We spoke with Eddie Campbell, best known to our geek audience as the iconic artist for “From Hell”. During his career he’s worked with Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman just to name a few. His latest release “Bizarre Romance” is a collaboration with his wife, who is also a best selling author. This year at SDCC you can catch Eddie Campbell at the Top Shelf booth.
Let’s talk “Bizarre Romance” what’s the good and bad on collaborating with your wife?
Audrey Niffenegger was an international best-selling novelist and I wrote a couple of blog posts about her work a few years before we met. So it’s not like I called out of the kitchen, “hey, honey, I’m tired of washing dishes, let’s make some comics.” But joking aside, it’s been a treat to turn these thirteen little stories into comics, though some of them have called for more subtle graphic strategies, like the one which I have illustrated with a somewhat rude male paper doll. The stories range from very funny and preposterous, such as the Chicago man who has an infestation of angels in his attic, to the ordinary and commonplace with a sudden turn to the disturbing, and I won’t spoil that one by naming it here. Another good thing about it is that the range of the stories have called upon me to create a number of separate subtle and distinct female characters, which is not usually a challenge in the world of comic books.
The Goat Getters is a historic look back into comics, race relations, boxing, a murder… how did this all start, did you start with one idea, then it led to another and another?
I have always been interested in the sports page cartoon, by which I don’t mean a cartoon about sports, a subject that doesn’t really interest me, but a peculiar set of formal ingredients that make the sports cartoon a strange and unique object that has no comparison anywhere else in the world of graphic satire. Until I did it, nobody had ever written even an essay, never mind a book, explaining where and how it came about. Our various histories of comics tell us that many of the earliest daily comic strips occurred on the sports pages, but do not go into the how or why. George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, in the opinion of many including me the greatest comic of all time, started on the sports page, not the funnies pages. So that was the impetus, then when I decided to make a book about it, all this drama presented itself without me having to look very hard; the Fight of the Century, being a boxing match that became an emblematic race battle, a murder of passion that set all of New York on its ear, the San Francisco graft trials that came to a head when the city prosecutor was shot in the head. The whole mad turmoil of life is in The Goat Getters.
You are also in the process of colorizing the iconic “From Hell” how’s that coming along? Any challenges?
In the middle of the releases of the foregoing I’m now working hard on revamping the From Hell art for a September launch of ten bi-monthly parts. It’s thirty years since we started it in 1988, which in turn was a hundred years after the Jack the Ripper murders. On a good page there will just be an added layer of colors, but most pages have some other problem that needs to be fixed, from the adjusting of a head hat’s too small or arm that’s too long (i seem to have had a run of proportion blindness in at least one of the chapters) to replacing a whole panel that was a bad idea in the first place, often because I couldn’t get the necessary photographic evidence in the pre-google age.
Are you worried that adding color may change the tone of the book?
I’m sure it will but it’s not something that worries me. I think the book will now have a wider continuum of tonality. Some characters that were imprecise in conception the first time around will be better realized this time.
As a comic veteran how do you feel about the current industry? Do you like how it’s changed with the movies and big cons?
The comic ‘industry’ really doesn’t interest me very much. There are occasional books or projects that are worthy of attention, but I wouldn’t want to be put in a position of having to explain or promote the whole shebang. Most of the movies bore me to tears. Black Panther and Wonder Woman had their hearts in the right place but in the final analysis their makers couldn’t say no to the big fat cliches. But there still exist some first rate little comics festivals like CAKE and TCAF, which are just about people making books.
For you what separates SDCC from the rest of the cons?
I will always have a soft spot for SDCC. I went there every year for about twenty years without missing one. However it changes and grows, at its heart there is still that little old gathering of enthusiasts. You just have to work harder to find them.
What’s bringing you to SDCC this year? What will you be doing? Where can everyone find you?
I’m coming to sign copies of Bizarre Romance with Audrey and you can find us at the Abrams booth. We’ll be doing a panel too. And I will no doubt pop up at the booth of Top Self (under IDW’s umbrella) with whom I have worked for twenty years to tell you what the Goat Getters is all about.
What’s one thing at SDCC that you are looking forward to?
San Diego has a five-day window in which it is the only town in the world where I can wander about and be sure of bumping into an old pal. They’re always on their way to a meeting or something so we can only talk for two minutes. But that’s SDCC.