Saturday, 29 September 2007

No Part is Saved

'Crash, roar, smash, plunge. The artist's journey finishes with him washed ashore on the desert island of his own mental isolation. He wanders around in a state of despair, talking to the fauna. There is an odd plant with a distinctive smell that reminds him of a very old book he once owned.' (Eddie Campbell -- The Fate of the Artist)

There's a sense of thwarted purpose that runs through all of Eddie Campbell's autobiographical works, a repeated suggestion that Campbell wants to stop playing Sal Paradise and start playing Dean Moriarty; that he'd rather be O.Henry the family man than O.Henry the writer.
This comes through most clearly in The Fate of the Artist. Indeed, it's one of the many factors that cause Campbell to write himself out of that story. Not convinced? Then check out the fact that Campbell closes the book with an adaptation of O.Henry's Confessions of a Humorist. But anyway, it was there at the beginning too, this conflicted feeling; don't mistake the boozy enthusiasm of The King Canute Crowd for a lack of worry. This strange doubt manifests itself in the young Eddie Campbell's concern that everyone else is better using 'the amenities' of life than he is; it's in the constant riffs on 'Campbell the observer' that recur throughout his work; it's even there in the first chapter of The King Canute Crowd, however obliquely:
'Alec MacGarry [Campbell] never forgets things said... Danny Grey forgets most things.'
Which is to say: Campbell remembers enough to write stories about Danny Grey; Danny Grey is too caught up in life's great adventure to ever return the favour. This line is also a neat summary of the respective strengths of the two friends, of course, but the feeling that Campbell would like to change places with Grey is evident throughout the book. For example, later on in The King Canute Crowd the author writes the following line in praise of Danny:
'He lives his life to the full. No part is saved like a slice of birthday cake going stale.'
Campbell accompanies this comment with an empty panel, a square of whiteness blocked in on all sides by black lines. Had Campbell merely presented us with blank space, this would have been an effective little gesture. With the box enclosing blankness the effect is emphasised: Danny Gray holds nothing back for later FULL STOP!
That Campbell (or at least, his comic book stand in) would aspire to such a state of living makes sense. After all, if Campbell's autobiographical work is fueled by his obvious love of living, doesn't it follow that he'd eventually grow frustrated of his self-imposed role of chronicler? There's an amusing scene in How to be an Artist where some wanky wee man bothers Campbell by asking what happens when he runs out of life to draw. Of course, Campbell decides to walk away, because he certainly doesn't want his life story to finish during that irritating conversation. But what does happen when life catches up with the autobiographical artist? Various permutations of this question pop up in Campbell's I Have Lost My Sense of Humour strip (drawn for the Autobiographix anthology), and the theme is explored to its conclusion in The Fate of the Artist. So (to reverse engineer Campbell's work, and blur fiction back into fact) does this mean that Eddie is going to turn his back on autobiography, that one of the great practitioners of the form is simply going to walk away from it?

Probably not. Both Campbell's most recent book (The Black Diamond Detective Agency) and his next one (The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard) may be period pieces, but if this interview is anything to go by there's little chance that Campbell will stay away from the autobio genre forever:
'Ideally, I’d love to do another book like The Fate of the Artist—I think that’s the kind of book I’m most happy doing—or After the Snooter. Those kind of books are the ones I enjoy the most, where I can ruminate at length on the little things of everyday life as it is here and now.'
As someone who feels compelled to constantly write about the things that bring me pleasure, I understand that it can be frustrating to find yourself reflecting on life more than you're living it. That said, I'm also aware that this behaviour is driven by an odd sort of love, and I can only hope that Campbell follows up The Fate of the Artist sooner rather than later. After all, who else creates panels as beautifully far-fetched as the one at the top of this post, and all in the name of exploring the problems and glories of day-to-day existence?
And... now I'm late for my bus. Gotta go!

No comments:

Blog Archive