Another year, another Happy Bacchus-day. Seeing as it's the 3rd year of celebrating the (other) one-eyed-god we've got a triple treat in the form of 3 blogs, featuring Agent Rob's 2 Bacchus reviews (from Amazon) together with a new review of Alec: The Years Have Pants....
Where to begin? Many of you may be (more) familiar with Eddie Campbell from his work on 'From Hell' with Alan Moore, but there's no denying he's just as vital an independent creator in his own right, his similarly robust 'Alec: The Years have Pants (A Life-Size Omnibus)' arriving in 2010.
Campbell recently stated that Bacchus was created as something of a reaction to his then notion that, "In my head American comic books were big, ugly things,” and so he settled upon, “a big, ugly idea. ...a character with a horrible face, a reason for being mean and some justification for there being a lot of action.” That's as good a premise for this tremendous series as I can think of.
There's no denying that Bacchus is 100% deserving of the oft bandied about term “graphic novel" - it's epic, humane, funny, romantic, dense, enlightening, dramatic, bizarre, boozy and very very rewarding (making for a hefty work of singular vision akin to Jeff Smith's 'Bone' or Dave Sim's 'Cerebus')! Campbell brings the gods and myths of ancient Greece to modern life in real style herein - Bacchus himself is the 4,000 year old Roman god of wine and revelry and is often accompanied by his appointed "follower", the literature-quoting Arthur Frederick Simpson. With a story so vast and all-encompassing - our eponymous "hero" tackles (Joe) Theseus, The Eyeball Kid, The Telchines (Chryson, Chalcon and Argyron), The Stygian Leech, Hermes, The Eye of Fate, the islands of Greece, plane crashes and car smashes amongst other things - it's perhaps somewhat easier to focus on the excellent art.
Campbell excels at what initially appears to be quite straightforward and at times hastily rendered artwork, with a fine economy of line, in part a little reminiscent of Frank Miller's looser b/w pages. Perhaps it's not to everyone's tastes – fans of more mainstream superhero-ish art might struggle with what's on offer here - but look closer however, and the underlying high level of skill at work is clearly apparent. Campbell has a deliciously expressive, scratchy approach to both inks and tones with which he seamlessly unifies the drawings from page to page, producing many memorable and ambitious panels and sequences. Stories are often introduced and framed by Bacchus himself, allowing the artist free reign to gleefully depict him in all his gruesome yet equally endearing glory - Campbell's art on volume 5, freed up to do his thing by handing over art duties and sharing the writing elsewhere, is particularly striking. Once you became more accustomed to this decidedly left-of-center style your admiration can only grow, especially with the knowledge that even the simplest looking comic page is generally the product of hours of toil - and here credit is also due to Campbell's similarly talented collaborators, Ed 'Ilya' Hillyer provides a cleaner finish more suited to the action of volumes 2 & 4, Pete Mullins contributes artistically to a short in volume 3, while Wes Kublick co-writes several shorts and issues across volumes 3, 4 & 5.
To sum up.... When you think of the many by-the-numbers-making-up-the-numbers comics that are endlessly production-lined into existence then the sheer importance of (supporting) a work like Bacchus cannot be denied. Don't beg, borrow or steal a copy of this huge bargain.... Buy it (because the sooner you do, the sooner we'll get Volume 2)! And if that isn't reason enough then take Neil Gaiman's word for it - "The man's a genius, and that's an end to it."