Thursday, 26 June 2014

Hayley Campbell, Neil Gaiman and me. (Updated)

I first got to know Neil Gaiman back around 1988 when I was 19 and working in Comic Showcase in London. He was a regular sight on Thursday afternoons as the new comics turned up, along with many other creators. As I recounted in my memoir, Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tales of Sex, Drugs and Comics:

"The young journalist from the Today newspaper, Neil Gaiman, had moved on considerably, and his star was in the ascendant—having written the Violent Cases graphic novel and the DC Comics Black Orchid miniseries with Dave McKean (which “guest-starred” Garry, Dave and Fleetway’s then-PR guru, Igor Goldkind as the villain). Gaiman was now going great guns with The Sandman. Once a month Neil would pop in the shop to pick up the latest titles and very kindly leave me with the photocopies of the pencils for the forthcoming issues—of what would become one of his seminal works—while he browsed the shelves or caught up with fellow pros..."

Hayley Campbell first got to know Neil Gaiman back around 1992 when she was 6 and he came to stay with her family in Australia.

I can't remember exactly when I first met Hayley Campbell. It was a Christmas drink up in a West End pub with Garth Ennis, the aforementioned Garry Leach, Woodrow Phoenix and loads of other comics friends. My old mate Ed Hillyer introduced me to this raven antipodean giant, who was the daughter of his old pal, Eddie Campbell. She was ballsy, in your face, and just a little intimidating, but I liked her.

Ed Hiller (ILYA) and Hayley Campbell (Photo (c) Eddie Campbell)
Our paths criss-crossed over the years, as they do in the microscopic world of UK comics, and we met up every now and then for drinks and to perform a "double-act" of our talks: her on her dad's work on From Hell, and me on my own observations on "Sex and and the Superhero" at The Last Tuesday Society and The Catalyst Club in Brighton.

Actually, the more I think about it the weirder those links are. Hayley was born in Brighton, where I live. She has family here and in fact my kids used to play with her cousin (unbeknownst to me at the time).
Birth of Hayley Campbell from ALEC: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell

At the time I was working at Ilex Press and had just commissioned two successful biographies; The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy (which was nominated for an Eisner and won a Harvey Award), and the excellent Alan Moore: Storyteller by Gary Spencer-Millidge. The next obvious subject to approach was, of course, Neil. The problem was finding the right person to write it. I went through the list of Neil's old friends like Kim Newman, Roz Kaveney and many others, but everyone was either too busy, reluctant to do it or simply uncontactable.

Then our Managing Editor, Nick Jones, had a brainwave. He had worked with Hayley at Titan Books (again, those weird syncronicities) and knew that she was very close to Neil.

I checked out Ms. Campbell's very excellent blog and saw she had a natural talent for writing so proposed the book idea. She was reluctant as well, concerned of being too close to the subject matter (which is exactly why I wanted her in the first place). However after numerous phone conversations, emails and pints I managed to cajole her (with the apparent urging of Eddie) to say yes, and we set about putting together the sample spreads.

When the BLAD (Basic Layout And Design) document was completed and the book found a US publishing partner in Harper Collins I moved on to start up a line of stationery and left Hayley to get on with the book.

Of course, I'd done the easy bit. I left it in the very capable hands of Nick, editors, Ellie Wilson and Frank Gallaugher, and art director, Julie Weir. However, numerous stops, starts and stalls by far too many people to name here, meant that the book was delayed by a year... then another... then another! It seemed that there were always too many Neil projects coming out and the Harper Collins didn't want to compete with them!

Four years later(!) I'd left Ilex to work for Humanoids Inc, when this marvellous book dropped through my letterbox:

One of my very sad collection of newspaper clippings from over the past 25 years (Neil's article from the Today newspaper about Watchmen) even made it into the book (that's my handwriting in blue):

UPDATE: Lew Stringer pointed out to me that this clipping is actually his, from his website, which is spooky because a) We both have very similar handwriting b) He's a sad as me clipping newspapers like this, and c) I did actually scan my clipping of this and sent it to Ilex, but it obviously wasn't used!

It's crammed with so much amazing material and unseen sketches from famous comics artists, and mounds of fascinating anecdotes from the man himself. I think this is my favourite photo in the book, for  it's pure surrealness. It's Neil chatting with Leonard Nimoy, while Mickey Spillane cuddles Mickey Mouse!

Here's a quick video flick through the rest of the book, accompanied by Neil singing his "I Google You" song (which seemed appropriate somehow).


So, in some ways I am partly to blame for the book. But so are Nick, Ellie, Frank and Julie for keeping the project going over these long years. And, of course it's really Hayley's fault for having the tenacity, wit and writing chops to pull off a very difficult task with such verve. Not to mention Neil's culpability for being a writer and subject worthy of such a lovely tome.

We're all guilty as charged, Your Honour.

UPDATE: It's also been pointed out to me that there are two important people who also contributed to the book who didn't get nearly enough (or in one case, ANY) credit and they are Jennifer Eiss, who copyedited the book, and Martin Stiff who's company, Amazing15, did such a great job designing it. So they're both guilty as hell as well. See you in the exercise yard, guys.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Alan Moore Versus Grant Morrison...

Forget it! I ain't even going near that one!