Arts Desk

Meet a Local Comics Writer: A Chat with the GPO’s Jim Cameron

GPO_Comic_cover

The Government Printing Office recently put out a press release that began:

GPO PUBLISHES ITS FIRST COMIC BOOK

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) builds on its storied history by publishing the agency’s first comic book. GPO employees created the comic book Squeaks Discovers Type! as a teaching tool for children of all ages. As the agency celebrates its 150-year anniversary, the comic book takes a unique approach to educate readers on the important role printing has played from the beginnings of civilization to today’s digital world. The comic book’s concept, story and illustrations were created at GPO. Jim Cameron wrote the story and Creative Services’ Graphic Designer Nick Crawford provided the illustrations. Squeaks Discovers Type! is available at GPO’s newly designed and renovated bookstore in Washington, DC or available online.

This led to two thoughts. The first was that this was by no means GPO's first comic book—the UNL Library's Government Comics Collection has at least 14  scanned comic books made by the GPO dating from Al Capp's 1954 The Youth You Supervise. My second thought: This means two more D.C.-area cartoonists to interview.  For part one, we ask our standard questions to Jim Cameron, Squeaks' author.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Jim Cameron: This is a first for me, although I’ve done quite a variety of writing in and out of government.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

JC: In Irvington, New Jersey in the 1940s.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

JC: I came to D.C. to take a job with GPO and have been here ever since. I live in Fairfax County, just over the Arlington County line–the Seven Corners area.

WCP: Where did you come up with the idea for Squeak Discovers Type!?

JC: The area I work in, Publication & Information Sales, came up with the idea of an educational comic book to outline the history of printing, its importance in the development of culture and technology over time, and its connection to today’s digital age. I was asked to come up with a concept and do the script. I have two sons who, when they were younger—and maybe even now!—usually preferred playing video games to doing homework. I thought of a kid like one of mine who got an unwanted topic for a homework assignment—the history of printing – and, not coming up with anything, played his new video game until he fell asleep. Then the video game hero—I had in mind a Sonic the Hedgehog type—comes to life and takes the boy through time and space to find out how important printing really is. I sketched out some dialogue and gave it to Nick Crawford, who did the artwork.

WCP: How did the process of getting GPO to publish it go?

JC: Everyone in GPO was very supportive. Our own printing plant produced it—it was a GPO job from beginning to end.

WCP: Are more being planned?

JC: Everyone keeps asking us that! It would be fun to do more.

WCP: The government actually has a long tradition of educational comics that GPO has published for other agencies. Were you aware of these?

JC: Absolutely! There’s a long tradition of Federal agencies using comic books for educational purposes and GPO printing them. The unique thing about Squeaks is that it was our own GPO product, from concept, writing, and editing through production and distribution.  Of course, we can also do this kind of thing for federal agencies—we’re here to serve their needs.

WCP: Can you describe your part of the creative process for us?

JC: As I mentioned, I came up with the concept and did some initial scripting. After Nick developed the art work, we went through the book to add appropriate dialogue to the art and art to the dialogue and ironed out the glitches. Nick was great to work with all the way through the process.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

JC: I have to confess, none. I did read a ton of comic books, though!

WCP: Who are your influences?

JC: I tried to emulate the kind of writing I read in some of the old Disney comics, like the Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck comics —at least the feel of it. Barks was a lot more clever than I could hope to be, though!

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

JC: I’ve never been one to look at might-have-beens. Of course, you can always think back about certain paths not taken, but in general I’ve had a good career here.

WCP: What work are you best-known for?

JC: Most of my years at GPO have been spent in sales and marketing – and now Squeaks, of course!

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

JC: I’ve really enjoyed doing Government Book Talk, GPO’s book blog. It’s been an opportunity to talk about Federal Government publications that are valuable from the standpoint of the information they contain, but also to point out that many of them are good reads. I’ve even talked about Government comic books and artists—Dr. Seuss did an anti-malaria booklet when he was in the Army in World War II and GPO printed it!

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

JC: I enjoy writing and editing and hope to continue doing that.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

JC: It doesn’t happen that often, but a good brisk walk around the block helps.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

JC: I’m a book person and I think the printed book will continue even as e-books grow.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

JC: The many museums and bookstores, the great restaurants, and the Caps—it’s the Stanley Cup or bust this season!

WCP: Least favorite?

JC: Traffic.

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

JC: Dumbarton Oaks. The gardens are fabulous, the newly renovated museum looks great and contains fascinating Byzantine and Pre-Columbian objects they you don’t see in other DC museums, and it’s not usually crowded.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

JC: As I mentioned, I’m GPO’s book blogger.

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