Eddie Campbell is one of those prolific and ridiculously proficient artists who for some reason are not living in a golden castle on top of Success Mountain. I first discovered Campbell’s work in his collaboration with Alan Moore in From Hell (1999) and I remember thinking at first, this artist is terrible! His lines are messy, the work is scratchy, it isn’t appealing at all. And then I began reading, and was drawn in by the storytelling, and the nuances of gesture, pose, expression, and the abundance of skill in presenting this dystopian, far-removed place in a way that was believable and, combined with Alan Moore’s narrative, completely engrossing.
His line work is energetic, with a sense of the unfinished, like he is more concerned with capturing the gesture of a pose, or the motion of an action, than with presenting highly polished artefacts. His work is alive, carefully contained within tightly structured formations of nine portrait-oriented panels, yet still sparking off the gutters and moving the eye from panel to panel, page to page.
Campbell explores themes of financial struggle, staying true to your calling, railing against conformity, sex, alcohol abuse, family, friends, and pretty much all the things of life that he is kind enough to share with the reader. His writing is at times painfully earnest, and he has no problems presenting himself as an imperfect human. Someone we can relate to, and empathise with, because of, and not in spite of, those imperfections.
The small selection of panels below give a sense of the way in which Campbell is able to capture a mood, a time, and relate broad ideas of life in seemingly simple ways. Depicting Straight Street, where the dreams get paved over, as a monotonous line of conforming houses as opposed to aiming for a realistic rendering of his actual neighbourhood at the time. A choice of the artist and storyteller to communicate the sense of the place and time, of how we are inevitably told to grow up, get a real job. Continued in the second panel, Succeed with caution. Beautiful stuff. The artist up against the world. Dealing in metaphor. All the things we, the people who decide to pursue the arts and other such “risky” career choices, are faced with. The world telling us all the things we need to be interested in. What’s safe. What’s acceptable. Third panel. Get a career, get a driving license, get laid. Depicting his younger self sitting under these commandments of society, a heavy weight bearing down on him. So much in a simple pose. So much communicated in a simple three panels.
Eddie Campbell, ladies and gentleman. A master among us.