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April 01, 2008

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Isaac Cates

When I've taught From Hell, my students have sometimes been quick to make an analogy (or an equation) between Campbell's scratchy crosshatching (and sketchy portraiture) and the fog and haze of Whitechapel. That's an oversimplification, but there's something about it that I like, and which connects to what Charles is saying about Campbell's counterbalance to Moore's formalism: I think that one of the real benefits of Campbell's cartooning in From Hell is that it's not as clear, not as quickly legible in its details as, say, Dave Gibbons's poised clarity.

My reading experience, with From Hell, has more to do with peering into those panels than with apprehending them immediately. And I suppose I do something similar with Watchmen, studying the backgrounds to look for smiley-faces or whatnot, but I think it's important for From Hell that it sometimes takes me a split-second longer to read the panel at all. If it's not the fog of Whitechapel, it might be the fog of historical guesswork and reconstruction. The images are never "transparent," so we are never encouraged to think of the world of the book as fully present for us: these are notes or sketches about reality, not an attempt to contain a new reality within the page.

Anyway, I'm with Charles on From Hell, and on Bacchus, too. (I think Bacchus is an underestimated or underdiscussed masterpiece, really. I'm looking forward to your coverage of it.)

CharlesWHatfield

So, Isaac, are you saying we should expand the scope of this series to include Bacchus as well as the autobiographical stuff? It's specifically the "Alec" stuff that we set out to do, but, well...

It might take us past August to get to Bacchus, but, sure, I think I can get to Bacchus sometime in the coming year. Then Craig can throw brickbats. :)

It will probably be well after Monsieur Leotard, though, when it comes.

BTW, I quite like your point about From Hell as "notes or sketches" toward a history, rather than a putatively objective history. As speculative pseudo-history, the book does need a good dose of self-doubt (Moore and Campbell supply a strong one in the "Dance of the Gull Catchers" epilogue).

Frankly, I think Campbell's skeptical and historically-minded presence works wonders for the book. Campbell is counterweight to Moore's own esoteric interests.

Thematically, Moore is in danger of getting caught in Gull's "derangement"; he tends to aspire toward shamanic oversight, as with the Veidt character in Watchmen (which means that, disconcertingly, he tends to empathize or at least become entranced by the ostensible "villains" of the stories!). Campbell's own learned presence in the book is an important counterpull, which is why I find their collaboration so fascinating.

Isaac Cates

Whoops -- I guess I misread or misremembered the thing about Bacchus. If you can get to it, great. If not, I'll just set some time aside to re-read it on my own later this year.

And I agree with you for sure, Charles, about the skeptical / realist Campbell influence (and restraint) on Moore in From Hell. Moore is obviously interested in the mystical perceptions of order that Gull and Veidt achieve; one of the reasons Promethea doesn't interest me as much is that the mystical order in that book is no longer proclaimed by a madman or villain.

In From Hell, it'd be tempting to imagine Moore as Gull and his illustrator as Netley, enabling the mad patterns to emerge according to his master's directions. With a different collaborator, it might have turned out that way. To Moore's credit, he seems to seek out collaborators who can and will add to the work instead of merely completing his instructions. If Campbell is analogous to a character in From Hell, he's certainly no Netley. (Abberline, maybe?) At any rate, he was clearly the right cartoonist for the job.

Anyway, I don't want to derail this post into a discussion of Moore's collaboration. You know that interests me, and you know what I have to say about it. I should only add that the more I look at Campbell's drawing (and the more drawing I do, myself), the more impressed I am with his mastery of gesture and implication. If the "pair of feet" rule means more attention to that sort of thing, I'm all for it.

Eddie Campbell

Charles and Craig,

very flattered you should take the time, I must say, I hope my sudden presence does not hamper your critical eye.

re that church. It was the one out of all the Hawksmoor churches we wanted to use that no longer exists. It was hit by a bomb during the second world war. So it was the only one for which we couldn't obtain our own photos and I only had an old dark one of a bombed-out wreck prior to its demolition (with a big hole in the roof). You can see Alan in front of the modern building that stands in its place here:
http://eddiecampbell.blogspot.com/2006/12/alan-moores-london-part-2.html

I chose to fudge the details on that one rather than confidently 'invent' for the same sorts of reasons that it is anathema in modern archaeology to restore ancient artefacts. But nevertheless you're right in observing that my own inclinations don't lean toward correctly depicting those ancient stones which were so important to the philosophy of the work, and that is the principal reason i decided early that I needed an artistic assistant who had the right eye for it.

And for my own part, I work from the impression toward clarity and often I feel I can only go so far before authenticity is at risk and I have to pull up short. Every panel is a wrestling match and many are failures.

Best
Eddie

Craig Fischer

But most are successes, Eddie--which is why we're taking the time to look at your work.

I still hate Vince Colletta's inking, though. :)

CharlesWHatfield

Ah, good to see you here, Eddie, even if you are WRONG both about Colletta's inking and about the relative unimportance of that earth-rattling issue. Heh.

Thanks for the insight into your creative process on FH. Re: St. John's, actually I learned that only the obelisk on that church was created by Hawksmoor; it was not one of the several churches architected solely by him. And I note that Gull's monologue in that scene stresses the obelisk more than anything else, which is the feature that stands out most prominently in the drawing. So what you did there actually seems quite apt, to me.

When I first read the opening chapters of FH (that would have been in the first of the Tundra/KS squarebound booklets), I kept thinking, "London fog! London fog!" Your bit about working "from the impression toward clarity" is most revealing.

Patrick Brown

To me, Campbell's work has a greater sense of reality than Gibbons, whose drawings (while excellent) feel more artificial in their precision. Campbell is one of the few artists I know of who attends to focus - the eye doesn't see everything in as much detail as what it's focusing on, and neither do Campbell's drawings. One of my favourite things is the gestural quality of the background figures, who aren't drawn in as much detail as the characters who are the focus of the scene. I like to do that sort of thing in my own work, and it was largely Campbell that emboldened me to trust my own drawing like that.

Wholehearted agreement about Doing the Islands. The rest of the Bacchus epic, while it has its moments, I can take or leave, but that's a gorgeous book.

CharlesWHatfield

We look forward to doing all of BACCHUS here at some point. In the meantime, Patrick, I like how your remarks about focus and detail dovetail with Eddie's own. Thanks for weighing in, and so thoughtfully!

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