Or he'd say he was going to make his 'graphic novel' just a lot of text with a couple of illustrations, as though there was a graphic novel police about to give him a ticket for an imaginary infringement.
'It's all just illustrated stories', he'd say, 'And an illustration is just a typographical anomaly.'
-- Eddie Campbell, The Fate Of The Artist
The Fate Of The Artist is the glittering critical jewel in the First Second launch, which is an ambitious thrust of graphic novelry into the mainstream space. But is this standard bearer for the Great March To Acceptance even a graphic novel?
I don't know that it is ... I don't know that it isn't.
I don't know that I care.
I do know that it's postmodern melding of techniques, frames of reference, and typographical anomalies puts The Fate Of The Artist in closer company to House Of Leaves than to its First Second compatriots like Vampire Loves or The Lost Colony. This is a prose book punctuated by comic strips, fumetti, illustrated nonfiction, and anything else Eddie Campbell can edge in sideways. It feels a bit like a scrapbook, and the overarching narrative of the murder of Eddie Campbell serves more as pretext than text, as each strip and conceit takes on it's own weight as it takes the stage.
I do want to offer an alternative to Christopher Butcher's warning that "While Campbell does a good job of introducing his situation and surroundings to the reader in this book, I can't imagine a reader inexperienced with Campbell's ouvere drawing much from the story other than that he's a prat who may have managed to have some sense knocked into him in the end." While I'm sure that a knowledge of Campbell's past work might enrich this story, my Campbell readings consist of From Hell and Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight. I've heard of Bacchus and Alec, but that's it. The Fate Of The Artist felt accessible to me from the first page, and I never felt that I was "missing" something at all. This is a natural extension of his work, but it's also a wonderful introductory piece ... I know I'll be looking for more Eddie Campbell after this.
Like the cover indicates, this is collage. This is a set of disparate artforms stitched together to try and make a portrait. For all it's autobiographical indications, however, it's the back cover that tells us the truth of the matter: it's just facade, a stage flat painted to look like Eddie Campbell. It's all a juggling act, a show, a diversion, a play. And it's grand theatre, isn't it?
In the book, Eddie Campbell's body is found "double-bagged and filed in the deep stack under 741.5, the number recently allotted to graphic novels by the Dewey decimal system". What we learn throughout the novel is that it just won't fit: neither The Fate Of The Artist nor Eddie Campbell can be stuffed in a slot assigned to "all that inferior comic book twaddle". For readers whom First Second might be bringing to the artform, Eddie Campbell is making one thing clear: The Fate Of The Artist is a novel, and all the rest is typographical anomaly.