John Murphy is the author of Stupid Sock Creatures, the Stupid Sock Creatures Book and Kit, and Closet Monsters. In this interview, John talks about being a counselor at a camp for at-risk youth, his love for Zazmyrna Hoag and Julian Van Voon, storytelling, and agoraphobia.
John, you’re a very creative person who has the skill to both draw and sew. How do the two different mediums interact for you, and which one do you miss the most if you don’t do it for a month?
Aw, blush. Thanks. If I had to choose one medium to miss the most if art-abstinent for a month, I’d have to pick drawing. I draw and doodle all the time. It’s how I think and process my day. Trouble is, I really don’t spend the necessary time to really do an amazing, finished drawing. Most of my stuff is quick. But sewing is such an investment of time and situation. I have to plan for it, whereas with drawing, I can just whip out my sketchbook wherever I am and have a go. I’d probably wind up scratching doodles into the ground or finger painting in my own blood if it came to it.
Over the last year you’ve embarked on a new journey and a new job. Would you mind talking a little about that?
Wow. Yeah. My new job is amazing. I’m a counselor at a wilderness therapy camp for at-risk teenagers. We take in kids who would normally wind up in juvy or worse, and try to teach them new skills and habits for managing their choices and emotions. It took me several months to love the job, but I really love it. The kids in my group come with plenty of challenges, but when you spend 24 hours a day caring for them, those challenges become obscured by how great the kids are as individuals. They really are incredible guys. If I had the means I’d adopt like half my group on the spot. I’ve committed 2 years to the camp and I’ve been there for almost 9 months. We’ll see how I feel about continuing when my tenure is up. But right now, the job is so engaging that I hardly miss my art career. Half of my kids draw really well so I still have art in my life anyway. I like to draw their portraits in my sketchbook. Then they mail my drawings to their moms.
Ok, back to the stuffed toys. Is there a monster from Closet Monsters that you fell in love with while you were making it—or do you not play favorites?
Gosh. It’s hard to decide. As stuffed toys, I really like Zazmyrna Hoag and Julian Van Voon the best. But Ulee Bingum is also pretty cool. I like ‘em all, really. As characters, I’d love to see how Camilla Grace and Lurwin Obsgarde got on in a romance (if Lurwin got his wish). I’d like to see how the rivalry between BooFaye and Julian would play out in a domesticity contest. It’s hard to decide which is my favorite.
And what about the back stories—where do those come from?
Sakes. That’s just something I do. When it comes down to it, I’m a character designer, whether I’m drawing monsters, sewing them or sculpting them out of clay. Each one is a living person to me, with a life and a history. Good stories are all about characters and their relationships anyway, so whenever I make more than one creature, I have them relate to each other in some way or another. It just makes sense. This way you don’t wind up with just a bunch of stuffed monsters that sit there and represent nothing. You have a weird little anthology and a whole world to put it in.
Even though you may not be able to remember your last one, what does your dream day off look like?
My dream day off involves naps, comic books, chocolate, Star Trek reruns and solitude. Now that I work in the woods with a group of 12 kids, I’m sort of agoraphobic.