After profiling Alan Moore last month, it was only natural that I would focus on his From Hell collaborator Eddie Campbell for “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #15. This was actually not the last time I turned the spotlight on Campbell: I interviewed him for “Picks” a few years later when he took the plunge into self-publishing with his monthly Bacchus series. Campbell has remained one of the few creators that I still follow after all these years. I particularly like the fact that the majority of his work can stand out on a bookshelf like giant bricks: From Hell, Alec: The Years Have Pants, and the two volume Bacchus Omnibus.
If my records are correct, this would be the last column I wrote before starting college. For some reason, instead of stockpiling a few months’ worth of writing to make the transition to academic life easier, I decided to wing it and just continue to hit my monthly deadlines. I mean, how much homework could you have as a college student? There would surely be enough time to write a few hundred words about some esoteric comic books every month! Well, I soon learned that juggling classwork and a monthly magazine column was a lot harder than I thought, but I soldiered on and didn’t miss an issue during my four years at school. And the extra work had a nice bonus: a regular paycheck to help pay for food, books, and beer. But mostly beer.
That green-tinted panel used as the main artwork this time around could have been better. Campbell produced some striking painted covers on the various Deadface series from Dark Horse that would have been a much better choice, but instead they were relegated to some small thumbnail images to illustrate the “Recommended Reading” sidebar. Thankfully, the column got a much needed redesign in the next issue of Wizard.
Another thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is my short rant about people not buying independent comics. I was still formulating a mission statement for this column, but my intent from the start was to convince readers to try new comics by letting them know that there were interesting things going on in the underground. I seemed to lose focus on that by berating the audience for buying gimmicky covers. When I read it now, it seems like I had run out of things to say about Eddie Campbell and just needed a way to fill up some space.
Another way to pad things out was to rattle off the subjects for upcoming “Palmer’s Picks.” This was also in reaction to my claim last issue that I was running out of topics. Don’t want to give the powers-that-be at Wizard a reason to can me! I would continue this practice for a little while longer, but quickly stopped doing so for a very good reason that I’ll reveal later…
By Tom Palmer Jr.
It is a widely accepted opinion that the original superheroes were not Superman or Captain Marvel, but the gods of Greek mythology. With their thinly disguised morals and accounts of superhuman feats, tales of gods such as Hercules and Theseus were passed on by word of mouth as entertainment, in the same way that comics are read today as a diversion. It would seem only natural, with all of this history, that the mythological Greek gods would make the perfect comic book characters. Not surprisingly, this has already been done. While most such attempts have ended up garbled or watered down, one comic has remained faithful to the original myths. This comic is Eddie Campbell’s Deadface.
Campbell began his career by selling his own comics and mini-comics on the streets of London. This led to the publication of his semi-autobiographical series Alec by England’s Escape and critical acclaim for his work. Despite receiving high praise and lots of exposure, overseas fame in the U.S. eluded Campbell. After relocating to Australia, Campbell began work on two titles that marked the beginning of his mythological stories, Deadface and Bacchus. However, the company that published these titles, Harrier, soon folded as a result of the black-and-white glut and the subsequent implosion of the mid-’80s.
Campbell soon regained his footing and began submitting Deadface stories to a wide range of anthologies, including A1, Dark Horse Presents, and Trident. Interest in Campbell’s work began to rise with the collection and completion of his Alec stories and the announcement that he would be collaborating with Alan Moore on From Hell, which would appear in the high-profile anthology Taboo.
As more and more of Campbell’s Deadface stories began to appear, it became apparent that they formed a larger, coherent story. This, as well as the fact that Campbell’s name was gaining recognition, led Dark Horse to collect the original Deadface and Bacchus comics and compile the various short stories into a miniseries. The series, titled Doing the Islands With Bacchus, was well received and prompted the continuation by Dark Horse of the Deadface saga with a group of mini-series containing new material.
The Deadface saga began in the original eight-issue run of the series from Harrier Comics. The comic introduced the title character, who also went by the name that reflected his identity as the Greek god of wine and revelry, Bacchus. Campbell took old mythology and built on it, introducing such characters as the Stygian Leech and the Eyeball Kid, and updating the original gods by turning Theseus into a present-day businessman and aging Bacchus into the more familiar, rabble-rousing Deadface. Despite this tinkering with the original mythology, Campbell is still able to stay true to the stories on which he based his comics. The comic is sometimes “interrupted” by the recounting of a myth by one of the characters. These are usually mostly “accurate” retellings of such familiar stories as Theseus and the Minotaur which Campbell has embellished with incidents like the murder of Zeus by the Eyeball Kid.
On the surface, comic books filled with interpretations of Greek mythology might sound extremely boring. But Campbell is able to make his stories interesting by using several different techniques. He retells the myths in a conversational tone and sprinkles them with scenes of explosive violence. Campbell is able to use these and other comic book conventions to his advantage in combining Greek mythology and the modern superero comic.
Like most alternative comics, Deadface is neither a good seller nor a sought-after collectible. If your local comic book store does not carry it (or some of the other comics I have featured in the past), pester them until they do. If you already read Deadface, get your friends to try it. The only way good independent comic books will survive is if they receive continued exposure and support. Instead of buying another copy of that extra-special, die-cut, pop-up, scratch-and-sniff first issue, buy a copy of Deadface. Or Cerebus. Or Hepcats. Or Eightball. Just by buying one copy, you will help keep a struggling artist afloat in this constantly changing marketplace.
What’s coming up in “Palmer’s Picks” (in no particular order): A look at one of the most persistent self-publishers, Martin Wagner, and his funny-animal comic, Hepcats; a profile of Ted McKeever’s interlocking series Eddy Current and Metropol, as well as Plastic Forks; Scott McCloud’s popular superhero series Zot! and some of his other material; an overview of Rick Veitch’s work from his abruptly ended run on Swamp Thing to his current King Hell Heroica.
Eddie Campbell’s Deadface and related stories have appeared in numerous comics. The original eight-issue Harrier series is very obscure, but it has been collected by Dark Horse in Deadface: Immortality Isn’t Forever. The Deadface saga was continued in short stories that appeared in A1, Trident, and Dark Horse Presents that were later reprinted by Dark Horse as a three-issue series titled Deadface: Doing The Islands With Bacchus. The Eyeball Kid (also from Dark Horse) collected all of the short stories from Cheval Noir in three issues. Campbell’s new Deadface mini-series Earth, Air, Water, and Fire is currently being published by Dark Horse. Back issues of all of the Dark Horse material should be readily available in any comic store. The Deadface trade paperback might be a little hard to locate, as it is sold out and there are no plans as yet for a second printing.
Campbell’s other work has appeared in the following places:
From Hell is being serialized quarterly in Taboo from Spiderbaby and Tundra and will be collected in trade paperbacks after enough material has been published. The first volume has been published by Tundra; it contains the prologue and the first two chapters as well as a new cover by Campbell and a five-page appendix that cites Alan Moore’s sources for the information on each page of the story. Copies of Taboo 4-7 (and Taboo Especial) and From Hell Volume One can be obtained from Tundra at
320 Riverside Drive, Northampton, MA 01060.
Alec originally appeared in three graphic novels in England entitled Episodes from the Life of Alec McGarry, Love and Beerglasses, and Doggie in the Window. Eclipse and Acme Press recently published The Complete Alec,
which collected the original novels as well as the previously
unpublished fourth chapter, “Alas Poor Alec.” Copies may be obtained
from Eclipse at
P.O. Box 1099, Forrestville, CA 95436.
In 1990, 1991, and 1992, Campbell produced three books for Fantagraphics. They were titled (in order): The Dead Muse, Little Italy, and The Cheque, Mate. The Dead Muse included work by Campbell and other Australian and British cartoonists. Little Italy included several stories drawn while Campbell was in Australia. The book also contained both Pyjama Girl stories that originally appeared in Taboo. The Cheque, Mate contained stories that Campbell did for various comics while he made his living off the checks that came through the mail. The first two books can be bought for $4 (postage paid) and the third for $4.50 (postage paid) from Fantagraphic Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.