Comic strip artist John Campbell has made quite a name for himself over the years with his web-comic "Pictures for Sad Children." His snide, sarcastic, and depressed subject matter have made the strip a popular read for many, including a substantial readership with the indie music world. Scene Point Blank spoke with Campbell about his work and what's on the horizon.
Scene Point Blank: Thanks very much for taking the time to do this John. You were at the Toronto Comicbook Festival over the weekend. Can you tell me a little about that experience?
John Campbell: It was a public library full of tables and people behind the tables "selling" comic books, or else possibly "trying to make back half the money they spent making all these comics." Some of the people were visibly furtive and uncomfortable with "selling themselves" while others were, I would say "too comfortable" or i guess "so comfortable as to make me uncomfortable." While a few were "just right" i.e. "somewhat uncomfortable but resigned to the spiraling cognitive dissonance required for the situation."
The library itself looked like what someone from the seventies or eighties thought the future would look like, and I could see it being in a low-budget sci-fi movie where the protagonist figures out he's a clone or whatever, and no one believes him, blah blah blah. the writer/director funds the whole thing and it is really obviously about his sexual frustration, like maybe the director is a man who cannot maintain an erection and so pretends to "finish up" very quickly and both partners leave the sexual encounter dissatisfied and sad/angry/confused.
Scene Point Blank: I had a chance to watch you interact with some of your fans over the weekend. How has it been to get to meet some of them in person? How have the conversations been?
John Campbell: It is good to meet readers, it is easy to lose my bearings on the internet and no longer be able to imagine that anyone online is a real actual human being with blood and eyeballs. I would give the conversations a C+, a little too much stammering on both sides, see me after class.
Scene Point Blank: Given the style of your writing/comic there seems to be a set of expectations that people have for you. I had expected some sort of bearded introvert who I'd have trouble communicating with, and instead I met a bearded man who seemed to be happy to sign books and t-shirts. Do you receive a lot of comments to that effect?
John Campbell: A lot of people are surprised that I am glad to see them and am smiling, like they assume I am a character from one of my comics, all blank expression and thin arms and bald. But I have got thick ropey body-building arms.
Scene Point Blank: In an early interview that I had read you had commented on wanting to collect "Pictures for Sad Children" as a book. I bought some of the mini-zines, but are we closer to seeing an actual book launch at this point?
John Campbell: Yeah, I am bad at book stuff. I have to draw a cover and layout the book and it is just a tough thing to find time for on account of not liking the comics I made one/two years ago at all. I am saying it is hard to work on things I don't like in order to show things I don't like to other people.
Scene Point Blank: Given that the comic is now your source of income, is their an added pressure to produce? Did you ever expect to be doing this full-time?
John Campbell: I try my best to ignore the pressure. I don't want to update my site unless I have something I like and want to show to other people. I absolutely did not expect to do this full-time, but to a lot of people's standards I probably am not, I can afford to live in a house with a dozen hippies in it, in a neighborhood with some gang violence, and I do not have medical insurance, etc.
Scene Point Blank: Was the Silver's promotion real? While I enjoyed the comics, I don't see any company wanting to advertise themselves with a man putting his arms in baking grease…
John Campbell: I'm not sure what you mean by "real." I got the word out about the delicious Long John Silver's experience and upped everyone's enjoyment of Long John Silver's as a "brand" and now when I see long john silver's ads anywhere I laugh and feel a little ill. And I bet some other people do too.
Scene Point Blank: This is a question that I've asked a lot of my favorite musicians, but I think it applies here too. The subject matter of your comic is rather heavy handed and often, for lack of a better word, sad. Is it strange to be receiving such a positive reaction, and a paycheck, for documenting what seem like personal ideas?
John Campbell: Oh definitely, but not much stranger than anything else. It was strange to get a paycheck for working in an office doing things I could have done in eighth grade, but I had to get a degree and 50k in debt to be there. It was strange to wake up to blood in my bed and the sun had fallen down in the middle of the city and sunk into the ground and everyone started wearing sunglasses. Every little thing is strange and terrifying.
Scene Point Blank: What would you ultimately like to do with the comic and/or your writing?
John Campbell: It'd be neat to write a book or make a movie or what have you, but I make comics because that is what I am capable of doing, and I'll probably keep doing comics until I get bored/frustrated with them enough to force myself to do something else or else get a job or else probably die somewhere.
Scene Point Blank: Anything you'd particularly like to finish up with?
John Campbell: Nope.