A few years ago I visited the Pictures for Sad Children webcomic probably more than any other. Its creator John Campbell is uniquely skilled in the art of representing, often hilariously, some of the drudgery of not only our modern world, but just being alive. There were existential ghosts, office drones, languishing art majors, and a number of suicidal characters. It was an absurdist adventure that sometimes gave me some comfort or insight and always left me entertained or amused. The topics could go very dark, but somehow without pulling me under.



<image removed in accordance with DMCA claim by John Campbell>

At some point I stopped viewing webcomics so often (probably cause I was galloping down other rabbit holes,) but in 2012, I came across some Tumblr posts about drama with a John Campbell Kickstarter campaign. She (John came out as transgender last year) had published a book of her first 200 comics rather successfully in 2009, and had started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of a second book, to be called Sad Pictures for Children. For one of the updates on the project, John published a satire piece entitled “I’ve Been Pretending to Have Depression for Profit and I’m Sorry.” The only problem is that it was sort of difficult to tell if it was really a joke or not, and a lot of people got upset. It probably would have been regarded with less confusion if it had been published in The Onion, or the Shouts and Murmurs section of The New Yorker, but using it as an update for the project sent some mixed signals.

<image removed in accordance with DMCA claim by John Campbell>

After much hullabaloo, John followed up with a post entitled “I’ve Been Pretending To Be Pretending to Have Depression for Profit and I’m Sorry.” She said she’d spent years living off of little money and writing melancholy comics on the internet in an effort to connect with other people and not have to work the office jobs that made her suicidal. She expressed acknowledgment that depressed people tend to think of the worst scenario, so it made sense that people she had built connections to over the years would still assume she was being sincere with her satire about faking depression. “It would be funny if a mental illness caused someone to write the previous update in a sincere way,” she wrote in conclusion. “It would be funny if a mental illness caused me to write the previous update in an “insincere” way. It would be funny if the mental illness you have makes you interpret these words in this order in the way that you do.”

The next day she followed up with “It Is Impossible to Pretend to do or Say Anything and my Comics Have Never Been About Depression” where she talks in circles about negatives feelings. She finishes off with a riddle of sorts about being stuck.

Last night I was curious about the current status of PFSC, and discovered that by 2013 the books were finally printed, and the backers had contributed over $50,000. John wanted to devise her payment tier structure to reward those who contributed the least out of a disdain for capitalism, but this sort of structure didn’t result in a sound foundation. By February 2014 about 25% of the books had not gone out, and in response to those asking for their books she made a shocking update to her Kickstarter project. John posted a video of herself burning 127 of the books still waiting to go out along with a long, rambling rant railing against capitalism, the idea of money, and even her backers for asking about the status of their books. She said that the 127 books represented 127 emails and messages she had received asking for their books, and for every additional message she got, she would burn another book.

Although the rant’s main focus was to argue that money itself was a “joke,” she asked for someone to give her money to pay for her rent and food without receiving anything in return. She seemed exasperated by her fans’ expectations that she continue making comics in order to receive sustenance to live. She also lambasted those who contributed at a higher level – $75 – for daring to expect to receive books in return for their money (the $25 level books had been sent out first.)

Some of the ideas expressed in the rant were solid socialist arguments, but there was a breakdown when she asked for money in exchange for nothing. Money, which is representation of value and support, had been exchanged as part of an agreement that the art the backers supported would be produced and delivered to them. Regardless of a person’s opinions about capitalism or socialism, any sort of economic system doesn’t work when trust is broken and contracts are not honored. That being said, it was obvious this was less about economic systems and more about John possibly having some sort of breakdown and lashing out after feeling pushed against a wall, even if it was she was the one who pushed her there.

<image removed in accordance with DMCA claim by John Campbell>


To make matters worse, almost all traces of John’s brilliant webcomic have been swept from the web. There are only a few stray comics, ghosts if you will, lingering around. This, along with the destruction of already printed books, is a huge loss. These comics helped a great many people and had potential to help so many more. They helped some get through the day, and probably even saved a few lives. Many of those people were more than willing to support her and pay her rent (albeit by the capitalist system she decries) by continuing to visit her site and load her ads, and buying hers books, T-Shirts, and other products.

In May Max Temkin, a designer and backer of the project, stepped in to help send out the remaining books. There have been no more internet peeps from John, but hopefully she’ll be able to move on from this debacle, get some help, and continue communicating.