Maritza Campos of College Roomies From Hell (AKA CRFH) has been delighting readers since mid-1999 with her college roomies who are weirder than most – tentacles for an arm, bat wings, werewolves, eyebeams – the sort of roomies Miskatonic University would be proud to call their own. Maritza, with a beautiful new baby girl, took time to give us an interview.
So… tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Maritza Campos, I’m 28, and mexican. I live in the Yucatán península, home of the big-ass rock that killed the dinosaurs, or so they say. I’m married and I have a beautiful girl just one month old. What else?
I make comics full-time, it’s my job. Yay!
Where did the idea for CRFH come from?
I was in college at the time. I was studying Computer Science at the Math Faculty. I was surrounded by weirdos. We found the weirdos, and they were us. o.O I accumulated many amusing anecdotes, and from that pile I haven’t even used half. I also had an idea about people living together but hating each other. It’s the basic premise for CRFH. It’s also about growing up and learning to be an adult.
Who influenced your artistic style?
Various talented cartoonists from diverse countries. Let’s see… Charles Schulz, big time. A mexican comic book: La Familia Burrón, by Gabriel Vargas Bernal. Ibáñez, the genius pen behind Mortadelo y Filemón, Spain’s most famous comic characters (although I wish he influenced me in the backgrounds thing, he does lots of cramped backgrounds with lots of absurd and hysterical things going up), Berke Breathed with Bloom County, and Bill Watterson with Calvin and Hobbes. If I was talented enough to choose a style, I’d pick something like the one showcased in Asterix. I’m not a particular fan of that comic, but the art is simply marvelous, especially the inking. *drool!*
Who influenced your writing/storytelling style?
Primarily horror/sci fi writers like Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury. Some of my readers have pointed out I have definitely an influence of García Márquez because of the "magic realism" tendency, but it’s quite far from the truth. It’s more an influence of some of the "surreal" Mexican writers such as Arreola. In comics, Jeff Smith has also influenced. The humor is surreal and quite influenced by Quino (of Mafalda fame) and Berke Breathed, again.
Are these characters based on anyone real? What kind of college roomies did YOU have?
I didn’t have any! My city doesn’t have a campus. I just went to college by bus everyday and returned home. So much for that "write about what you know" thing, huh? I had an awful time in my first years of college because it was so VERY hard to stay afloat. I could only imagine that having to live with horrible people while doing so would be something pretty much like Hell.
Also, when I started CRFH I had no idea that college roommates strips were so common. You can just say that in my mind I invented the genre, and maybe that’s why it’s not really a college roommates strip.
The characters are not alike anyone I have known, but they have traits of different people I have known over the years, not just in college. Other are my own traits.
Who’s your favorite character? The Pet Rock? Mr. Hand? Of the others – who’s your favorite male character? Who’s your favorite female?
Of the non-human characters, it has to be Chester. Cats are so cute. My favorite male character is Mike, and my favorite female character is the Dragon. What can I say? I’m fascinated by evil. They are also REALLY fun to write. Also, I’m fond of Margaret when she’s plastered. I have no idea why, she’s so much FUN.
What’s your favorite storyline? And why?
Now this is a really hard question. My favorite storyline is always the one I’m working with. But in retrospective, I really enjoyed the Misery Journey one. Probably because it showcases the jump from a (relatively) mundane comic strip about college roomies to full-fledged unashamed weirdness. A comic when a guy wakes up with a different body part and gets to keep it is pretty different from your standard sitcom comedy, where nothing ever changes.
Why’d you put this out on the Internet as opposed to any other medium? What’s the most satisfying part of doing this on the Net – and the most frustrating?
I started as a complete amateur of the craft and at the time I did – this was on January of 1999 – I was doing it just for kicks, out of boredom, and for the fun of it. It never occurred to my that my horrible stick figures could someday be showcased in a book. And when the whole thing started getting big, I never thought of abandoning the medium.
You get addicted to making webcomics, which is like the other side of the universe from making print comics. With webcomics you get the immediate and *visible* reaction of your audience, and it’s a rewarding experience unlike the more distanced, cold approach of print comics – I do this, you read it, and then the whole thing starts again. When I say "cold" I’m not implied there’s not love for comic in print, I’m just implying you don’t get the love as soon as the comic is hot from the oven. It implies a distance from the work and from the audience. There’s time to think things over, edit, erase and change. The reaction comes many months after you finish the work and are already working on something else.
Perhaps the comparison is weird but it’s like the difference between theatre and cinema, at least in this aspect. Instant gratification. Of course, if you work with a big buffer, the experience is pretty much the same. Still, the level of participation and feedback is a lot bigger and continuous when it comes to webcomics. Perhaps the frustration comes from the misunderstanding of the "real world", and how difficult it is to explain to someone on the outside, to whom you could name the non-initiated. I think it’s pretty valid to say you can’t understand webcomics unless you read a bunch of them over some time.
Since you’ve been doing this daily near-continuously since mid-1999, how do you keep the characters fresh and interesting to yourself, and to readers?
I have a rule of thumb: I treat them like they’re real. It might sound insane, but it’s what I do. I treat them like they live and breathe and like I don’t know them well at all. They keep surprising me, they’re unpredictable even to me. Of course this makes it harder to write for them, because I can’t make them do things. They do them because I accommodate the world around them so they have to.
What are your plans for CRFH??? Do you have any other projects planned that you’d like to talk about?
CRFH is continuing for some time, I don’t know how long. I suspect that when it ends, it will be a surprise for me as well. As for the other projects, I have one, but I’m looking for an artist for them. I’m not fond of talking about projects because I know too many people who talk a lot and end up doing nothing. I prefer to have things finished before announcing them.