Contracts Rule Everything Around Me: On the John Campbell/Kickstarter Situation

It stinks getting ripped off. We’ve all been there. You pay for a good or service, but rather than getting what you were expecting, you either get something far below your expectations or, even worse, you get nothing at all. Sadly, because we live in a world where so many are willing to put profits before people, cutting corners and misleading advertising are all too common. However, we now live in a world where it’s easier to share information, so it is relatively simple to take to social media or blogs and shame a person or company that has stolen your hard-earned cash by defrauding you, decrying their manipulative ways and shameless opportunism.

This has been largely been the reaction to the news that John Campbell, the artist behind the darkly comedic Sad Pictures for Children comic, has decided to burn a quarter of the books he promised to donors on Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing Web site that allows people to donate money toward an enterprise (in this case, the second hardcover collection of Campbell’s comic) in exchange for promised rewards. In his announcement on the Kickstarter Web site, a clearly troubled Campbell bemoans the intense pressure he feels around the economic management of the Kickstarter campaign as well as life in general. He states 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.'” He claims that a good chunk of the money he earned through the donations ended up going toward providing books to the people who donated the most, and also notes that a lot of the money he has earned in the past has gone toward settling debts, including those stemming from student loans.

Most of the responses I have read out there accuses Campbell of being a “ballsy” jerk who is ungrateful to his fans and donors. A few admit that he appears to be “in a bad place,” but then dismiss his criticisms of capitalism as naive and unrealistic. “You want someone to pay for you to sit around? Me too, John, me too!” Campbell’s “crime” of abandoning his end of the bargain outweighs the reasoning or even the emotion that went into it, despite how naked that reasoning is, how blatant the emotion is. And while it may well be true that Campbell is lying and that his post was just an excuse for him to hold on to money he claims he doesn’t have, I don’t think that is very likely. He’s either a soulless spawn of Satan faking depression or a very troubled artist who is sick and tired of the rat race and “just getting by,” constantly trying to please others and ignoring his own needs and desires. Considering the obvious consequences of his actions in terms of ever getting donations again, it’s hard to see how the former presumption has any support.

It bothers me that there seems to be more shock and concern over the integrity of the Kickstarter system than there seems to be for John Campbell the human being. If you like someone’s art enough to pay them for it, I would assume what you really value is the artist and the creative juices he or she possesses, not just the art for it’s own sake. In other words, you would express hope that the person espousing a disconnect from the world and its emphasis on material gains and wage labor as “real work” finds someway to cope and not be so overwhelmed by feelings of alienation or isolation. Instead, everyone writes off Campbell as a “ballsy” con artist or a sheltered utopian. iT wouldn’t surprise me at all if Campbell sinks even deeper into depression because, after pouring his heart out about how he feels, the general consensus is “Stop crying, baby, and follow the rules of capitalism!” rather than any interest in his welfare as a person. It only goes to show that the commodity is assigned more value than the person producing it.

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6 thoughts on “Contracts Rule Everything Around Me: On the John Campbell/Kickstarter Situation

  1. Maybe if this happened before he took 50 FUCKING THOUSAND DOLLARS of peoples money it would be acceptable. He *explicitly* promised to provide something in exchange for money. If he did not have enough money to print enough books, that would be understandable. But he is actually taking the effort to showcase that this is not the case, but rather that he refuses to do what he promised because of this little temper tantrum. Part of being a mature, functional adult is taking responsibility for your actions. He is acting like an immature child.

    • I don’t think he’s denying responsibility at all; I am sure he does not expect anyone to donate to him in the future. He could have followed through with his promises and remained constantly chasing enough money to just get by, or he could renege on his contract and just be done with the whole twisted system. He chose the latter, and I think he is probably well aware what that entails. I don’t like to use this analogy, but this is sort of like someone throwing himself in front of an oncoming subway train. Do you gripe about how that’s going to make you late for work or do you have some sympathy and compassion for someone who just finds what is generally regarded as a cruel and unfair world too much to take?

  2. But he is expecting people to keep donating to him. He’s hoping that he can find somebody to pay for his food, rent and other living expenses. How is that not an expectation of future donations? I don’t care what he thinks about Capitalism, he has gone and taken deliberate action to destroy his work, welch on his commitments and make his own word worthless. None of the above require the existance of Capitalism to be criticized for.
    For an adult to have made valueless his own word, it’s hard to see there being much value left in the person. I’m not rooting for him to ‘check out’, and maybe he can find a way to recover from this before it’s too late, but it’s hard to spend any more effort worrying about him. There’s a whole lot of other people in worse situations than he is, that have done far less, to nothing at all, that put them in those situations that could use help, and they could probably take better advantage of any assistance given compared to someone who wants to just sit in a room and be taken care of by others. Others who will have to engage with that unfair Capitalist system he hates, but will provide the money that will make any donations possible.
    Unless one is close family or friends to him, one should probably mark this up as another cautionary tale about how a Kickstarter can go wrong.

    • I don’t think it’s valid that just because people have it worse than him that his complaints are invalid. If people in war-torn or famine-afflicted countries suddenly had all their needs provided for, who is to say that they would not also be struggling with psychological problems of isolation and alienation? I don’t think he so much makes an appeal to people to keep donating to him as he does express the hope that some people out there who already see the injustice of the status quo will agree with him on some level. I still think he understands that he has done damage to his credibility as a “business person” but I also think he has no interest in being seen as a “business person” moving forward.

  3. I’m relieved to see at least a handful of people with this perspective. It was crushing to read John’s last update, but even more upsetting were all the heartless reactions right along the lines of what had so clearly helped in breaking her.

    My only complaint is you seem to have misread a few things.

    “He claims that a good chunk of the money he earned through the donations ended up going toward providing books to the people who donated the most, and also notes that a lot of the money he has earned in the past has gone toward settling debts, including those stemming from student loans.”

    The books mostly went to those who paid the least, it was mainly the 75$ backers who never saw their books. She mentions she paid off her student loans in 2009, three years before the Kickstarter.

    If you look closely at the tiers, you really can start to get the idea of where the money went. Aside from John’s clear struggles with depression, she promised a lot for very little. The book was exceedingly complex, the logistics of shipping a lot for any single person to undertake. That the project was so insanely overfunded only exacerbated the problem. Surely when she started the Kickstarter she didn’t expect to be stuffing a thousand dead wasps into a thousand books, printing however many prints, etc. With the money also meant to go toward living expenses and, y’know, actually compensating for time and effort, it’s inane to assume she “took the money and ran.” Aside from all that, John has never given any reason to suppose she’s some kind of con and has in fact expressed being uncomfortable with how much she’s earned from selling originals in the past.

    • Thank you for this comment. I will correct my post in the very near future to reflect what you pointed out. You also seem to know for sure that John identifies as a trans woman. Is that for sure? If so, I can further adjust my post accordingly. He only briefly touched on it in the Kickstarter post so I wasn’t sure if he does or not.

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