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, even Jeff Smith makes an appearance. And into this mix, I’d insert a completely fictitious cartoonist, but I’d play it like he was real. So that every now and then he’d pop up in the pages of Bacchus magazine in the news and text pages, but issue 55…

DEPPEY: That would be “Banged Up?”

CAMPBELL: It’s not in the story, it’s the text pages, we actually killed him off and we all went to his funeral. [Deppey laughs.] I got all my pals to put on their dark suits on a Sunday, and we were photographed around a grave. Hayley Campbell took the photo. Breach is wearing a white collar, pretending to be the vicar, reading some sales catalog over Bunny’s last resting place. He fastened on a page advertising a business called Pancakes in Paradise. “And now Bunny will be eating his pancakes in paradise…” and there’s a mocked-up newspaper article written by Whitey.

I kind of ditched the whole idea of this fictitious cartoonist because Seth went one better with his Kalo. [Deppey laughs.] When he announced Kalo was a hoax, I said to mayself, “Oh, fuck it. There goes the whole Bunny Wilson plan. I can’t use it any more.” So I didn’t make a big fuss about it, we quietly killed him off. But on the back cover of one of those, we have a character Bunny Wilson supposedly created in the ‘50s, called Monty Zoomer, the speediest superhero, and Evans bashed it all up in Photoshop and we made it look like an old 1950s Australian comic. That was my plan. I’d introduce all the real cartoonists and then slip in a bogus one and see if anyone noticed. So while I was making fun of real personages, I intended by sleight of hand to play a joke on everyone. [Deppey chuckles.] It didn’t really work. Alas.

 

Banned in Australia, Lionized in Hollywood

DEPPEY: The other Bacchus story that debuted in the magazine is “Banged Up.” I’m fascinated by the fact that he was busted for obscenity. Can I assume that you wrote this around the time From Hell was detained for obscenity at the Australian border?

CAMPBELL: Oh no, Bacchus was years before.

DEPPEY: Really?

CAMPBELL: Though when I put out the collected “Banged Up,” I don’t think I associated that with that at the time. I really didn’t even think about it. You’re the first person that has mentioned the possibility of a connection.

DEPPEY: Well, there’s another cute synchronicity blown all to hell by the facts.

CAMPBELL: But I grew up fast with that fiasco. I really felt like a proper publisher when that came down. My book was banned. I was on the phone with everybody for a few weeks. With the censors, the OFLC — they’ve got a website, OFLC.gov.au. The Office of Film and Literature Classification. That was an education.

DEPPEY: My understanding is that some border guard just opened up a copy and declared it obscene on the spot. Is that right?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, Perth Airport was the site. It was one of the old Kitchen-serialized editions of From Hell. It was 48 pages of Mary Kelly being cut up. He decided it shouldn’t be allowable. Sent it off to the OFLC for advice, and they said, “No, you’re right, we can’t have this coming into the country from some far away…” They didn’t realize it was created in the country, so it was an importation ban.

DEPPEY: Can I assume that the fight to get it unbanned basically amounted to pointing out that this was in a continuum with other issues? Did you have to sit there and educate them about the story?

CAMPBELL: That was the essence of my argument, the fact is that they banned not only the 48-page book, but also the 600-page book because it contained within it the 48-pager. I talked to the guy at the OFLC, who was intelligent and open to my arguments. Dez, his name was. We arrived at the proposition that they could look at the whole thing in context if I could persuade Customs to go along with it, because Customs are the people in charge here and the OFLC really only offers advice. The problem with that is that the people at Customs think it’s the other way around and they are being handed down a firm ruling. So I talked the Customs official — Con, his name was — into sending the big 600-page book, the collection, all the way up to the OFLC by airmail on a Tuesday, and they had it back by Friday. Now, the OFLC has a committee of 12. How many of them read the book between Tuesday and Friday? Less than one, I’d say. So that was it. It was that easy. I think we like to blow these things out of proportion. But then again, you’ve got all those people down in Georgia who really mean it, prepared to go to court over it. America is a different game. I don’t know.

DEPPEY: It’s not so much that America’s a different game, as that America is 50 different games. Each one of them comes with their own flavor and their own unique stupidity.

Somewhere along the way, your book turned into a movie.

CAMPBELL: That was another adventure.

DEPPEY: How many times had From Hell threatened to be a movie before it actually was?

CAMPBELL: It was only the once. It was picked up in ’94, and it was seven years before the thing finally came out.

DEPPEY: So you never had the rights lapse, and then take it over to somebody else, and then…

CAMPBELL: No. It all happened really without me knowing about it. It started when the book was with Tundra. I was talking to one interviewer, who said, “How long did it take you to draw From Hell?”

And I said, “Ten years.”

She said, “How long was it optioned for a movie?”

And I said, “Seven years.”

I read in the paper the next day that we’d been working on this for 17 years. [Deppey laughs.] It’s like she didn’t understand the sentences were to be served concurrently. The same producer, Don Murphy, had it all that time, and took it hither and yon. He had it with Disney at one point but they wanted a happy ending. I really can’t remember all the moves any more.

DEPPEY: Was it Kevin Eastman who originally made the connection, or…?

CAMPBELL: I don’t know. It’s complicated. We got an inquiry from Oliver Stone’s office, way back in ’94, on Oliver Stone’s headed notepaper, but this was Don using Oliver Stone’s office as a temporary encampment. One thing I’ve come to realize in the last 10 years is that Hollywood’s a little bit more ramshackle than we think it is. Things are getting optioned or done by fly-by-nights, you know? Squatting on other people’s premises, somehow getting things done on no budget at all. I think these production companies don’t have any money, they have to get the money from somewhere else. It’s all a mystery.

DEPPEY: In the issue of the Journal that we just shipped off to the printer, Mike Dean talks to Neil Gaiman, and Gaiman mentions that 90 percent of the options he’s offered are basically just some random guy who’s hoping to bullshit his way into an office. His idea of optioning your work is calling you down to Hollywood, taking you to dinner, where you’ll sign a napkin that will basically give him all the rights to the work in perpetuity and, oh yeah, you’re paying for the dinner.

CAMPBELL: [Laughs.] Yes. It’s a strange world. You say Hollywood to people — people on this side of the world still think Hollywood’s a marvelous, mystical, wonderful place.

DEPPEY: So at some point, you finally got some real development money.

CAMPBELL: True; for several years we were doing quite well. I think I could have run my publishing operation without the movie money, but the fact that we had the movie money coming in for virtually the whole time I was self-publishing kept it very lively. I was actually running a busy studio here. A guy called Pete Mullins was working with me on art, so you’ll see his name on virtually everything I did during that period. Except for the Alec books, of course.

DEPPEY: I’m staring at the cover he did for King Bacchus right now.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, Pete did that. I might have put Bacchus’s face on it for consistency sake, but that cover is mostly Pete’s, as I remember.

 

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