by Eddie Campbell, June 23, 2006 10:30 AM
Firstly, Thursday's post nearly didn't make it due to the confusion resulting from my having switched to broadband yesterday. I accidentally turned off the power to it before going to bed, then realized I hadn't yet sent my blog entry for that day (here in
Australia I'm 18 hours ahead of Powell's). Furthermore I discovered to my horror that I'd forgotten to ask the man how to switch it back on. The text was dictated in my very tired Scottish accent by phone to Gina at my publisher's office in New York, who did well in the circumstances. "No, it's Bee, capitel Bee, oh, hell, ess, eh, sh." I awoke and got back online quickly enough to have a proper name fixed that had come out slightly incorrectly. Still, the good thing about spelling proper names wrong is that the subject will never find out when he googles himself. Authors and artists are such a vain lot. In fact I only just accidentally stumbled upon an online mention of my book from April, previously missed because 'Artist' was spelt with two As. No, it can never be claimed that blogging has done anything for the skill of spelling.
I couldn't supply an illustration down the phone, and had failed to do one anyway, so that was Coleridge from my new book, The Fate of the Artist, suffering from what would later be termed 'writer's block,' which you will recall was the subject of my post for Wednesday. And if you don't recall it, you can scroll down a ways. Or perhaps ye editor has made a hyperlink for you.
Secondly, if my neighbor who was mentioned in Monday's post happened to read it and is wondering where 'the thing on the wall' is located, look just above where you park the car, Cynthia. Apologies.
All right, now to the day at hand. Thank god it's Friday. I'd forgotten what it's like to have daily deadlines. Nowadays I'm not strictly obliged to get out of bed (though in fact my irrational fear that the human race, having screwed this planet, plans to get on a spaceship and head for another solar system, leaving me behind, usually causes me to get up at approximately the same time as everybody else).
Veteran readers of the world's fine literature (or anyone else of a normal disposition) would surely be surprised to learn that there is a kind of 'academia' in the state of comics, which you may recall is where I reside. This 'intelligentsia' of the strip cartoon is entirely bent upon the crucial task of defining once and for all what comics is (sic). They would force upon this loose term (in truth an adjective which has been colloquially made to do the work of a noun, then pluralized and the plural made to do the work of the singular) to wear the mitre of a scientific definition. There is, believe it or don't, a body of academic 'theory' built upon this shaky foundation which debates what is inside and what is outside of this rigid definition (the layman is directed to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics for a session of this kind of mental jogging...it's a great book, too).
And while it would be logical to think that the word 'graphic novel' indicates something a little different from 'comic book,' the outsider would be amused to find that the terms are used in the comics trade fairly interchangeably. Why, only last week I read of an 'eight page graphic novel' that I myself drew several years ago (I won't confuse the present reader further by linking to it). With regard to 'theory' I always say somewhat facetiously that the theory is that you print 50,000 and sell every single copy, but the reality is usually different. And with regard to 'graphic novel' I am close to giving up caring what face our art presents to the world at large. Really what they're arguing about is the naming of things. A thing is what it is, in spite of what we all agree to call it for the duration of this season.
A much more useful process would be to think in terms of 'locating' the object in this or that vicinity. Author and artist (both), Audrey Niffenegger, offered her list of "Ten illustrated books to read" recently at the site of a competitor to whom I shouldn't link for the sake of propriety since I'm a guest here. But I will offer a brief hint or summary of the essential idea of it. While I don't think she intended to make a statement of theoretical intent, I often recommend her list as a good idea to those who think about 'theory.' I like the way she has located the graphic novel in the continent of the illustrated book. For instance, she gives us Wilde's Salome as illustrated by Beardsley and right next to it is Spiegelman's Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel. There's Moby Dick as illustrated by Rockwell Kent and there's Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan. There's Life? or Theatre?, an illustrated journal by Charlotte Salomon, who died at the age of 26 in Auschwitz. And, bless her for not being deterred by any thought of definition, she finishes with The Glove by Max Klinger: "This isn't exactly a book; it's a series of etchings."
There have been several books of late that have blurred the boundaries between one camp and another, such as Niffenegger's own The Three Incestuous Sisters, 'an illustrated novel,' and Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which also describes itself as an 'illustrated novel,' and House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, which is the other side of describable, so that one might enjoy the feeling that we find ourselves in a very interesting period of beneficial change in the wonderful world of pictorial literature. And that's the place where I live. Visit me sometime.
My daughter, who met Audrey recently at the Sydney Writer's Festival, says that none of the photos of this lovely lady do her justice. My sketch neither, she says.
Have a good weekend.
by Eddie Campbell, June 22, 2006 12:28 PM
Our misplaced faith in it.
That's another another important theme in The Fate of the Artist, my new book. We used to place a lot of stock in our presumption that posterity, in its greater wisdom, would be the decider, that the measure of great works of art is that they would 'stand the test of time,' and be forever enshrined in the affections of a future world.
Then one day I asked, why should we expect posterity to be any less stupid than the here and now? Taste tends to follow a trajectory from grand to paltry. The first thing you notice in action is the filtering effect. I remember the way that my old college tutor, Derek Boshier, used to be included in the standard historical handbooks of the pop art movement in Britain and now he does not tend to be found there or at least not the last few times I've looked. I remember the most useful thing he ever said to me was, 'You don't want to get mixed up with "the art world,"' and whether that was his permanent opinion or if he was just in a bad mood that day, I do not know. (And if anyone trying to teach me back then was mystified at the failure of my art education, well, don't worry ? it all turned out fine.)
But all that was back in the day when we still thought of art as a continuous linear narrative and not to be in it was not to be in anything. When monumental music was plentiful, we had more than enough of the eighteenth-century greats so that we were happy that all others paled besides Mozart. We could rule a straight line from him back to Haydn, without having to swerve for detours and the world merrily consigned almost all the other names to forgotten dust-tracks. Now that the course of 'serious music' has gone where it feels no obligation to please or even to engage, all those wonderful obscure people are lately rediscovered so that they may provide the agreeable music the world feels it is missing. Take Louis Gabriel Guillemain, a violin virtuoso who wrote most of the encyclopedia entry of his life in the last hour of it. He ended his days by inflicting fourteen stab wounds upon himself while en route from Paris to Versailles. (Perhaps when his coach was swerving for one of those detours.) The authorities swiftly buried him the same day, presumably in the hope of avoiding having to explain any of it.
Then there is Anton Filtz, a Mannheim composer of whom it is passed down that his friends were concerned that his fondness for eating spiders could not be good for him. (I'm no expert on any of this ? I just pay attention to the cd booklets.)
No, posterity is an ass, I say. Its selective memory favors the morbid and the outrÃ©.
On the other hand, a curiosity for those very qualities every now and then revives the work of a true one-off. Such is Harry Stephen Keeler (1890 - 1967), who I have only recently discovered, thanks to Neil Gaiman. Keeler was an American eccentric who wrote mystery stories with such titles as The Case of the Two-Headed Idiot, The Mysterious Ivory Ball of Wong Shing Li, and The Man with the Magic Eardrums. I have heard that McSweeney's is just about to publish something of
by Eddie Campbell, June 21, 2006 10:58 AM
The predicament known as 'writer's block
' is a fundamental issue in my new book, The Fate of the Artist
. Sometimes we imagine it to be a familiar problem, like athlete's foot, or boredom, with prescribable remedies
However, the term does not mean that the writer has fallen into a lethargy out of which they must be gently encouraged, or that they have simply run out of ideas. Anyone can do that. What it means is that one part of the brain is withholding the key to the storeroom from the other part of the brain, for any of the commonplace reasons that brains disoblige themselves*.
I originally had a short, one-page chapter in the book in which I laid out some of the psychological theories about writer's block, including some words borrowed from the man who coined the phrase. I even named him. 'A Viennese guy named Bergler' was the way I attempted to casually pass off this important piece of information, as though the affectation of a Humphrey Bogart voice would innoculate me from intellectual pretension.
But my editor felt that there should be a more decisive conclusion to the mock murder plot that I had set up in Fate in which I, the author, have supposedly been 'bumped off.' The book is about my 'disappearance,' from which metafictional conceit you might be justified in supposing that innoculation may in fact be too late. The newly inserted scene, in which the villain is absurdly unmasked, has been successful enough that I notice that some friendly party has submitted my book's title to the Edgar Awards, where it is listed with all the year's other murder mysteries.
So, with the problem advanced from mere artistic failure to a physical termination, a page needed to be removed to allow in the new one, in which the mock murder mystery is effectively resolved. The reader of this is quite aware, I'm sure, that in a picture book, unlike a purely prose work, the number of pages must always be at the forefront of the author's mind. To insert a page late in the editorial process, you must take another one out. You can't just run the whole text at a smaller size, or 'kern' here and there to obtain a couple of extra lines of space, or add a page for that matter; a whole new 'signature' would need to be inserted. And there is nothing that upsets the applecart of the publishing business like inserting a whole new signature.
When something needs to go, it is surprising how quickly a volunteer will step forward from your cunningly and perfectly crafted text. The page containing all my collected and quoted psycho-blather immediately put its hand up. The reason this particular page cried out to be replaced, in spite of the Bogart vocalisations of the interrogator, is due to an infringement for which another editor of mine, the late Lou Stathis (who once edited High Times magazine), once came down on me heavily. This misdemeanor is called 'infodump', a recourse in which you take all the extra research you did, that you hate to see go to waste, and cram it all into an available spot in the proceedings and call it 'backstory,' or at least that's what Lou was accusing me of doing, way back when. He was right, and the criticism stuck with me.
So this page of mine contained a bundle of words purloined, unaltered, from several accomplished writers on psychiatry, all stitched together as though the one person, my fictional psychiatrist, was saying it. Thus I wrote phrases like, "I tend to agree with the current interpretetaion of artistic creativity as genius insanity or the libido sewage notion," that I never could have obtained without the aid of plagiarism. And that can be one solution to writer's block, for at the time I had no idea of my own. In fact, I don't think one arrived until ten minutes ago when I wrote the sentence above with the
by Eddie Campbell, June 20, 2006 9:37 AM
An important theme in my new book, The Fate of the Artist
, is the artist's commonly unstable relationship with his art, and indeed with himself. By art, of course, I mean all the arts, including literature, music, etc., in short, the material that writes the dialogues a society has with itself, with its gods and with posterity.
However, the artist does not necessarily always enjoy making the art for which we love him, and naturally we have difficulty understanding why he should not be fulfilled and made happy by his remarkable gifts.
In fact, the artist may one day find himself so at odds with his work that he flees in terror from the life's task he has set for himself. I recently re-watched Ken Burns's film documentary on the history of jazz music. In it, bebop saxophone genius Charlie Parker, having risen to his phenomenal pinnacle of influence at the age of 27 in 1947, was suffering badly from the alcohol and drug excesses that would kill him by the age of 35. During a swift tour to the west coast USA, he inadvertently set fire to his hotel room and found himself arrested and installed in Camarillo State mental hospital. Here in time he came to be allowed to work at length in the gardens. It is generally regarded as incomprehensible that a genius such as Parker could have been content doing that for seven months in a place where nobody apparently knew who he was or what he did for a living. After he came out, one of the first new tunes he wrote he titled "Relaxin' at Camarillo." Many writers on the man and his music have presumed the title to be ironic. But I think otherwise. I have long entertained the thought that Charlie Parker enjoyed being excused from having to be "Charlie Parker" for a while. And in my odd moments of unselfishness I imagine him happily tending cabbages in an endless repeating Groundhog-Day-loop instead of finishing composing his chapter in the history of music. Then we would not have, among other moments, the magnificent Massey Hall concert. But what the hey, rock'n roll was just about to come along and screw it all up
by Eddie Campbell, June 19, 2006 11:20 AM
Good day to you. I'm Eddie Campbell
, graphic novelist, whatever the hell that might mean. I think of myself simply as an artist, a term useful for describing anyone who makes stuff, whether it's by way of words or music or pictures or parts in movies or paper airplanes, or bigger stuff than any of that. Even God, who allegedly made all of the stuff to begin with, puts in an appearance in my new book, The Fate of the Artist
. I've been making books like this for a long time now. Well not quite like this; this one's unique, and not only because it's in color. If you know me only from my illustration of Alan Moore
's gargantuan From Hell
(which should be back in print next month), then this may take you by surprise.
I'd like to tell a short anecdote here that didn't occur early enough to find a place in my book, which builds its form through a careful accumulation and arrangement and interconnection of such yarns. One of the book's themes is the seeming disorderliness of the artist's environment, at the center of which is his or her head. Artists' lives are not by necessity disorderly ones, but it often happens that a random situation that excites their interest does not do likewise to others of a less 'artistic' nature. Obviously I cannot speak for every artistic soul in the world, but I'm sure you would grant me the generalization that Art is less organized, less predictable, less measurable, say, than science, or social security payments.
"I want this place cleaned up before I collect my father from the airport," demands the artist's wife of her elder daughter, the artist in this instance being myself, "and get that damn thing off the wall!" She is pointing out the window to the wall of the neighbors' house.
Stuck to the wall, just above their window, invisible from ground level, is a tampon.
I presume my younger daughter took it out of its box, soaked it in water, slung it around her head on its string and jettisoned it out of our kitchen window, for nothing more than the indescribable joy of childish mischief, perhaps years ago. It clings there, expanding and contracting with changes in the weather, exciting my perennial curiosity. Adaptable cotton blossoming against unyielding wood. "You'd have thought Granddad would have seen one before," says my elder daughter, hoping to find a way of avoiding the task, as teenagers are wont to do of tasks generally.
"Hmm... I know he's of that generation in which women didn't talk to men about such things, but, y'know, he was a lawyer for fifty years. He's defended the whole spectrum of humanity, he's seen society's underbelly. I'm sure he's come across a tampon in among it all."
"No, silly. I mean, hasn't he seen one stuck to the side of a house