Friday 18 July 2014

Eddie Campbell, Phil Elliott and Paul Grist's Lucifer (Trident Comics, Three Issue Miniseries, 1990)

Speaking of Eddie Campbell and the 1980s British small press comics scene – as I was, after a fashion (I was writing, not speaking), earlier in the week – coincidentally I recently retrieved this from a box in the loft:

Lucifer, a three-issue miniseries written by Mr. Campbell, drawn by his small press compatriots Phil Elliott (#1) and Paul Grist (#2–3), and published by short-lived British comics publisher Trident Comics in 1990. As Eddie himself notes on his (sadly dormant) blog, Lucifer was originally conceived for a different short-lived British comics publisher, Harrier Comics (who published lots of other comics by Campbell, Elliott, Grist and other small press stalwarts like Glenn Dakin and John Bagnall), in the late-1980s but the comic didn't get off the ground before Harrier folded. Trident did manage to publish all three issues – and a trade paperback collection – and at some point I evidently bought them – retrospectively, as back issues; I'd largely drifted away from comics by 1990 (I rediscovered them in about 1997/8) – and stowed them in a comic box.

What's interesting to me about the miniseries reading it now is how it could quite easily have been published as a photocopied small press title in the mid-1980s, sitting on the Fast Fiction table at the Westminster Comic Mart alongside all the other such minicomix (at least to my mind). It has the same freewheeling seat-of-the-pants feel as, say, Fast Fiction Presents the Elephant of Surprise, a "jam" minicomic from 1986 which acted as a kind of who's who snapshot of British small press creators in the mid-1980s, among them Eddie Campbell and Phil Elliott. Lucifer taps into that same sort of "make-it-up-as-you-go-along" energy, an approach to storytelling that was almost the hallmark of the British small press scene, or at least felt like it was; whether or not the comics were in fact tightly plotted I couldn't say.

In the case of Lucifer, the story follows the eponymous lead, "the fallen angel of biblical fame", who wears a suit of feathers "symbolic of my former glory". Hospitalised after having been run over in the street, Lucifer gets chatting to the bloke in the next bed along, who, it transpires, has a carbuncle on the end of his nose which is actually the gateway to Hell. Once the carbuncle has been removed in surgery Lucifer steals it and gains access to Hell, where he usurps Satan, assumes control of the Stygian realm and then effects an invasion of Earth, which entails him embarking on a brief career in television.

I'm not sure I've really done the thing justice there; it's about ten times more entertainingly befuddling than that synopsis implies, wending its illogical way to a suitably slapstick fisticuffs finale. Certainly it's a far cry from the rather better known Lucifer comic, the one published by DC/Vertigo from the late-1990s until the mid-2000s, written by Mike Carey and illustrated for the most part by Peter Gross and featuring as its lead the version of Lucifer created by Neil Gaiman – who, oddly enough, popped up not only in the previous Eddie-Campbell-featuring post but the one before that – on the newly published The Art of Neil Gaiman by Eddie's daughter, Hayley Campbell – and the one before that as well – on a signed hardback of Astro City: Confession – back at the start of July. And to further extend the interlinking synchronicity of this month's posts, next I'll be taking a look at a signed graphic novel by the aforementioned Mike Carey and Peter Gross.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Hayley Campbell's The Art of Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell's How to Be an Artist: Signed First Editions (and a Launch Party)

NB: Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup, 18/7/14.

Well it would've been remiss of me, I feel, having spent three or four years editing Hayley Campbell's fine illustrated biography The Art of Neil Gaiman – which publishes in the UK this week from The Ilex Press – not to get Hayley to sign and inscribe a copy to me. Which is precisely what I did at the book's launch party at Gosh! Comics in London on Friday:

The cock, by the way, was a request – kind of; Hayley had mentioned to me that she'd drawn one in a friend's copy of the book ("Three pubes per ball," she noted. "Classic") so naturally I demanded she do one for me as well. And a fine specimen it is too.

My copy of The Art of Neil Gaiman was just one among many that Hayley signed at the launch; Gosh! photographer Mauricio Molizane de Souza took some pictures of Hayley in action:

and of the crowd in general:

No idea who that gesticulating idiot in the flowery shirt in the background is, but partially hidden behind Hayley is Amazing15's Martin Stiff, who designed the book (the other half of Amazing15, Marcus Scudamore, can be seen far left looking faintly suicidal at having to listen to the aforementioned flowery-shirted idiot), while talking to Hayley is Pádraig Ó Méalóid, who gave notes on Hayley's manuscript, and to his right erstwhile Ilex commissioning editor Tim Pilcher, whose idea the book was. Also at the launch were these folk:

On the right Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote the foreword to the book, and in the middle Hayley's dad, cartoonist Eddie Campbell, whose collaboration with Neil Gaiman, The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains – a performance of which I caught at the Barbican the Friday before (Hayley did a brief Q&A onstage with her dad and Neil at the end) – features in the book. I've mentioned Eddie in passing on Existential Ennui once or twice before; he's one of the most important cartoonists this country has produced (although he emigrated to Australia thirty years ago), indeed one of the most important to ever have worked in the medium. He's probably best known for From Hell, his collaboration with Alan Moore, but his own comics are as good and in many cases even better, drawing on his own life (literally) to create a beguiling mix of autobiography and philosophy. My favorite of his works is How to Be an Artist (The King Canute crowd runs it a close second), which was originally serialized in the anthology comic Dee Vee in the late-1990s and then collected and expanded into this edition:

which was published under Eddie's own eponymous imprint in 2001. It's a rich, wry, affecting take on how a person might choose to become an artist – in this case a comics one – commit to live as an artist and try to make a living as an artist (or not, as the case may be) and how fate has a habit of intervening in all of those things when you least expect it. But more than that it's an evocation of a particular time and scene, one that I still recall vividly and with great fondness: the British comics scene of the 1980s and early 1990s, especially the bit that grew out of the Fast Fiction/Escape small press scene, which Eddie was a part of. I first encountered Eddie's work in various small press anthologies – not least Fast Fiction and Escape – in the mid-1980s (when I was in my mid-teens) bought from the Fast Fiction table at the Westminster Comic Mart, and that formative aspect of his career weaves through the narrative of How to Be an Artist, for me lending the enterprise an additional sentimental appeal.

Anyway, knowing that Eddie was going to be at the launch party for Hayley's book I took along my copy of How to Be an Artist in the hope that Eddie might sign it. In the event he did more than that:

He drew a portrait of himself as well, opposite the similar portrait of a much younger Eddie Campbell on the facing page. It perhaps doesn't have quite the same impact as Hayley's cock, but I shall treasure it equally.

Gosh! Comics launch photos © Mauricio Molizane de Souza.