Pictures for Sad Children: the rise and fall of John Campbell

Article – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

pfsc_fireThe story behind Pictures for Sad Children is contentious. Was the Kickstarter scheme that raised more than USD$50,000 merely a hoodwink to swindle fans, or is John Campbell’s very public fall from grace merely the sum of the facts presented?

I first discovered Campbell’s webcomic in 2012, and like many, I became a little obsessed with it. So drawn in was I by the strip and its absurdist tone that, when I learned that I had five years of content to catch up on, I was like a little kid in a candy store (albeit, a little kid with some kind of ongoing mental condition).

Not unlike many other comics I had discovered, Campbell’s comic was captivating. But unlike those other comics, it was not for its artwork, colours, or even laugh-out-loud humour that I am often so fond of. No, Pictures for Sad Children stood out because it was precisely none of these things.

The characters were little more than stick figures, the colour scheme consisted of grey in a variety of hues, and its humour was far more contemplative and underplayed than, “Ha! That’s a funny one right there.”

Elegant in its minimalism, Campbell’s comic spoke to me (and many others) about depression and anxiety—dual conditions I deal with to varying degrees on a regular basis.

Campbell began the comic in 2007 and after five years, it had made quite an impact. You might even think that there was enough content to publish a printed collection. It turns out, in 2009, that’s exactly what Campbell did and it was met with some success. So much so, that in 2012, Campbell set up a Kickstarter campaign to release the follow-up, Sad Pictures for Children.

Campbell planned to raise USD$8,000 to publish and distribute 2000 copies of the 200-page hardcover collection. The campaign raised USD$51,615 in pledges.

In hindsight, perhaps the way this story ends is not all that surprising.

These are the facts as we know them:

May 26, 2012:

1,073 backers pledged $51,615 to Campbell’s Kickstarter campaign.

September 20, 2012:

Campbell posts this update on Kickstarter stating that they’ve been “pretending to be depressed for profit”.

September 22, 2012:

Campbell retracts prior statement with this one stating that they were “pretending to pretend to be depressed”.

October 25, 2013:

Campbell states that shipping has been delayed due to running out of money.

February 28, 2014:

Campbell posts this update stating that 75% of the Kickstarter rewards were met but no further books will be shipped. There is an accompanying video showing boxes of unsent books being burnt.


Since this update, all content on the website has been removed and any trace of John Campbell has disappeared from the internet.

Following Campbell’s online disappearance, a fellow artist and friend of Campbell was able to retrieve the surviving books (about 100 in total) and distribute them to backers still in need of a delivered product.

For anyone looking for remnants of the webcomic, it may still be out there if you can find it, but as these articles (How to disappear completely from the internet, Book burning, webcomics, and the fate of Pictures for Sad Children) can attest, Campbell has done a pretty good job of removing all traces.

Whatever the real story is here, I think it’s worth looking at the big picture. At the end of the day, John Campbell found success doing something they loved doing. Starting out, it’s easy to play the game your own way with little to no regard for what others might think. Success can come at any moment and if you’re not ready for it (mentally or emotionally), you may just find that you’re not be equipped to deal with it. But then, only you can know this and you won’t really know until it happens.

I guess, just look after yourself and only give what you can live without.

Artist Profile: Sam Kieth

Article – By Morgan Thistlethwaite

Maxx-01_Kieth

The Maxx (1993) Image Comics

You either get Sam Kieth or you don’t, and from what I can tell, Sam’s okay with that. Over the years, Kieth’s instantly-recognisable style has not only got him work with all the major comic publishers, but also a devout following for his stories and artwork.

He’s done everything from Batman to Wolverine, Incredible Hulk to Judge Dredd… The list goes on. He was also the first artist to bring Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman to life.

Over the years, he’s written and drawn many of his own books for various publishers but if you’re anything like me, you probably know his name from the comic, The Maxx, which was also adapted into an animated series in way back in 1995.

batman-joker-secrets-sam-kieth

Batman: Secrets (2006) DC Comics

His idiosyncratic style, along with the themes his stories explore, are often quite dark yet balanced with a whimsical humour and absurdity. Readers who connect with his material may, like myself, find this connection stays with them their entire life.

Kieth says he became a comic artist because he felt he was never really good enough to do anything else. He grew up reading comics and hung out with other artists, and always felt his work wasn’t up to scratch compared with what he saw other people doing. Despite this, he got himself noticed and scored a few gigs by ruthlessly shopping his work around at comic conventions. It was this effort that led to the Sandman gig, which wasn’t as big a deal at the time, as it might seem to be in hindsight.

sandman_kieth

The Sandman (1989) DC Comics

Five years into his career and Kieth had made his mark, at least on his peers anyway, and when the comics industry shake-up of the early ’90s that gave rise to Image came along, Kieth was invited to join their ranks. It was here that he came up with The Maxx, who made his first appearance as part of Darker Image, a one-shot collection created to showcase original and more adult-oriented content. Kieth’s handful of pages were well-received and he was asked to develop The Maxx as an ongoing title.

This was around the same time that MTV were taking an interest in the ongoing production of animation. Having already found success with Beavis and Butthead and Aeon Flux, MTV approached Kieth to turn The Maxx into a series. Saying yes exposed his modest little comic to a whole new audience.

The Maxx, however, was a long time ago. Since then, Kieth’s stories moved away from the superhero imagery that this book played up to. His following books would delve further into the realm of character study (Zero Girl, Four Women) and exploration of themes previously only touched upon in The Maxx.

Additionally, Kieth has also produced the five-part comic series Ojo, with Chris Wisnia and Alex Pardee. He directed the film Take it to the Limit (2000) and continues today to work as a comic artist and has put together a number of special edition collected books of his work to unleash upon a whole new generation.

For more of Sam Kieth and his art, visit his blog.


References:

http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/dec01/kieth.shtml
http://www.comicbookdb.com/creator.php?ID=852
http://ifanboy.com/podcasts/talksplode-11-with-sam-kieth-of-my-inner-bimbo-the-maxx-batman-and-more/

 

Reviewed: Metal Dead (2011)

Game Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

 

Metal DeadAs a casual gamer, I’m always a little behind the curve when it comes to something new. For example, it was only four years ago that I truly immersed myself in the experience that is the point-and-click adventure (about 20 years after they peaked). Equipped with my (relatively) recently solid knowledge of such things, I feel it is my privilege and duty to review this modern take on a well-trodden genre.

Speaking of well-trodden genres, a zombie apocalypse is nothing new but that’s the backdrop for this story, and it’s your job to keep plucky protagonist Malcolm Campbell alive, as well as get to the bottom of who or what is responsible for all the horror.

Screenshot03The game begins with two metalheads, Malcolm and his best friend Ronnie, driving into the heart of the zombie outbreak. Why? Because Ronnie says it’s “the most metal thing that’s ever happened” to them. Unfortunately, the car crashes and you must help Malcolm escape the zombie hordes. To do this you must get Malcolm off the streets and inside the MediGeniTech building (a science research centre) and it is here that he meets the mysterious Dr. Fechenheim who charges Malcolm with helping him continue with his bizarre experiments.

From here, the story leads Malcolm through the building where he will meet a host of characters who either help or hinder him in his efforts to reach the helicopter at the top of the building. Can you help Malcolm save everyone and discover the cause of the outbreak? What does Dr. Fechenheim have to do with all of this?

Screenshot06This comedy/horror game from Walk Thru Walls Studios is your standard 2D point-and-click adventure affair, and even for that, it’s pretty lo-fi. The dialogue is delivered through text, the art and animation is scratchy, and the music is presented in glorious MIDI, which gives the overall experience a DIY edge that makes you think, “hell, I could make one of these!”

And maybe you could, but what this game lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for with a fun little story and snappy dialogue just like the classic games it pays homage to. The humour is played to full effect with just enough self-awareness and pop culture references to help you forgive its shortcomings.

The art is somewhat reminiscent of that goth comic style (Johnny the Homicidal ManiacLenore, the Cute Little Dead Girl) that became popular in the late ’90s, almost cute in its simplicity but obviously drawn by someone with a psychological disorder. It works for this game and has plenty of charm to keep you playing.

Screenshot09On the subject of effective simplicity, the same can be said for the music. Using standard MIDI sounds, Josh Birch delivers a soundtrack that makes you feel like you’re in a John Carpenter movie. There is a surprising degree of versatility in the noise coming out of those speakers using the most primitive of digital sounds.

The puzzles are logical and satisfyingly challenging too. I must admit that I did have to consult a walk-through guide with one puzzle because I missed an element in the narrative.

Basically, if you haven’t played this game and are a fan of Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry, metal, and zombies, then perhaps you’re missing out. Metal Dead is a great way to kill a few hours if you still have the patience for the point-and-click adventure.

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Buy it on Steam for $4.99 USD.

 

Reviewed: Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007) – Devin Townsend

Music Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Ziltoid-the-Omniscient-2007Let’s just put it out there; I’m a bit of a Devin Townsend fan. People who know me know this. I love his musical diversity, his ability to push the limits of the sounds and styles he works with, and the honesty reflected in his work.

Like many, I discovered him through the chaotic metal of his band Strapping Young Lad when I was an angry teenager. Since then I’ve come to know and get slightly obsessed over his greater body of work. From his most recent Devin Townsend Project (DTP) release Transcendence (2016) to his lesser-known works like the ambient Devlab (2004), and his vocal work on Steve Vai’s on Sex & Religion (1993).

Whatever direction his music takes, however chaotic, meditative, emotive or hilarious, it’s always passionate, personal, and stands to represent an expression of his mental state or feelings of that moment.

So if I gush a little bit, I’m not sorry but I will try to keep this review as factual and objective as possible.

According to the album’s liner notes, Ziltoid was an idea that Devin came up with when he was about 8 years old, and had been brewing in his subconscious until he took the time out to actualise the idea and bring the puppet to life (he made a puppet).

My first meeting with Ziltoid was in the days of Myspace. As a precursor to the release of the album, Ziltoid broadcast a handful of two-minute video messages to alert fans of his imminent arrival. It was a fun little experiment from before Youtube and became second nature to internet users.

The album’s musical comedy concept tells the story of Ziltoid, a creature who experiences everything all at once. He’s a little screwy because of this, and he likes his coffee. In this story, Ziltoid visits Earth to demand the perfect cup of coffee lest humanity be annihilated. Of course, his standards are quite high so he gets all Ming The Merciless and an all-out attack on the planet ensues.

Punky_BrusterIt’s hard not to compare Ziltoid the Omniscient with Townsend’s first musical comedy album, Cooked on Phonics (1996). Released under the fictional band name Punky Brüster, it made a statement on the punk music resurgence of the time. The songs were solid (it’s not hard to get punk wrong, even if you infuse it with metal sensibilities) and the narrative held it all together as a mildly-entertaining concept album.

Comparitively, Ziltoid is far more theatrical. Where Punky Brüster may have been constrained by the “cool” of what peers felt to be acceptable, Ziltoid throws all caution to the wind to create a narrative that lies within the songs as much as the sketches that bookend them.

The music is mostly heavy. Tracks like By Your Command and Planet Smasher dominate the sound with a few contemplative moments from tracks such as Solar Winds and The Greys to break up the assault and add contrast to the final package.

This is one of Townsend’s solo efforts in the strongest sense of the word, with all creative input being his, even down to programming the drum parts. He does, however, get some friends in to provide additional voice talent (current DTP members, Brian “Beav” Waddell and Dave Young).

Ziltoid The Omniscient is an over-the-top prog-metal trip that sounds like some guy in his basement playing with toys and entertaining himself (which is exactly what it is and that’s not a bad thing in my books). The story is flimsy but the voices are fun, and if you always thought that Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds would have worked better had it been a little more self-aware and humorous, this one’s for you.

Upcoming show – Hey Femmily! It’s me, Tomp Canks!

Event Plug – Hey Femmily! It’s Me Tomp Canks!

Hey_Femmily_its_me_Tomp_Canks

Had a listen to our Spudcast episode and now you’re looking to see some improv in real life? This Saturday is your last chance to see Beau Windon perform in Melbourne before he heads to the US for a few months.

Get along to the show and see two teams, Femmily and Tomp Canks, join forces to deliver an hour of what promises to be some great improv comedy.


What: Hey Femmily! It’s me, Tomp Canks!

Where: The Improv Conspiracy Theatre: Level 1 / 19 Meyers Place, Melbourne

When: Saturday, June 3rd @ 9:30pm

How much: $5


Get your tickets here!

Call for submissions

Social_Media_Promo_Call-for-submissions

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Do you even art? Would you like to share it on our community website? We’re taking expressions of interest for your interesting artistic expressions. If it’s weird, it’s wonderful. And we want to share it.

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Our angle is creativity and collaboration so if you’ve experienced something (doesn’t have to be new/current) that you want to write some words about and you think it would suit our little operation, get in touch with an expression of interest.


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