A Comic Book Kickstarter Just Went Horribly Wrong

Supporting art is an investment that doesn't always pay off, unfortunately. Chicago artist John Campbell, who's achieved a significant following for his humorously sympathetic comics about "anxieties, fears and bad feelings," set a goal of $8,000 for a Kickstarter campaign to print his comic book, Pictures for Sad Children. The rewards for high backers were bizarre, promising things like "I will go to the dentist or doctor for the first time in ~8 years, then make a comic about it and send you the originals" and "I will get some DMT, "do" the DMT, then make a comic about it." Nevertheless, the project was wildly successful: Campbell raised $51,615 from excited fans.

Now it's all going up in flames — literally.

As comics fans screamed in phantom pain, Campbell changed the title of his Kickstarter project to "IT'S OVER," and posted a disconcerting video in which he burns copy after copy of Pictures for Sad Children. While eerie music plays in the background, the text of the video reads, "127 emails about this book. 127 books. For every email I receive about the book, I will burn another book."

Based the angry, disjointed, and somewhat explanatory rant Campbell posted to the page, he's burning his books as a way of protesting against capitalism, at least vaguely. He hates that the world runs on money, continually emphasizing that "money is a bad joke we use to hurt each other," and says:

What if I don’t want to draw again? Why should I prove to people on the internet I deserve to eat and sleep? I don’t deserve to eat and sleep. I don’t deserve anything good or bad. There isn’t "good" or "bad" and there isn’t an "I" to deserve them.

Campbell says that some of the money was refunded, but that he will not be refunding anymore, and that the book burning will continue with every inquiring email. He's not just sitting around with 50K, though. Printing 2,000 copies of the book cost him $30,000 (of which he has mailed about 800), and that's not including the extra funds it took to enclose a dead wasp, wrapped in plastic, with each book. Yeah. He also posted screenshots of his bank and Paypal accounts on the Kickstarter page to show that he has $750 total. Oh, and he's stopped paying rent.

What he demands now is that someone pay for his living necessities and expect absolutely nothing in return:

I want to establish relationships with a group of people who can pay for my baseline needs like food and rent. I am looking for people who do not feel they need to see any “return” on their “investment.” … I am not looking for the support of anyone who wants a book, or wants to see me put stick figure comics on the internet. I do not need the support of anyone who thinks that I will deserve to eat and sleep only after I have fulfilled some standard they’ve chosen to hold me to. I am looking for people who believe that if you spend your life in a small room thinking, you deserve to live and breathe the same amount as someone who spends their life doing intense physical or mental labor, or who has money that "makes money."

Once he finds this non-symbiotic relationship, he will simply pass the benefits on to someone else, to "provide for the basic living necessities of a person who would not usually have the opportunity for their needs to be met by strangers on the internet." In some ways, he's introducing a fascinating, but terrifying, conundrum — do we deserve anything, simply because we're alive? And is anyone willing to take on the burden of our very selves?

Despite the incoherence of the rant, Campbell does hint at important truths about capitalism and complacency, while raising interesting questions about the human experience — as artists, no matter how hard they crack, tend to do. And the comments left on this obliterated Kickstarter are shockingly sympathetic for a group of people who've collectively lost 50 grand. It just goes to show how supportive people can be when they believe in what you do (or did). It also reminds us that art is hard and drives people to do crazy things. And that Kickstarter never promised to be a secure investment.