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Graffiti Kitchen reviewed by Pete Ashton (with Jez Higgins)
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The Birth Caul reviewed by Pete Ashton
The Birth Caul
By Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
In 1995 Alan Moore did a spoken word performance of The Birth Caul with music performed by David J and Tim Perkins. A CD was released and, other than a couple of reviews in the comics press and a haunting mention on Moore's bibliography, not much was mentioned about it. There was something scary about it all. Moore had recently "come out" (as it were) as a practicing magician and the prospect of the Big Man (the photo from the Swamp Thing reprints will stay with us forever) presiding in an old court house, reciting his "shamanism of childhood" was probably a bit much for those who thought Watchmen was a good comic but V For Vendetta was better. Now Moore's latest major work From Hell has been completed and we're more comfortable with him as an explorer of the esoteric, Eddie Campbell has graciously adapted The Birth Caul as a comic and published it himself.
It's essentially an autobiography of Moore's childhood and it's not at all threatening. It is very deep and introspective but, as with the best introspection, it searches for the universal, extrapolating Moore's personal experiences to the general We. The birth caul is a thin piece of skin sometimes present at birth covering the face like a veil. Traditionally it is kept as a good luck charm. When Moore's mother died he found her birth caul amongst her effects. And from there the journey starts. It would take a long essay to properly review this work and I haven't got the space (or time) plus I'd probably get it completely wrong having only read it through 5 or 6 times. I can say that it covers many bases of Moore's work, the most obvious being Big Numbers and From Hell. His obsessions with geography and historical patterns are here for a start. The Caul represents a map of humanity which he proceeds to read from. It's, quite simply, stunning stuff.
Eddie Campbell has chosen to simply illustrate the text, sometimes as comic strip, but more often as a sequence of images drawing meaning out of the prose. Probably because it is not necessary for him to tell the story (Moore's words do that more than adequately) he has let rip with the art, diving off in all directions and pushing back conventions with every other page. And being Eddie Campbell he pulls this off wonderfully. Some adaptations of Moore's texts have been so far-out as to be incomprehensible. Campbell emphasises the esoteric nature of the piece while bringing you in for the ride. You can imagine Campbell standing in front of Moore during the performance producing this work. He is now part of the performance.
This work bodes well for the future. With From Hell and now The Birth Caul it looks like Moore and Campbell are a perfect team. One waits with great anticipation for future collaborations.
Review © Pete Ashton