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Campbell, Eddie – Alec: The Years Have Pants


Alec: The Years Have Pants

So! Eddie Campbell. He’s one of the first people I discovered after making the transition from the super hero stuff (kudos to you if you were smart enough to jump right into the good stuff, I was not), and his Bacchus series definitely was a major cause in keeping me interested while I was at a stage of life where I would have just as soon given up on the funny books. Still, I had to see what happened in the various Bacchus stories each month (and Cerebus too at the time), so I couldn’t just stop going to the comic store altogether, then my social life lessened a bit, somebody said “Instead of complaining about the lack of decent small press sites out there, why not just make your own?” and here I am, still rambling, almost ten years later. No, I’m not saying I’m in Eddie’s league, don’t think that for a second. I’m just saying to all the people who get some value out of this site: I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for him.  So if you haven’t read any of his books, it’s clearly meant a lot to me. This is also the cue for anybody who wanted an unbiased review to hit the exits, as it simply isn’t possible for me to read chunks of this book without a nostalgic reaction.  Sorry, I tried to remain objective, and it just wasn’t possible.  My only real concern with this book was that several parts of it were literary landmarks in my life. The King Canute Crowd (known to me as “The Complete Alec” back in the day), Graffiti Kitchen, The Dance of Lifey Death, these all hit me square in the face when I first read them. I was afraid that having them all clumped together would lessen their individual impact, that it would all run together.  In a way I was right, but in a much bigger way having them finally all in one collection makes them part of a much greater whole, and every story is actually improved because of it.  I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go.  I’ll get into the bits in a minute, but as a whole this was brilliant, or fill in the blank for your personal description for the best thing ever. I couldn’t even bring myself to scan an internal image because I didn’t want to risk damaging the spine for the scanner, even though in five years this thing will probably be a dog-eared mess from loaning it to friends and referencing various parts.  I don’t know how the sales were for this thing, as the price and size might have scared people away, but there aren’t many graphic novels (or whatever you want to call this genre) that are better. Frankly, if I saw the bookshelf of a small press person and this wasn’t on it, I would think less of them.  Hey, maybe I should talk about the inside a bit?  I was going to do full reviews for each bit, but am dialing that back a bit after the lengthy opening ramble.

The King Canute Crowd:  My first experience to Eddie. I’d seen autobiographical stuff before, but never a less self-conscious pile of stories, and never anything that spoke to me as clearly as this did. Moments that still make me smile include Danny Grey pissing in a handbag, that malevolent teddy bear, Eddie’s easy but ridiculous job, and how he never knew where he was going to wake up from day to day. For years this WAS the Alec story, and it holds up even better than I thought. One of those rare books that I could almost certainly identify from being shown any random panel.

Graffiti Kitchen: Garooga! This one hit me like a ton of bricks when I first read it. Absolutely brimming with life, in a way that I’ve rarely seen since, and as such it’s not something that’s easily defined.  There’s a reason why this is considered by many to be the best of the Alec books, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to try and figure out why here.

How to Be an Artist:  I vaguely remember not giving this the greatest review when it first came out, but after reading it again here I haven’t the foggiest idea why that would be the case. I think I wasn’t that thrilled about the idea of watching comic art evolve throughout all recorded history, but that only lasted a few pages and it’s fascinating to me now. Even outside of all that, it’s an engrossing life story to anybody who has been around this small press end of things for as long as he has.  Reading about the various troubles along the long path, his breaks with artistic faith and how it all led somewhere great in the end was damned near heart-warming without being the slightest bit sappy. That’s a tough thing to pull off, and it seems effortless here.

Little Italy/The Dead Muse: Collections of shorter bits, so they’re lacking the punch of the bigger stories, but there’s plenty of genuinely funny stuff, and his insights come just as easily in shorter pieces. The Dead Muse originally had all kinds of older work from other artists, including an old piece from Dylan Horrocks, but they were taken out for this edition. I have the old copy with all the artists included because I am just that cool (and went on an Eddie Campbell scavenger hunt when I first discovered his work), and it’s fine without it, but interesting to wonder what the hell happened to most of those people.  In the context of this giant book, these short pieces also break things up nicely, adding to the whole again.

The Dance of Lifey Death: This one has shorter pieces and longer pieces, but deep down it seems to mostly be about mortality. Again, this one hit me too squarely back in the day to have an objective opinion about it now, and it remains one of those important pieces of literature that people should just fucking read already. We’re all heading for the grave eventually, might as well enjoy the dance along the way.

After the Snooter: This is all the new “Alec” stuff he was doing in the back pages of Bacchus, right around when he was running out of old material to reprint.  Ah, Bacchus, I hope the rumors are true and Top Shelf is giving that series this same treatment. It’s a bit scattered, as a big story doesn’t seem to have been the idea, but The Snooter is a fascinating concept for a character and several bits had me laughing out loud. Just to be clear, that’s a rarity when I’m reading most comics (sadly), and portions of this entire book had me laughing quite a bit.

The Years Have Pants: Finally got around to the new stuff! OK, let’s say you’ve already read all of his stuff, have nice copies of it all and don’t see the point in spending $35 (for a softcover) for this book. Is it worth it for 40ish pages of new material? Well, you’re already leaving out the new pages that dropped in here and there, and the shorter sections I skipped over with stuff that you’ve almost certainly never seen from various comics, but let’s stick with that complaint. Is it worth it for this bit of new stuff? Drum roll please… of course it is!  What did you think I was going to say?  If it was terrible I’d say you should buy it just to give this man (and the fine folks at Top Shelf) some cash. It’s not terrible. Far, far from it. For one thing, all those children from past stories are all grown up, so this is the perfect ending for the volume. There are still plenty of genuine insights (I enjoyed the bit where he says he can’t even imagine being like his King Canute days and waking up on random floors at his age), funny bits and emotional moments. It’s the perfect cap to the perfect book. Look, at this exact moment it’s snowing and miserable out here. This is the perfect book for days like this. Granted, maybe not so much for taking to the beach because it5’s a brick of a book at 64oish pages and maybe you don’t want to carry it to the beach, but it ‘s perfect for many other settings. Buy it and you absolutely won’t be disappointed.  $35