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She Has No Head! – Spotlight: Ross Campbell

Well, this is a special week on She Has No Head! dear readers, as you are getting not one, but two columns this week (try to contain your enthusiasm).  Today, a spotlight on the work of creator Ross Campbell, and tomorrow, a conversational interview with Campbell that discusses not only his past work, but his exciting upcoming superhero book from Slave Labor Graphics, Shadoweyes.  Additionally, in a few weeks She Has No Head! will have an advance review of Shadoweyes and an exclusive excerpt from the book.  But for now…let’s take a look at the impressive and surprisingly prolific career of young creator, writer, and artist Ross Campbell.  A word of warning, there are some possibly NSFW images below the cut, and definitely some gore, if you’re squeamish.

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Ross Campbell has being doing his own thing in independent comics almost from the very beginning, completing the first of volume of his Wet Moon series in 2004, only a year or so after making a splash as an artist phenom on Antony Johnston’s Spooked and Jen Van Meter’s Too Much Hopeless Savages.

Since Wet Moon debuted in January 2005, Campbell has been a machine, doing four additional Wet Moon volumes with Oni; the zombie book The Abandoned with Tokyopop; Water Baby for DC’s Minx line; his self-published Mountain Girl series; a short story for the Meathaus: SOS anthology; art for a Bill Willingham penned short “The Hollows” for Vertigo’s House of Mystery#1; some Hack/Slash; some TMNT work; and then of course there is his forthcoming superhero epic Shadoweyes for SLG, releasing in June.

Page from Meathaus: SOS Anthology

Page from Meathaus: SOS Anthology

Wet Moon, the opus Campbell is likely most well known for (and for which Volume 2 was nominated for a Special Recognition Eisner – in concert with The Abandoned – in 2007), is currently on Volume 5 and stars a large cast of characters – mostly teens and college co-eds – living in the fictional southern town of Wet Moon.  Wet Moon is known in part for Campbell’s goth and punk sensibilities – mixing clothing, piercings, tattoos, and hair styles with equal distribution and creating a rich visual tapestry.  Wet Moon is a slice of life character story with a dark horror element running throughout it, not unlike the way horror realistically runs through most people’s lives – touching it lightly and sometimes entirely without our knowledge.  The strength of Wet Moon, to me, beyond Campbell’s stunning visuals, is the strong character work and the realism with which he portrays said characters both as a writer and artist.  However, the horror element is an excellent hook that keeps the book from feeling aimless, as slice of life stories sometimes can feel.  Just as you start to forget that characters you love are potentially in jeopardy, Campbell manages to remind you – and never gently.

Here’s a short excerpt from Wet Moon Volume 5:

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The Abandoned, Campbell’s zombie tale, released in 2006, focuses on heroine Rylie and a small band of her friends who realize quite suddenly (and violently) that most of their town has been turned into zombies.  The young heroes fight for their survival in true George Romero inspired fashion – violently and passionately and with not always happy results.  The art is both beautiful and intensely gory, and certainly not for the faint of heart.  The use of red tones as the single color throughout the book is rather inspired and takes the entire piece up a notch artistically.  The Abandoned is another great and realistic character piece that also manages to work in some nice allegorical themes such as the disenfranchisement of the youth.  But if you’re not looking for layers in your zombie horror, don’t worry, as there is certainly plenty of more direct fun to be had as well.  The only drawback to The Abandoned, far and away one of the best zombie graphic novels I’ve read, is the Tokyopop size.  It’s a little small to really do Campbell’s artwork justice and for my tastes the word balloons are a bit on the small size as well.

Here’s an excerpt from The Abandoned:

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Water Baby, Campbell’s offering to DC’s now defunct Minx line was far and away my favorite book Minx published, finding an effortlessly edgy teen voice that I felt a lot of the other books aimed for but often missed (at least on the effortless tip).  Water Baby is the tale of surfer Brody and how she deals with the loss of her leg after a gruesome shark attack.  With the help of her best friend Louisa, Brody tries to cope, but the arrival of her lay about ex-boyfriend Jake doesn’t help and inspires an impromptu road trip where more hi-jinx ensue.  The entire book is beautifully illustrated, as all Campbell’s work is, and reads more authentically than most books aimed at teens.  Particularly insightful and powerful in Water Baby is Campbell’s handling of Brody’s dreams in the aftermath of the accident.  They nice reflect both her way of coping and simultaneously avoiding her trauma and it’s a storytelling technique that packs a significant emotional punch for the reader.

Here’s a small excerpt from Water Baby, and there’s a large preview at NY Magazine’s Vulture Blog here:

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Campbell’s self-published Mountain Girl series, which has been delighting his hardcore fans and comic-con goers everywhere for a few years now is the wild tale of Naga, a Humunga Princess.  Living in a post-holocaust future, royal offspring of a tribe of mystic cannibal barbarians Naga is originally a warrior on a quest – in and of itself that’s maybe not so revolutionary as Naga’s story seems like many warrior tales we see in comics.  However Naga is a character unlike any I have ever read before – a giant muscled tattooed shaved headed non-white badass warrior that is quite happy in clothing optional situations  – and that devours nearly anything in her path.  Naga’s adventures are equally creative as she encounters everything from Beaver Gods and Shark Goddsses to her mythical enemies the Watiko.  Campbell draws heavily on mythology from a variety of cultures, mixed in with his own ideas to create the visionary world of Mountain Girl.  The best thing about Naga?  As a cannibal she becomes stronger by eating any enemies that she defeats – and that’s counter to pretty much every message I’ve ever encountered being relayed to young girls – and certainly one I can get behind!

A couple pages from Mountain Girl #3:

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MG3page31Shadoweyes, Campbell’s first superhero project, is a visual delight judging from the preview pages he has released thus far, and I look forward to the opportunity to do an advance review for the project in the upcoming weeks.  Don’t forget to come back to see what I thought and get a look at an exclusive excerpt.

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Sparkle from Shadoweyes

In all of Campbell’s original and varied publications thus far, the one constant in his work is his seeming resistance to depicting his characters – particularly his female characters – with the same old stereotypical comic book look.  He’s interested in realism, and when I say realism, I simply mean a wide variety of heights, weights, body types, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations and beyond.  I find it to be a refreshing (and sadly pretty original to comics) reflection of the real world.  The real world does not look just one way, it’s filled with variety – certainly more variety than just the supermodel, porn star, or steroid Olympic athlete look we so frequently get handed in comics – and I enjoy seeing that variety in Campbell’s books.  While his unique artistic choices remain my favorite thing about Campbell’s work, it has made him controversial, at times drawing him nearly as much criticism as praise.

I suspect all sides have a point, and Campbell himself has talked in interviews and on his website about his concern about accidentally adding to the problems of female exploitation rather than combating it – and concern that he has occasionally and inadvertently sexualized or fetishized his characters.  But for me, I can’t really see the problems because I’m too busy seeing all the good.  Campbell is one of the only well-known artists representing a constant variety of female body types in comics – and like any artist there is a process to figuring out a style that you like and that does everything you need it to (and nothing you don’t want it to).  Because Campbell is such an uber-talent, he was recognized and published quite early on in his career which means that a lot of his process went on in front of a public that can be – as we all know – shockingly critical of anything and everything.

I, for one, am glad he went through – and likely will continue to go through – that process.  I’d certainly prefer it to seeing the same house style – mostly white girls with perfect Marilyn Monroe proportions – being cranked out right and left like some kind of mannequin factory.  Process is good.  Process is what moves us forward.  And that’s how Campbell’s books always feel to me – forward moving, forward thinking – forward period.

You can find most of Campbell’s books either at their original publisher or on Amazon, although The Abandoned is out of print and can be difficult to track down.  I got my copy used from Amazon, and it was well worth the slightly over cover price.  You can pre-order Shadoweyes from Amazon now.

Campbell has a website where you can follow him for updates, find reviews of his books, and check out additional artwork; but he’s perhaps most active on his live journal where he often posts a sketch a day and awesome preview art, and on his Deviantart page, which is full of amazing goodies.

58 Comments

looks like nihilistic emo/goth/punk (whatever) garbage to me.

[…] comics should be good, ross campbell, she has no head! A spotlight on phenom indie creator Ross Campbell over on She Has No Head! Also, tune in tomorrow for an in-depth interview with Campbell on SHNH as well. Cover to […]

I’ve only seen his work in Hopeless Savages but I really enjoyed it there. Thanks for sampling a lot of his work, lots of great looking stuff there. Those Mountain Girl pages look fantastic.

I love Ross’ work and look forward to the publication of Shadoweyes. The comic world needs more artist like him, who can successfully render different types of people without restoring to stereotypes.

I first thought “Wet Moon” was some sort of angsty piece of teen goth fiction, but I decided to give it a try anyway, even though I’m generally not into goth stuff. I guess it kinda is angsty goth fiction, but the characters were much better fleshed out and more realistic than what I had thought, so I got hooked. And like you, I totally fell in love how Campbell draws different characters (especially females) with a wide variety of looks and body types which felt, despite Campbell’s cartoony style, more real than what I’d seen in 95% of other comics. (I do think Campbell draws a few of the female characters with overtly large boobs, but that’s forgivable considering how varied the whole cast of the series is in general.) However, I though the slice-of-life stuff was exactly what made the series so interesting and endearing, and I never much cared about the gothic horror undertones, especially since they didn’t feel particularly inventive. So I was pretty disappointed when the horror stuff kicked into a higher gear in volume 5, and a certain character (don’t want to spoil it by saying who) changed in a rather over-the-top manner. I liked that character, I liked the (mostly) realistic tone of the series, and I didn’t want it to turn into another cliched horror series, so I was quite disappointed with what Campbell had done. I pretty much stopped reading it after vol. 5.

Hmm, a small typo there, by “Vol. 5″ I meant “Vol. 4″, I haven’t read Vol. 5 after being disappointed with Vol. 4.

Like Diggity, I pretty much know Campbell only from some Hopeless Savages segments (in addition to a few pages in a couple of recent-ish Hack/Slash ishes), but what I’ve seen I’ve loved.

i totally agree with mckraken, mostly because because his/her words are so eloquent.

PSYCHE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! you’re soo wrong mckraken!

anyway, Kelly, great spotlight piece! i think you had some solid observations in there. did you mention Ross’ recent Resurrection short? i don’t remember seeing that one on the list. i really liked that little story.

yeah, as far as these books, i think Water Baby is my fav, though i haven’t read Mountain Girl. i loved how Water Baby was really familiar and strange, both at the same time in almost even amounts. i also liked the ending, which i won’t spoil, but i’ll say that it was super unconventional and some might regard it as less of an ending and more of a stopping point. but, for me, that made the characters even more rich… to imagine the organic progression of their lives without some sort of culmination or full resolution.

I may have to give this stuff a second look. When I first came across “Wet Moon,” the look of the books and the title actually led me to assume it was some sort of Twilight: New Moon parody, something I would have less than zero interest in.

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 19, 2010 at 10:28 am

Oooooh double Ms. Thompson week.

We are SOOOOOO spoiled. ;-)

The Hollows in House of Mystery is one of the most disturbing horror stories I’ve ever seen, mostly because it mixes the adorable/beautiful with the utterly grotesque. I don’t think that story would be half as unsettling otherwise.

I’ve known Ross awhile now and not only is he extremely talented, but he’s thoughtful, compassionate, and a lovely person. He truly cares about what his work conveys and how to be more diverse and creative in his approach. It’s a rare quality. Just like the authenticity of his work is also rare, and the ability to really connect with readers on multiple levels. There’s something for everyone in Ross’s work, whether it’s Wet Moon or Shadoweyes.

As for the person who claimed it just looked like “nihilisitic emo/goth/punk”…you clearly haven’t read any of it. Which is fine, but it seems sort of pointless to me to troll articles about someone’s work you haven’t bothered to try. I’ll take nihilistic emo/goth/punk stories with the kind of attention to character, nuance, and depth, that Ross brings to his work over most of your mainstream stuff any day. Plus, he doesn’t just play at diversity. He really incorporates it into his books. The result is even the most out there, strange, unbelievable stuff, feels possible and real. Because the characters look like people you might actually know.

I’ve never heard of Ross Campbell until now, so this column is all I have to judge him by. I do like this style of cartoony art, although my taste tends to run towards the more cutsey stuff. (What I hate are the really angular or blocky styles of cartoonishness.) I don’t much like gore, though, or violent horror, so I might prefer to avoid some of his stuff.
It looks like he might be really good with facial expressions. I like that.

Haha, Good Heavens, No way am I going to read that.

Those excerpts practically drip of teenage angst and power issues.
Looks like a 12 year old cooked em up. (the kind of you’d wish would be 18 already and over puperty)

@mckracken: You know, you wouldn’t have to keep saying “looks like” if you actually bothered to try it. I would never pretend that Ross’ stuff is for everyone, and I respect people that find it’s not for them, but I always encourage people to try new things, because you’d be surprised what ends up speaking to you. And also, this just in… trying new things…not such a bad thing. But whatever, judging by your juvenile comments I have a feeling Ross is better off without you as a fan.

@Mariah: I wish I’d had room to publish The Hollows story because you are right that it is fantastic – fantastically creepy. As I was mostly focusing on his larger independent work though, I really ran out of space for other images.

@NIck: You’re right – I totally missed his Oni Press Resurrection story. For those interested, there are some great pages of Ross’ Resurrection story up on his livejournal and deviantart pages:

http://mooncalfe.livejournal.com/99326.html
http://mooncalfe.livejournal.com/101098.html
http://mooncalfe.deviantart.com/art/RESURRECTION-161283310

@Neal K: Definitely give it a second look – there are some really great character pieces in Ross’ work – not to mention some of the best art around.

@Tuomas: I don’t know…are you sure you don’t want to come back? Wet Moon 5 was my favorite volume yet!

@Tom Fitzpatrick: I was hoping you’d be pleased! ;)

“That”? There are at least 5 different books represented here, with several others referenced. They’re not all the same thing. And there’s are a lot of differences between Wet Moon, Shadoweyes, Water Baby, Mountain Girl, The Hollows etc. So if you’re going to dismiss the work, at least get it right. There’s a variety of stories represented here. And since Wet Moon is about teenagers, it makes sense that “teen angst” might be involved.

Look, read Ross’s work or don’t, that’s up to you. But you’re not really adding anything here but trolling. We get it, it’s not for you. Move on. At least Ross is doing more than being pointlessly critical and cranky on the internet. You’ve stated your (not particularly well-informed) opinion. Awesome. Let’s get to actually discussing the work in a more worthwhile way.

Off topic, but I just read a bunch of mixed reviews about Kick-Ass, some of which are making claims that it is misogynist and has kiddie-porn / Lolita elements because of the Hit-Girl character. I haven’t read the comics or seen the movie yet, but I’d be interested to see what you have to say on the topic.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Ross’s work was not only the distinct touch of diversity throughout all his work, but how much it affects those who read it. I know of many who after seeing or reading his work (myself included), feel empowered. Also, as a girl who has always had issues with her own image, Ross’s work was a huge breakthrough in helping me feel better about myself. Not to sound like a demented fan or anything, but I really do think Ross’s work is something special.

Seems like mckracken wants to make sure everyone’s totally clear on his position here! Maybe you’d better tell us again; I’m not sure we get it.

I held off on reading Campbell’s Wet Moon series for years, not because I had low expectations when it came to quality, but simply because I didn’t think the subject matter was really for me. I’ve always thought his art was gorgeous (and it keeps evolving nicely). Recently, I wound up borrowing the series from a friend of mine, and to my surprise I fell in love with it completely. The obvious thematic elements (such as the undeniable goth culture it’s infused with, and the fairly angsty relationship angle, among other things) are not the kind that would appeal to me on paper, but Campbell is an absolute master at making his characters deeply sympathetic and interesting, regardless. “They’re so REAL” honestly fits in this case; it’s a large cast, but the majority of it is well fleshed-out, and there’s something incredibly genuine about the interactions and emotions and quiet little between-plot moments that he works in. I don’t quite LIKE some of the characters, but I’d have trouble not caring about any one of them.

And I agree that his repertoire of body types (for women, especially) is extremely appealing. While the sexualization can cross over into problematic territory sometimes (I’m impressed with his awareness of this), it’s also wonderfully refreshing to see some of these body types portrayed AS sexy (particularly when it’s done in a less overt/objectifying fashion, which he pulls off increasingly well).

I can’t wait for Wet Moon, and for Shadoweyes as well – the glimpses we’ve already seen are wonderfully atmospheric, and I’m really loving his distopian/futuristic cityscapes.

Racheal Witten

April 19, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I disagree with Ross Campbell’s work on the level that his work abuses the female form for his own gain and personal career. Being a female I do not want to support a man whose artwork rides on the representations of the female body. I also disagree with all the pro-feminism that he preaches about it. Being a feminist myself I don’t want to be lead by a man. No matter how much he preaches and tries to reach out he will never fully understand. I believe that credit is due is to all the REAL goth, punk, and emo women who are inspiring his drawings and comics.

@Racheal: I respect your right to your own opinion, and to express it here and elsewhere, but I have to say, I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t think Ross is exploiting the female form any more than any other artist (of any gender) out there that is drawing women, nor do I think Ross is claiming that he’s leading anything. I think he’s just more self aware than most of the male artists I’ve encountered in comics – both in his art and in his examination of art – which I think is to be applauded.

I’m as feminist as they come (I think) but I think it’s a huge disservice to feminism (which I personally do not believe is just about women but rather about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, etc.) to suggest that men cannot be a part of that movement and contribute positively to it.

Ross may never understand being a woman exactly as a woman understands it, but that doesn’t mean his viewpoint is invalid, or his art is invalid. Celebrating Ross’ work does not undermine the work (or existence) of punk/goth/emo/whatever women out there. And I have to be honest…I’m really having a hard time understanding how Ross’ celebration of the kind of characters that are often overlooked in comics (and other mediums) is a bad thing.

Celebrate Goths and Emos? They need to be laughed at and/or ignored! Not celebrated!
Is not one Edward Cullen enough? How many New Moons can this world take, I ask you! Think of the Children!!!

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ross on Shadoweyes and knowing him for a few years now, and he is talented, sincere, and admirably introspective about his work and opinions. His depictions of young women comes from a place real understanding. Racheal, it is so detrimental feminism to dismiss the work and efforts of men who are part of the cause, too. Feminism isn’t just for women. Kelly was right on in her reply.

Racheal:

Making art for a living means a lot of things, but it doesn’t automatically equate to “abusing the female form for personal gain” just because the art in question has female characters. Work by any artist, regardless of gender, can be exploitive. There are plenty of women artists who do controversial work that could be seen as exploitive of the female body. And while who is depicting what certainly matters, HOW they are depicting it is just as important. Just because the women can be sexy in Ross’s work doesn’t make it exploitive. I think we do a disservice to women and the female form by suggesting that any sexual depiction of it is bad or wrong.

As a woman and a feminist I want to support any creator who takes the time to reflect on his/her work, gives it thoughtful consideration in regards to sexism and objectification, and who actively works at being as diverse as possible with that work. Not only is Ross’s work diverse in terms of body types, but it’s diverse in terms of characters, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. That’s rare.

Ross never preaches, nor is he “leading” anyone. He’s simply doing his work and discussing it and other issues that are important to him through it. I don’t know how, as a feminist, you can say you “disagree” with the pro-feminism he “preaches” when the only things I’ve seen him “preach” are reflective criticisms of his own work and how he wants to make it more progressive.

You don’t have to like Ross’s work or support it, but I thinks it’s unfortunate to dismiss it based on some really confusing notions about his work is doing.

McKraken: Yeah, I know. Don’t. Feed. The. Troll. But sometimes you just have to say it.

Wet Moon is not Twilight. No vampires, for one thing. No Edward Cullen’s or Bella’s. And anyway, Twilight isn’t goth or punk. It might be emo, but then so are soap opera’s. None of Ross’s work is like that. There’s a big difference between exploring character’s emotional landscapes so an audience can connect to them, and run of the mill drama. If you don’t know the difference, that’s your problem.

One of the reasons people write about goth/emo/punk characters is because they’re automatic “outsiders”. Which is a pretty important theme. Lots of people can relate to that, and anyway, everyone not like that is pretty well represented already. If all you see is goth/punk/emo then you’re kind of missing the point. In which case, as I said before, feel free to move on.

Tuomas: I don’t know…are you sure you don’t want to come back? Wet Moon 5 was my favorite volume yet!

I dunno, I guess it depends on how much emphasis vol. 5 puts on the horror/violence stuff? Like I said I found it kinda incoherent with the rest of the book, as I felt its strength was in its depiction of everyday life, and the violence and horror bits were way too over-the-top and felt like they belong to a different book. I did leaf through vol. 5 in the local library, and based on what I saw it looked like vol. 5 gets even more violent… I rarely get so disappointed with a comic that I completely stop reading it, but I had really liked the stuff in the previous volumes, so what happened in vol. 4 made me feel like someone pulled a rug from under my feet. I guess you can take it as a sort of a compliment to Campbell’s writing skills that he made me feel so strongly about the whole thing.

definitely not one of the oldest fans, but i am a long-term Ross fan, and i have to say i was moved by his art and stories from the very first time i saw them, and he just keeps getting better. as an aspiring artist myself, Ross has probably been one of the most influential artists on me ever, though it may not be very obvious. truly after i saw his stuff, i never looked at comics the same way again. i know it’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely for me. thanks for this most deserving of spotlights, Kelly. :)

Everything I have read from this man was gold. I adore Ross’ art he’s an amazing artist. I simply cannot wait for Wet Moon vol 5 to come out.

I love Campbell’s style and reading his books has been a pleasure for me.
It’s always exciting to go through his books and art gallery (over and over again).

The characters are unique and truly Campbell’s speciality. Normally some of the characters would annoy me but I can not hate any of Campbell’s characters. They all seem to have different sides, especially in Wet Moon. They are loveable and realistic.

I’m proud of that Campbell dares to be original and I’m also happy that he shares his talent with us (readers).
I can’t wait for Shadoweyes (:

I think he deserves this spotlight, so thank you! I enjoyed reading it.

One day Ross’ll get the ludicrous amounts of positive attention that he deserves. He is stupefyingly talented and creative. He puts a lot of thought into what he does, MUCH more than nearly any other comic artist out there, and so I really don’t understand the point of view that people like Racheal are espousing. What do you suggest, then, Racheal? That he never, ever draw women? That, because he’s not a woman, he should instead only draw the same old boring filler woman from every other comic? How would that make a story that wasn’t horribly disingenuous? How is that fair to creators of art that should have free reign to play with all of the building blocks that make up the human experience?

To suggest that no woman should ever be portrayed as sexy or sexual is asinine. Real women can be both, on top of all the myriad other liberated qualities a person may possess. Sex is a factual, very important part of the human life and outlook. The point is to do it in a genuine way, with all the loving details that have made girls so irresistible to boys (and, in some cases, to other girls) since time immemorial. He shows the real them; their personalities, their loves, hopes and fears, their insecurities and their bravery. He shows women that can be sexy in their own body, who can own their body, even if it has scars or fat or tattoos or prosthetic limbs. His women are sexy not because he lusts for them. They are sexy because he loves them.

And that’s my two cents.

I’ve read Water Baby by Campbell and follow his art on his deviant art site. I’ve also placed orders at my comic shop for Wet Moon and am searching Amazon for a copy of the Abandoned.

Water Baby is the first novel I picked up from him, and his art is exotic, stunning, fun, and different. I really enjoy the wide range of people he draws, no two character is similar in any way. The personalities for his characters are equally as endearing, well-thought-out, and unique.

I’m not a big lit crit, I’m not sure what’s considered generic comics, but from what I’ve seen from Campbell it certainly doesn’t seem generic to me.

He’s a great artist AND author, in my honest opinion, and I can’t wait to see the rest of his works.

Wow, I’ve never heard of this guy or seen his artwork, but those are some great looking, well-designed pages and sequences. Thank you for making me aware of his work!

I can’t see the artwork above as anti-feminist. Looking at the pages presented here, Campbell draws women of many different body types. The characters from the last two sets of pages are not big-breasted, and do not have Barbie-type proportions. Moreover, they don’t seem to be victims (excepting the woman in Abandoned, although she might be the one fighting back a few pages later). The cartooniness of his style gives everything a layer of unreality, no matter how scantily the heroines are dressed. None of the pages here seem designed to titilate the reader sexually (which does not necessarily equal exploitation).

I look forward to finding and reading some of Campbell’s comics.

I’m not especially impressed by this. But I am intrigued. Reading comic pages out of context can be misleading, though I think you have given us a fair representation of his style. I like that he portrays different body types, but then again most artists worth their salt out in the indy comic world do. He doesn’t seem to be especially stellar in my opinion… but I you do have my interest piqued.

I think I would like to check out the Water Baby stuff in particular because it seems to represent the kinds of stories I like reading. I’m not especially fond of Goth/Punk/Horror comics. Though ‘The Abandoned’ looks like a zombie book and I sometimes make an exception for those (zombie stories are often as much about the human condition as it is about gore).

I think maybe its the stylistic trappings that turn me off. I’ve never been a goth fan. I didn’t even like Sandman that much. So maybe there’s something wrong with me.

fyi Feminism gets a bad rap for the exact kind of exclusionary attitude that Racheal seems to express. And that’s a shame because EVERYONE should be a feminist.

@Kelly: Also, and this is nitpicky, if you knew anything about Marilyn Monroe you would be aware that while she was fabulously proportioned it was hardly the kind of proportions represented in modern superhero comics.

@Daniel: Definitely give it Campbell’s stuff a try. You may not like it all, but I’d be surprised if you didn’t enjoy some of it as there’s a lot of variety. Water Baby is a solid pick and probably the least punk/goth in sensibility if that is what is turning you off. But you should also check out some of his horror stuff – the story Mariah mentioned in House of Mystery #1 is excellent, and his recent story in Oni’s Resurrection is quite cool as well.

I agree with you on the feminism gets a bad rap issue – and that is why I spoke out so strongly and so quickly…as I don’t want anyone thinking that I remotely sign off on those ideals.

I do actually know quite a bit about Marilyn Monroe…enough to know that Monroe is the hourglass shape that every woman (fat or thin) is “supposed” to yearn for and the idealized shape by which we are generally judged (rail thin supermodels excepted of course). And I do think it continues to be the basic archetype (proportions greatly exaggerated) for much/most of the barbie doll figures we see pumped out in comics.

Marilyn WAS a bit larger than your average modern Hollywood starlet (although her actual size is much – and hotly – debated) the proportions are still the thing. Hourglass or die is the the “accepted beauty standard” for women. And it blows, because very few women are actually blessed with that natural shape. ;)

@Kelly: Oh, I don’t think you would call the modern comic book body type for females ‘hourglass,’ its more like ‘upsidedown pear.’ I’m kidding. Mostly.

I’m going to have to disagree with you on ‘hour glass is the accepted beauty standard’ though. Most people are not even aware of different body types, much less have any idea how to classify them and many well accepted ‘beautiful women’ in the media (hollywood or otherwise) are not hourglass. They do tend to run skinny though. But that is different. I do agree that the myth is there, that ‘hourglass is ideal’ but I don’t think it works in practice.

I think talking about beauty and what people do and do not find beautiful is interesting. But it may be a bit outside the realm of the topic.

But back to comics. I think most artists outside the mainstream superhero monthly grind take more care in their representation of characters period. I can think of very few people working outside the mainstream that use the same kind of stock body types, ‘house style’ that you seem to deride. So, forgive me if I’m not entirely sold on that alone. You seem to be making the point that Campbell is somehow breaking the mold, but he’s only doing indy stuff. Which is my point. How is his portrayal of women, positive or otherwise, make any difference if it doesn’t reach a significant audience? If he was doing this in a mainstream superhero book, I’d sit up and take notice. But out there in indy land its pretty common to have artists that are considerate of how they portray women…

JHWIII on ‘tec would be an example of a comic artist going against the mold (as his girls tend to be more ‘pear shaped’) but he’s not your average monthly artist. He had a considerable lead time for his run on Batwoman.

Am I makin any sense here?

@Daniel. I certainly can’t speak for all women. But I know that “hourglass/monroe” is what is constantly shoved down MY throat. I’m sure not all women feel that way, but I know a lot of the sites I frequent (and women I know) complain and fret about the hourglass ideal and how impossible it is (whether in shape or not) because it’s a lot about natural body shape…which feels very uncontrollable, not unlike height.

You are right that there are tons of indie artists out there that do operate within a mainstream or house (or superhero for that matter) style. Campbell stands out to me as one of the best and most extreme at really representing a wide variety of shapes/sizes/ethnicities/orientations, but you are right that he is not alone in the indie world.

As for Campbell’s work not getting out to the masses. I’m sure he’d love a crack at some mainstream stuff…but since he’s very fast and very talented (and as I understand it interested in mainstream work) I can only assume that part of his non-mainstream style is what has kept him from getting more work in that mainstream world. But I certainly can’t speak for Campbell – that’s just my impression. Certainly tune in tomorrow for the interview to hear some of his thoughts…and if you have questions…perhaps I can persuade him to stop by the comments section tomorrow.

sorry Daniel – that should have read: “You are right that there are tons of indie artists out there that operate OUTSIDE a mainstream or house (or superhero for that matter) style.”

Too late for commenting!

Hrm. Ok. Like I said, I will admit that the hourglass ideal is made out to be a big deal, but it may be one of those things that is more talked about between woman than men. I know most men could probably care less if your ‘top and bottom match.’ And if some artists, like JHWIII and others, are to be believed they may even prefer something closer to a pear shape instead. Heck, even my girlfriend is pear-shaped. And I think its kinda nice. But whatever.

You did get me thinkin though, about why a lot of mainstream art uses stock body types and I think that the biggest reason could be a simple fact of the characters not being well enough defined. Just in the DCU alone I can only think of two women that don’t follow a stock body shape and that’s because their body shape is a part of their character. Etta Candy and Power Girl. Etta Candy is a left over from the golden age when she was Wonder Woman’s ‘fat sidekick’ but now she’s grown to become an interesting character in her own right. But she’s still got the less than heroic physique . Where as PG has the massive bust.

I think if mainstream books start assigning traits to their characters that extend past their hair color and costume we would have a very different landscape.

lol, I caught the mistake.

I think maybe one reason the artists on the mainstream books use stock body types is because it’s easier. One you get the hange of drawing a certain body in different poses and from different angles, then you can just sketch out that same body quickly for every book you do.
I don’t know. Maybe the business has changed enough in recent years that artists shouldn’t be compelled to do things like that, but I know that back in the old days when a lot of artists would draw several stories in a hurry in order to make enough money that it was just so much easier to repeat a lot of bodies and poses and such. It could be that over time these bodies just became the industry standard, so that many artists continue using them even when they don’t have to, simply because that’s the style.
Another possible factor is that when artists create characters with different body types, that as the characters get used by other artists, many of the more subtle differences fade away as each artist gives a slightly different interpretation, which then all become sort of blended together into the eventual standard character model. An example might be the way Wolverine’s short stature became less pronounced under many artists, simply because they weren’t used to drawing a hero that size, so that while they did remember to make him short, his height just sort of crept up closer to the average.
Am I making sense, or just rambling?

@Mary: No, you make sense. I think all of those points are valid to some degree (good example with Wolverine BTW) but I also think mainstream comics have a lack of characters that are written to have different body types. And I think this is a bigger deal than the simple fact that the artist was ‘lazy.’ Could you really say that Michael Turner way back in the day was lazy? He was probably one hardest workin guys in comics at the time. But yet, he had a stack body type for both his men and his women (people are harsh on him for his exagerated women but have you seen his men? their muscle structurre was somethin akin to Michelangelo. Talk about buft.)

And you don’t have to go far to find characters that don’t have stock body types. I wouldn’t call Image indy, and yet take a book like Walking Dead. Its got a fair amount of different body types. Even Invincible (a superhero book) has a bit of verity. And what about over in Vertigo? Or Icon? I think this is something we really only see happen with the main stream super hero books. Which is still a fairly large majority…

Racheal Witten

April 20, 2010 at 2:37 am

It’s interesting, how you all decided to gang up on me like I’m the devil. I believe in equality just as much as any other person. I think that all of you are reading in between the lines. I never claimed his work was invalid or that he should not draw women, and whatever else you suggested.
I’m am entitled to my opinion no matter how brass you may think I am, because it takes people like me and people like you so that the world may maintain a wide spectrum of ideas and thoughts, because if all human minds were streamlined, society would be blind.
First off, The act of art is to be self aware, to reflect, to think, to create and to re-imagine. That is nothing new. EVERY artist experiences that. Why are you making this a gender specific award?
I don’t believe that Ross Campbell draws out of understanding like many of you are saying, but because his work revolves around his fascination with minorities and he is compelled to be accepted by that audience. For instance, many of the female comic readers are punk, emo, and goth so the images that he draws are easily relatable. What I don’t understand is, Wouldn’t you rather and honor an individual that truly represents those categories than…another white male? By supporting the work you are rising it above the reality of situation. Many people comment “Cleo or so and so looks just like me”. These characters are becoming idols for the audience. I think that you should always be aware of the images that you absorb and revere and the sources that they steam from because like ANY image they have an effect on its viewer. Like for example how it has affected all of you, so much so that you are fiercely defending it.
I disagree. I just don’t feel like Ross Campbell deserves the credit for something that is an everyday fact and natural occurrence. He is not an innovator but only drawing what he sees. He is a collaborator with life, you all have inspired the work.
I challenge you for individual thought rather than riding a coat tail.

I agree with racheal in that I would like to see more minorities featured in your articles, somtimes i feel like your writing is slanted.

@Mary
It is true that some artists do use a stock body types i think that one of the reasons they do that is because either they familiar with one shape and understand how to maniupalte that form. but every artist does use some diguishing factors and techniques to separte characters from another.

I didn’t think Water Baby had enough substance for me, but I think that Ross Campbell definitely creates interesting characters.

Unlike mckracken, I’m not so down on reading about goth & emo kids. It doesn’t always have to be confident tough guys for me.

Rachael,

I think your opinions are interesting. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I think they encourage discussion. But if you think you’re being “ganged up on” like you’re “the devil” then you can’t have much experience with the internet.

If you look back over Kelly’s columns- especially the first two or three- you’ll see what people ganging up on you looks like. The people who disagree with you have done so respectfully and after taking your points under consideration.

I say this because I’m interesting in the dialogue that this column usually generates. And I think you bring a different perspective to the discussion. And I like to be entertained by different perspectives. :)

But I do have one question: in your follow-up post you ascribe motivations to Ross. I’m wondering if this is based on things you’ve read about him (such as interviews or journals or whatnot) or if it is conjecture. I genuinely don’t know. I follow him on DeviantArt and just realize I live in the same city he does, but I don’t actually know much about him. I mostly just look at the artwork- which I enjoy very much. The discussion here has made me more curious about him.

@Mary

I think you’re right on about the body thing. It is easier to learn to draw one body and then just draw that body over and over again. Especially when a lot of artists learn about drawing comic books solely by studying comic books.

@Mary: I think you make a lot of sense. I think speed is a definite way to survive in comics making (back then and today) as very few artists (do any really?) get rich making comics, and so it’s definitely possible that they draw more stock or house simply out of ease and speed. It’s also true that because artists change so much…even characters that get the special body type treatment – like Wolverine – it doesn’t always get held onto as artists change. And I don’t mean to vilify these artists – most of them are quite talented and just trying to make a living – however, I still applaud Ross for going the extra mile in his work to do something a little different.

@Daniel: I think this is also a good point. In many ways, I blame the writer more than the artist. I suspect if more writers were saying – listen, this character is X, the artist would design them that way and make an effort to draw them that way…and who knows…maybe many of them would relish a chance to do something a little different…but as we often discuss here we don’t have enough people with differing shapes, enough differing enthicities, enough differing orientations. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Campbell has all of those things and operates as his OWN artist and writer.

@Jessica: I would also like to have more minorities featured here – both as creators and as characters. But this column is first and foremost about women, so in general (and until now) I have been focusing on female (regardless of any other fact) as the priority. I always talk about full inclusion – gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., but truth be told – in comics – a male dominated and white dominated culture – and I think that is unfortunately reflected in my column – it’s not as easy to find as I thought. I’m always reaching out and looking for more – and ALWAYS appreciate recommendations – who/what (be it character, creator, book, etc.) would you like to see talked about here to broaden the minority coverage? *

It is a little strange to me that this issue is finally coming up…and it’s coming up on a post that has maybe more ethnically diverse women than we’ve ever had in one post before (except maybe in my 10 Women of The Decade post). I hope it is not a knee-jerk reaction to minorities being written (well I might add) by a white man…because to me that will just hold us back. Comics continue to be dominated by white males…and I really do believe they should be rewarded, not punished for writing good characters that are not also white males.

*fyi, I do have an Amanda Waller column in the works already.

@Racheal: I’m sorry if you feel we ganged up on you. I felt people disagreed with you very rationally and calmly. Certainly nobody called you names or treated you like the devil. As for me inferring stuff from your post…I tried very hard to only take what was said and respond to that. You say now that you did not say Campbell shouldn’t draw women…but then what does this mean?

“I disagree with Ross Campbell’s work on the level that his work abuses the female form for his own gain and personal career”

I took that to mean that you do not think Campbell should be making money off of drawing the female form. I don’t know how else to take that then “Campbell shouldn’t draw women”.

The only reasons I am making being a self-aware artist specific to gender is because this column is about gender. If I was on a board talking specifically about minorities I’d be giving Campbell props for that. If I was on a board talking specifically about sexual orientation in comics I’d be giving Campbell props for that. Of course self-awareness is not just about one thing…but this column is about women/gender…and as such that is something I was focusing on that is excellently handled in Campbell’s work.

You also said this, which is what struck me as the most counter to what I personally believe:

“Being a feminist myself I don’t want to be lead by a man. No matter how much he preaches and tries to reach out he will never fully understand.”

I just really disagree with that across the board. You’re welcome to believe it, as I said before, but it really asks men to not be involved in feminism, and almost gives them a pass to be unenlightened and misogynistic and sexist…and all these other things that we’re trying to combat. I don’t know why anyone would object to celebrating a man who is celebrating women and minorities in such a respectful way…it’s not like because we celebrate a white man we can’t also celebrate a minority woman. It’s not either or. It’s support and celebrate as much and as many that are working hard to change the status quo.

I would like Racheal Witten to please suggest some specific comic artists she would like us to be aware of instead. I feel the commentary has been quite vague and esoteric, and would like some concrete directions to go in.

Racheal, when you ask, ” Wouldn’t you rather and honor an individual that truly represents those categories than…another white male?” I have to repeat what Kelly said. It’s not either/ or. If it came to pass that a white male was getting work over an equally talented person who is a minority *because* he is a white male, that would be a problem for me. As far as I can tell, Campbell is not taking work away from a woman, person of non-white ethnicity, etc.

If you object to a white male writing about and drawing women and minorities in a way that attempts to authentically replicate the realistic experiences of such groups (or sub-groups, as there is no one “woman experience” or “black experience” or “gay experience,” etc.), I can see your arument. Maybe a white heterosexual male can’t fully deliver in a way that members of said subgroups could. I’m the type to respond more to the art than the artist, however, and believe that Campbell’s art (and Sam Kieth’s art and John Ostrander’s Amanda Waller and Peter David’s revamp of Betty Banner) does not fall into the category of exploitation. If you want to argue against, say, Ed Benes art or the Rawhide Kid and Cage miniseries from a few years back, I’d be more inclined to agree.

If you are lamenting the scarcity of woman & minority cartoonists, I agree with you completely. It’s heartening to see the field open up to a more diverse group of practitioners in the past three decades. Campbell’s art represents a greater diversity of style and approach, however, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation notwithstanding.

I’ve been a fan of Campbell’s work since the 2nd volume of Wet Moon, IIRC. His work is very engrossing to me, b/c there is always a lot of depth in his art. There’s a lot of character expressed in his drawings of people, there’s lots of information in the environments he draws. There are loads of meaningful details everywhere. It’s great stuff.

I would like to see a woman of Campbell’s level of recognition writing about women, non-white people, etc, because I just want to see what people of different backgrounds come up with in fiction. I don’t want to have more women writing just because we need some sort of balance of the scales.

I would like to see talented people of all sorts creating a diverse array of characters. I’m not really for quoats, equal time or any of that.

@VichusSmith
There are a fair number, actually–you just have to look. I’d start with Carla Speed McNeil and Spike.

@Rachael Witten
I don’t understand how it’s unethical to create characters who reflect a wider aesthetic or demographic range than your own. The idea that Ross is somehow disingenuous for creating characters with whom readers identify seems bizarre to me–isn’t that what any decent storyteller does?

Kelly = Speaking about Amanda Waller, I curious about your opinion of Pam Grier’s portrayal of her on Smallville… Definitely a lady I wouldn’t want to cross….

Vichus = Very eloquently put…I often fall into this trap myself when I am cranky about a lack of black writers or artists in the medium….you put it into words much clearer than I have on previous instances

Rachael = I see where you coming from…I do…but consider the medium the dissenters are coming from. We get bombarded with “unrealistic, perfect looking” women all the time. Then Mr. Campbell comes along and visually gives us true to life gals that look like they can fit in our everyday lives. I realize that his work isn’t your cup of tea (or at least the praise for him isn’t), but it a catch-22… If he draws gals all like Power Girl, he’s a chauvinist with bondage fantasies….he draws semi-reality like here, he’s just trying to take advantage….

Dude is gifted and dedicated….that going to help him go far. I wish I could have the talent to do 1/4th of what Campbell can…I’d be set…. =)

Racheal-

Disagreeing with you is not attacking or ganging up on you. You expressed an opinion and we disagreed. If you have the right to state what you think, we have the right to comment on it and bring up counterpoints we feel are valid that may suggest a different way of looking at it. That’s it. While you have the right to your opinions, they are not inviolate. If you choose to share them people may criticize them. That’s the nature of opinions. They need to be backed up with supporting evidence to be anything more than just things you feel are true.

We can only go by what you said, and every sentence in your first post suggested that you don’t think Ross deserves any acknowledgement for his work, and that he is doing some sort of disservice to women by depicting female characters. You can’t use phrases like “abusing the female form” and expect people not to infer what we did. If that’s not what you meant, I think you should think about how you phrase your opinions.

Actually, no, not every artist experiences self-reflection. Many artists simply do work and don’t really consider its impact, its message, or what it’s showing the world. They don’t consider diversity of character, body type, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. If they did, we’d see more of that in comics. While independent comics are far better than the mainstream in that regard, that’s sort of the point. Mainstream comics, like the mainstream culture, is white-washed and male dominated and heterosexual. So work that is outside that mainstream, that not only depicts real diversity, but has a creator willing to discuss it, and listen to critique, and make changes, is in fact very unusual. I can tell you this as someone who has been working in comics for nearly 10 years. The people who care the way Ross does about the issues he does are not typical.

You seem to be suggesting that we shouldn’t be acknowledging Ross’s work because he’s a white male. I think that’s pretty strange. Why can’t we acknowledge his work for its diversity, as well as other creators who do the same, regardless of who they are? What we’re discussing is the work and the creators willingness to consider and address diversity in the medium he chooses to work in. That’s important no matter who it is. Not showcasing work that actually represents a broad spectrum of characters because the creator happens to white and male doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s not like that means we can’t also acknowledge other creators who are not white and male, or that we think Ross’s work is more important than theirs. This is simply one column about this creator. That’s it.

The fact is, no matter how “everyday” diversity is, it’s lack of depiction in comics and other areas of pop culture is a problem. Supporting creators who work at that and make a real effort is really important. Downplaying it because the creator happens to be a white male is extremely counter productive. The point is to look for and celebrate diversity, not put conditions on who can produce it and whether they “deserve” to be recognized for it. It’d be great if what Ross does WAS the norm. I’d love that. But it’s not.

And thank you, but suggesting that appreciating a creators work means we’re being “led” by them is not only insulting, it’s pretty sexist in this context. Just because Ross is a man doesn’t mean any of us are being “led” by him. I mean, this is an article by a woman about the diversity of women working in and being depicted in comics. There’s room for all kinds of work by all kinds of creators in that discussion. That’s leading.

Ross’s work is about exploring characters and different kinds of people. I’ve had and seen him have many conversations about the impact of his work, what it means to others, and what interpretations have been drawn from it. So yes, I’m defending him, because I know him, and because I’ve actually read his work. And while I’m certainly not about to tell you you have to like it or support it, I take serious exception to the idea that good work shouldn’t be recognized just because of some personal assumptions about what the creators intentions are.

We’re crediting Ross with doing something a lot of other creators don’t. I’d do the same for any creator who made this amount of effort both in what they create, and in considering the impact of that creation.

If you actually want to start acknowledging the myriad of creators in this industry who create diverse work (regardless of whether they meet an arbitrary standard of being “diverse” themselves)…why don’t you suggest some? Here, I’ll get you started…Hope Larson, Raina Telgemeir, Mikaela Reid, Tara McPherson, Faith Erin Hicks, Jill Thompson, Aaron Alexovich, Drew Rausch, Warren Ellis, Becky Cloonan, Colleen Coover, Amanda Connor, G. Willow Wilson, Cliff Chiang, Lora Innes, Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, Saurav Mohaptra, Lynda Barry, Renee Lott, China Clugston-Major, Gail Simone, Fiona Staples, Molly Crabapple, Alison Bechdel, Brian K. Vaughan, Neil Gaiman, Renae DeLiz, Terry Moore, Vera Brosgl, Cecil Castellucci, David Hahn, Amy Reeder Hadley…and that’s just off the top of my head.

And if you’re looking for just women, the list at the end of this article is incredibly comprehensive with additions being made all the time: http://www.comicsbeat.com/2010/04/07/hope-larson-raina-telgemeier/

I know there are many talented Female comics talents out there- Comic News Insider wont let me forget it!

this isn’t about J. Scott Campbell? Damn….

DFTBA

Ross can do no wrong. Well, aside from the fact that he’s not a fan of the second Alien movie.

Love, love, love his work!

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