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Eddie Campbell Discusses His Return to the World of “Bacchus”

by  in Comic News Comment
Eddie Campbell Discusses His Return to the World of “Bacchus”

As an award winning artist, Eddie Campbell has worked with a who’s who of writers, ranging from Alan Moore to Neil Gaiman and Daren Smith. And there’s his more personal work, which he both writes and illustrates in projects like “Alec: The Years Have Pants,” “The Fate of the Artist,” “The Lovely Horrible Stuff” and more.

And then there’s “Bacchus,” a comic that ran for decades before it was collected in a series of ten graphic novels. Now, with Top Shelf just releasing the first half of the series in a single omnibus edition “The Collected Bacchus, Volume 1,” Campbell spoke with CBR News about what it meant to craft “an American-style comic book” with “Bacchus,” how he worked on the series, and what’s next for him.

CBR News: Why Bacchus? Why was he the god you picked?

Eddie Campbell: I guess because he had the least expected of him. He’s not a fighter. he doesn’t shoot ya with his fingers or any of that nonsense. I liked the irony of it, of Making this particular god the central figure in a comic book of all things. 

Bacchus in some ways lends itself to this approach you used because of course he is a god of excess.

Nothing exceeds like excess. He’s over the top.

Were you planning “Baccchus” one story arc at a time? Did you have a long term plan?

At first, I was making it up as I went along, which I’m sure must be obvious to the reader. The opening chapter doesn’t appear to be stocked up for the long haul.

Could you talk a little about balancing elements in the book? Because it’s an adventure story of gods and creatures, but at the same time, it’s a comment on such stories.

Having my cake and eating it is what I was doing. I was mocking the idea of the heroic epic while at the same time delivering one. What a nerve!

Do you have a favorite character from the series?

That big thug Joe Theseus is my favorite character. Nothing he does ever comes out right. You gotta love him.

You mention in the book that this was your attempt at an American-style comic book. I’m curious how you define that and how it differs from your previous work.

Most readers of American comic books don’t really consider that the comics they read are just one idiom out of many idioms of “comics.” The mechanics of the way comic books work is not necessarily similar to the way things work in other comics or types of pictorial entertainment/information. 

If I were to ask my late mother to read an American comic, she would be baffled by it. For example, she once asked me why I was putting a caption at the top of a picture. And when you think about it, it’s not natural that captions should be in one place or another, but in most pictorial idioms, such as the photos in a newspaper, the captions tend to be under the picture. But that is just one example. The pictorial syntax of comic books is governed by many such principles. The way a word balloon is placed in relation to a figure, the way a figure is placed in relation to the panel around it, the way it is assumed that there is an infinite number of cameras roaming around a scene making every possible angle available. And all of this is over and above the assumption that everybody in the genre of comic books is capable of possessing a superpower.

That certainly wasn’t the idiom I was working in before I arrived at Bacchus. On the one hand I was doing autobiographical comics, and on the other, a funny thing in a weekly paper.

Having spent all this time immersed in American-style comics, have you considered immersing yourself in another style or approach for a project?

I’ve always liked the style of newspaper comics from a hundred years ago. I dipped into that a little with “Honeybee,” the strip that was a part of “The Fate of The Artist.” I should like to go back to that way of doing things for a project. I like the simplicity of it, and just being able to concentrate on the humor.

You’ve been making graphic novels for many years now — do you miss the format of a monthly comic?

I wonder if I do. There was certainly a fulfilling feeling about it, and it was less of a tragedy if something printed badly. There was always the next month’s effort to wash away the anguish. Now, we have to look at the mess for the rest of the year and every time we pull it off the shelf.

Assembling the book like this, how do you think it reads?

I always hate my own work until I grudgingly start to read it. Then I get drawn in and carried away. The stuff has its own reality that you completely accept once you enter into its world.  

Is there something you realized about the books while assembling the omnibus volume? Something that jumped out at you that you hadn’t realized or considered while you were making them?

No. I thought about the big picture every which way while I was working on the stuff — remember that it originally came out as ten books, so it was always thoroughly worked out, even if I didn’t know where the book after the one I was working on would be going.

You mentioned in one of the text pieces in the book that you start drawing “From Hell” while you were working on “Bacchus.” Do you think that either “Bacchus” or “From Hell” was changed in some way because of that?

I can see a stylistic exchange between the two. I had never used that old pen style with the close hatching and ross hatching until “From Hell,” and you can see it creeping into “Bacchus” too, but in a different way.

How much time did you spend deciding on a wine pairing for each chapter?

I didn’t know anything about that. Top Shelf did all that behind my back. They had the book such a long time, they were worried that if they got me involved all over again, it would never be signed off. So they slipped all that stuff in on the quiet.

When will we see the second volume of the Bacchus omnibus?

That should be out next year, probably for [Comic-Con International in] San Diego again.

I know that you’re always working on many things. What are you working on now? Or interested in working on next?

I’m working on a book of stories in which I will turn into comics a number of short stories written by my sweetie, Audrey Niffenegger.

I’ll give the last word to Bacchus (and you). What’s a good Australian wine?

My favorite style of Australian wine is such a treasure that I wouldn’t want to create a rush on it by telling everybody about it.

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