Writers: Eddie Campbell & Hayley Campbell
Artist: Eddie Campbell
Publisher: Eddie Campbell Books/Top Shelf Comics
Eddie Campbell writes, draws, and publishes this new 48-page magazine covering any topic he's interested in. The premiere issue includes an interview with Lew Schwartz, one of the ghost artists who drew Bob Kane's Batman; The first two installments of Campbell's illustrated history of humor; the history of Chloe, a French painting that hangs in an Australian pub; and daughter Hayley's trip to L.A. for the movie premiere of "From Hell".
I'll be honest. I love Eddie Campbell. Not just his work, but the man himself. I met him at the Florida Megacon in February, and found him to be the most intelligent, charming, funny, and entertaining person I've ever met. Granted, I've met very few people in my life. Those I have, I've forgotten. And since the only other notable people I heard from at Megacon were Kevin Smith, Troma Pictures' Lloyd Kaufman, and the writers of Crossgen comics, it was easy for him to stand out in the crowd. Basically, I liked being around him. That's something I can't say about most people. Or people in general.
So I'm a little prejudiced towards his work. It's still great work; every comic book fan should read at least one 'Bacchus' book, (I recommend Book 3), or one of the 'Alec' books. That's in addition to 'From Hell'. Moore's writing and Campbell's art come together to create one of the most compelling and penetrating works of graphic fiction since, well, Alan Moore's 'Watchmen'. Given that I'm a fan, you may want to take this review with a little salt.
Having gotten the disclaimer and fawning out of the way, here's what I thought of 'Egomania':
It helps if you're an Eddie Campbell fan. It helps even more if you're interested in the same things he is. If you enjoy amateur dissertations on 19th Century art, quotes from obscure European writers, and old comics, then this is the magazine for you. Everything in this magazine, (which measures 7 and 1/8" by 9 and 5/8", too big for a comic book bag), is written by a man with a genuine interest in the article's subject. As such, it reads like a fan-based magazine for the genre of Eddie Campbell. His excitement and mastery of the subjects come through clearly, but unless you already have an interest in the subjects, you'll find most of the articles boring.
But in spite of all that, it's a very smart and easy read. Fans of Golden and Silver Age Batman comics would be interested in the Lew Schwartz interview. Schwartz was one of several artists who drew for Bob Kane, but never received the credit or money due him. The interview has a feeling of sadness as Schwartz describes other artists treated the same way, and his memories of great cartoonists long gone. It's one of the dirty secrets of the comic book industry: Many classic comics were created by studios of anonymous artists who never got credit for their work. Some of the greatest comics of all time were not written or drawn by the men who signed the work. Comics signed by Kane were prime examples of this. And while Schwartz's story may tarnish the enjoyment of reading those old comics, it's a story that must be told. And heard.
Chloe, a full-figure nude that hangs in a Melbourne pub, has become an almost mythic figure in Australian society. Campbell explores the painting's origins, follows its trip down under, and its significance to Australian soldiers in WWII. (One soldier claims he identified himself as Australian by naming the pub where Chloe hung.) It's an amusing tale of how a painting by a long-forgotten French artist of an unpopular art movement became so precious to a city.
Hayley's story about her trip to the premiere of "From Hell" the movie is brief and filled with the excitement of a teen-aged girl, and the minutiae of a shopping trip in L.A. No insights about being disappointed in Hollywood or L.A., though her trip to the MGM (now Sony) studios backlot was too short for my tastes. Her description of a dumping ground for old movie props, like the car from "Ghostbusters" and Godzilla's head, hinted at a depressing graveyard for the films that touched our lives. I'd like to see an American writer visit that place, as the props from American movies would have greater significance for a native.
And finally, there are comics. Campbell begins what he, himself, once said was impossible: The history of humor. He looks at how humor as a concept has been important in history, at how cultures viewed foreigners/outsiders, and the inherent comedy of the butt. Yes, it seems everyone, every society and nation, thought dropping your pants and exposing your Southern moon was funny. Wow. Can't wait to read the next chapter. It may look at irony, sarcasm, or the origins of the pie fight.
Conclusion: Read this, and you'll feel smarter. Campbell throws out little quotes and tidbits he picks up while reading his many, many books. But unlike Neil Gaiman, you can't accuse him of showing off when he does this. You really feel Campbell's love and enthusiasm for everything he writes. He's not trying to drive home a point, hit you over the head with facts, or make you feel dumb. He's having a good time doing what he enjoys. And you can't help but enjoy it too.
What did you think of this book?
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