On the Nose: Sophie Campbell Talks Bodies and Blaze [Flame Con]
Writer and artist Sophie Campbell became a fan-favorite through her work on creator-owned titles such as Wet Moon and Shadoweyes, and she's continued to grow her audience with amazing art for licensed properties at IDW, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a concept-redefining run on Jem And The Holograms with writer Kelly Thompson. ComicsAlliance sat down with Campbell at Flame Con in Brooklyn last month to talk about body diversity, her design process, and queer talent outreach.
Comics Alliance: What does it mean for you personally to be at a convention like Flame Con?
Sophie Campbell: I think it’s really cool that there is specifically a queer con. I’ve been out of the convention circuit for, like, three years or so, and I just felt like, you know, I wanted to try and get back into it, and I think this was the one to do. It feels safe. It’s nice.
CA: Over your career, you’ve worked in a lot of different formats — webcomics, graphic novels, original solo work, and collaborative franchise work. Some have been one-and-done, and others have lasted many years. Do you find you gravitate towards different formats, or is it more of an individual-to-the-story kind of thing?
SC: Yeah, it’s based to the story. In a lot of the licensed stuff, I can just quit or whatever, but I don’t typically have control over how long-running the story is, I kind of just have to be like, “Okay, I’m going to leave after this issue” and just go, or whatever.
For my creator-owned stuff, I wish I did do more one-and-dones. Because I feel like I keep starting these series that are intended to be long-running, and now I’m just like, Wet Moon’s been running since 2005, and now I have Shadoweyes, I need to get back to that other book to do the next one. I kind of wish I could just do a book and not get attached to the characters and not "to be continued!" I just get carried away.
CA: Which is kind of a good problem where it shows you’re invested — but it also means more work.
SC: Right! [Laughs] People will be like, “Is this volume one? Where’s the other one?” and I’m just like [in exasperation] “I don’t have it yet.”
CA: Do you have endings envisioned for the series that are still going?
SC: I have a loose idea for what the ending will be.
CA: Where it feels like publishers and creators are just now catching onto the importance of diversity, you've had it as a huge component in your work from the beginning of your career. Why is that?
SC: It’s partly a social thing, I think it’s important. But it’s also to keep me from getting bored. Because it’s like, I don’t want to draw the same character all the time. And that coupled with... the world. And most of my creator-owned stuff, even when there’s fantastical stuff, it’s pretty down-to-earth and the people are kind of real, or at least they’re supposed to be, and it just makes sense.
When I was in college, I had a super diverse group of friends. And it’s natural, it makes sense. It’s the simplest thing in the world.
CA: Your work has also long focused on axes of representation well beyond the traditional ones. You’ve had an intersex character with Kyisha Lynn in Shadoweyes, characters with disabilities, visible scarring, a wide range of body types, and even defining facial features. Why specifically are bodies a focal point too?
SC: I guess it’s kind of the same thing. I feel like t’s important socially. I get a lot of fans who are like, “Your work made me feel better about myself,” and things like that, which are awesome and just make me want to do it more.
And it’s natural. Nobody looks the same. And it’s interesting for me to draw a super skinny character and a fat character and a muscular character and everything in between.
CA: And how much does physical characteristic design matter when it intersects with other identities such as race and gender identity?
SC: Yeah, it’s definitely important. I’ve been criticized for my male characters being less diverse than my female characters. And I guess that’s true. But, on the other hand, I have a ton of female characters and just, like, three male characters or something.
I think design-wise it’s just as important as race or gender. I try to change it up regardless of all that stuff.
CA: Do you have any advice for artists looking to expand their ability to draw a wide range of bodies and facial features?
SC: Look at real people when you’re out-and-about. And draw from life. One thing that I struggle with sometimes is coming up with new — my style is a little cartoony — but like coming up with new shapes for facial features. Sometimes I’ll draw a certain nose and I’ll be like, “Oh no, I already drew that nose on this other character!” And I feel like every artist has that “default character.” Sometimes I’ll fall into that if I have to design a character on the fly and I’m just like, “Ahh, I don’t know! She has a round nose!” because that’s my default nose, or whatever [laughs].
But I think: drawing from life and being aware. It’s weird. I feel like artists have this kind of blindspot. When I was doing the really early Wet Moon stuff, I thought the characters' faces were different from each other, but looking back on it now, they all look really similar to each other to me. It’s just a blind spot. It's about being aware; “Does this nose look the same as this nose? Is this the same as these lips?”
And just try to get excited about different facial features and different body types and stuff. If you’re excited to do all these different types of characters, you’ll just want to do it more and more.
CA: Jem and the Holograms is a fairly crowded franchise, and yet, with Kelly Thompson, you were able to develop a brand new character for this universe: Blaze. Can you talk a bit about developing that character?
SC: Yeah. Early on, it always bugged me that, in the show, there are four Holograms and three Misfits. And then they both gain another member later on, and then there’s five Holograms and four Misfits. And I was like, there should be a fifth Misfit, right? To even it out. That was my original idea, that we should do a fifth Misfit.
And Kelly was into it and we batted different names back-and-forth and we also thought about the color — the Holograms and the Misfits have some colors that overlap, like Aja and Stormer are both blue. Aja’s more of a baby blue and Stormer’s a dark blue. And we thought, “What don’t the Misfits have?” And they didn’t have red, so we thought her hair should be red.
Around that time, I was really into Sunset Shimmer from the Equestria Girls movies from My Little Pony [laughs]. And I was like, “Aw, I want to do the red hair with the yellow. That’s what I want to do!” And that’s kind of like fire, like a blaze. And it was really important to me to make it seem like she fit, to have a slightly silly codename and feel ‘80s modern.
And I wanted to make her trans, and there wasn’t any pushback on that. It worked out. And I feel like Blaze’s face is really distinct. So she was fun to come up with.
CA: Can you talk about where people can find your upcoming work? Or is that still under wraps?
SC: Yeah. I think my next thing comes out in January, which is [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles #66 for the IDW series—
[An organizer, dubbed "the voice of the Flame Con," starts making announcements over the convention intercom]
SC: Aw, damn it! [laughs]
[After announcing next year’s Flame Con 2017, the voice finishes]
CA: And that concludes it for the announced upcoming work?
SC: Oh, yeah. I’m still slowly working on Wet Moon volume seven, and I want to —
[The voice of Flame Con makes an addendum to an earlier announcement]
Both CA and SC: Damn it!
[The voice dissipates]
SC: Yeah, so, I’m hoping to release Wet Moon volume seven in installments. Because I still have to juggle it with other stuff to make money and everything. And I’m hoping the first installment will be out early 2017, maybe? And until then, I’ll just be posting my usual doodles on Tumblr, stuff like that.
CA: And given the topic of Flame Con, what would you like to see from the industry — in terms of supporting queer creators and queer stories — going forward?
SC: I was on a panel yesterday, and there was a question about outreach. I feel like there should be something like a program or something to let people know that they can pitch. There’s a lot of publishers that just have this small, rotating stable of people. And the editors just kind of hire their friends, which is fine. But it doesn’t get new people in there, and it makes it seem to people like, “Oh, there’s no place for me there.” And then they just do a bunch of straight comics, or whatever.
I think just having more diverse creators will make other aspiring creators think, “Oh, so-and-so did that, I could do that.” And for characters: more of everything. This is something we were talking about on the panel too, when there’s more, there’s less pressure on individual characters. You can have sh--ty queer books, and that’s fine. You can have good ones, and that’s great. And more of everything will just balance out, and everything will be really nice!