Correspondence Corner #1

I’m going to run some of the email I’ve recieved about SHIRTLIFTER #1 on the blog, with my response. Comics have always had letter columns in which readers wrote in and were responded to by the writer or editor. Since SHIRTLIFTER is going to come out at BEST once every year and a half, running a letter column seems impractical, so I’m going to run correspondance on the blog. If you write to me, I’ll assume its okay to publish it here unless explicitly told otherwise.


* * * * *
Hi Steve,

More time has passed then I meant to allow, but I
wanted to say what a pleasure it was meeting you and
Todd recently at TCAF (I’ve attached a pic to remind
you of who I am). I hope you had a successful show.

If you’re open to criticism (something I’m not, and
rarely give), I’d like to share some (quick) feelings
about your work as I mentioned you are doing what I
feel I should be doing as well.

After meeting you guys at the show, I went home and
later read Shirtlifter 1. A very erotic title (to
me), but ultimately it was story about a jerk (more
later).

I then read your Shirtlifter 2, and was getting
frustrated. I felt that everything prior to “Border
Crossings” was everyday stuff that we’ve all witnessed
first-hand or otherwise. I feel that there is so much
negative in all gay (sub)cultures, and nobody’s doing
anything to make a difference. What I mean is, more
positive role-models and more monagomous couples might
make for better examples (more later).

Then I read “Border Crossings”. WOW. All of a sudden
all this heart, warmth and humour came out of you.
What a fantastic read. I feel this is your calling,
because it is night and day compared to your other
work. WOW. This is where you truly shine. This is
the kind of thing that puts out a serious positive
message. There are so few, good role-models, and I
felt this story fits under this category.

It definitely made me want to go back and speak to you
both again, but I’m very shy and allowed you to have
your weekend. :)

Please sign me up for any mailings, and I cannot
stress enough how much I enjoyed “Border Crossings” and
all the warmth it gave me. Stay on that path. Or
don’t. :) Erotic art and stories are great, but you
could leave those for others. You have a better
talent.

I hope what I’m trying to say came across. I’m not
putting down your other work. The art on your
business card is beautiful. But sharing real stories
with real heart is miles ahead.

Take care and I really hope our paths cross again.

Tyler Campbell
Toronto, ON

Hi Tyler,

Thanks for the feedback. It’s rare that I hear anything about my work, let alone such an extended response, so I appreciate you taking the time to write. I am definitely open to criticism, with the caveat that being open to recieve it doesn’t mean I think it’s necessarily on target. I understand and am sympathetic to your concerns and frustrations about the book, but I think a lot of it comes from the fact that what you seek in art I’m generally not tryint to give you.

SHIRTLIFTER as a series isn’t really supposed to be erotica. The term is a britishism, a derogatory term that means faggot, basically. I am often explicit in the book, and sexual situations occur, but they’re there mostly to define character or a story point rather than an end in and of themselves. I think you’re on target in identifying that most of the points I’ve was trying to make in my early work was a bit skewed
towards the negative. I think that criticism is one of the functions of art; i also believe in presenting people as they really are, warts and all. It’s true that Derek from “Unmade Beds” is a jerk. What interests me, and ultimately what the story is about, is a) how much of
his jerkiness is a response to his circumstances, and b) Are the events presented evidence that he will always be a jerk, or are they
the cataylst for him to change his patterns of behaviour? People’s behaviour in response to difficult circumstances is fascinating to me; whether or not they are good people is sort of irrelevant to me.

I appreciate the comments about “Border Crossings” — I think it’s probably the strongest piece I’ve ever done, and I’m glad to hear you liked it. I think its evidence of my work in general taking on a more positive caste, and its a direction I’m going to continue in. But I think that postive feelings present in the last two pieces are made more effective by the negative tone at the start of the comic. Taken as a whole, the book, as autobiography, is meant to track a progression from, for lack of a more precise term, fucked up to less fucked up. The negative stuff makes the positive more of an achievement when you see it. I must say though, I don’t really believe its my responsibility to provide honest role models, but only to provide work that is true to life. For me, that includes a lot of stuff that IS everyday stuff, that we’ve all witnessed first hand. And it means including work that studies morality and situations that make us uncomfortable. One of the things I find fascinating about gay culture is its adaptability and the forms that intimacy and relationships take. Hopefully I will be able to do that with heart, warmth and humour — I AM striving to make things less dark — but my work is ultimately going to be a documentation of what is than an attempt to push gay life in a certain direction. I’m with you about erotica. I liked doing it, and it still remains to a degree in my current work, but at this stage I’m more interested in these short, human stories. Hopefully that will remain of interest to you, even when dealing with people or situations that you may find distasteful.

Thanks again for writing!

Best,

Steve