Shiny Shelf

Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus)

By Matthew Badham on 14 January 2011

This collected volume of Eddie Campbell books from Top Shelf features comic strips from the eighties, nineties and the noughties (Is that what that latter decade is called?) And it is a wonderful, wonderful thing.It’s important too, as a historical record of the shifting style of one of the best comic creators of recent times; and also because the book’s autobiographical slant and its author’s connections mean that we get anecdotes about some of the most significant figures in recent comics history. In ‘Alec: The Year Have Pants’, Eddie Campbell uses the alter ego of Alec MacGarry to tell the story of a version of his own life and that inevitably includes lots of comics-related anecdotes…

So, we’ve got Alan Moore and family sleeping on mattresses at Campbell/MacGarry’s place and an account of hosting Neil Gaiman, as well as numerous anecdotes about the British small press comics scene of the eighties. Plus, some potted tours around the history of cartooning alongside insights into Campbell’s own artistic practice. If all of this makes ‘Alec’ sound like it will only be of interest to those, like me, who are a bit too interested in the comics medium… well, simply put, I don’t think that’s the case.

Clocking in at over 600 pages, ‘Alec’ is a monster of a book. That’s a good and, in some ways, a bad thing. It means that this collection is certainly value for money, but also means that it’s a potential daunting piece of literature… You shouldn’t be put off, however, especially as ‘Alec’ doesn’t necessarily have to be read in order. I found it most enjoyable to dip in and out of this weighty tome, sampling strips here and there on a whim… And, indeed, I found myself on occasion treating this as a straight art book rather than a collection of comic strips. I let my eye wander across the pages, ignoring the narrative and basking in Eddie Campbell’s superb art…

Because, let’s face it, the art is superb. Campbell’s talent is to make what he does, as both an artist and storyteller (…the same thing?…hmmm…answers on a postcard to a random address…) look so easy. His art could be described as sketchy. I’d prefer to say that it was fluid. The people depicted in this book come alive on the page.

Campbell’s work shows us the potential of comics. Not so much in terms of their form — what he’s doing isn’t especially experimental — but more in terms of their content. By choosing to pen a fictionalised autobiography and focus on the mundane, Campbell reminds us that the medium of comics is a great vehicle for the domestic soap opera that is everyday life.

Real life, as lived, is here in this collection, depicted with a kind of loose beauty by a master storyteller. What more could any comics fan want or ask for?

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By Matthew Badham

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