Last week in part 1 of our interview with Eddie Campbell about his new graphic novel, The Black Diamond Detective Agency, the cartoonist discussed his thoughts on adapting a screenplay into a comics work, serializing versus original graphic novels and his attraction to American-style detective writers like Raymond Chandler. In the second and final part, Campbell discusses his next book, The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard, and how he'd really just prefer to get paid to blog all day.
PW Comics Week: Was it difficult to manage the large cast of characters for The Black Diamond Detective Agency?
Eddie Campbell: In the original script, there are just a lot of guys with names, and the first time I read it, I thought, “I don’t know who’s who here.” I think with the movie, the idea is that this name will become a character when we know who’s playing the role. If we get Brad Pitt, it will be a certain kind of character. If we get George Clooney for the same part, it’ll be a different kind of character. So I went into it with that idea, I kept thinking to myself, “I have to cast my own actors in these parts.” Not actual actors, but actors out of my head, or some of the stock characters that are wandering around in there. The mute guy, the guy who doesn’t speak, that’s something I put in there. In the original script, he speaks. The two comedy characters—all that business about “nothing works” and “it’s a sign of the times"—those guys with the Campbellian catch phrases [were mine]. I gave them the last line of the book, which I’m quite pleased with. Actually, they get killed in the screenplay, but I became too fond of them. But you’re right, yeah, there’s a lot of people walking about in the original script. One of the challenges was to differentiate them all, give them all things to do and turn them into clear-cut characters.
PWCW: What can you tell me about the book you’re working on now, The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard?
EC: It’s another period piece—it’s set in the 1800s again. It’s not about the circus, but the characters in it are circus characters. I’m 80 pages into it, and I’m quite excited by it. It covers a large sweep of history, from the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 all the way up to the First World War. One of [the characters] pinched [stole] the Mona Lisa in 1911 and he was sent to Devil’s Island, and the others have all gone to the Caribbean to rescue him, but the boat they’ve got on in 1912 to rescue him is the Titanic.
PWCW: You seem to gravitate to period pieces when you’re not doing autobiographical work.
EC: I don’t know how I got into this period thing; it wasn’t intentional. I’d never done a period thing until From Hell. I certainly wouldn’t want to get stuck doing that forever. Ideally, I’d love to do another book like The Fate of the Artist—I think that’s the kind of book I’m most happy doing—or After the Snooter. Those kind of books are the ones I enjoy the most, where I can ruminate at length on the little things of everyday life as it is here and now. But the world wants grand adventures. The world wants people shooting each other or romantically going down to the bottom of the sea in a doomed liner. Let’s please the world, let’s give them huge, colossal adventures.
PWCW: As long as you can still do a book like Fate of the Artist?
EC: Yeah. At the moment I’m trying to alternate things. The one I did before The Fate of the Artist was a Batman book [Batman: The Order of the Beasts], which was another detective story set in 1939, so it was another period piece. Black Diamond, Leotard, that’s what the future holds. The most extraordinary thing is that I can actually make a living at all. Somehow or another, I’ve managed to stay on the horse all these years. I haven’t got a choice there—you get to a certain age and there’s nothing else you can do. You can’t go back being a filing clerk or whatever. Every day becomes an act of desperation to stay in the game. Of course, what I’d really like to do is get paid for doing a blog all day. That’s the enjoyable part of my day. Sitting down and painting a 140-page book can be terrifying; it can be an onerous task.
PWCW: Did you get the same fun out of putting together letters pages for periodical comics?
EC: I used to enjoy all the frivolous stuff about comics, but there’s something dead serious about making a novel, about making a long-form work. The more you get into it, the more you’re gripped by this feeling of terror that you might get to the last lap and find that it doesn’t work, this thing that you imagined a year ago. So there’s all this tension going on, what if I get to the end of it and the first person I show it to says, “It doesn’t work. There’s something wrong here.” How do you fix that? In the old days, when you’re churning the thing out in monthly parts, if it wasn’t working you’d know that fairly quickly.
PWCW: Do you get feedback from your editor or do you go off and do your own thing and turn the book in?
EC: I tend to do my own thing and after a few months the editor starts to get worried and asks to see some of it, and then I procrastinate and show him a couple of pages, and then procrastinate. But Mark [Siegel, First Second editorial director] seems to be trusting me, he seems to think I know what I’m doing, which is very big of him. I don’t think he realizes how risky the whole proposition really is.
PWCW: Fate of the Artist, your first book from First Second, has done well with critics.
EC: Yeah, there is that. If you do one, you’re likely to be trusted with another one. But there’re so many young guys in this game, I think I’d want to see what they’re doing as they’re going along. It’s all different. It’s quite a different game from what it used to be 10, 15 years ago. Even something like [Frank Miller’s] 300 was issued in four parts when it came out.
PWCW: Whereas now it’d probably be a straight graphic novel.
EC: We’ve been adjusting to it gradually. We have enough people now who can do that, who can think in the larger architecture of a novel, where we used to just wing it and sometimes it would come out like that and sometimes it wouldn’t. Now we have better ideas about planning these things, we’ve got the technical ideas for how to sustain that kind of narrative—we’ve done it often enough as a community. It’s exciting times, I think.
PWCW: So you think we’re past the trial and error stage, so to speak?
EC: With art you can never tell. Art has a way of sabotaging itself. It’s not like science, where continuous experiments create results that lead to bigger discoveries. Art is continually destroying itself and starting over. The next generation decides that these guys didn’t know what they’re doing, “We’re going to start from scratch.” It’s a hair-raising ride.