Comic Reviews: July 1993

Comic Reviews: July 1993


Scottish cartoonist Eddie Campbell (now a native of Australia) has been in the comic business since the 1980s and, while he has largely labored in obscurity, the efforts of certain comic publishers have resulted in greater exposure for his work.

Campbell’s work is always distinctive, whether it be his modern-day Greek and Roman mythological figures (in the Bacchus and Deadface material), his semi-autobiographical Alec tales or what-not. Witty dialogue, carefully-crafted narrative, and powerful (if sketchy) illustration are always evident in Campbell’s comics material, and the comics shelves have recently been stocked with a trio of Campbell’s projects, all reviewed below.


Graffiti Kitchen
Written and Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Tundra Publishing

Campbell’s Alec strips have been coming along sporadically since his career began, culminating in The Complete Alec (compiled by Eclipse Comics and sadly out of print). Luckily, Campbell has returned to the world of Alec MacGarry with the self-contained Graffiti Kitchen.

Graffiti Kitchen opens with a very unflattering look at MacGarry (artist Campbell’s alter-ego) as he displays his bruised ego and quickly evolves into the tale of Alec’s tangled involvement with the middle-aged Jane Maison and her young daughter, Georgette.

But rather than being a very male, dominant tale of male-female relationships a la Henry Miller or Ernest Hemingway, Graffiti Kitchen is very critical of males through the flawed MacGarry. MacGarry eventually bends the selfish Georgette and feels unrelenting remorse, then falls into a disastrous fling with Jane, the entire time pining for Georgette.

But Campbell keeps the tone light, with matter-of-fact reporting and sometimes trivial scenes that combine to make one cohesive and engaging whole.

All this may sound boring and disheartening—but it is anything but. Kitchen is at times whimsical, sad, comic and tragic … just like life (Funny coincidence, isn’t it?).

Just as in Campbell’s other Alec tales, Graffiti Kitchen relies on Campbells strengths, characterization and discretion. Campbell’s characters speak truthfully and realistically and stumble and bumble through life, just like humans. Situations are never  without the unmistakable ring of truth. Campbell’s accompanying drawings range from photo-realistic to (most often) very sketchy. While this approach may take some getting used to for less discriminating and tasteful comics readers, it suits the material well.

Like good literature, Graffiti Kitchen makes the heart soar and opens the mind to new experiences. And, at 48 pages for $2.95, it’s a rare bargain volume for the buck. Hopefully, this is one comic that will receive attention outside of the comics field—it’s that good. For those of you who think the comic book genre has fallen prey to stagnancy. Graffiti Kitchen is a more than adequate rebuttal. (B&W, $2.95) Grade: A+


The 1,001 Nights of Bacchus
Written and Drawn by Eddie Campbell and others

Campbell has returned to his greatest source of “fame” (his revisionist view of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, who has survived to modern times) in Dark Horse’s The 1,001 Nights of Bacchus.

The story behind this volume involves the world-weary Bacchus stumbling into The Travellers Joy, a modern-day inn, where he is taken in by Hector, the kindly owner. Bacchus soon becomes a catalyst to metal spinning, as Hector promises to keep the bar open as long as the patrons can keep Bacchus awake.

This soon evolves into a nightly ritual, as the barflies conspire to keep the ancient deity conscious through the ardent art of telling stories.

Image from The 1,001 Nights of Bacchus
The 1,001 Nights of Bacchus. Comic Reviews: July 1993

The best of these tales are ‘Heukening and Disobedience,” a very Irish tale of the amusing angel Seamus and “O King, it Has Come to My Ears That …” a creepy tale loosely based on a tale by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

But the real charm to these tales lies in the framing sequences, as the bar, patrons, and Bacchus are featured in asides.

A number of contributors aided Campbell in these tales, from artist Dylan Horrocks on the first story, to co-writer Wes Kublick on “O King…” and ‘One For The Road, O Auspicious King (Then send for the Wazir) “but the work remains, by and large, Campbell’s. And, ultimately, it is Campbell who succeeds and fails.

The 1,001 Night of Bacchus is maddeningly inconsistent, ranging from good to downright awful. The biggest flaw one can pinpoint lies with the artwork. While Campbell has never been one of the field’s strongest illustrators, his graphic storytelling has always been consummate. Yet, on several of the book’s tales, the artwork appears rushed, sloppy and occasionally unprofessional. It’s as if Campbell’s other work has taken away too much of his time for this material, and so it gets little effort.

Nevertheless, the stories do retain a great deal of charm and entertainment, and while it may be disappointing to Bacchus readers, it is a vast improvement over most of the dross to be found soiling the shelves in comic shops. (B&W, $3.95) Grade: B- 


From Hell: Volume Two
Written by Alan Moore Drawn by Eddie Campbell

For those of us interested in following Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell serial in Taboo (but too cheap to buy the expensive issues of that horror title), Mad Love and Tundra Publishing have done us a favor by releasing two volumes of collected material.

From Hell (for the uninitiated) is a sixteen-part ‘melodrama’ written by Moore and illustrated by Campbell,and detailing Moore’s posited explanation behind the Jack the Ripper” murders. But rather than being simply a reconnection of events (fictionalized and historical), From Hell is a very rich period piece and drama, drawing together characters as diverse as Queen Victoria, John Menick (the ‘Elephant Man”) and more. How this all ties together is fascinating, and only a master like Moore could pull It off.

Volume two features Chapter three and four of the on-going tale. In it, we see a plan hatched by some prostitutes of London’s Whitechapel area to extort money from Queen Victoria. This, in turn, leads to a nasty series of events as the Queen Mother sanctions Royalphysician William Gull to take any steps necessary to protect the Royal Family.

And yes, for those of you curious, Moore does subscribe to the Whitechapel theory murders were the result of a Masonic conspiracy (in response to an appeal by the Queen to cover up an indiscretion by Prince Albert Victor). The evidence Moore has compiled to justify this conclusion is staggering, as is the wealth of sources drawn to enrich the tale.

Writer Moore should be applauded for the effort expended to make From Hell so detailed. Unfortunately, Chapter three (“Blackmail or Mrs. Barrett”) is a relatively weak effort. While the argot of the street walkers appears very accurate (to a layman), the dialogue is occasionally wooden and talky. In addition, scenes seem entirely too contrived and convenient. In short, the whole chapter is too stagy. Happily, Moore fares much better in Chapter four, “What Doth The Lord Require of Thee?,” in which Victoria beseeches Dr. Gull to take any necessary steps to cover up the Royal’s dirty laundry, and Gull takes soon-to-be accomplice John Netley on a tour of London’s mystical underpinnings.

It is here that artist Campbell is at his best, too. Campbell’s sketchy renderings make things seem very harsh and unglamorous, and the details evidenced as Gull and Netley traverse London are staggering. The research employed to make the setting so accurate must have been enormous. The fact that Campbell and Moore manage to turn in a good story too makes the accomplishment all the more mind boggling.

I could go on and on… From Hell should appeal to Ripperologists, fans of historical drama, conspiracy nuts and those just looking for a good story. Hopefully, the publishers will continue to publish this material regularly. The horrors of the work may indeed have come From Hell, but the work itself is angelic. (B&W,$4,95) Grade: A- –Scott Vice


Read more from the SLUG Archives:
Comic Reviews: May 1993
Comic Reviews: April 1993