Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Interview with Web Comic Author T Campbell

I've never spoken at length to another comics writer before, so when I heard about the prolific T Campbell of the Teenbit Collective, I broached the subject of an interview. My motives were personal. I wanted to see what we had in common -- or not.

Unfortunately, I am a so-so interviewer. My questions were not penetrating; nor was my research, which was swamped by reading for other projects. I still enjoyed the writer-to-writer conversation.

T, who is male, was a good sport.

Q: Please give a run-down of the comics you write, and a description of each. 

Penny and Aggie, a teen comedy. The story of two very different teenagers-- a "prom queen" type and a "class weirdo" type-- their rivalry, their budding friendship and a small universe of characters that surround them. Betty and Veronica, updated.

Fans, a science-fiction action-adventure series, with plenty of comedy and romance, some horror, and just a little of everything else. A group of science-fiction fans have the skillset to save a world that needs saving, repeatedly. That's a blessing and a curse for them.

Rip and Teri, a spy romance. Former superspy has been hiding out in a small town, on the verge of getting engaged, when his cover gets blown and enemies start chasing him down. He flees his fiancee for her safety. Tries to disappear from her life. She won't let him.

The Versus Verses, mostly action-comedy shorts. Two characters pulled from the popular consciousness fight while rhyming. It's freestyle rap battles. It's slam-bang poetry!

Cool Cat Studio. Office romance with a side order of sci-fi/fantasy. The story of a graphic arts studio, the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who work there and the relationships they've forged. Ending this summer.

Sketchies. Sitcom. Six damaged people make up a sequential arts program in a Philadelphia college. Will they make decent artists out of themselves? Will they make decent human beings out of themselves? Are the two goals in conflict?

Divalicious. Comedy-drama musical satire. Tina Young is the latest underaged chanteuse to take the pop-music world by storm, and her childlike energy hides a surprising savvy. But will she be managed to death before she can vote? (In print, concluded this year.)

I also run, a news and features site devoted to spotlighting what I find great about the field. I've been working on the project for about six months. I consider it a moderate success, but at this writing, I'm evaluating whether I want to continue it for another year. I may regret saying this in three weeks, but I feel like my interest in what everyone ELSE is doing with comics is being replaced by an interest in what CAN be done with comics. And I'd rather just do those things than talk about them.

Q: I have the same conundrum!... Anyway... I read Sketchies, enjoyed it, and decided my main concern was that the characters would benefit from more nuance. While the archetypes were fresh, even since Daniel Clowes' Art School Confidential, I was looking for the human details. The story isn't done. Will these details emerge, or do you disagree with my take on it? And is it possibly late in the game to be filling in?

A: I think of Sketchies as a series of episodes and shorts. We're two episodes in. The first was an introduction to the characters, the second to their situation and some of their interactions. I generally take pleasure in presenting a character that you THINK you know everything about, and then revealing that you don't. Miko's private confession and Wasp's paternal interest in Geordi are two such moments. We have more planned for the next installment.

Q: Your story mirrors that of many artists I talk to. They say they've been drawing comics as long as they can remember.

A: It's hard for me to remember a time when I was writing no comics. I've been writing stories for comics since I was at least ten.

Q: Won prizes or anything?

A: Won a Web Cartoonist's Choice Award and got some high-profile endorsements.

Q: Any insights about writing different genres?

A: Thinking about the main genre you're in is a good way to start generating ideas, although I usually don't get far before I'm pushing what I think that genre is "supposed" to do.

Q: Is there a story or segment of which you are particularly satisfied?

A: At this point, I've written a lot, but right now, I'm especially pleased with "Three," an upcoming story in Fans focused on a polygamous relationship.

Q: Personal habits regarding how you write. For example, I do all my comics writing lying down.

A: I... write at my desktop. I tend to write in long, sustained spurts.

Q: Do you storyboard or use graphics to assist the artist? (By contrast, I only storyboard.)

A: Rarely.

Q: Do you take a lot of phone calls from artists trying to sort something out?

A: Gisele Lagace and I communicate on Skype all the time-- Jason Waltrip will ask me a few questions a month.

Q:  How far ahead do you write? (I am years ahead on Scratchin Post and a month or two out on Li'l Nyet.)

A: From a month to a year, generally.

Q:  Your nationality? Location if you wish. Age if you wish.

A: U.S., Virginia Beach, early 30s.

Q: Member of any comics collectives?

A: At present, Teenbit, one we started up. Formerly, Keenspot and Modern Tales. In the near future we may start something else.

Q: Why did you leave Keenspot and Modern Tales?

A: We outgrew them, mostly. Collectives are not as significant a force in the online world as we thought they would be, and our business was better conducted independently. But I have no bad blood for either company, and may work with either again at some point.

Teenbit [which is focused on teen themes -- ed.] is a modest cross-promotional deal that we thought would be smart, since webcomics are not often well-grouped by subject matter. Its only real function is to say, "if you liked this, you might also like these." It wasn't hard to get people to join something like that.

Q:. What comics/artists do you like enough to re-read?

A: I do a lot less re-reading these days than I used to, but I'm still fond of Rumiko Takahashi. For better or worse, I have a tendency to read what's put in front of me.

Q: Who do you study for ideas on technique? (Mine: R. Crumb and the Russian satirist Mikhail Zoschenko.)

A: Scott McCloud and Alan Moore were big influences, but these days I'm trying to look further outside comics for ideas.

Q: Tips for beginning comic writers?

A: I've got an article at on this topic next week. Look for it.

Q: Who gets more reader mail: writer or artist?

A: I think, all things being equal, the writer gets more. But every partnership's different, and all things are rarely equal.