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Pictorial Literature

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'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.

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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.

Eddie Campbell

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Fate of the Artist Used Trade Paper $5.50
  2. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
    Used Trade Paper $15.50
  3. Salome Used Trade Paper $6.00
  4. The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale
    Used Hardcover $18.00
  5. Moby Dick: Or the Whale (Modern Library) Used Hardcover $12.00
  6. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on... Used Trade Paper $11.00
  7. The Three Incestuous Sisters: An...
    Used Hardcover $7.50
  8. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana Used Trade Paper $4.95
  9. House of Leaves: A Novel
    Used Trade Paper $11.00
  10. The Fate of the Artist Used Trade Paper $5.50

Eddie Campbell is the author of The Fate of the Artist

2 Responses to "Pictorial Literature"

    Venkman June 23rd, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks for the interesting blog entries, Eddie -- and especially the beautiful artwork!

    Ron Evry July 4th, 2006 at 2:30 am

    Hey Eddie,
    It's nice to read your Blog Postings here. They're kind of an addendum to 'The Fate of the Artist."

    You may be interested in knowing that I have reviewed that book in my Podcast, 'Mister Ron's Once A Week' Episode #7 ( Probably because I love to strew hyperbole all over the place, on the web site at least, I called your book the 'Citizen Kane' of Graphic Novels.

    Of course, you'll have to remeber that even the non-Hearst press viciously savaged 'Citizen Kane' when it came out, and Welle's next project, the beautiful 'Magnificent Ambersons' was released on a double bill with 'Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost.'

    Therefore, if history repeats itself, your next Graphic Novel will no doubt be sold in a shrinkwrapped package with 'The Best of Richie Rich -- the 1970s.'

    Anyway, best of luck to you. Thanks for coming up with a remarkable book.

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