Many people learned of Sophie Campbell thanks to IDW's Jem & The Holograms - but others knew of her long body of work before that. Now, the cartoonist is jumping head-long back into her creator-owned work, old and new, on multiple fronts.
Campbell is currently balancing work on new (and re-issued) editions of her Oni series Wet Moon, along with two webcomics serials, and even "a couple secret things" she was reticent to talk about. But the Savannah College of Art & Design grad was open to talk about other things, from her transition out of Jem back into creator-owned work, her uneasy feelings about superhero fiction, as well as revisiting Wet Moon twelve years after she originally created it.
Newsarama: Sophie, what are you working on today? What's on your drawing board?
Sophie Campbell: Mostly I'm taking it easy after finishing Jem & the Holograms, but I'm doing a bit on my webcomics Can't Look Back and Secrets of the Ooze, just stuff for fun. I'm hoping to finish Can't Look Back really soon, there are only a few pages left to go. Professionally-speaking, I'm in the early stages of a couple secret things that I can't talk about yet, as well as brainstorming for a bunch of new Wet Moon 7 revisions.
Nrama: Professionally, you've really seemed to find your niche with Jem & the Holograms, while also getting Shadoweyes and Wet Moon back into print. How do you feel about your career at the moment?
Campbell: Pretty good! I feel like I'm finally back on my feet after almost running out of money in 2010 and my career almost falling apart due to a combination of that and depression. I'm still not totally back on track, though, it's been way too long since new Wet Moon and new Shadoweyes. I try not to dwell on how long it's been, it can be overwhelming, but it's nice having new editions because it feels a bit like a get-out-of-jail-free reset button. There are still fans who have been waiting years and years, though, but I try not to let the pressure get the better of me. But overall my career is in the best place it's ever been.
Nrama: Jem & the Holograms - I remember years ago you posting fan-art redesigns on Livejournal. What do you think about what it's turned into? Did you ever consciously think - "There's going to be a Jem & The Holograms book, and I'm going to be doing it!'?
Campbell: When I did that old fan art I honestly never thought there'd be a Jem comic. I figured Jem would be brought back eventually with a movie or a new show, like every other 80s property is being revamped, but I never in a million years thought Hasbro would bother with a comic series. It's still kind of crazy to me to think that I ended up being the one to help launch it. I think I improved on all those original sketches I did, obviously those old drawings didn't have any context or a story to them, they didn't have to fit into anything so they could be a little crazier, but I think what I ended up doing is a nice merging of those sensibilities and the original show.
Nrama: And your time on Jem & The Holograms is over, but what are your thoughts on your run there?
Campbell: As with every project I do I wish there were things I did differently, but overall I'm really proud of it. I still can't quite believe I got to be there at ground zero and relaunch Jem. I got to introduce a new character, Blaze, I got to draw a ton of awesome outfits, and I think I outdid myself on shoe designs.
Nrama: Jem has its share of action, but less than Glory and some of your previous work. Do you want to do more action, or perhaps even superhero work? I remember you doing a great rendition of Kitty Pryde once.
Campbell: I'm not that confident in my ability to draw action, but sometimes I like the challenge and right now I'm kinda itching to do something with more adventure type stuff again. I'm not that interested in doing superheroes besides my Shadoweyes comic, although some people consider Ninja Turtles a superhero comic and I'm always eager to draw that. It's kinda similar in some ways since there's a lot of fighting and adventuring. I used to really want to do an X-Men comic but not so much anymore, I feel burned out on most traditional superhero stuff these days. I'd totally do it if I needed the money, of course, I don't feel ashamed in saying that. But money aside, the only characters I'd probably be genuinely excited about working on would be Marrow, Feral from X-Force, Penance from Generation X, Supergirl, or Sleepwalker. I've had some really cool opportunities from DC and Marvel over the past couple years but nothing's worked out. Maybe someday.
Nrama: Why do you feel you've "burned out" on traditional superhero comic books? Is what you like not being made, or are you just burnt out on the whole concept?
Campbell: I think it's what's being made and the concept itself, but I'm sure I'll get back into it eventually. I go in phases. I was super into X-Men for a long time, especially New X-Men and X-Statix and Joe Kelly's X-Men, and I still like that stuff but none of the new series do it for me from what I've read. Recently I got really into superhero TV shows like the The Flash and Supergirl, so I don't dislike all superhero stuff! But I find the comics confusing and overwhelming and they feel like the same story over and over. I want some offbeat non-human weird mutant characters again!
Nrama: I mentioned earlier Wet Moon and Shadoweyes, but you also have a couple other OGNs out there that are out of print: The Abandoned, Water Baby, and those Mountain Girl books. Any chance you would ever get those out in the world?
Campbell: I don't think those will ever be back in print, no. The Abandoned is still owned by TokyoPOP and while I could probably do my own print run of it just fine or put it all online, I kinda want that material to be lost to time, so to speak. Even though I'm doing a sequel to it at the moment (Can't Look Back) I want the original book to stay in the past, I guess.
Same with Water Baby.
I want to do a new version of Mountain Girl, though, so I don't want to do any new printings of the old comics. I've pitched the new version around over the years and even done artwork for it but nothing's worked out, so I had to put it on the backburner. Hopefully someday, I really want to revisit it.
Nrama: Can't Look Back - for someone who doesn't know what that is, what can you tell us about its plot?
Campbell: It's a webcomic, it's a sequel to my old Tokyopop comic The Abandoned. It goes in a totally different direction than the zombie horror in the original comic, the main character Rylie wakes up and realizes the zombie apocalypse was a nightmare, and after that it's mostly slice-of-life about her and her girlfriend Naomi, as Rylie tries to forget the dream. It has some smutty NSFW content in it but its mostly cute stuff.
Nrama: Do you have plans in place for a print edition?
Campbell: Not at the moment, no, although I've talked briefly about running it in Island, the anthology that Brandon Graham and Emma Rios put together. We'll see.
Nrama: Wet Moon - Oni just began re-printing those. You started those 12 years ago, and I believe began working on them years before that at Savannah College of Art & Design. How does it feel to be revisiting those?
Campbell: It's both awesome and embarrassing. [Laughs] I don't like to look too much at my old artwork. All I can see are the flaws and things I'd do differently now. It almost feels like it was drawn by someone else even though I know it was me, and it's like looking at your old grade school yearbook photo and seeing how awkward and weird you looked back then. It feels kind of alien. Sometimes I look at it and I'm like "why did I write/draw this that way?" like I feel genuinely confused about what my thought process was at the time, or I can't remember where I was planning to go with a certain plot point or something like that. But it's also nice to see how far I've come as an artist, writer, and as a person, and I feel really proud of the sheer volume of work I've done. Sometimes I can't believe how much I've drawn since I started. I began the first real Wet Moon book in 2004, but I was doing short comics before that, some of which I put in the back of volume 1 just for fun.
Nrama: Do you feel like you've changed a lot as a person and a cartoonist since then?
Campbell: Definitely! Skill-wise and style-wise it's obvious, my work was so different back then and has changed so much in the past decade (while still being identifiably mine, or at least I like to think so). And I like to think I've grown and improved as a person but I'll leave that up to everyone else to decide. [Laughs]
Nrama: The last volume, "Yesterday's Gone," came out in 2012 - but I believe you told me once you had completed it well before then.
Campbell: It wasn't that long before the release, I drew Wet Moon 6 during 2011, I was juggling it with Glory believe it or not. I don't know how I pulled that off. I've actually thought about doing Wet Moon shorts, yeah! Like quarterly releases of 50-60 page installments, or three times a year or something like that, then they'd all get collected into the usual big book at the end. I don't know if that would be something people would be interested in or if it would just be frustrating for readers, but it could be nice since I have to juggle personal creator-owned work with work-for-hire more and more these days. I think I will talk to my editor about that after I finish this interview, actually!
Nrama: You mentioned working on a new seventh volume of Wet Moon. You're coming back after a big hiatus - is this a story you had in mind for some time, or something new for your kids?
Campbell: I wrote the original script years ago and I actually drew a bunch of pages over the years, but now that I'm seeing it with fresh eyes I'm probably going to overhaul the story. There are some new things I want to do.
Nrama: Can you say what the story is?
Campbell: It's about the fallout after Trilby being attacked in volume 6 and her recovery and dealing with her situation, and how everyone else deals with it. Things aren't the same anymore so everyone has to figure out where to go from here.
Nrama: What do you want to do next - next month, next year, and in the next five years?
Campbell: My first order of business is to finish Can't Look Back! Next month I'd like to go back to work on Wet Moon 7, next year I want to finally get back to the next Shadoweyes book, and in the next five years I want to hopefully have Wet Moon volume 8 finished and maybe a new Mountain Girl comic. Fingers crossed!!
Nrama: Lastly. Sophie, how to do you feel about comic books as they are now?
Campbell: I think comics as a whole is the best it's ever been, there's more diversity in material and creators than ever before. Webcomics are flourishing, everyone is able to get their work out there in some form and there are more avenues than ever for different people to be heard. People are discussing the sexism and racism in the comics field more and more, I think it's great that those things are being talked about and examined. It makes comics stronger and safer. Social media probably makes much of this possible, it's so easy for people, both fans and creators, to connect with each other and start a dialogue.