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July 01, 2008


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Ben Towle

I just did a quick read-through of both posts, so I may have missed it, but did neither of you touch on the book's being written with second person narration? This seems to me to be the book's most unusual formal feature, and one which I found a bit off-putting actually; although, I'm generally a big fan of Campbell's work.


Good point, Ben, neither Craig nor I talked about the book's use of second-person narration, something that I found bemusing when I first began to read the book but that quickly became like second nature to me.

It's an unusual voice to write the book in: not only second-person but also future tense! Yet this makes sense to me because (a) Campbell is trying to bring a sense of lived-in urgency to what might be viewed as a strictly historical account; and (b) he is enacting that disjunction so common in autobiography between the older, more jaded persona of the author (as author) in the present and the younger, more naive persona of the author (as character) in the past. Eddie's autobio work has always been very self-conscious about its positioning of the author vis-a-vis himself as character.

To me the second-person narration is another distancing device, comparable to Campbell's use of "Alec MacGarry" as a surrogate.

Ben Towle

"...he is enacting that disjunction so common in autobiography between the older, more jaded persona of the author (as author) in the present and the younger, more naive persona of the author (as character)..."

I guess that depends on who you take the "you" to be referring to: the younger Eddie depicted in the book, or you-the-reader. I my case, as I read the book, I kept instinctively saying aloud, "No, no I really WON'T do that!" a lot.



Ha! That's pretty funny, actually. But, yeah, there's something rather aggressive about the second-person voice, like a finger pointing at you.

Obviously, stories written wholly in the second person are rare, though not so very rare as one might think. Writer Dennis Schofield's site, "Second Person Fiction," offers, among other things, his entire dissertaton on this topic:


Note that Schofield's preferred graphic is indeed of a hand pointing at "you." (How accusatory!)

Playing with voice is one the tics of autobiography: Henry Adams, for example, wrote his in third person (with a self-critical irony that ain't too far from Eddie's neighborhood).


Ohhhh. Thanks for pointing that out Ben. Perfect for something I've been planning on the "second person" in comics.

Leigh Walton

Great reflections, guys. Can't wait for more. In a very real way it was Eddie's comics that caused the creation of Top Shelf, so I bear an interesting debt to him professionally as well as the impact his work has had personally.

Upon reading HOW TO BE AN ARTIST (my first Campbell outside of skimming FROM HELL), though, I really had no idea what to expect. I remember taking the title quite literally, which left me (like Ben) with the impression that the author was speaking broadly -- spelling out exactly the process by which every artist becomes an artist. Which is a bit silly, considering how absurdly specific the book gets. But then maybe it IS an authentic representation of that process: the names change, but the song remains the same?

Seeing how much you guys are getting out of ALEC is encouraging; I imagine that it will continue to mean more to me as I age. At the moment I'm just thinking: How lucky is Eddie Campbell, to have his very own Eddie Campbell following him around and recording the story of his life! We should all be so lucky.

Marco Milone

Good point!


Leigh, it's great to hear from you again, thanks!

I have to say, I think going straight from FROM HELL to HOW TO BE AN ARTIST would be pretty disorienting! IIRC, my first exposure to Eddie's work was DEADFACE: DOING THE ISLANDS WITH BACCHUS (in pamphlet form, 1991), and from there FROM HELL (in pamphlet form). At least that's how I remember it: I know that by the time of FROM HELL I already had a sense that Eddie was an artist whose interest in history could compete with Moore's. My first reading of "Alec" was, I think, GRAFFITI KITCHEN, in the old Tundra edition (1993). I guess for me KITCHEN has always been the "template" for the Alec stuff.

It's odd, reading Eddie's work, the gathering of so many years, out of order.

BTW, I haven't forgotten your input on Martinson's TONOHARU; I appreciated your thoughtful take there, even though I was inclined to disagree, or at least to be pretty skeptical (with the exception of Ware, I find my tastes veering away from the neatly formalistic and toward the wild 'n' wooly these days). It's nice to know that you're with us, reading along.

Hey, I'll be at CCI in a couple of weeks, so I hope to track you down via the Top Shelf booth and greet you in person.

Leigh Walton

Hey Charles,

It looks like we missed each other at ALA! I wanted to check out the wordless comics panel (Top Shelf has published quite a few, from Owly to Fox Bunny Funny to some of the stuff on TS2.0), but couldn't get away from the booth. Luckily Comicon will give us another chance to meet up!

Also, we're starting to get VERY excited about the new ALEC edition (http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=2). Eddie has been working on this book for years and it's going to be a beauty. Let's see if we can't get him into the canon where he belongs!


Hey, Eddie's already in the canon. You just gotta ask the right people. :)

Seriously, sorry to have missed you at ALA. Damn, I didn't have the good sense to ask who was manning the Top Shelf booth, and in all the hurry...

I *will* look you up at CCI!


There's a brief comment above by one Marco Milone, and I'd love to hear more from him, because he runs a cool website called Mellart, which aims "to promote experimental and underground culture in its various visual forms: animation, art, cinema and comics" (http://www.mellart.com is the URL).

I went there tonight and watched a short film by John Canemaker!

Marco, are you there? I gather you are a comics journalist from Palermo, sì?

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