I met Dylan Campbell as a fan. I discovered his great webcomic Scared By The Bell and reached out to him. At the time I wasn’t even doing comics journalism, I just really liked the concept and execution of his great idea. Right off the bat (pun intended!), Dylan was not only friendly but generous in sharing art, ideas, and thoughts on comics. So as soon as I got the chance to make one of our talks official, I jumped at the chance. What follows is a chat we had over…well Facebook Chat. And as always Dylan had a lot to say about the medium of comics, especially webcomics. Enjoy!
MFR:So Dylan, how long have you been making your own comics? Dylan Campbell: About five years ago I took a class at Meltdown Comics. The course was designed to do a mini-comic. So, I did my first mini-comic, “To Catch a Tooth” in that class. That’s when the confidence to move forward started. After that, I did little one-page comics to get my confidence up. Then I started Scared by the Bell. Hmm, I started penciling just 25 minutes a day in January of 2016.
MFR: Oh nice! So Back to the Meltdown thing? Were they already doing their whole partnership with Nerdist then? Yeah, as long as I’ve known about Meltdown, there has been a big Nerdist presence. They have a big space in the back for comedy shows, podcasts, etc. It’s kind of a neat scene. When I took the first class, it was a Wednesday night. So there would be long lines for a comedy show, food truck outside. Made the whole class a bit more exciting. The first class I took was with Jim Higgins. He used to edit over at DC comics I think, back in the day. He was really instrumental in opening up my worldview of comics.
Interesting. How so?
Well, I think a big hurdle for me for a long time was my “idea” of what comics were.
I grew up reading Jim Lee on X-Men and Todd McFarlane on Spider-Man. And those guys are so stupid talented; it’s a hard bar to live up against. When I first took the class, I wasn’t even going to draw. I thought, “Oh I’ll write a mini-comic and hire someone off Deviant Art”. But then he started showing us all these different Indie comics and my reaction was like, “wait… I can do that.” So I decided to write and draw it and it was hands down the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.
How soon after that did you think you could do something longer?
It took a while. I did the mini comic. And then I just got busy with life. Then I started doing one-page comics. Because I think a lot of comics folks get into trouble by tackling a huge story for their first outing. So, I thought – I’ll just do little funny bits, whatever I think of, black and white (no tones, nothing) just hand lettering, and then I’ll post it on TUMBLR.
After a while, I got antsy and started roughing out ideas for Scared by the Bell. I’m a big advocate of starting small and then iterating off. That’s one of the great things about webcomics, it’s not fixed. I can post something, change it later, swap out the image, and I didn’t have to lay down money for a print run. It’s a great sandbox.
Damn. That is something I never thought about. That aspect of webcomics. That’s something unique to the medium.
Definitely. I have a previous life as a tech recruiter. So I would talk to lots of software engineers. And I was exposed to something called “Agile Development.”
Basically, if you’re building this giant banking application – you don’t build the whole thing (log on, online transfer, bill pay, etc) you build it one feature at a time. That really made an impression on me. So I’ve been going about Scared by the Bell – one feature at a time. First, it was, well just get it up and out, black and white, hand-lettered. Then as I got more confident, I would “update” the changes. So now when you go to the site, the first issue is all in color now (just like the print) whereas before it was just black and white line art. I think it takes a lot of pressure off of “making it perfect” because you can change it as you go, fix, update, get feedback, etc. Kind of in line with that Jake Parker video, “Finished, Not Perfect.” Except this would be “begun and tweaked”.
So I’ve read Scared by The Bell and I really love it. But for our readers out there, why don’t you describe it.
Scared by the Bell is about a 6th grader named, Peter who started a new middle school… full of monsters! We all know middle school is full of monsters in general, but this school is full of vampires, werewolves, mummies, gorgons, aliens, cyborgs, etc. The series will explore themes like “coming of age” “friendship” and “tolerance.” Along with a heavy helping of adventure and monsters. So we’ll see if he can “survive” the experience.
I spotted a ton of monsters; even the dreaded Cthulu!
How long have you been a monster fan?
Monsters, Sci-Fi, Fantasy…forever. I’m sure the old Clash of the Titans got me going.
Oh man. Clash of the Titans was on TV constantly when I was a kid! That was a big one for me.
It was just amazing. All that claymation. I’m also a big sci-fi fan, specifically Star Trek. Star Trek has a lot of monster-like aliens that are humanized throughout the course of the story – which is a big influence. All those Greek mythology monsters are such a fun sandbox to play with. And then, of course, the old monster movies, the Universal ones (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc), were on when I was growing up. And of course Young Frankenstein.
Ok, back to the comic. I know you just very recently released a print version right?
I did! Just last week. That will start to be in a few LCS (Local Comics Shop! -ed.) and then I’ll be doing signings and conventions here in Southern California for starters, then via the website you can read online, buy a digital copy, or order a print version.
How many print issues do you hope to have then?
I will do a similar approach to the webcomic. I’ll do small batches of print runs.
Sell them, then order more. I’m curious to see how I’ll do at conventions. I have an author fair, and then a signing at a local comic shop here in Ventura. Then I’m doing Long Beach comic con in February of next year. I started with 100, but I’ll need to order more. I found a printer in Michigan I really like called Comix Well Spring. They did a solid job on the comic, and they’re U.S. based which is nice.
So how much of the story do you have planned?
I have six issues outlined. I’m halfway through coloring the third. But I’ll keep going after that. The plan is to just keep going with it. With the monsters and magical element, I can kind of do whatever. I want to have different arcs that focus on different characters as well. Not unlike Star Trek: Next Generation, or DS9 or Voyager, where it was like, yes this is an ensemble, but this episode is the Warf episode about his family. So hopefully after a while, readers will get really attached to all the different kids and have their favorites.
Who is your favorite?
I have a soft spot for Maggie and the Mummy. And of course, Peter!
Would you ever want to take the concept outside of the comics medium? Or do you see yourself wanting to do justsequential art?
Like animation or something?
Yeah. For film, TV. Or storybooks.
I feel like something like TV or Film is a little out of my control. I don’t imagine I would turn down any development prospects. But I could see writing a middle-grade prose book with the characters. I think, especially because a huge part of my audience will be the elementary school age, I’ll probably start doing video trailers, or little video things on YouTube to reach the kids eventually. Also, I’m toying around with Unreal Engine, so I might fool around with a game of some sort. But that’s very early. One of the things I really like about comics is you can do it all yourself with just a pencil and a piece of paper.
There’s this Brandon Graham comic about getting a pencil and paper out of the trash and doing comics.
Yeah. I agree. Also, I love Brandon Graham!
Prophetwas my gateway to Brandon Graham. He’s been a real inspiration. Also the nicest guy I’ve ever met at a con. And the tallest. That man is Goliath.
When I draw Brandon Graham into a comic, I’ll make him a Goliath with an elephant tattoo
dragging around a pencil. (laughs).
Well, Dylan thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Monkeys Fighting Robots. I just want to add that I was reading the comic to prepare for this and my nephew saw what I was reading and was into it. He starting asking questions and after a bit, I just gave him my tablet so he could read it.
Yes!! I really appreciate you taking the time for the interview. Thanks for the support. You’ve been commenting and reading for a while. I hope people read and enjoy, and show their kid. Feel free to go online and check out the comic at: www.scaredbythebell.com!
All images copyright and courtesy of Dylan Campbell