Interview with Eddie Campbell: Comics and Creativity in the Digital Age

Eddie Campbell Discusses His Experience in Comics

Eddie Campbell is a British comics artist and cartoonist. In his comic books, he has addressed significant issues such as mortality, relatives, marriage, parenthood, achievement, failure, the creative process, and the pleasures of drinking wine. From his beginning till now he has shared in his artwork his multiple different styles of drawing that can help the audience understand that life is a journey where everyone can experience different paths, emotions, and problems and can decide to enjoy, suffer, or learn from it. Campbell illustrated Alan Moore’s ambitious Jack the Ripper graphic novel “From Hell” in 1989, giving it a beautiful and detailed design. His pictures take a down-to-earth manner, giving the story a genuine reality. He is the author of the semi-autobiographical Alec stories collected in Alec: The Years Have Pants, as well as Bacchus (a.k.a. Deadface), a sardonic epic series featuring some of the Greek gods who have survived to this day. Eddie Campbell has received the most remarkable awards in the comics industry, including the Eisner Award, Harvey Award, Ignatz Award, Eagle Award, and UK Comic Art Award. 

Eddie Campbell’s official site and Blogspot

From childhood to the Central School of Art in London, what are your fondest memories related to comics and your education? What pushed you to follow this path? 

As far as formal schooling goes, I always thought, and still do, that it was a hindrance to my education, and I felt deeply sorry for my poor children when I was legally obliged to push them off to school. I always apologized while I was doing it, and suspected they thought I was just being funny old Dad. Certainly there are subjects that proved useful, such as Latin, for which I am thankful because it enables me to be even more of a language pedant than I would be otherwise.  

Have you ever wondered if it was the right path? What were the main difficulties and challenges of the beginning?

No, I don’t think I ever questioned it. When it didn’t appear to be working, away back when I was 21, I got myself an unskilled job in a factory and did that for five years. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that there was another course that could have been chosen. It was a choice between being an artist and being a dumbass. For a while I could have lived with either.

The problem was that I was practicing an art that didn’t really exist yet, except as a postulation. I only ever did a one-year foundation course in art, and when trying to get into a proper diploma course at various colleges, I lacked the vocabulary to explain what it was I was intending to do and be. All the while I was working in the factory I was creating my first graphic novel and keeping the art boards in plastic laundry bags under my bed.

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From Hell © Eddie Campbell

When discussing your artistic collaboration with Alan Moore, you noted that the idea of a more extensive project had been a mutual interest for some time. You highlighted how Moore’s conceptualization process involves thinking visually quite early on, essentially envisioning your illustrative contributions well before you started working on the actual script. Could you share some of the most memorable experiences from this period?

I don’t think he could have visualized exactly what I was going to do, since I couldn’t visualize it myself and in fact didn’t really until we were well underway. There were quite a few deviations from his plan at the beginning as we figured it out. He still had certain cinematic ways of thinking about comics which I was determined to expunge from the work (as cinema didn’t exist in 1888). For example, the original script for chapter 1 describes the opening title being superimposed over the picture of the interior of the sweet shop, in the way that movies do, and comic books had always done from the beginning. I decided to do the title like an old fashioned bookplate or like an intertitle in silent movies. Just to think about the book in a different way from any other comic books. And we were thinking about this as a novel from page 1. That sounds like small stuff to be fussing over, but the gods, all of ’em, are in the details.

His scratchy style and writing have been compared to that of Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller

4 Bizarre Romance
Bizarre Romance © Eddie Campbell

Where do you find inspiration when starting a new artwork? Can you tell us about your experience in drawing from someone else’s script and for your own? What are the biggest challenges? What advantages and what strengthens one and the other?

I never consciously “start” a project. At any given minute I have a bunch of works on the back burner. I ‘m never entirely sure how they all got there. So the idea of inspiration arriving is not something I would ever be aware of. If somebody calls or emails and wants me to join them in a project I will go through several days of awe and terror. I completely avoid the situation nowadays. 

With “Bizarre Romance” (2018), the book I made with my wife Audrey Niffenegger, of which I am very proud, we had already done two stories which came about by different accidents. For example, with one of them the publisher really wanted another artist, ANY other artist I think, but she insisted if they wanted the story it had to be drawn by Eddie. Bless her. It was the right choice. With two stories in existence, It was then a no-brainer to turn a bunch of her short stories into comics for a whole book. The project was already rolling down the hill and I just had to jump into the driver’s seat. 

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Kate Carew: America’s First Great Woman Cartoonist © Eddie Campbell

When you plan a new project, how comprehensive is your investigation into reproducing the details? Can you share with us the creative process behind your comics?  What time frame does it take from idea to completion?

No two projects have been alike. Sometimes I can’t even find a publisher. For example, I have a new book coming out this year which is not my comics but a monograph, a thoroughly illustrated biography of an old time cartoonist, “Kate Carew: America’s First Great Woman Cartoonist.” It was written and designed five years ago but it has taken me this long to get a publisher to take it on, and all along the way I have been changing it, adjusting it. new information is always springing up. And I spent a huge amount of time restoring some of the images. There was a problem last week and I had to take out two pages and write around that. “From idea to completion” is an elastic concept in my universe. It never gets any easier.

You’ve experimented with many different sorts of writing and illustration over your career. You’ve completed numerous pieces of comics; how do you feel about shifting your artistic focus? Do you believe there is one that is more focused on your personality? 

The idea of an artist having a “style” and being stuck with that all through their career is the way comic books used to work and I have no interest in it. In my world, each book is a new creation. I guess it does make things difficult in a medium which always wants “more of the same.”

My most important work is the autobiographical stuff. Not BECAUSE it’s autobiographical. That was just a way to a much more subtle and authentic kind of storytelling.

2 Alec
Alec © Eddie Campbell

In reference to your work on Alec, you remarked humorously that the events depicted didn’t occur to you directly, but to “some other idiot.” What inspired you to venture into autobiographical comics? Additionally, having completed The Second Fake Death Of Eddie Campbell, could you discuss how you’ve managed to navigate the personal aspects of your life within your comics over the years? Do you believe your autobiographical work has taught you something about yourself or provided you with perspectives you would not have had elsewhere?

I started doing this vein of work in the first place because the commercial comics were all rubbish, with their cosmic superheroes and saving the world all the time like happens in every one of the Marvel movies. I wanted comics that were the opposite of that. What is the opposite of infallible heroes with their mighty muscles. Something stupid and ordinary. That’ll be me, I thought. Quite a lot of us had the same idea in the ’80s. There was a turn to comicking about one’s own life and observations. It was fresh and invigorating if only because it didn’t involve the same story over and over. An honest story will always have something unique about it, and if done well takes us into the realm of genuine Art. The stories of Seth and Chester Brown, for example, are excellent.

As to my autobiographical work teaching me anything, I would say it’s life that teaches and art just has to try to keep up.

TheTruth i vi 1 80 3P
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2014) © Eddie Campbell

Can you talk about the dynamics of your collaboration with Neil Gaiman during the creation of the illustrated book? How did your artistic visions align and diverge throughout the process?”

Ah, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.” (2014). That started as a performance thing and only became a book four years later. Though, once again, I had put a lot of thought into it by that time and we had a hard time explaining it to a publisher, hence four years creeping by. As a performance, it involved Neil reading an hour-long story accompanied by Fourplay, the Australian string quartet, with illustrations by me projected on a big movie-size screen behind Neil. 

As to artistic visions aligning, I can’t remember if we ever discussed it. I really can’t remember that. I remember him talking to the musicians, but I don’t recall him or them or anybody saying anything about the pictures. There was a big screen and I put projected pictures on it. I had never done that before and I had no idea what I was doing. Wait a minute, there was a tiny photograph of a Scottish cow that I stuck in the book version and Neil thought I should draw the cow, so I traced over the photo and colored it in photoshop. That’s the only time I can remember us talking about it. There must have been more, surely. Maybe I was an unapproachable person at that time. I was in the middle of a divorce.

You began in the analog age; nowadays what is your relationship with materials and tools? Do you continue to utilize conventional tools for producing comic artwork? What is the biggest difference between working with digital and conventional tools? What is your approach to technology? Does working digitally alter your perception of or method of generating comics aesthetically or elsewhere?

I now do everything on the computer. I used pen and ink recently to make some sketches to take to a convention and I really didn’t enjoy it. The big advantage of the computer is that things can be easily corrected. In one sketch I put a character’s mouth too far from his nose. I had to erase the mouth and redraw it. I missed not being able to just digitally lasso it and move it up a little. And another thing, returning to the physical media the most noticeable thing is that my hand keeps getting in the line of sight between my eye and the detail I’m trying to draw on the page. Funny how one forgets that. The hand was always in the way but it never occurred to us that this was fixable if only we could do it all on a computer. Another thing is that ink lines now look inauthentic to my eye. Anything well practiced starts to feel like a deceit. lately I’ve been drawing everything on the touchpad.

We are experiencing the evolution of AI. Some people write stories and make images with AI. Some even have created entire projects with a series of prompts for personal purposes and have completed comics. What is your impression of the current state of the comics industry and the possible influence of AI in the industry?

I honestly haven’t looked into this at all. If I had a style I would fear that my style could be stolen from me. It could only steal a style that I used to have. If I have something to say about my life I am not sure how a computer could get ahead of me on that. Maybe I’m being naive.

As for the comics industry, I really don’t like what comes out of it, so I’m not sure how AI could ruin it.

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The Second Fake Death of Eddie Campbell & The Fate of the Artist © Eddie Campbell

We are living in the era where AI tools like Sora make Images into Videos, and can create videos or animations from a single image or photo, also with an accurate dubbing voice. Do you think this process could influence the way people will read digital comic art, giving a new dynamic and voice to digital graphic novels? What are your thoughts on this? Would you be interested in seeing a version of From Hell or one of your creations that you are particularly fond of made in this possible new format?

I can’t even stand the movie that was made of From Hell, so you can safely assume that any other kind of remake of it would be of no interest to me. But I am curious as to the more creative uses of AI that you describe in your first sentence. I have seen AI things online that are marvelous.

You were born in the U.K. and moved to Australia. Does living in different parts of the world influence your way of seeing life and be creative?  Which are the biggest advantages, which main differences did you notice that helped you to grow as a person and as an artist?

Since 2016 I have been living in Chicago, USA. I am not sure how it all happened. I never meant to leave home. It all happened somehow. Actually, it is the subject of my next book. I have taken time away from working on that to write these answers here. It has a title, but I will keep that to myself for now. It should be out in 2025.

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Eddie Campbell

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by retrofuturista

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