Goodbye, Foom: The Strange Saga of Pictures For Sad Children

You've doubtless come across webcomics such as Cyanide and Happiness, or The Awkward Yeti, on your timeline at some point. The self-contained stories and gags, along with the simple, cute art make for easy sharing, and they're a great combination of hilarious and morbid. These comics, and several others like them, all rode the wave of a new kind of humour that was finding it's way on the internet. They tackled awkwardness, depression, and anxiety in self aware ways, with an absurdist layer that made them funny rather than depressing.

Pictures For Sad Children

Pictures For Sad Children

Pictures for Sad Children is a now defunct webcomic that was one of the first to capture this voice and style. Beginning a decade ago in 2007, PFSC was written and drawn by an artist known as John Campbell. The comic didn't really have a running story, though it often featured a ghost named Paul as the main character. Paul was a regular guy who died and came back to earth as a ghost, and then pretty much just decided to go about things the same way he always had.

And his bedtime stories were depressing.

And his bedtime stories were depressing.

PFSC pioneered an aesthetic that eventually became very common on the internet, and like most pioneers, it was probably just slightly ahead of it's time, and slightly too weird to become the mainstream. The comics were often unashamedly dark and depressing, and though the ironic remove of it's art and writing helped a bit, it was a pretty weird beast. And yet, this weirdness is what spoke so directly to us fans in the young days of the internet. Which is to say, uh, 2008.

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That's not to say that PFSC wasn't popular. It had a dedicated, adoring fan following, most of whom were pioneering creators themselves. John Campbell was winning awards and being interviewed by the New Yorker.  He ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise $8000 to create a Pictures For Sad Children book, and raised over $51,000. And it was all downhill from there.

In 2014, John Campbell posted an update to the Kickstarter page that began with a video of him burning 127 copies of the book he had raised money to print, one for every email he got asking for updates on rewards. He said he'd sent out about three-fourths of the books, couldn't afford to ship anymore, and would burn more copies if more emails came in. This came on the back of posts where he claimed faking depression, then claimed to be faking faking depression, and long screeds about how money was a lie. It was quite clearly a very public breakdown. People were understandably pissed, but hearteningly, a lot of them were just concerned. John scrubbed the internet of all the PFSC comics, and it became incredibly hard to find any versions of them at all, with even archived versions and reposted images disappearing.

In all this, Max Temkin, one of the creators of Cards Against Humanity, reached out and figured out a way to get what books were remaining out to backers. Another fan named Jacob Weiss started a physical mail chain where the book was passed on between fans. Shadow archives and Google Drives that hosted the entire archives were passed around.

John was quiet through most of this, and made a couple of statements about wanting less of an internet presence, and also came out as transgender, identifying as a woman. In an even weirder coda to the entire episode, in 2014, John's work cropped up on a website called birdmanthefilm.com, which told an absurdist version of Michael Keaton's biography in PFSC style comics. It's unclear whether this was official promotion for the film, though some evidence points that way. These too were scrubbed from the internet not long after.

The PFSC saga is a strange and sad one, and couldn't have played out this way in any other era. All we can do is shake our heads in sadness. And maybe google some PFSC archives.


Captain's Log: Dinkar Dwivedi is a core member at Geek Fruit, and he owns several towels, just in case. Talk to him on Twitter @DinksThinks.