James McCulloch and Jonathan Scott talk CAMP VA07 and Making Comics During a Pandemic [INTERVIEW]
James McCulloch and his creative “brother in arms” Jonathan Scott first came to my attention in March 2020 with their comic book Kickstarter for issue one of “CAMP VA07”. The pair’s project proved a great success with over a hundred backers helping to make the dystopian thriller a physical reality.
Roll forward seventeen months, and alongside letterer Rob Jones, the collaborative partnership are at it again with the second instalment of their science fiction fear-fest where Mankind are being farmed for blood by extra-terrestrial conquerors.
Excitingly, the Big Comic Page were able to remotely ‘catch-up’ with both James and Jonathan as their latest campaign enters its final week, so we could chat about the publication and the challenges the dynamic duo face working together from opposite sides of the world.
BCP: For those unlucky enough not to have seen either of your Kickstarter campaigns, can you please tell them what “CAMP VA07” is about?
McCulloch: CAMP VA07 takes place in a future where all animal life has died. America has made a deal with the Qhungrek, an alien life form that comes to us in the form of our saviour, who offer us a new food source. We then go further into the future, where the human race lives in servitude to the Qhungrek, being farmed for their blood and meat. CAMP VA07 follows one family who has had enough of the current regime and rebels against their overlords.
BCP: How did you come up with the story?
McCulloch: I read a journal about how unsustainable our current diet is. How much we rely on meat and how large chunks of our produce is brought in from overseas. How these imports are resulting in massive issues within the farming industry. From there I did more research on the subject which resulted in a story about what would happen if animal life died out, and the lengths we would go to survive.
BCP: What are your backgrounds as a writer and artist?
McCulloch: My background is in music. It’s what I’ve concentrated on for most of my life but I’ve always been a massive comic fan and I’ve been writing comics for years without ever trying to get them into print. It was just something I did for me as I noticed it really helped my mental health.
Most of my comics come from a place of trying to make sense of the world. I’ve had mental health problems in the past but writing definitely keeps that locked away in the background, somewhere as I can get rid of all my frustrations and worries on the page. I kill a lot of people in print… it’s all I’m saying.
Scott: I graduated from my Illustration course at the University of Portsmouth in 2015, which is the same time I started working in the UK small press scene. After working with small press anthologies, I decided to go back to university and pursue an MA in illustration. Nowadays when it comes to my creative output it’s usually either in the form of a comic book, interactive media (video games) or video projects when I have the chance.
BCP: How did you get into creating comics?
McCulloch: My first comic, City of Lost Souls, was self-published in July 2014. I’d been working on the story for years when I met the artist Janine Van Moosel at a live-action vampire role-playing game of all things. It still didn’t happen for a few years as life got in the way but everything kind of slotted together after I went to an SFX weekend in Wales and had a rather drunken conversation with Paul Cornell who told me to get it out there myself. That no one would know who I was if I just left it sitting in a file on my computer. So, we got some money together and put it out into the world. It was received well critically and sold out of the first 500 copy run within 6 months. Geeky comics picked it up for a reprint, who we were with until issue 3 then we moved over to Comichaus who I’ve worked with ever since.
Since then I’ve been releasing a couple of comics a year, worked as an editor, picked up an award and been a regular at comic cons the length and breadth of the country. I just like to keep busy and the comic community is a great thing to be part of. We’re all very supportive of each other.
Scott: I’ve always had a fascination with telling stories visually, I feel that comics as an art form has the lowest cost to highest creative output – i.e. If you put in the time and effort, you can create a story that involves anything and anyplace. What also attracted me to comics over other avenues of illustration is how small of a team you really can be to make a comic. If you have the time and intention, there is nothing stopping you from making a whole book on your own from start to finish. Whereas to do the same thing with film or animation would either be a much more laborious endeavour or involve working with larger teams.
BCP: Do you have any favourite comic book creators?
McCulloch: In the mainstream, Neil Gaiman, John Wagner, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan, Pat Mills and Garth Ennis are all massive influences on me. I was really into 2000ad as a kid. It used to scare the shit out of me, the dark black and white imagery just blew me away back then.
In the indie scene, Tom Ward with the Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman, Sarah Millman with NPC Tea, Ken Reynolds with Cognition, Anything by Fraser Campbell and Steven Horry. I could go on forever with the number of incredible indie books out there. We have a really healthy scene in the UK that doesn’t rely on pale imitations of Superheroes.
Scott: I have a huge appreciation for the works of Scott McCloud, his books Making Comics (2006) and Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993) should (and are in most cases) be essential reading for anyone looking to get into making comics in any form.
I’d be a miss to not mention the late great Darwin Cooke, it’s not just his incredible blend of clear storytelling and complex ideas that spoke to me, but in many ways, I agree with a lot of his thoughts on the comic book industry and how it treats certain genres. If anyone is on the hunt for a great example of superhero comics, you can’t get much better than Darwin Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier.
I’ve also been inspired by a lot of eastern comic works, the work of Goseki Kojima. His work on Lone Wolf and Cub captures so much grace and movement that a single panel in which nothing technically “happens” swells with emotion and purpose.
BCP: What’s the most challenging thing about working on this series?
McCulloch: Jonathan moved out of the country midway between the first and second issues. Different time zones and schedules always make life interesting. Jonathan works his ass and does great work so it hasn’t been as difficult as it has been working with some other artists. We still have really good communication between us both and we’re always chatting to each other about CAMP VA07. I think ultimately, we both want to make a great comic and we’ll do whatever it takes to get there.
If anything the hardest thing about CAMP VA07 has been that, due to the pandemic, it hasn’t been at any cons. I sell most of my work at comic cons and not having them there to help promote the book has meant I’ve needed to do a lot more online promotion. The campaign for one comic won’t necessarily work for a different one and I’ve struggled a bit with this campaign. Especially with CAMP VA07 when it’s not as easy to pigeonhole. It’s not a straight-up horror like most of my books. It’s a sci-fi drama with some moments of horror.
Brexit has also had an effect on printing and postage costs. Last time most of my physical backers were from Europe and America, whilst this time around the postage costs have gone up dramatically for the same areas so there have been more digital backers than usual. Printing costs have gone up by around 20%. Which is a massive chunk of the budget.
Scott: Between issues 1 and 2 I moved into another continent – it was whilst I was drawing issue 2 (quarantine did wonders for productivity). This isn’t my first time working with collaborators overseas, one of my first paying comic jobs was with publishers based in the United States. But when working across different time zones things can be tricky – we’re working on a timescale where I’m now 6 hours ahead of James, this can make communication somewhat of an issue – there is a sweet spot where we’re both awake and able to converse about ideas and artwork, so most communication happens then.
Besides working from another side of the globe, the process has been a fairly smooth one!
BCP: What’s the best part about working on “CAMP VA07”?
McCulloch: Seeing the art from any book as it starts to take shape is always the best thing about making a comic. As a writer, you have all these ideas in your head but it’s not until you see those pages back that it becomes something real and tangible. There is little in the world more exciting than getting an email from an artist with new pages.
The good thing about Jonathan is that he is on the exact same page as me with this book. We know what we’re going for and it blows my mind when pages come through.
Scott: Reading what James had thought up for the series is always a great time, having the chance to look at his scripts and think “what’s the best way to present this?” and the more I worked with James the more comfortable I became about pushing the content stylistically. He’s also great to work with, he’s very flexible when it comes to my considerations as a visual artist when I have comments on storytelling for the script.
BCP: Can you state one lesson you have learnt from creating “CAMP VA07”?
McCulloch: This is the 13th Kickstarter campaign I have run and they never get any easier. I learn something new with every campaign and this one is no different. If anything, this has been the hardest campaign due to the changes in the world. I guess releasing a comic where all animal life has died out due to disease midway through an actual pandemic may not have hit a bit too close to the bone for some people.
Scott: The Kickstarter model for comics has changed a lot since its inception and especially during the current pandemic, when making a book like CAMP VA07 you need to make sure that you can reach people in more unconventional ways.
BCP: What are your future plans for the series?
McCulloch: We have a definite end for CAMP VA07. Everything is planned out and I’m really looking forward to going on this journey with people. So, we’ll be releasing an issue or so a year for the foreseeable future. We still have a lot of the world to look into, as so far we have just been in the CAMP, as of the next issue, we get to see some more of the world and learn more about the Qhungrek, what they want, and to what lengths they are willing to go to get it.
CAMP VA07 #2 by James McCulloch and with art by Jonathan Scott is currently live on Kickstarter until Wednesday September 1st 2021. You can visit and pledge to the project by CLICKING HERE.
The writer of this piece was: Simon Moore
Simon Tweets from @Blaxkleric
You can read more of his reviews at The Brown Bag
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