The Fate of the Artist
Eddie Campbell’s latest, The Fate of the Artist, is more experimental than his previous works. It’s something of a grab bag, with comic pages, fake strip clippings, prose pages with inset doodles, and photo comics, among other techniques, suggesting the detritus of a cluttered, but fascinating, mind.
The reader may not be sure what to make of the title page subtitle and caption: “His Domestic Apocalypse: An Autobiographical Novel, with Typographical Anomalies, in Which the Author Does Not Appear as Himself”. It suggests tragedy, although presented in a convoluted way with a flavor of purposeful obscurity. One hopes comedy successfully comes out the other end, but one isn’t quite sure that the author isn’t serious after all.
The artist, it seems, “has come to despise his art, his self, and his readers”, as the first page informs us. The investigation into his disappearance quickly digresses into a piece on Mozart and Schobert. The point? How random fate can be, which leads into a discussion of the obsessive habits of the departed. It seems that work on his proposed history of humor caused rather serious mental repercussions. He seeks to bring order to an inherently chaotic world, but his doomed failure is at least entertaining and thought-provoking.
Various domestic scenes provide light-hearted distractions, whether portrayed in Campbell’s usual nine-panel borderless pages or a faux newspaper strip called “Honeybee”. An interview with his daughter demonstrates the proper lack of respect an adult child has for their parent and reveals Campbell’s disdain for the internet.
The picture created is that of a crank, someone disappointed that the world doesn’t revolve around them who retreats into a universe of their own making. Normally, that would be cause for concern instead of a fascinating read. (Normally, someone so self-absorbed would be someone to avoid, not someone to seek out.) The book works because of Campbell’s experience and stature in the field, which makes him an interesting subject. The odd connections his mind makes keeps the read lively. What better to explore for an artist than the idea of his impact and what might happen after he’s gone? Self-absorbed it may be, but then, most great creators are.
Eddie Campbell has a blog. The Fate of the Artist was published by First Second Books, which has posted some links about him. Campbell has been interviewed at the Comics Reporter. (The publisher provided a review copy.)