There’s a lot to be said for boredom. It can often be a driving force which compels you to break the spindle of the perpetually drab merry-go-round of your surroundings, whatever they may be, and turn to some thing completely new. This is what happened to me one evening when I’d had it with the strip light, buzzing in my hallway like a giant fluorescent mosquito and decided to punch something completely random into Google. I’ve never been a huge fan of web comics, I’ve come across a few but nothing that specifically stayed with me, so I don’t know why I decided to click on the link to the Pictures For Sad Children page, but after about 0.00001 seconds I thought it was amazing. Simply drawn yet stylish and surreal, it’s like launching yourself into a dark corner of R.Crumb’s pre-school psyche. The person who creates the strips is a guy called John Campbell, he lives in Chicago and he answered some questions for us. How nice.
Hi John, take us through the process of creating a PFSC strip.
i sit down to draw or write and i do this for several days until something i think is interesting or engaging or funny comes out. sometimes i have ideas written down in a notebook i keep on me and i look those over. when i settle on an idea i draw the comic over and over very quickly trying to make it better, trying to settle on layout and word choice. i do this for too long and i get frustrated and my comic stops making sense to me. i wonder why i have chosen to make comics, why i have done this to myself, i think about how i have made some comics that some people thought were good but now they will see the truth and the awful comics i am working on will make everyone realize in retrospect the other comics i’ve made were all trite, unfunny and ugly. eventually i try to draw a final version of the comic on bristol board and i try very hard not to think about it too much.
PFSC is very funny. A lot of the characters end up in Kafkaesque situations, like being stuck under immovable objects, then resign themselves to their situation. Is the black humour in the comic something that you consciously think about or does it happen naturally?
it’s hard to say. i don’t know how affected i am by pfsc as a “brand” with expectations, i would like to think if i thought of a very positive/bright/happy concept that engaged/interested me i would still make it. i do come up with ideas and think “that is like something i would make into a comic” and take note of it, so i know i am affected at least somewhat.
I think PFSC loves the surreal moments life can bring. Do you have a lot of surreal things happen to you?
i feel like “life is surreal” most of the time. i exaggerate it some for comics because that is a feeling that i like to have or like to be aware of, i think my actual life is not a particularly surreal or strange one
There’s a lot of frank and insidious social interaction in the comic. Do you see it as a vehicle to personally vent anxieties about the world or do you use it as a mirror in the face of humanity?
i think it is good to both acknowledge anxiety as a common feeling and force that drives a lot of humanity and also that it is worth “making fun of” and is pointless and ridiculous a lot of the time while still being basically an understandable reaction to the world
Do you think the social commentary in the strip is something specific to American society?
i was a little afraid of making a comic that was specifically “american” but maybe it is unavoidable. i don’t mean to but i don’t know if i could stop myself, since being an american a lot of my concerns are american. i am “lucky” that globalization etc has made a lot of american concerns things that a significant portion of the world also have got to think about
The first main character in the strip, Paul, seems a lot more socially aware than the other characters that surround him – especially in the call center. He has a lot more vitality, why did you create him as a ghost?
the first five pages of pictures for sad children were originally a stand-alone story that i was not planning to continue. i think i wanted a character who had little stake in the world and could talk about it a little bit like an outsider. it is not that hard to feel the same way, to step outside what is happening in any moment and decide that you do not care strongly about it. i got tired of writing from this perspective though, it got grating and eventually something i felt like making fun of more than i felt like identifying with. the one-shot comics i’m making now usually involve people with some emotional investment in their surroundings, even if the emotion is usually some form of frustration or terror
There’s a lot of comics in print at the moment, whether in papers or fanzines. What made you decide to buck the trend and publish online?
well, a lot of people would ask that question of someone who chose to publish traditionally. i suppose it depends on your perspective of what the “trends” are. i grew up using computers and dialing into bbses before the internet, so i naturally put my work into the sphere that i was exposing myself to
You’ve got a book out right now. It looks very nice, what made you decide to do it?
books are still something special and useful and a commodity that can be bought and sold in a more understandable way than online content. i like to read things on the internet and i like to sit down with a particular physical object i know i am interested in and read it without too much distraction. it’s just a longer attention-span version of the same thing, which is not “better” or “worse” in my opinion
You often mention other web comics in your blog. It there big solidarity between other web comic artists or you just a nice guy?
there is some solidarity, my comic got attention because other more popular people with webcomics linked to mine. so i feel some responsibility toward that whole “scene” though the majority of it like the majority of the internet does not appeal to me on any level. i do like to occasionally link to things on the internet i think are genuinely good, but there’s so much of that going on i rarely feel the need, i already feel like i am adding more noise to a cavernous void of screaming and shaking metal contraptions tearing themselves to pieces trying to shriek louder than the rest
Ever thought of introducing celebrities into the comic?
i don’t think it’s occurred to me
If so, which celebrity would you like to see stuck under a house answering calls for a mattress company?
the house would have to have coincidentally fallen on every known celebrity, and the house could be watched 24/7 by photographers and news reporters and i could easily avoid being near that house or thinking about that house ever.
You can read PFSC at www.picturesforsadchildren.com where you can also buy John’s book and some pretty snazzy t-shirts and other merch. Well… he gave us an interview so we thought we’d plug his stuff.