A lot of people miss the point when it comes to J. Scott Campbell’s art. They see the surface level good girl art and miss a lot of what makes his work so special.
He’s a cartoonist, first and foremost. Yes, he exaggerates in his style. That’s a cartoonist’s job. That’s what creates the ever-elusive “style” that every up-and-coming artist is always interested in finding for themselves: every mistake, every influence, every exaggeration combines to make up a style.
Campbell wears his influences on his sleeve, from the classic works of illustrator Gil Elvgren to the entire animated body of work from Disney to the caricatures of Jack Davis. He hides none of this. (See Campbell’s caricatures of the Image Founding Fathers.)
Also, he likes to draw beautiful women. That’s a sentence that describes at least three quarters of all comic book illustrators, though. Male AND female.
No, more like 90%.
Go ahead; look at their Instagram accounts. See what they’re drawing there for Inktober or as commissions, or just for fun.
The Sorry State of the North American Superhero Comics Industry
Unfortunately, Campbell doesn’t draw monthly comics anymore. He hasn’t in a long time. In fact, he didn’t draw all that many to begin with. Really, add up all the “Gen13”, “Danger Girl”, and, uhm, “WildSiderz” issues and you don’t get that big a number. Less than 50, for sure.
The economics of comics today means that he makes a better living as an illustrator than a sequential comics artist. There just aren’t enough readers buying comics to pay creators enough at his level.
Drawing covers and going the entrepreneurial route of selling exclusive printings of various comics with those covers is a more lucrative road than the daily grind of drawing 20 pages a month, month after month. The more popular an artist gets, the better chance you’ll never see them draw a comic book story again in their career.
That’s a failing of the comics industry, not of Campbell’s work ethic. He’s not alone. Look at the output of Art Adams or Adam Hughes in the last decade. You’ll see it’s become more illustration and less storytelling. Adams and Hughes do draw some sequentials here and there, still, but it’s the covers (and commissions) that pay the bills.
We lose a lot of great artists to covers, because that’s one of the few places left in the Direct Market that adds sales to the bottom line. There just aren’t enough superhero comic readers left in the Direct Market to generate enough sales to pay such artists to get them away from illustration work and back to sequential work.
Let BD Fill That Gap
If you’re a Campbell fan who enjoys his style but would like to see more panel to panel storytelling, there are three artists from the BD world that I think you’d be interested in. They come from three different countries, too: Italy, Spain, and France. And the works they’re best known for around this website cover the worlds of fantasy, pirates, and superpowered teenagers.
Alessandro Barbucci has had an interesting career. He’s worked for the Disney Academy in Italy. He started his career drawing Duck comics.
Then he worked on a series called “Sky Doll,” which has been published in English once or twice. I believe Titan had the last publication on that one. That’s about a sexy robot girl.
But he’s also done “W.I.T.C.H”, an all ages series, and “Monster Allergy”, another kids book starring kids.
The book that draws the direct comparisons between his art and Campbell’s is the amazing “Ekho.” The lead character, Fourmille, is drawn in a style that delves into Good Girl territory from time to time, but not overwhelmingly so.
If you like Campbell’s work, you’ll like what Barbucci does with Fourmille in “Ekho.” Those animated faces and good girl styles create the right mix to evoke memories of Campbell’s work in “Danger Girls” and “Gen13.”
Show up for Fourmille, but stay for — the backgrounds? Yes, while Fourmille might be the initial draw of the book, the most impressive and creative part of the book are the backgrounds.
“Ekho” is set on an alternate earth where there is no electricity, yet doesn’t sacrifice any of the “technologies” of our world. There are still fully functional planes, but they’re seats in a tube strapped on the back of a flying dinosaur. Cruise Ships still take you across the ocean, but that’s a ship attached to a gigantic squid’s back.
There are eight books’ worth of these worlds, one more impressive than the last.
Jose Luis Munuera
Jose Luis Munuera is an artist from Spain who has drawn a bunch of different things in his 20 year career in comics. That includes a run on “Spirou” that manga-fied the book a little bit.
But it’s in Munuera’s “The Campbells” that I see bits of Campbell coming to the fore. Yes, I’m comparing an artist named “Campbell” to a book called “The Campbells.” That’s a wonderful coincidence for this article…
And I’m not ashamed to make note of it.
The story of a pirate father left to raise his daughter alone, “The Campbells” falls far more on the “animated” or “cartoony” side of Campbell’s style. There’s an obvious shared Disney influence both in the way the characters move and how they’re designed. But there’s also a sense of adventure and action at times that would fit in well with “Danger Girls.”
“The Campbells” doesn’t go down the Good Girl route. At the heart of the story is Campbell’s deceased wife. She’s stunning in her beauty, but there are no gratuitous low angle rear camera set-ups or anything.
I just see the comparison being in the animated influences the two share, with lean bodies and expressive faces. I bet Munuera would do caricatures well, too, if he wanted.
If you want to go back a little into J. Scott Campbell’s history and look for something to compare to “Gen13,” the closest I can come is Mathieu Reynes’ “Harmony.” This one starts with a teenage girl waking up and not knowing where she is, but expands to an intricate world of powerful kids and the adults who would control them
Reynes keeps everything more age appropriate than perhaps Gen13 ever was, but Harmony, herself, is an iconic figure along the same lines as Caitlin Fairchild, just with more human proportions. Follow Reynes on Instagram and you’ll see just how many commissions he does of the character.
The book quickly turns into something not unlike a superhero team series, as close as any French series does.
Start Your Reading…
If you’re a fan of J. Scott Campbell’s work, I think you’ll like one of the aspects of his art that you’ll find in the works of these other great European artists. Give one of their books a shot, particularly “The Campbells,” “Harmony,” or “Ekho.”
These aren’t just books to remind you of an American artist’s works. These are also books that are entertaining on their own. I’d recommend any of them without hesitation. The fact that there are similar styles, concepts, or traits to Campbell’s work is just a bonus.
The Podcast Version
I recorded a podcast version of this article, though it’s based on an earlier draft. If you’re one of those kinds of people who can’t focus on reading something for longer than 300 words, then I’ll give you the option of listening to me ramble about it, instead.
See all the show notes for episode #16 of the Pipeline Comics Podcast.