The Eddie Campbell Interview (part two of four)

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

 


(Click image to read longer excerpt.) From After the Snooter, ©2002 Eddie Campbell.

 

Running a Studio

DEPPEY: You’re one of the few graphic novelists that I know that has actually run a studio in the Will Eisner sense.

CAMPBELL: Never on an Eisnerian scale of course, but you know, when Will wrote and talked about his studio in the 1940s, I always thought it was kind of romantic and faraway interesting. I thought, “I want to do that.” Funny that Gary… you know, this whole business: Eisner, was he an artist, or was he a businessman? [Deppey chuckles.] I won’t say I still feel that way, but my ambition was always, “I want to be an art-businessman like Will Eisner. I want to run a studio like that, be churning stuff out so fast with so many people in it that you don’t remember who did what, but like a jazz band, where there is room for individual personalities.” I thought that would be great. Fantastic. So I kind of did that on a small scale. Anne was running the office; she took care of the mail and the banking and paying everybody. It was a busy time, with things happening everywhere. People were bringing in ideas all the time.

Mick Evans was doing my design work, including typography, so he’d turn up a couple of times a week with negatives under his arm, and take stuff away and deliver stuff. He contributed his own pages to my monthly. I always loved his Montague Hale, an odd, modern Oscar Wildean version of the world with tragic figures exchanging poetic phrases over an espresso doppio. When I first met him, he had this huge pile of it, all fully rendered as though it was for publication the next day. It reminded me of my own early situation of stockpiling the work, completely oblivious of the fact that there wasn’t anyone releasing it. So that had a regular spot in the comic, but as with most unusual visions, I think readers tended to find it a matter of taste. He did too and he took it all, all the original art, out one night in a moment of despondency — or sensible resolve as he would have it — and tossed it in a random garbage skip. I wish he’d got a collection of it together.

DEPPEY: How many people did you employ?

CAMPBELL: It changed over the decade. For the most it was just me, Anne and Pete and sometimes a lass named April Post would come in occasionally. You can see her name on a couple of the From Hell covers. The ones with Queen Victoria, the liver and the one with the watch. The one with the horse’s head: She worked on that, too. Pete would come in four days; he had his own jobs he’d do on the other day. He did a color-page series, Randy Mandy, every week in a national magazine. It was one of those things where the girl loses her clothes all the time. He probably won’t care for me mentioning it, but it was always good work. April might come in on the Friday. It wasn’t run like a “serious office” kind of operation; it was loose but very busy, and we’d always stop for a big lunch with wine or beer that Anne would put on. Anne would take care of the bookkeeping and pay everybody by the hour on the day. She’d clean the pages and do all the export paperwork for the FedEx guy and take care of all the mail, typing etc. She’d also cut up big sheets of art paper and rule them up with nine-panel grids using templates. There’s a guy named John Barry, who was the first help I ever got in. He was 17 and behind the counter at Doc Nodule’s comic shop the day I arrived in town. I sat him down to rule pages and he said the template wasn’t square. So his first task was to re-cut all the templates I had for the various different jobs. After that, he cut black rectangles to do all the black panels of From Hell chapter 2.

DEPPEY: Was there an organized way that jobs were handed out in terms of the art, or was it just, “This needs to be done on this page, this needs to be done on this page?”

CAMPBELL: It was just passing pages back and forward and shouting instructions, I suppose. Sometimes Pete would do the whole cover painting if I thought his strengths would serve it better and I was busy on something else. There was once, toward the end of Hermes Vs. The Eyeball Kid, I took sick and I had to slink off to bed; it couldn’t have been just a hangover because that never stopped me from working. Pete did a whole page himself while I had my head down. It’s the page after the meteor has just hit the city. I think there’s even a page in From Hell that I didn’t do anything bar the lettering, it’s all Pete’s. I know where it is but I challenge anybody to find it. [Deppey laughs.] He used to do cheeky things: He once put R2D2 behind a tombstone in From Hell. You can still see it there if you look hard enough. It’s very, very small.

 


From The Playwright, written by Daren White and drawn by Campbell; ©2005 Daren White and Eddie Campbell.

 

DEPPEY: Refresh my memory: Was Pete primarily helping you with the architecture and the backgrounds, or am I thinking of someone else?

CAMPBELL: At first, that was the idea. If it was something that just needed a photograph to be copied onto a background, I thought, “This is something I could get somebody else to do.” There’s so much work. The impetus for doing all of this in the first place is that you hate to say no to work; it would create a bad thing. The gods will punish you for turning down work, especially when there are people around you who need the work. How bad would you feel if you turned some down! So I figured the thing to do was to get work in and find some way out by getting some other guy to work on it with me. Pete had done a few comic books for Revolutionary Comics; do you remember them? We knew each other through meeting in Doc Nodule’s shop, I suppose. So Pete once comes round to me, perhaps thinking I’m older and more experienced and can figure out a solution to the problem, and he says, “Eddie, I think I’m not going to get paid for this job.” And I said, “Oh, well, we can always have a go, what’s happened?” And he says, “No, I really think I’m not going to get paid on this one.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, the publisher’s just been murdered.”

DEPPEY: Oh, you’re talking about Todd Loren.

CAMPBELL: Yeah. Todd Loren. [Laughs.] His publisher had been stabbed to death, and he didn’t get paid. Big shot Eddie didn’t have an answer to that one. That was the end of the gig, basically, that was the end of Revolutionary Comics. I think Pete Mullins did the Spike Lee biography for them, the JFK one, and I think he painted the cover on the Janis Joplin one. They used to do these biographic things, they’d do comic-book biographies of famous people.

DEPPEY: Yeah, I think they got sued for one of them.

CAMPBELL: Did they?

DEPPEY: Yeah, a New Kids on the Block book; something about trademark infringement, if I remember correctly.

CAMPBELL: I think Pete did two or three books with those guys, and then things went wrong. I said, “Look Pete, I’ve got too much work here. Come and give me a hand, for God’s sake.” [Laughs.] Pete was good at figure work, so it got so he’d more or less own certain characters for continuity’s sake and I’d be doing my characters in the same panels. When two artists understand perspective well enough you can do it that way. He’s good in certain idioms too. Pin-up girls are one of his strengths. I constructed an episode of Bacchus in the jail book [Banged Up] which was based around a guy’s pin-up being stolen, and the girls on the neighboring pages were commenting on the event. That was a way of getting Pete to shine on a few pages. I started to take on other things. We did one thing for Greg Baisden, an oddball erotic thing, his Victorian…

DEPPEY: I remember that. It was Tales From a Turkish Harem, or something like that.

CAMPBELL: That’s right. It came in and Anne was opening the mail, so she saw it first and described what it seemed to be about. Pete I were tied up with some deadline problem — we were up against Diamond’s delivery cut-off, although I will say I never once got into trouble with that. So I said, “You read it, and if you think it’s OK, we’ll do it.” Anne gave it the thumbs-up. Pete and I had fun with it.

I can no longer remember some of the things we did. There was a local magazine here that needed gag cartoons, and the money I was asking was too much for them. We haggled, and they weren’t happy paying it. So I put the word out we did a bunch of one-line cartoons just for the first issue at their price. Anything that would come in, I’d put my hand up and then we’d just do it, and get somebody else in if necessary. One feather in our cap was a couple of New Adventures of the Spirit, one to a Gaiman script, and one of them written and drawn completely in-house, including the color, which Pete and Mick did. Everything was going swimmingly till I queried the hue of Denny Colt’s coat and now he looks like the Green Hornet. All my fault. Daren White, Marcus Moore, and some others were contributing short pieces to the mag and writing Bacchus episodes on occasion, too, though I always reserved the right to change details to my own way of doing it, and I’d call them up for other stuff sometimes. Somehow Minty Moore, so named after the “arse mint” which he invented for a chapter of Banged Up, hijacked the university mag one month and filled it with all our comics. I have a vague memory that we even got 40 bucks a tabloid-sized page for that. Those guys — White, Evans and Moore — did their own magazine, DeeVee, and they serialized my How to Be an Artist in there, so there was some trading going on. You’ve probably seen it.

 


(Click image to see larger version.) Play “Where’s R2D2?” in this From Hell panel; ©1989, 1999 Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.

 

DEPPEY: I think it was DeeVee that first gave me the impression that there was something resembling a coherent cartooning scene in Australia.

CAMPBELL: There was in Brisbane for a while. I don’t know about the rest of Australia. It’s a big place; very empty, too. Yeah, they managed to put out 14 issues of that quarterly, and bimonthly for a while, and never lost a penny on it. Indeed, they made money. Whitey explained to me the whole complex of trade-offs and exchanges over lunch the other day, from which everybody came out feeling he’d done as well as could be expected. It sounded ingenious, but all worked out on the run. They still do a special each year. There’s another guy here, Jason Conlan, who signs himself Mister J and does cartoons for wrestling magazines; he ghosted all the Bunny Wilson drawings in Bacchus. There’s even a mock ‘50s “Wilson” four-page story he drew that was never published because I canceled the operation. It was about a character called the Unreal McCoy. Minty Moore wrote it. There’s a wrestling mag in which Mister J does a dozen full-page color caricatures every year for their yearbook. I figured his style wouldn’t be recognized by comics readers, so it wouldn’t give the game away. Lee Slattery did a great thing titled “Everybody Loves the Lizardman” in DeeVee, then put it out as a one-shot. He works in a bank now. Tony Single is a good big-nose cartoonist. I don’t know what he’s doing now.

Hugh Fleming painted loads of Star Wars covers and stuff like that for Dark Horse, and played a mean piano at one of our New Year’s Eve parties three or four years back. One of those Star Wars mags did an article on him and showed how he uses photo reference so there were our pals Mullins and Sam Yang posing as Skywalker and Boba Fett. Fleming, Mullins and Yang were a trio of sorts when I first met them. They entered a competition set by the local radio station, and won it by turning its logo into an eight-page color comic. They used their 10,000 bucks to go to the San Diego con and launch art careers, but except for that last interview with me for the Journal and a “single page” at the back of Cerebus when Sim was running an open house there, Sam thought it wiser to become a doctor. He’s now the resident at the Brisbane abattoir.

Pete Ford‘s directing cameras somewhere. He wrote some stuff with me around 10 years ago. John Passfield and Steve Stamatiadis established their own computer-games company called Krome after doodling around in a couple of my books. John does funny one-line cartoons. He did the Mindless Violence daily-style strip in one of my mags. Steve did most of the architecture in chapter four of From Hell. They made a game called Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. My kids got their name in the small print for sitting in the studio all day and test-driving it. Hayley did her obligatory “work experience” week there. Last I heard, they had 150 employees. Wes Kublick wrote lots of stuff for me. I believe he’s teaching English in Taiwan. Tonia Walden does Mister J’s coloring and puts out minicomics periodically. Minty’s an expat Brit like me, and Whitey and I always thought he could have succeeded as an all-around filler–in kind of writer; apart from writing or contributing to as many as a dozen different stories for me he used to supply gags anonymously to a local, syndicated strip artist, Sean Leahy, but last I heard he was working in a bank down in Tasmania. Leahy still does political cartoons as well as a seven-day-a-week strip, including color Sundays. So there’s been at least one other guy in town with too much work on his plate. He doesn’t move in my circle, but I got him involved in one of my Fantagrothics outings, The Cheque, Mate, way back in 1992.

 


(Click image to see larger version.) Some of Pete Mullins’ background art, in From Hell; ©1989, 1999 Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.

 

DEPPEY: So is there still a cartooning scene?

CAMPBELL: They’ve all got married and have kids now, well, except for Mister J, so it’s back to being just me. [Laughs.] There was a scene there for about seven or eight years. We used to meet in one or other of the pubs here every Saturday afternoon, leaving around the time the evening clamor started to arrive. Sometimes as many as 14 people would turn up and yell at each other around a big table. With afternoon sessions, you’re less likely to get into trouble too, though we once retired to a gourmet hamburger joint where Whitey got us all hauled off to the police station after he refused to pay his bill and we took his side. His complaint was that he was served the Cordon Bleu dressing instead of the blue cheese. It was all quite cheery except wee Callum was along with me. I swore him to secrecy and it only came out later when I blew it in one of my dinner-table narrations. His mother was mortified.

Anyway, we still do stuff together. White and I wrote that Batman thing that we did last year, The Order of Beasts. Evans did the design on it. He thought up the title, too, now that I think of it. So we did a 48-page painted Batman job all in-house here. Then we wrote another Batman thing that hasn’t been published yet, a Joker story.

DEPPEY: Really?

CAMPBELL: It’s kind of like the Gotham version of ER. [Deppey laughs.] The Gotham emergency ward. Legends #200 or something like that. So stuff gets done. We’re not getting arrested, but people have got their heads down, getting some work done. Oh, I just remembered, Whitey and I have been adding chapter-by-chapter to a longer work of his devising titled The Playwright. It’ll be a graphic novel of maybe 80 pages. Then there’s a chap here named Dan Best who wrote an Escapist 13-page story which I drew and painted for the Chabon series. He works as a lawyer by day. White’s a chartered accountant. Evans manages a design studio. Mister J works at a big DVD store and now Hayley Campbell’s in there with him, presumably taking my fatherly advice and being good at being herself. I sit at home with the cats and dogs and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Oh dear, does that sound like I’m getting old? Still, there were some very sore heads in Brisbane the day after my 50th-birthday bash.

 


 

Part One   ♦   Part Two   ♦   Part Three   ♦   Part Four

 

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