Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Are you talking to me?"
"Yeh, you, old man. What are you in for?"
"Drunk and disorderly."
"Ha ha. You look old enough to know better."
"Is 4000 years old enough?"
In the very first panel on the very first page "Are you talking to me?" is seen from behind bars.
I'm loving the cover over which someone's spilled a great big bottle of burgundy. "Cheers!" salutes the sozzled old storyteller.
Fifteen years ago I wrote: "A mature, full-bodied comic with a musky, oaken flavour, which is heart-warming in the winter, but equally refreshing on a summer's day picnic."
"Full-bodied"?! This first half comes in at a whopping 550-pages! It's almost as hefty as Eddie's 640-page autobiographical ALEC OMNIBUS which I've long declared the single finest body of work in comics anywhere in the world to date. Fiercely literate and a phenomenally astute philosopher, he's comics' finest raconteur both in person and in print. He had us all howling with laughter when he performed the secret history of THE FATE OF THE ARTIST using customer Vis Pather's young son as an impromptu prop.
As Neil Gaiman puts it:
"Eddie Campbell is the unsung King of comic books. The man's a genius and that's an end to it."
Last year saw the release of Gaiman and Campbell's THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS as a book after being performed live by Gaiman at the Sydney Opera House with projections painted by Campbell. When Neil signed at Page 45 the first thing he did was ask for the latest instalment of BACCHUS which was being serialised for the second time as a monthly. That's Gaiman's idea of a rider, so he's not making that up for the back cover.
Campbell has been recounting tales of his weather-worn demigod for decades now. Sub-titled "Immortality Isn't Forever", it finds the Greek god of revelry washed up 4,000 years later on strangely sympathetic modern shores in far from fine physical fettle but with his spirits still riding high. He boasts a lot of lived-in laughter lines and his turns of phrase seem to tumble effortless out of his mouth:
"I'm Bacchus. I'm a god. I'm living testimony to the fact that it's a dying profession.
"I'm the god of wine. Once I was the bouquet promising great things. Now I'm the gritty bits at the bottom on the glass."
And it's as much about the stories Bacchus has to tell - of his and other gods' escapades - as it is about Bacchus himself, who now wanders across the globe from bar to bar or beach to beach in a battered old coat and a fisherman's cap which hides his wizened brow and his twin, stubby horns. Wherever he roams he finds ancient friends and quite ridiculous foes, along with new devotees eager to imbibe his wisdom.
In 'Doing The Islands With Bacchus" he encounters three naturists on holiday, corrects them on the earliest means of modesty (they weren't fig leaves for the most part but vine leaves, of course) then embarks on a discourse about the history of fashion.
"Now the Spartans were a great mob. They were the first to appear naked at the Olympic Games.... The willy was regarded with awe."
Two of them point to the other's little willy.
Half the hilarity comes from the juxtaposition of the modern and mythological, Bacchus using contemporary vernacular like "natty dressers" and "the big cheese". For example, while Bacchus and his acolytes are down a dockside "taverna" overlooked by an industrial crane, glugging down jugs of wine and scoffing wild mushrooms ("Amanita muscaria... that sacred mushroom: ambrosia nectar... food of the gods!"), Joe Theseus is opening a can of coke and a packaged sandwich in an airport. Joe Theseus! Just sticking "Joe" in front of Theseus makes me laugh.
To begin with it has all those trappings of a comedy crime caper, then lobs in the most ludicrous fight scenes involving The Eyeball Kid, overly endowed with ten pairs of eyes perched on top of one another. If ever you were in doubt about the relationship between ancient gods and modern superheroes, this thrusts it right in your face. There's even an early full-page take-down with a much burlier Bacchus than you'd suspect once the coat comes off launching himself at his assailant which could be - and was almost certainly directly inspired by - Jack Kirby inked by Vince Colletta on THOR.
"I wanted to mock the improbability of a big sprawling adventure while still having one," writes Campbell in the introduction. It's something he'd return to much later on in THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD.
Another early flourish finds Bacchus striding through sheets of rain at night. As the grizzled god looks up into the downpour in close-up it's impossible not to flash forward in time to similar scenes in Frank Miller's SIN CITY VOLUME 1, only this is much less clinical and infinitely wetter. Which is what rain should be, really.
Basically, this: if you think you know all there is to know about Eddie Campbell as an artist from the ALEC OMNIBUS, FROM HELL, THE FROM HELL COMPANION, THE FATE OF THE ARTIST, THE LOVELY HORRIBLE STUFF, THE PLAYWRIGHT etc., you're in for some startling surprises. Yes, you'll recognise his fine line and particular style of portraiture but here you'll find a far, far wider range of renderings, organic textures and experimental special effects than in any other of his works even - given how big this book is - on a whittled-down page-per-page ratio.
This is the material with which Mark first introduced me to Campbell's craft twenty-five years ago (admittedly there wasn't much more to choose from back then other than early ALEC and In The Days Of The Ace Rock'n'Roll Club) because I shared the same passion for wine, Greek mythology and have been obsessed by Bacchus, Pan et al since the age of fourteen. I fell head over heels in love immediately with this mind-bogglingly novel approach which manages the neat trick of being both wholly irreverent and completely faithful. Its greatest fidelity, perhaps, is to the Greeks' art of storytelling and their reverence of it.
Collects Immortality Isn't Forever, The Gods of Business, Doing The Islands With Bacchus, The Eyeball Kid: One Man Show and Earth, Water, Air & Fire, with new introductions to each. Additional writing by Wes Kublick, substantial art contribution by Ed Hillyer, with bits by Pete Mullins and - haha! - I thought I saw SWAMP THING's Steve Bissette in some of those roots and monsters. Page 325 was my biggest clue when you get there. If I'm wrong then the yolk's on me.