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November 05, 2002

The Living Dead


Given your interest in graphic novels, I thought you might want to know that Eddie Campbell, the artist of “From Hell,” is also a writer on art. While researching another posting I absolutely stumbled across a column, "Eddie's Corner," written by Mr. Campbell for his own website. Mr. Campbell was apparently irritated into writing by an academic’s formalist and reductionist definition of comic books, but his comments are certainly applicable to many other areas of art:

I’m sure a psychologist could oblige us by explaining what is missing from modern life that gives rise to the need to declare our enthusiasms to be ‘art-forms’, for it is indeed a strange neurosis. Then we argue about the definition of our our new found art form and attempt to find in it the formal purity that we have persuaded ourselves an art form must possess. Where did this expression ‘art form’ come from anyway? The earliest stated use of the term I can find dates to 1868. That would put it right at the beginning of what is called modern art...In 1871 Whistler painted the portrait of his mother and titled it ‘Arrangement in grey and black’. From here on the avant-garde would continue to push art toward greater austerity of purpose. Subject is pushed to the background. Form is the connecting tissue between one movement in art and the next: Cezanne points the way to cubism, which opens the door to abstraction etc…. We need refer to nothing else but form, if we desire it. I was reading a book written in the 1970s (I’m trying to relocate it) on the subject of Gothic architecture. Having discussed one great building from an aesthetic point of view, the author states we should not forget that it was also designed to be a place of worship. Eh? At what point in the discussion of a Gothic cathedral do we lose sight of what it was built for? Art had become that part of an object that is separate from function…The bottom line to all of this is that the world desperately needs a new concept of art and the place of art in the world. Firstly we have to stop thinking in terms of ‘art form’…[W]hen I ceremoniously toast the ‘founding fathers’ of the art that I practice, they are as likely to be writers as cartoonists, comic dramatists as doodlers, sculptors or even just barroom talkers, because I see my art as the art of humour. There are only two arts. Being serious and being funny. All the technical stuff is but the means, the craft or the tools. There is a tendency among those who write on art to make the means the whole of it. Time to end the tyranny of the tools.
The Versatile Mr. Campbell

I don’t know about you, but the line of critical discourse Mr. Campbell is rebutting is painfully familiar to me from my student days at our Lousy Ivy University. It’s appalling that, like the living dead, it is still up on its feet, running around sucking the blood of the arts. And I want to recognize Mr. Campbell for pounding a stake into it. Hit it one more time for me, Eddie.



P.S. You can find a profile of Eddie Campbell here. You can also find the complete text of this and other columns here.



posted by Friedrich at November 5, 2002


Thanks for pointing Eddie Campbell out. I didn't know his work before -- haven't yet read "From Hell." He's a feisty, bright and supertalented guy. Why doesn't some NY media outfit give him a platform?

I'm actually a tyro where graphic novels are concerned, and only a recent convert. I don't know what used to be wrong with me. I do, though: I was looking at them through the lens of Art ("Maus") Spiegelman, whose work and brains I find dreary, and whose ego tires me. Protest, politics, autobiography -- not my favorite modes.

I do love much European cartooning, though. They seem to have a long tradition of it, and as an art from it doesn't seem prone to falling prey to the boring, boring debates that are always raging over here: is it an art form? Is it not an art form? The Europeans just go ahead and do it. Some of it (Loustal, for instance) is quite poetic.

Are you a graphic-novel fan? Have you maintained an interest in comics? Anything to recommend?

Posted by: Michael on November 6, 2002 2:01 PM

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