Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 203 (8/25) -- The Playwright by Eddie Campbell and Daren White

A middle-aged man is lonely, but successful. Or perhaps successful because he's lonely -- though it's not likely to be the reverse. He's a playwright, and, for the duration of this story, he's The playwright. His story is heavily narrated, ornately girdled around by the words provided here by Daren White, and takes place mostly in his head.

There are very few really successful playwrights in the world -- it's not a lucrative profession -- but this one has done decently for himself, aided by living frugally with "Uncle Ernie" (his landlord, an older man he watches over but isn't related to) and by apparently writing some scripts for film and television. And, although this book is called The Playwright and his job is the core of his presentation here, we don't see him actually at work, either writing or interacting with the people who will turn his words into a play or a movie or a TV show. He's the stereotypical solitary writer, whose professional contact is limited to his agent -- and his interest in her is nearly as much sublimated sexual attraction as anything professional.

But then nearly everything we see in The Playwright's life is sublimated sex -- White never says so, precisely, but one gets the distinct impression that The Playwright is English, and a very traditional type of Englishman -- and The Playwright's central plot is of how he comes to term, finally, in late middle age, with real women in the real world, and finally starts to live himself (still in a quiet, English, way) instead of using what he sees around him as material for his work. (Wright makes that last point rather forcefully, I'm afraid; it's the old "one can either live or write" false dichotomy again.)

So The Playwright looks at women, thinks about women, remembers women -- and, since he's English, also remembers his days as a youth in a all-boys school and the rampant wanking that went on then. As always, artist Eddie Campbell draws great real human bodies -- lumpy and rumpled, never perfect but still enticing and interesting -- for the playwright to obsess about. White's words are much of a muchness -- too much so, part of the time -- but work well alongside Campell's few panels (generally three to a short page, arranged horizontally like a newspaper strip).

The Playwright takes place in ten sections, each separated by some time -- call it a year apiece, making the whole a decade, and it's close enough for our purposes -- and through them we see this man, already adult and successful at the beginning, finally turns from work (which we really don't see, though we're told a lot about his various plays) to life. As the back cover says, it's "a dark comedy about the sex life of a celibate middle-aged man. It's not one of Campbell's greatest works -- not up there with the Alec stories, or the Alan Moore-written From Hell -- but it's a story with deep truth in it, and an excellent example of comics being turned to a story very unlike what most people think of being comics. And that's more than enough.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

No comments:

Post a Comment