Tuesday, 2 January 2018


Eddie Campbell Deadface (1988)
I've not read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, but it always sounds suspiciously similar to this earlier work in an admittedly different medium, with which I'm certain he must have been familiar. Then again, I don't suppose Eddie Campbell can have been the first to tell tales of peculiarly urbane mythological persons in a contemporary setting but, you know…

Deadface is Bacchus, the ancient Roman God of wine, revelry, and the like, now of sufficient toothly length as to resemble William Burroughs in his later years, hence Deadface, although Campbell doesn't actually make use of the title anywhere in the story so I suppose it was simply deemed snappier than Bacchus. I encountered this one when the hippy guy who ran my local comic shop - above what is now the Cafe Milano in Chatham - decided I might benefit from a few titles without an X- prefix and turned me onto this and the likewise excellent Trouble with Girls. I return to it now whilst wrestling with Roger Zelazny's similarly theological Lord of Light, a great book, but a tough read when you have other shit getting in the way, as I have had.

Anyway, Bacchus is essentially a wrinkly old sea captain who spends his days drinking wine and spinning yarns, although the yarns are mostly things we'd recognise as mythology, and whenever he removes his cap it's difficult to miss the horns. Drama intrudes upon the Mediterranean serenity of our tale when it emerges that there are still a couple of others knocking around from the old days, Joe Theseus and the Eyeball Kid, the monstrous and yet oddly charming grandson of Argus. I get the impression this comic may have been played by ear from one issue to the next, depending on what story Campbell felt like telling; at least judging by how Bacchus himself is quickly sidelined in this title which at least alludes to him even if it doesn't actually carry his name; which I suppose may also have been in response to the pressures of publishing an independent black and white comic in the late eighties. Deadface was wrapped up and cancelled with issue eight, and while the run taken as a single whole tends to wander a bit in terms of focus, it's nevertheless satisfying.

Deadface succeeded mostly on the strength of tone and atmosphere. It's leisurely paced and mature, not given to ostentatious attempts to blow our minds, and thus is it able to carry the premise of those Greek and Roman Gods having been real people without seeming silly. In fact, it seems to expand and update the mythology with a veracity which makes all of Grant Morrison's hooting and hollering about his spandex Supergods appear hysterical and childish, if you can imagine that. Eddie Campbell's art is harsh, angular, and never quite what you'd call easy on the eye, but there's something fascinating about it, particularly this eighties vintage with the scratchy lines and stark blocks of letratone. Deadface looks and feels like a comic descended directly from book illustration, like neither Action Comics, Superman nor any of that other branch ever happened. Some momentum is lost in the later issues inked by Ed Hillyer who, whilst not without talent, seems less distinctive and somehow more mainstream than Campbell as an artist; which isn't to say that they're bad, because - at the risk of committing hyperbole - Eddie Campbell's touch is such as to elevate everything else in the vicinity, and even when you get the impression he's winging it, the results remain staggering.

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