// you’re reading...


Minimalist comics artist John Campbell talks books – Page 2

John Campbell talks about his online comics business…

READERSVOICE.COM: How do your custom comics work? Do you send the original to the person requesting it, and keep a copy for a book project, down the track?

JOHN CAMPBELL: People paypal me some money, I draw them a comic, scan it, e-mail it to them, and if they’ve paid a little extra I mail them the original. So I’ve got high-res scans of all the custom comics I’ve made.

I’m not sure I’ll ever put a collection of them together since a lot of them are inside jokes or gifts or comics I don’t find particularly compelling. Before I left for Mexico I did probably around 40 custom comics, and it helped me afford to get here and pay my student loans while I’m here not working. Ryan and I will be opening up a little online shop where he sells his custom 24-hour comics, which is commissioning a full comic book, and his work is really something else. I’ll still do my little one page custom comics and they should be able to keep this Mexico thing financially viable.

RV: When did you come up for the idea of the Hourly Comics Day and can you talk a bit about it?

JC: They came out of the month of hourly journal comics I started doing in January of 2006, then again in January 2007. Other people found the idea compelling and I wanted to see what people’s days were like, so I organized and announced a little day for people to do it. We’ve done it twice so far and it’s gotten I think a couple hundred people drawing comics all day. It helps that my drawing style is simple–people who would not otherwise attempt drawing give hourly comics a go, which I love to see.

The Hourly Comics themselves came from my dissatisfaction with most journal comics I’ve read. Getting a single moment from a day never really made me feel like I got to know the author. I still don’t really know what James Kochalka does with his day. I don’t think Hourly Comics close the autobiographical distance, but it is a step and it’s an interesting enough experiment to keep up.

RV: Do you also make up small comic books and sell them, and how many pages do they go for?
JC: I’ve made some minicomics and zines. I’m just about out of them at the moment, I sold more at San Diego comicon than I was expecting. They vary pretty widely in size and page count, and the most I’ve ever charged for a comic, I think, is $3. Everything I’ve printed up has been available for free online, but there is something magical about paper, and people buy them.

RV: How do you organise printing of these comics and how many do you print up?

JC: I usually print in preparation for a convention like APE or SPX. I lay out the comics on the computer, go to kinko’s or most recently I snuck a lot of printing at work. I usually print up around 50 copies and put anything I don’t sell up for consignment at stores in Chicago like Quimby’s and Chicago Comics.

I’m not sure what I’ll do here in Mexico; copy stores don’t work the same way and shipping to the US/UK/AUS where most of my readers are may not make it worth it. Hopefully I can take this year in Mexico to put something together that’s thick enough to show to publishers.

RV: Can you talk a bit about online comics and comics sales. How big is the online comics business or scene getting?

JC: It’s pretty interesting–it’s small compared to most other entertainment fields, but there are people making their living off of merchandise from online comics series.

I started drawing a little over two years ago and when I saw that some people could make comics-related t-shirt sales their major source of income, I was not even mildly interested. It only took a couple bullshit jobs for me to feel otherwise. If that became a possibility, I’d take it. At the moment I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket and I’m gonna be throwing a lot against the wall and we’ll see what sticks. I would love to work with a publisher, but my drawing is amateur enough that I think I would have to be a writer working collaboratively.

RV: Do you draw straight away in ink or do you draw in pencil first and then do ink line work?

JC: People are surprised sometimes when I take out a ruler and a pencil to make my comics. I would have failed art classes in high school if it was possible, but I tried real hard. I pencil first and I shudder to think what my comics might look like if I didn’t. Little doodles and one panel things I will draw without pencilling, but anytime I’m drawing multiple panels I’ve got to pencil. I can conceptualize page layout and I know what I want. I intuit what little composition and balance my work has. I very rarely get what I want out of my drawing. I’ve learned to shoot low–as simple as possible–and then occasionally I can get what I was going for.

RV: Have you and Ryan Estrada had an effect on each other’s work in any way?

JC: Ryan and I have very different aesthetics. He’s a professional cartoonist with a clean style and a positive outlook. I draw stick figures and talk about how awful it is to be alive. He is an insanely productive cartoonist, and seeing him make a dozen publishable comics in the course of a day inspires me to work hard and make my one or two comics no publisher would touch.

RV: When will the projects you worked on in Mexico be finished and if you plan to publish them, when might that happen?

JC: I’m hoping to update Pictures for Sad Children for a full year, and then collect it into a book. I’m hoping, hoping to get side projects going and self-publish some kind of graphic novel or collection of illustrated poetry or some other artsy bullshit by next summer. That way I’ll have it to put in the hands of publishers at SPX and see if anyone cares.

RV: What other plans do you have?

JC: We’re still in Zacatecas, though we will probably both spend Christmas with our families…I’m hoping to stay here at least until the summer. After that I have no idea what I will do or where I will go. I might move back to Chicago, maybe Ryan and I will decide to stick together and move to South Korea or something. There’s really no telling.