Eddie Campbell has been writing and illustrating autobiographical graphic novels and comic strips for decades, alongside his fictional and illustration work. The Fate of the Artist is something a bit different though. Instead of cathartically analysing his life through the recreation of events in comic form, he’s gone one step further and fictionalised his own disappearance.
It’s an intriguing experiment, made up of various styles of writing and design. Some of the book is written in prose from the perspective of a detective, investigating Campbell’s disappearance; an interview with his daughter is realised as a photo story; and revealing insights into his marriage and relationships are dressed up as daily newspaper strips. Lastly, there’s the more traditional Campbell style comic, though instead of using his usual trick of changing the names to create a parallel life, here he insists that the characters he’s drawing are being played by actors. All of these story elements gel together to provide an eccentric whole, both in terms of how the book is collated together and in the character of Campbell himself, who would appear to be successfully demonstrating how dotty he is.
Exploring the impact of your own disappearance might stink of a vanity project, and there are surely elements of ego at play here, though they seem tempered by the resulting relative indifference and lack of surprise in the reactions he’s written for his family. Like a graphic mid-life crisis, we couldn’t help but hear Campbell calling for reassurance, that if he were to disappear, those around him might actually give more of a damn than he credits them with.
It’s an interesting document but perhaps one best left to followers of Campbell’s autobiographical work, since it cries out for context, asking questions like how on earth Campbell got to the state he’s in. However, it doesn’t detract from its ability to chart the mind of a man in the throws of a mid-life crisis, with a lead character who, although eccentric, is bound to hold a significant weight of empathy for readers of a certain age and situation.