Friday 21 July 2017

Happy Bacch-omnibox-day, part 3....

And so we conclude our (er, week long) Bacchus-day celebrations with a nice shiny new review of Alec: The Years Have Pants....

So here we have it, six hundred and thirty eight! 638! Six! Three! Eight! pages of Eddie Campbell's "groundbreaking autobiographical comics" collected in their (near enough) entirety. About 1/6th of this hefty collection is new or long out of print, and the compilation and readying for (re)print was undertaken by Campbell himself, organising the assorted books - the King Canute Crowdgraffiti Kitchenshortshow to be an artistLittle ItalyThe Dead MuseThe Dance of Lifey Deathafter the SnooterFRaGMENTS and 'The Years have Pants' - into an approximate chronological order, with a little reshuffling here and there to improve the overall clarity/effect.

Imagine setting yourself the challenge of drawing this?!

I'll confess that, whether it was the expectation built up by the mighty Bacchus tomes or not, I found this Alec collection surprisingly hard to get into. The first book, the King Canute Crowd, is at times a frustrating and chaotic read, the plethora of characters careening in and out of view - there's a Danny and a Dave a 'big' Jane and a 'little' Jane - make it difficult to get a good handle on who's who, who's where and just what exactly's going on. There are slight (but sudden) jumps in the narrative that can't help but upend the story's flow at times, throwing off the reader's rhythm and the tale's momentum. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the art here, it's of Eddie's usual high standard - he's always to be found attempting locations or sequences that many artists (especially writer/artists) would shy away from (for fear of either exposing their shortcomings or from a general wariness of the challenge of portraying the mundane as/with interest) - and is very accomplished. For all Campbell's skills I guess you just had to be there....

The second book, graffiti Kitchen, finds him in more cohesive voice, even if the art is pretty rough around the edges throughout - it often has that 'first draft' look and even the dreaded 'that'll do' crossed my mind.

Agreed. Why is 'the final product' always such a non-event?

However, by 'how to be an artist' things have really kicked into first gear, and Campbell guides us through the small press > UK comics boom > British invasion of the US > the coming of the 'graphic novel' with skill and aplomb, making this an essential read/record of an important bubble as it was formed, floated and popped. There's a lovely trajectory to this section and the many layers of comic 'creativedom' are slowly peeled back and revealed for all to see. The fact that this all takes place in the pre-internet age - Campbell spends a lot of time writing letters of praise to and receiving similar letters from - only adds to the interest as, beset by insecurities, he makes connection after connection whilst navigating his way through this (often) lonely and unforgiving landscape.

Beamed in from a spell in Northern Australia 'Little Italy', as Campbell states in his short introduction, "consists of brief moments captured, thoughts expressed immediately, and anecdotes illustrated the day after hearing them...". There's plenty to enjoy here in these 1-4 pages shorts, covering everything from gruesome murder ('The Pyjama Girl'), legal shenanigans ('Jack Gets Even') to the nuances and (entertaining) banalities of everyday family (and not so everyday) comic drawing life. 'The Dead Muse' picks up where 'Little Italy' leaves off and - though shorn of the other artistic contributions which rounded out the publication and which are introduced in Campbell's remaining strips - still manages to maintain a (Bacchus-esque) consistency of style and theme, carried on through 'The Dance of Lifey Death' (a similar mix of thoughtful longer pieces and single page observations) and the sizeable 'after the Snooter'. This book reads like something of a spiritual sequel (or warning) of sorts to 'how to be an artist' and deftly alternates between the struggle with mid-life/career, the fun of the family and reflections on childhood experiences without the tales ever feeling too mismatched.

'FRaGMENTS' represents some 20 or so pages, forming the 3 Chapters Campbell completed of a proposed 160 page 'The History Of Humour', an interesting enough exercise (that reads a little like a truncated companion to Bacchus, only this time the Greek god Momus looks set to be our guide). The entire collection rounds off with 'The Years Have Pants', a further smattering of new anecdotal pieces.

There's no denying 'Alec' is a considerable (artistic) achievement, but the variety of approaches to the material - not Campbell's fault really, when you consider this is various separate books latterly assembled and reordered into a chronological whole - means there is something lacking across the entire reading experience. My expectations were just too high, thinking that this book would have a far weightier central narrative that would slowly build towards an emotional pay off (continually examining The Fate Of King Canute Crowd as time slowly catches up then overtakes them, for example), but with Campbell's move abroad and the constant (understandable) devotion to his work it's not to be. There's definitely a cumulative effect, and many of the shorter strips are quite sweet, but overall I really only came away with a greater admiration of Campbell's tremendous work ethic, his exceptional skill and incredible output - it's now a wonder he did anything at all, let alone create this, the towering works of Bacchus and From Hell - than any altogether deeper feeling or vast insight into life.


When scanning the excerpts for this book, flicking through it from page to page, stopping to read a bit here and to examine a panel there a whole new world of appreciation opened up. To sit with this book, to jump forward and backward across (Alec)time - in a way no other medium really allows - to relax and simply enjoy tiny snippets of Campbell's tales, marvelling at a short sequence of panels or just enjoying the relation of the dialogue to the panel or the subtle nugget of wisdom he's flying by. What a joy it is to dip in and out of! Okay, so I've completed the groundwork, the traditional 'front to back' approach that is expected of me (or I expect of myself) and now I've conquered that I can dip in and out at my leisure. Ah, there's nothing like a good old fashioned FLICK....

Amazon Softcover -- Top Shelf Hardcover -- Top Shelf Omnibox

Friday 14 July 2017

Happy Bacch-omnibox day, part 2....

Another day, yet another Happy Bacchus-day. Here's the second of Agent Rob's Bacchus reviews (from Amazon)....

This is the second of Top Shelf Productions/IDW's long awaited Bacchus Omnibi, a whopping 550 pages featuring the final 5 (of the original 10) books, comprising '1001 Nights Of Bacchus' (6), 'The Eyeball Kid Double Bill' (7&8), 'King Bacchus' (9) and 'Banged Up' (10).

Book 6 begins in familiar Bacchus territory, Campbell and his assorted collaborators (Dylan Horrocks, Steve Stamatiadis & Pete Mullins on art, Wes Kublick, Marcus Moore, Daren White & Mark Campbell writing) employing the short story to great (comic) effect, riffing on a theme akin to 'Arabian Nights' – needless to say the pub'll stay open as long as Bacchus, the listener, can stay awake and many tall and varied tales ensue. This book concludes in anticipation of the events set to take place in Book 9's 'King Bacchus'.

Books 7 & 8 concern the return of The Eyeball Kid and Joe Theseus and their continued attempts to secure 'The Eye of Fate'. The first of these, book 7, 'Hermes Versus The Eyeball Kid' is, as Campbell states in his introduction, “an all-out slugfest as an homage to the great Hulk-Thing matches that Lee and Kirby would do” and he is ably assisted here artistically by Pete Mullins – his polished, classic linework adds a lush, clean quality that balances out Campbell's enjoyably rougher edges – and April Post, with Wes Kublick again contributing to the writing. Book 8, 'The Picture of Doreen Grey' sees Campbell and Mullins – and we mustn't forget eight-year-old Hayley Campbell contributing crayon drawings of God – pit Joe Theseus and his wife Big Ginny, Queen of the Amazons up against the sinister The Body Corporation (last glimpsed in Book 5).

In Book 9 Bacchus returns to the fold to be crowned King of the Castle and Frog pub, which has taken it upon itself to secede from Britain and become an independent state. Of course, this planned revolution doesn't quite go to plan – thanks in part to a few of Eddie's comic book contemporaries who cameo - and Book 10 finds Bacchus 'Banged Up', back in jail (just as he began Book 1) in a series of stories in part inspired by the BBC comedy series 'Porridge'. Will poor Bacchus while away his final days behind bars...?

Whilst never hitting the woozy, boozy heights of the first volume - this second volume feels somehow oddly inconsistent as it strives for storytelling consistency, perhaps in part due to it's erratic and jumbled release, many of the stories being created and published in tandem across a spread of titles and linking portions and gentle revisions added later to smooth out the transitions – this is still very much a recommended purchase. There is a strange shift in momentum to Books 9 & 10 as if the overarching story's suddenly anxious to get going while it's all secretly running out of steam behind the scenes. It's certainly another beautifully presented book, designed to compliment Volume 1 on the shelf, the two wide spines reading together as one.

Of course, sitting with the book at hand, trying to grasp the complexities of the stories within and convey them here is near impossible – and not just because the hefty tome weighs a tonne! - it simply begs to be read, the joys discovered for yourself.

Amazon Softcover -- Top Shelf (signed) Hardcover -- Top Shelf Omnibox

Friday 7 July 2017

Happy Bacch-omnibox-day, part 1....

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....

It's finally here! After a few years of teasing - and complete interim digital editions - Top Shelf Productions have finally released Vol 1. of the long awaited Bacchus Omnibi, 560 pages featuring the first 5 (of the original 10) volumes, comprising 'Immortality Isn't Forever', 'The Gods of Business', 'Doing the Islands with Bacchus', 'The Eyeball Kid: One Man Show', and 'Earth, Water, Air & Fire'.

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."

Amazon Softcover -- Top Shelf (signed) Hardcover -- Top Shelf Omnibox