Exclusive Interview: Mr. Tim Chamberlain of ‘Our Valued Customers’
Tim Chamberlain, aka Mr. Tim, is living the artist's dream. Inspired by a job he hated, Mr. Tim used his gift of drawing to create Our Valued Customers, a real-life look at comic book and pop culture fans. Word of mouth spread quickly, and soon, comic book icons like Walt Simonson, Gail Simone, Dan Slott and Greg Pak were singing the praises of Mr. Tim and his creations.
In 2012, publishers came knocking. Soon, Our Valued Customers was a full-fledged book, and Mr. Tim was able to bid adieu to the job which tormented him. I recently bumped into Mr. Tim at the New York Comic Con and we talked about the strip, the future, and the love of geekdom.
CRAVE ONLINE: Tell me a little bit about Our Valued Customers.
MR. TIM: Our Valued Customers came from years of me working in a comic book store. It wasn’t a great comic book store, so I started drawing the more unusual customer interactions I had with the people who came in there. I started putting them up on my website and I figured nobody would ever see it, and they did.
CRAVE ONLINE: The reaction to the work has been pretty astonishing. Comic book fans love it, but so do the industry people. Why do you think that is?
MR. TIM: I think the work is pretty universal. The fan interaction at a convention is pretty similar to what you have at the comic book store. These are all the same people. I’m not necessarily highlighting the negative, but I am pointing out the more surreal aspects that are at least relatable. I think it goes across those lines. All these long standing comic book people have seen the same thing at conventions that we see in the stores.
CRAVE ONLINE: Is it hard not always be negative with the cartoons?
MR. TIM: It is and it isn’t. I look back at some of the earlier comics and there is a definite negative skew to those drawings, and I recognize it. When I started off, it was just a way to deal with what went on in my shop. I wasn’t trying to say “I’m turning the mirror on fandom, man.” It was just something to do while I was at work. These days, I try to make it really even-handed. The negative stuff is always there, but now I’m really trying to show the more humorous side of it all.
CRAVE ONLINE: Are you afraid you’ll alienate the fan base you depend on?
MR. TIM: No, but at the same time, I don’t want to do something that comes across like “Hey look at the fucking nerds,” because I think there’s enough of that. You go on the internet and there’s a lot of toxic shit out there. “This sucks and everything sucks.” I don’t want to accentuate the bad all the time. It’s boring. I’d rather show the humor. That isn’t me. It never was. I love all of this stuff. Comics, the whole scene, of all the shit at conventions. I get it and I’m not trying to burn anybody.
CRAVE ONLINE: Is there anything you hear that you refuse to turn into a cartoon?
MR. TIM: There’s a lot of graphic sex stuff, a lot of “I want to do this to this one” and it’s way too sincere. I don’t mean the guys screwing around and saying “Check out the rack on that one,” I mean more of a graphic, deep rooted, lust and sex vibe, which is creepy. There’s also a lot racist stuff that I don’t want to be involved with.
CRAVE ONLINE: Talk to me about the Jaws commission.
MR. TIM: It was interesting. Through my website, people commission me to draw stuff. It’s either a specific thing, or them as one of the characters from Our Valued Customers. One guy asked me if I’d draw Jaws. I wasn’t sure what he wanted. Just the shark, or just the main characters. The guy asked me to draw the cast of Jaws. I said to him, “There’s a lot of people in that movie, but I can draw them if you want me to.” We worked back and forth and eventually arrived on the three main characters, the shark and the boat. I drew the original for him and he was happy with it. The guy sent me an email a while later, and he had gotten it tattooed on his leg. The whole thing, in full color. That was really cool.
CRAVE ONLINE: Where can you buy the Our Valued Customers book?
MR. TIM: You can get it on Amazon, or at Barnes & Noble, all the big bookstores. I know comic book stores carry it, but I don’t know which ones. You can also buy it from me on my website.
CRAVE ONLINE: While there be a second volume?
MR. TIM: Yeah, we’re talking about doing the second one right now. It won’t come out for another year, but in that time there will be a second printing of the first book soon.
CRAVE ONLINE: You also draw a lot of things outside the Our Valued Customers cartoons – especially things having to do with pop culture. Do you want to release a collection of those?
MR. TIM: When I started doing Our Valued Customers, I noticed I was getting locked into one style of cartooning. To break out of that, I started expanding what I was doing. Single panel and multi-panel comics, pop culture interpretations, that kind of thing. I’d like to put a collection of that out to show I’m not a one trick pony.
CRAVE ONLINE: Would you ever draw comics for the Big Two?
MR.TIM: I’m not against anything like that. I love everything about comics, including the industry. If anybody wanted me to I’d absolutely do that.
CRAVE ONLINE: Who inspires you?
MR.TIM: It’s mostly cartoonists. The Mad Magazine guys like Sergio Aragones and Jack Davis. I also love modern stuff like Peter Bagge and Johnny Ryan. Jim Mahfood, Walter Simonson, Gary Larson, that kind of stuff.
CRAVE ONLINE: Our Valued Customers screams to become an animated show. Have you ever considered that move?
MR.TIM: I make a lot of big plans and I like to drink a lot. (Laughs) So I’d be lying if I said I never had the lunatic fantasy of animating the book. So be sure to tell all your friends that if they have a lot of money, and feel like financing it, I’m ready to go.
CRAVE ONLINE: Why not Kickstarter?
MR. TIM: It’s virtual panhandling, so no.
[Editor's Note: As a kicker, here's Mr. Tim's rendition of Iann Robinson dealing with NYCC.]