FF1990: Alec(ish)

The Dead Muse Little Italy The Cheque, Mate

By Eddie Campbell and various.

These three comics were published in a transitional phase of Eddie Campbell’s career. He’d published an acclaimed series of autobiographical stories under the collective name “Alec”, mostly in British anthologies and collections, but also in a series of collections. He’d tried to get underway a series of Deadface books, which weren’t, er, very acclaimed or commercially successful, and he’d moved to Australia.

Which is where we meet him in The Dead Muse, which is a further collection of Alec stories (only now he’s not using that pseudonym any more) interspersed with stories from other Australian (and one New Zealanderish (is that a word?)) people.

So it’s an anthology with framing pieces by Campbell. Which isn’t a very common format, but it sort of fits the theme: Campbell has lost his muse, so he’s not writing that many pages.

But the pages that are here are rather remarkable. This isn’t an oblique sequence: It’s clear what’s going on, but the way he’s not stating it explicitly (apparently his wife’s family is chucking him out and telling him to get a proper job?!) reflects the befuddlement he’s feeling. He can’t believe what’s happening, so things go slightly vague, leaving us to not quite believing what we’re reading.

It’s brilliant.

But this is an anthology of sorts. Of the non-Campbell pieces, I particularly liked this early Dylan Horrocks story. Always with the Sam Zabel.

The Lindsay Arnold story was also entertaining. Oh, the insecurities of people doing autobio…

Anyway, back to the Campbell interstitials. Danny Grey (a regular character in the British Alec stories) pays a visit, but they’re “out of tune”, as evident by the zip-a-tone also slipping away. I don’t think Campbell gets enough credit for doing these formal bits…

But it’s easy to forget, what with all the easy charm that virtually every strip of his just reek with.

The next book in this trio, Little Italy, was created before The Dead Muse, and alluded to in that book. It’s an all-Campbell comic, detailing his (and his family’s) life in North Australia before going south and losing his muse.

It’s in the normal “Alec” mode, with funny (but meaningful) anecdotes from Campbell’s life, and it’s brilliant.

It’s in a more scratchy, sketch-book like style than Campbell usually uses. And only a few of the stories uses his signature zip-a-tone application.

And some of the stories are just simple goofs, like this one where he comments on the then-new film-everything video craze. Thank god people stopped filming their food! Phew!

Campbell is really good with jokes.

(But Fantagraphics wasn’t very considerate with their paper choice here, which has an unfortunate amount of bleed-through, making the artwork look even scratchier than it is.)

The third book, The Cheque, Mate, is (as Campbell explains above) just a collection of bits and bobs. I found the explanation for the single-page comics that had previously appeared in the Cerebus reprint book amusing:

There’s also stuff by other artists in this book, which makes it a nice book-end for the trio, and it’s an entertaining book, but of the trio, it’s definitely the weakest one. But there’s plenty to snicker at:

These three books were published once a year, so the first in 1990 and the last in 1992. During this period, Campbell started illustrating Alan Moore’s Jack the Ripper opus From Hell, which changed things quite a bit for Campbell (especially after the work was optioned for a film).

He set up a studio of sorts and also started self-publishing Bacchus (which ran for, er, 60 issues or something?) as well as Alec and Deadface collections.

The last published work of his was in 2012, but he is said to be working on new stuff.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

TSP2016: Hail, Caesar

Oh, CGI. Boo.

So colour corrected.

Hail, Caesar. Ethan Coen. 2016.

Hm… on the one hand, this film is very much like if Mel Brooks wanted to make a Wes Anderson movie. On the other hand, there are fun scenes like the Gene Kelly sailor scene. On the fourth hand, there’s the horrible CGI-looking (even if it might not have been) version of the Busby Berkeley scene.

So… not firing on all cylinders, but have any Coen film ever done that? Very, very good-natured, though. It’s like almost very good.

This post is part of The Tilda Swinton Project.

FF1988: Bad News

Bad News #3 edited by Paul Karasik.

The Bad News anthology series was conceived as a class exercise for the students at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York. This first issue was edited by Art Spiegelman (I think; I haven’t been able to locate a copy or find any reliable info on it. The two subsequent issues don’t seem like class exercises at all, though, and features a roster of super-star (or soon to be super-star) New York art comics people.

The second issue (which I have here… somewhere) is on newsprint and is vaguely tabloid-like in format (i.e., quite Raw-like, but on cheaper paper). And that’s kinda exactly what the vibe is like, too: It’s like Raw, but it’s less precious.

And you also get all the contributors to Raw. Above we have a panel from a very pretty page by Jerry Moriarty…

A wistful four page piece by Ben Katchor which is notable for being more formally experimental than he usually is. The above page is read from the outside in instead of row by row. The other three pages are more straightforward. I can’t remember seeing this piece reprinted anywhere else, but it’s really nice.

R. Sikoryak retelling anecdotes about John Cage in the style of various cartoonists. Which is his normal mode, and this is a particularly nice example.

Let’s see… when this was originally published I was 18, I think? I remember obsessing about this Mark Newgarden strip (“What We Like”), and I kinda adapted it as a demo for the Amiga. My friends were puzzled. But it’s just so… weird.

Richard McGuire (later to become famous for the “Here” piece in Raw) does an unusually non-experimental straight-forward story about his, er, grandfather. I think. “Pop.” I love how it centers around a bad joke, but manages to utilise that awkwardness to give an emotional punch.

This is a terrific anthology. Not a single piece here is bad, and some are really outstanding.

And unusually for Fantagraphics floppies, it’s not in any standard format. Fantagraphics don’t seem to be into weird formats for their saddle-stitched books: Virtually all of them are either standard American comic book size, or standard magazine size. (There are some exceptions, like Acme Novelty Library, but it’s like 97.3% standard.) This is unlike their peers like Alternative Comics or Drawn & Quarterly, who publish any which way.

But perhaps this magazine (it’s slightly shorter than normal, and has a cardboard cover) came fully formed from the editor, and the SVA crowd are really interested in formal matters, so perhaps this unusual (for Fantagraphics) decision was made elsewhere…

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1989: Neil & Buzz in Space and Time

OK, drama over?  (Or at least a plan of sorts.) So back to the series of posts that can’t possibly interest more than approx. five people in the world: An overview of all Fantagraphics comic book comics ever published.

Neil & Buzz in Space and Time by George Alec Effinger & Henry Mayo.

In the mid to late 80s, Fantagraphics published a few science fiction comics (Keif Llama, Threat), but this one is the oddest one, because it’s so normal.

The other sf series are quite “indie”: More cartoony artwork, and more humorous. This is a straight up serious sci fi tale, with industry standard “realistic” artwork.

And mullets. Don’t forget mullets.

The story is: Neil & Buzz are astronauts who’re going to the farthest reach of the universe to examine whether weird stuff is going on there. It is:

Yes, there’s an amusement park, and the rest of the pages are them going through the various amusements while one of them considers whether this is real or whether they’re in hell. (Somehow it’s hell.) It’s boring as fuck.

Yes, that is a coincidence. It’s also a common problem with American lighter science fiction: When stymied by the sf-ness, they start throwing in lots of religious blather.

There’s one fun this near the end, though. (Spoilers!)

I like that.

Only one issue of this was published, so I guess everybody involved got really bored with it, or it didn’t sell at all. It’s not an adaptation of an existing Effinger work, but written specifically for this series, which is kinda interesting.

I don’t know much about the artist, Henry Mayo. I know he did the Dinosaur Rex series, a few covers and shorter stories in anthologies published by Fantagraphics around this time, but he seems to have stopped publishing after this book. Except possibly something in 2010.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.