The J. Scott Campbell Interview
I know you’re probably really bored of talking about it, but how did you get into comics?
I was actually quite a big fan of this gentleman right here, Arthur Adams. That’s actually what stole me away from pursuing a career in animation. I originally thought I wanted to be an animator and then I saw his comic books and thought “Maybe comic books is better”.
I kept practicing all through high school and within about a year and a half of getting out of high school, Image comics was formed around that time, Jim Lee put a talent search in the back of one of his comic books and I sent my samples in. At the age of 19 I got hired by Jim Lee, moved out to San Diego, and started working at Wildstorm Studios. I would say it was 1993.
I noticed that was the start for a lot of people but many of them got lost in the way …
Some did get lost in the way, I’m not sure why that happened, I think some people just lose momentum or they lose focus. I think I went there with a pretty clear idea of the kinds of things I wanted to draw. In fact, I remember Jim Lee showing me rough ideas of several comic books he had in mind. One was a rough drawing of what looked like four teenage characters. I immediately said “What’s this one? This looks like the kind of thing I want to do”, and again because I wanted to be an animator, it was still very fresh in my mind the idea of Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) and the Beauty and the Beast, the kind of characters with bigger, expressive faces. So I saw in this something I could mold into the style I wanted to bring to my comic books. Thankfully he told me to go for it and we worked on the comic together.
I put more and more of my own personality in it. And that probably helped, because I think some of those other talented artists didn’t know what they wanted to present as their personality or what they wanted their comic books to look like. I had a really clear idea, I was going to take some of Disney and put it in among other influences. I think people just responded to it thankfully. But I think having a clear vision of what I wanted to do and the drive to do it is what made the difference.
Your first published work is in Deathmate Black, which is Gen 13’s first appearance.
That was actually strange because I had already drawn the first 2 issues of the mini but they hadn’t come out yet. Deathmate Black was set to come out sooner, and they decided to put Gen 13 in it. I didn’t even draw those pages. I think it was Brandon Peterson …
So they’re not even your characters!!!
He looked at the pages I had already drawn. His came out in print first though. My pages in Deathmate Black had no Gen 13 in them.
Did you read comics before working on them?
Very little, I hate to say it. I didn’t know a lot about superheroes. I knew the X-Men and Spider-Man, but I didn’t know a lot about the rest. I would go to the comic shop and just asked for the artist I liked. I would say “Do you have any Arthur Adams comics? Do you have any Todd McFarlane comics? Do you have any Jim Lee comics?”
I glanced through the stories, but I was there for the artwork. If the artist took an issue off, I wouldn’t read the story. I didn’t mind being lost, I just wanted to see the ones with the artists I like.
Talking about them, your influences clearly are Arthur Adams and Jim Lee, and you just mentioned Todd McFarlane.
I remember going to the shop all the time asking about Arthur Adams and I didn’t know Todd McFarlane’s work at the time. They went “No new Arthur Adams, but have you seen the artist in Spider-Man? You might like it, it’s like a sloppy Arthur Adams.”
I’m sure he will love that …
Haha, I don’t know, he might … I picked it up and I loved it. I sort of know what the shop guy meant, it had more of a gooey look to it. I became a fan of Todd McFarlane very quickly. While Jim Lee had a lot of stuff going on in his art, I think Todd’s work resembled Arthur Adams in a way I liked as well.
How do you feel about Gen 13 now?
It’s a bit of a shame. I think it’s one of those things that, like Scooby Doo, should still be around. I don’t know why it went away. Whenever they re-invented it they didn’t have the tone, they didn’t have the characters. They re-invented the entire thing. My feeling is Gen 13 could’ve been like Scooby Doo. The characters can perpetually stay the same age, just make them in different time periods, maybe update them slightly but keeping them familiar.
If there’s a series that was 90s specific, that was Gen 13.
Well, you had a character called Grunge! But in the same way, Scooby Doo was very specific to the 70’s and Archie is very 1950’s but they’re still around. I think it’s possible, I just think the effort wasn’t made unfortunately.
It probably had something to do with DC taking over Wildstorm …
The sad thing is that when DC absorbed Wildstorm, they absorbed the talent, they absorbed Jim Lee, but they didn’t do a lot with all the 90s characters. They just put them in a box. You don’t see Wildcats or Gen 13 anymore.
After Gen 13 you jumped on Danger Girl, which is your first creation … How happy are you with the results?
I was very happy with it. I think it was fun doing a comic book that wasn’t a superhero comic and have it appreciated. Over here in France, that’s more common, but in the States it felt like a risk, like maybe people were going to reject us because they were not superheroes. Most of the first Image comics were superheroes. It was neat that Humberto Ramos, Joe Madureira and myself weren’t doing superheroes. Joe’s was fantasy, Humberto’s was a vampire story, … I was really pleased that people liked it. It was very different, it was very risky and it worked out.
By the time I was done with the mini-series, though, I was sort of burnt out. We had been working simultaneously on the series, the toy line, the videogame, all while trying to get a movie going too … So, by the end of the mini-series, I had been drawing interiors for a decade and felt like taking a break for a while, not being working all the time. That’s when I started doing more of my Marvel covers. I always thought of it as a temporary break. But it has proved to be a good fit, I get many requests for new covers and the original art market always wants to buy those originals. It’s become very hard to stop, because it works out so well.
Does it even make financial sense for you to go back to doing interiors?
Not so much. I feel bad giving that answer, but it’s very true. Doing interiors is grueling long hours. You usually have to give up your evenings, your weekends. It’s very difficult to hit those deadlines and produce quality work. My hat’s off to people who do that. I’m always impressed with artists who can do it. I did do it for a period of time and It would be very hard to go back to it now, I think it’s a young man’s game.
I miss the creative aspect of it, but not the financial one. Covers are much more lucrative, they offer a lot more leeway with your schedule. I really enjoy doing other things too, it gives me the flexibility to do other projects too. I have done some work with Disney and their galleries in Disneyland. I do a calendar with Fairy Tales characters that allows me to create my own version of those classic characters.
Do you feel more an illustrator than a comic book artist these days?
It’s more illustrative, like back in the pulp novel days. Covers have almost turned into the new collectible trading cards in a way. It’s almost like people trade covers like they are trading baseball cards.
We tend to talk a lot about your work at CBSI, you are one of the community’s favorites. We create these checklists with all the covers by specific artists so that hardcore collectors (most of us) go crazy and try to find them all.
I like it too, it’s fun. I think it’s kind of neat to create all those little treasures that people have to go and hunt down. And then I like putting them on books. In a book form, they are not as collectible but if you like the art it’s there and the publishers seem to be comfortable with me doing that.
I do miss telling stories, I’m not going to lie, but I don’t miss it enough to give up what I have. I have up and coming artists going How do I get to be a cover artist? Well, it’s not that easy, it’s sort of like How do I become a TV talk-show host? I don’t know how you get into it without a reputation. You have to build a reputation. There’s just a handful of us who seem to be doing it exclusively these days. I get asked for covers so often I have to turn them down. For every cover Marvel asks me to do I can do every third one. That’s a nice problem to have.
It’s funny that you mention that, because Time Capsule (fantastic book about JSC) quotes you as saying “I don’t want to be a cover artist”
At the time I thought that, it’s actually kind of funny I would say that. I was preparing a new series called Wildsiderz, I actually put four years of development in it … I probably put more thought into it than I did drawing the book. I guess you change your mind after a while.
It was more than ten years ago …
If you’re able to just do covers in some way it’s a special achievement because you achieve something not most people can do. When you see people like Charles Schultz, who have worked with one character for their whole career and they stick to the same look, I can appreciate it, but it’s a different type of artist. I am the type of artist that gets bored easily so if I had to draw the same thing over and over again, I would never last. I mean Danger Girl was fun but I started getting bored with it by the end. Same thing with Gen 13, I love it, but by the time I stopped I was really just bored with it. I don’t think I could be the kind of artist that can stick with the same thing for a long time. I need variety, and I think to grow as an artist I need to try other characters and new styles. Covers are fun, because there’s always a new character around the corner to try and do something special with and that’s pretty fun.
Is there anything planned for those Spider-Man issues you did?
There were actually two issues completely drawn. In fact, there was a cover that came out not too long ago with the Lizard on it (Amazing Spider-Man #688 Variant), that was going to be the cover for my second issue. If you look at the signature you will see it says “2007/2012” because when they wanted to use it I went it an re-dated it because it had been sitting in a drawer for years.
There are two issues drawn. Ultimately it ended up falling into limbo because of both Jeph Loeb and myself kept having other obligations pop up and distract us. In the end it fell into disarray. Part of it was that the farther it fell behind, the more it fell out of continuity, and the more it fell out of continuity they had less and less an idea of how to bring it back into continuity. It was supposed to follow up Brand New Day and it would have fitted perfectly, but we just kept falling behind. I would like to re-visit it but so much time has passed that financially it would be tough to go back to interiors.
I am a huge Spider-Man fan so I really hope it moves forward at some point, but those first two issues are so old now, that they look weird as they don’t look like my current style. They look like my style from about 8 years ago.
I would hope something comes out of it, but I think Jeph Loeb is working on Marvel’s TV division so I don’t think he’s available to write anymore so i am not sure if we would need to take over the writing with somebody else. I love the story he was coming out with. I think it would have knocked people out. It was almost like Hush for Spider-Man. There’s a really great twist in the end but I don’t want to give it up just in case it ever comes out, but I was getting to draw all my favorite Spider-Man villains one after another. It was pretty great. I still hope something can come out of it. We’ll see.
Are you reading any comics right now?
I follow artists, I am not great at following books. There are lots of artists I like. A lot of the artists I find most fascinating are the ones that pop up in my Facebook feed or Deviantart. No disrespect to my fellow comicbook artists. I just find that having done this for as many years as I have, the thing that stimulates me is mostly unusual stuff. I tend to like the unusual that the comicbook fans tend not to appreciate as much.
I greatly admire Andrew Robinson’s work. That really excites me. What he does is very very cool. I don’t know if the mainstream embraces him the way they really should. I love his stuff. A gentleman online named Otto Schmidt, I love his work. Sean Gordon Murphy, I think he is amazing.
I like all these artists who are kind of doing something unusual with their work and I like to try and see what little pieces of their work I can take and put it on my work. Dan Panosian I think is doing amazing work right now.
He’s come a long way from Prophet …
He really became a powerhouse.
What’s your favorite work of your own?
I had fun doing the cover for Back to the Future. That was kind of fun, it was different.
I was really happy with how the Harley Quinn cover (Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book #1) turned out.
The Sideshow Collectibles statues based on my Spider-Man work. I think those really did a nice job of capturing my work in 3D.
A few years ago I did some work at the Disney gallery, it was a series of Disney princesses within the shape of their villains. I had Snow White inside the silhouette of the Evil Queen.
You did something Similar with Star Wars too, right? I have definitely seen the Star Wars ones, but will look up the Princesses ones.
Star wars was done in a similar style. The princess ones in particular I was really happy with. Sometimes something comes out exactly the same way you see it in your head and it’s always nice when it happens.
Any characters you would like to work on?
I gotta say, Harley Quinn is very hot right now because of the movie, but my little bit that I got to do with her on that cover made me want to do more with her. That was just me dabbling with her a little bit. I stayed true to the version that Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti did. But it would be fun to go back and do my own twist on her.
I still enjoy Spider-Man and would like to do something with him at some point.
You’ve done it but no one’s seen it!
Exactly!!! Maybe something more with the classic 80s-90s X-men, I still like that a lot. I tend to like the unusual characters. I like the X-Men because they always were different shapes and sizes. I like Spider-Man because he was lanky and his villains are kind of quirky.
Batman! I think every artist wants to do something with Batman, of course … That would be amazing!
What’s your contractual situation right now? Are you still Marvel exclusive?
I am not technically in a contractual way exclusive to anybody. I do tend to do more work with Marvel because when you do more work with Marvel you get more favors from them, they provide artists like myself with prints and other advantages by being consistent with them.
Down the road, it would be fun to change that. There are days when I go “This character again?” and as an artist I want new stimulation, it’s always fun to do other characters or I will just get bored.
Thanks for your time, Scott!!!