Sunday, March 22, 2009


I have to say, I've found Eddie Campbell's trio of books published by First Second over the last three years to each be somewhat of a disappointment, though in widely different ways. On the other hand, they had quite a high bar to clear given Campbell's earlier work, and they're still kind of pretty and interesting as Eddie Campbell failures go. I'll take disappointing Campbell (except maybe some super-hero stuff he co-wrote) over most creators' average.

I mean, FATE OF THE ARTIST, had some moments that were quite brilliant, which made it a worthy next stage to Campbell's "Alec" stories, but that stuff made up less than half the book, and most of it left me cold, which "Alec" never did. THE BLACK DIAMOND DETECTIVE AGENCY, now that was weird. It was Campbell's slightly ambitious adaptation of what appears to be a thoroughly unambitious unproduced screenplay for a by-the-numbers western movie. Surprisingly, I think it was the best of the three, despite its origins. I mean, part of Campbell's reputation when working with someone else's writing (mostly Alan Moore) is managing to succeed with stuff which should be impossible, so it's not surprising he can succeed with something more bland. It's a thoroughly readable book, but not too memorable.

And now I've read Campbell's third First Second book (that's a weird sentence...), THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD, co-written with Dan Best. It manages to be both the best and worst of the three. It's certainly the most daring, a radical departure from both Campbell's previous work and from the genre standards that BLACK DIAMOND is based on. A plain plot description is odd enough (the nephew of a famed 19th century circus aerialist inherits his uncle's name and act, taking him and his trope of oddballs through historical events like the siege of Paris and the sinking of the Titanic), but doesn't begin to address the oddness of the storytelling. Parts of it work quite well for me, but more often then not it doesn't. Whimsy is a hard tight-rope to walk at the best of times, and I have to consider that if I read it in the right mood and at the right time it would work perfectly.

But I didn't, so for now I can't really say I like it. A few chuckles, a few groans, very few laughs. I'm more than open to pulling it off the shelf and dusting it off ten years from now, and have a completely different impression, and I'll still always admire its ambition, if not its execution.

And of course I'll probably be around for whatever Campbell does next. It looks like definitive editions of his ALEC and BACCHUS work are in the pipeline, so I'll happily line up to get what's probably my third of fourth (but hopefully final) copy of many of those stories.

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