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MInimalist comics artist John Campbell talks books

Readersvoice.com aims to gather a few good reading suggestions. Recently I emailed John Campbell, a comics artist who works in stick figure/ minimalist drawing. He reported that he was in Zacatecas, Mexico, with fellow comics artist Ryan Estrada, having quit his job as a paralegal in Chicago. The two were working on individual comics projects in Mexico. “Ryan and I met up at the San Diego Comicon and took a bus through Tijuana. We were offered lots of drugs, got searched by federales, and Ryan lost his wallet. It was a good time…”

See John Campbell’s comics at stereotypist.livejournal.com

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you recommend any out-of-the-way kinds of books you’ve come across, fact or fiction, you’ve really liked?

JOHN CAMPBELL: I’ve gotten rid of most of my book collection now. I’m down to Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware, The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Grimus by Salman Rushdie.

I will tell you about two chapbooks I no longer own. One had poetry and nature drawings, including illustrations of trees with titles beneath them that recontextualized the illustrations. One read “non-violent demonstration” and it looked like some trees were shooting some other trees. This book was from the seventies. There was another one about how Kierkegaard’s hunchback probably affected his philosophy. It had illustrations and everything. I can’t remember the authors, but these were two of the most interesting out-of-the-way things I’ve read for a couple years.

RV: What about any other comics? Can you recommend any new titles you’ve come across?

JC: Three Paradoxes by Paul Hornschemeier. For a good combination of interesting content and formal experimentation you can’t go wrong with Hornschemeier. I keep picking up new issues of Mome, though I wish they’d limit it to the three to four shorts per issue that I find compelling.

Anything Anders Nilsen puts out I will recommend — Dogs and Water just came out in hardcover I believe. John Porcellino has started releasing old King Cat and it is great. He developed a fantastic minimalism.

I got Corrine Mucha’s minis at APE and loved them. Joel Priddy has some great minimalist work and I think he’s working on a graphic novel in that style.

RV: What precipitated your decision to quit your job and move from your current home?

JC: Since graduating college in 2005 I’ve wanted to live in another country, be immersed in another language, be in the racial minority, and live with other artists. These are all things I’ve never done before, and when the chance came along to do all these things at once I didn’t really think twice, to be honest. I’d also gotten pretty sick of working jobs I hated to afford things I didn’t need.

RV: What sort of work were you doing at the job you recently resigned from?

JC: I was a paralegal at a consumer protection law firm. I did the things lawyers would find tedious. Which I think is saying something about the tediousness. After graduation I discovered I had no marketable talent and my resume was slanted toward web and graphic design, which I have no interest in pursuing. A friend got me a job doing legal research for a pre-employment screening company. I accidentally started slanting my resume towards law, despite the fact that I have exactly zero interest in that as well.

If I’d known an English degree by itself meant exactly nothing for someone who does not want to teach, I maybe would have done something differently in my education.

RV: Did you get any visitors, and what sorts of people did you stay in contact with back in the US?

JC: Our place is open to cartoonists to come stay anytime, but I think the cost of travel in Mexico is prohibitive for a lot of broke-ass artists. I was really surprised by the cost of bus trips and plane flights in Mexico. It would probably be more cost-effective to buy a rusted out vw bus and drive it when we wanted to go somewhere. So no Americans have visited yet, though we have a Mexican friend and an Irish friend. I stay in touch with whatever friends of mine are on gchat on a regular basis.

RV: What kind of themes or plot lines do you think your graphicnovel (the one you plan to create in Mexico) will deal with?

JC: I have a lot of different things in mind struggling to get out. I think it will come down to a graphic novel and a couple different webcomics. One of the webcomics will be a kind of suburban magic realism. I want to try my hand at a series that could be endless, and I think I’ve finally found the right combination of characters, setting and tone that will keep me going for some time.

My graphic novel idea is autobiographical and will be about losing a friendship. Right now I want it to be cold and even-handed. There will be a lot of diagrams and jumping around to give relational and cultural context to incidents.

I also have an online novel I’ve been developing that is somewhere between prose and graphic. I will probably hire some professional artists to illustrate some bits. This will be a long ways down the road. And I want to write a web series that I get other people to illustrate in part as an attempt to be hired by someone as a writer.

I am bursting at the seams with things I want to do, and I think it will come down to what projects grip me the most while I am working on them. I will probably only have time for a couple of these.

RV: What is your overall impression of the trip to Mexico?
JC: I like Mexico quite a lot, but it would be about 500% better if I could speak Spanish. It’s sad to be living somewhere and only be able to communicate like a tourist. I can order food and ask for the bathroom and things, but it is impossible for me to have a conversation with the average person. There are a bunch of interesting things going on and interesting people and it is like a literalized metaphor for when I lived in Wicker Park in Chicago. There are hipsters everywhere and I cannot speak their language. I’m trying to learn but it is slow going.

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