Home Comics Indies The Indie Index - Interview with Campbell Whyte

The Indie Index – Interview with Campbell Whyte

For those who aren’t aware of you or your work, please introduce yourself.

My name is Campbell Whyte, I’m a Perth [Australia — Mike] based comics maker. I’ve been making work for a long time, small mini-comics, card games, picture books, exhibitions and all kinds of other things. Home Time is my first, large scale comics work. When I’m not making comics, I work at the Western Australian Museum where I develop visitor engagement activities. I also run the children’s art school Milktooth with my wife Elizabeth Marruffo where I teach comics making.

My work is often about the intersection between personal memory, popular culture and place based history. I try to make works that are fun, playful and ask a lot of the reader.
You’ve had solo and group art exhibitions all over the world and received various grants and awards. In your artistic career, thus far, what has been the most surreal moment for you?
The most surreal moment? I had this exhibition about 7 years ago called New Perth. It was this series of paintings, sculptures and wall works that told the story of a fictional, post-mining boom, artist led revolution that occurred in my home town. It was really grueling, finishing all the work in time for the opening, while working a day job and being a new father. For the week leading up to the opening, I was starting to get really sick and working in a fugue state. I wound up getting so sick, that I couldn’t attend the opening, I had to stay home in bed in a fever dream. My wife sent me pictures from the exhibition, so I kind of remember the whole experience through those photos.
What creators are impressing you at the moment?
I am currently finding deep meaning in the works of those around me at the moment. The creators I connect with and whose works speaks from a similar place as mine. There’s something profound in knowing the person who makes the work and of labouring side by side with them.
The person who impresses me the most and has for as long as I have known her is my wife, Elizabeth Marruffo. She is an incredible creator who is making brave and sensitive work in a hostile world. My work, Home Time, would not have been possible without her.
Furthermore, there are two groups that I need to acknowledge. The first is the Comic Art Workshop, that I just got back from spending two weeks with in Indonesia. It’s a group of mostly Australian comics makers who come together every two years in a different, far-from-home location to workshop huge, ambitious and crazy projects. The workshops are life changing, powerful and reaffirming. Everyone who takes part are not only super talented storytellers, but they are also real gems of people: Pat Grant, Max Loh, Sanchia Hamidjaja, Nicky Minus, Sam Wallman, Owen Heitmann, Eleri Mai Harris, Chris Gooch, Sarah Firth, Thi Bui, Josh Santospirito, Mirranda Burton, Georgina Chadderton, Leigh Rigozzi, Fionn McCabe, Elizabeth MacFarlane.
The other group, is the Comics Maker Network, that I run locally in Perth. It’s a monthly get together for people who are creating incredible comics in this little, isolated pocket of the world. We share skills, stories, tales of woe and celebrate triumphs. These are just some of members: Sarah Winifred Searle, Hien Pham, Soolagna Majumdar, Alyce Sarich, Bodie Hartley, Samantha Ee.
Home Time was released recently via Top Shelf Productions, how did Home Time get noticed?
It got picked up by Top Shelf through a strange set of circumstance.
I had been submitting the project to publishers in Australia for a little over a year. The book is set in Australia, I’m an Australian author, it’s my first book, so I thought it would make sense to keep things local.
The submission consisted of around 60 pages of finished art and scripts of the rest of the chapters. None of the publishers I had approached were really keen to sign the book for a variety of reasons. Some had concerns that the shifting art style would put readers off. Others felt it was too big an investment for them to make on a first-time author. A few publishers wanted to see another 60 pages of completed art before they would commit to it. One publisher even thought that the fact the story was set in Perth was too niche.
IDW was holding a portfolio review at the Perth Supanova. I didn’t really think my project, or my work, was quite the right fit for them, but figured I’d go along anyway. It’s not often that international publishers make their way to Perth. I had my friend Luke Milton book me a spot on the schedule and I brought my work in. Ted Adams, the CEO of IDW was running the sessions. We had a good chat about my work, he was lovely and encouraging, but we ultimately agreed that it wasn’t really a right fit for what they were doing at the time. Ted offered to pass my work on to a friend of his. I figured he was just being polite and thanked him for his time.

A few days later, I got an email from Chris Staros of Top Shelf. From there, we started chatting. Chris understood the project immediately. All the fears that other publishers had, he was excited by them. It’s my first book? Amazing! It shifts art styles? Brilliant! It’s set in Perth? How neat! He had complete faith in the book from the beginning.

Using 10 words or less, describe Home Time.
Gumnuts in the drink fountain, now lost in the river.
If you had to make up a genre for Home Time, what would it be?
I don’t think I have to make up a genre, it’s pretty much a classic ‘coming of age’ fantasy story. Along the lines of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe among so many others. It’s truly nested in labour of others.
I think visually though, it owes a great debt to the musical genre of mashups. I was trying to bring together some of the way those songs make me feel, with their all-at-onceness, their playfulness. The different visual styles that I used throughout the book are a reflection of this. Trying to tie together all these visual mediums and traditions that I love. Ones that washed over me as a child. The sights and sounds of aggressively marketed toy lines and national myth-building culture all kind of coming together at once.
What was your reaction to the school bell ringing at the end of the day?
It was excitement, my most vivid memories were of walking home after school, so that was what the bell signaled the beginning of. Hundreds of screaming, running children, rushing into the playground, out into the streets. Then there was the long walk back home, the group of kids was always slightly different as well, which always made the dynamics shift and slide a little bit.
We’d walk through the local shopping strip, which meant we’d pop in and out of various establishments to carry out mischiefs. The fish and chip shop, where you could feed 6 kids with $1 worth of chips. The newsagent, where we would spend 30 minutes carefully curating 30c worth of lollies. And there was a small cafe that had a cast iron figure of a butler in the doorway. The butler had a tray that was filled with jelly beans, it was meant for customers but we’d dash in, grab a handful and then run away.
Did you ever have a school holiday that didn’t go to plan?
I don’t think so. At least, not as badly as one the Home Time kids got into.
As a kid, we used to holiday south of Perth in a small town. My auntie lived there in a beautiful mud-brick house that she’d made the bricks for herself, we’d stay with her. It adjoined large swathes of untamed bush land, winding and twisting plants, all sharp and angular. You could walk through the bush to get to the ocean. Or you could walk through the bush to get to more bush.
In summer, the cicadas called endlessly, the sand was hot and the water clear. We would swim out to the pontoon that was moored in the bay, bravely and carefully over the fields of seaweed.
In winter, the fire cracked and hissed. Laying on the rug in front of the flame, reading books late into the night. Clouds laying thick all the way out to the horizon.
The town started changing though, the town started coming under development, large blocks of land were bought up, flattened, concreted and turned into holiday homes. Resorts, investment properties. Weaponised real estate. Eventually it all changed so much that my auntie left.
Maybe that’s a holiday that didn’t go to plan.
What quote has stuck with and resonates with you?
It’s one that I heard recently actually, Kelly Reidy from Museum Hack said ‘The future of the past in female’, which I keep turning over and over in my head. It’s female, and it’s queer and it’s filled with people of colour. I think it’s a concept that is radical and optimistic and very real.
Any advice that you would give to people wanting to create comics?
Make comics. Don’t worry about having the ‘right tools’, use the tools you have.
Don’t worry about having the right skill set, you’ll always get better and never be quite good enough.
Make comics often. Make small comics and share them and then make more small comics and then make slightly bigger ones and share them.
Study culture and art outside of comics, have adventures and be inspired by everything around you.
Fill your comics with things that only you can, things that only you know.
Plug your work:
HOME TIME is the big book of mine that you should all check out. It’s been a long time coming for me and it’s exciting that it’s finally out. It’s a fictionalised autobiography, it’s an attempt to map the history of my home town all wrapped up in the popular culture of my childhood.
You can pick it up at any good comic shop or book store.
You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter: @campbellwhyte
Interview by Mike Speakman.

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