Christopher Jobson (BA ’04) turned his humble passion project—an art and visual culture blog—into a full-time, professional career.
On the morning of March 9, 2011,Christopher Jobson (BA ’04) posted Sagaki Keita’s surreal, intricately detailed ink drawings to his arts and visual culture blog, Colossal. By 5 p.m. that day, so many visitors flooded the site that his server crashed.
Before promoting the Keita doodles, the months-old Colossal (thisiscolossal.com) had a few hundred visitors. As that post went viral, more than 1 million visitors flocked to the blog over a few hours. Today, Colossal attracts around 3 million visitors a month, an almost unheard-of number of fans in the blog world—and Jobson curates, writes, develops and designs all blog content himself. He has become one of the dedicated few able to support himself (and his family) by professionally blogging.
That the self-proclaimed “terrible” artist has become a bonafide tastemaker in the international arts and media scene has surprised just about everyone—especially Jobson himself. Up until that fateful day in 2011, after all, he was just a guy who started a blog.
Jobson grew up dually in rural Kyle, Texas, and Chicago—his mother lived in Texas and his father, Columbia College Art + Design associate professor Craig Jobson, lived in Evanston.
He discovered his creative and entrepreneurial outlet during his freshman year of high school in 1996. After his father sent him a modem, Jobson learned how to build his own websites and earn money with online advertising.
“I was very, very fascinated with the Internet very early on,” he says. “By my senior year in high school, checks were showing up in the mail because I had started [featuring] advertisements on websites.”
Jobson was receiving monthly checks for as much as $500 from advertisements on his website, animalhumor.com. Before graduating, he sold the site for $7,000—which he used to buy his first car and drive to Burning Man, the notoriously radical arts and culture festival in the Nevada desert.
He specifically remembers the impact of professor Janell Baxter, who still teaches in what is now the Interactive Arts + Media Department. Baxter, says Jobson, repeated the advice, “Stay relevant even after what you’ve learned is obsolete.”
“The best part of [Columbia] was being around other people while they were making art. And I was terrible at it.”
During sophomore year, Jobson had the sudden urge to “just get a job.” He approached a dozen advertising agencies in Chicago, and boutique Fathead Design hired him to work full time designing and developing for clients. The real-world job experience inspired him to branch out creatively and do something “that was just fun.” Engaged in his creative writing classes, he decided to finish his last two years of college studying in the Fiction Writing Department.
By the time Jobson graduated with a fiction writing degree, he had left his job at the ad agency to study abroad twice in Prague, and he knew he needed to get a job—any job—to pay the bills. He found work as a Web designer and developer for a downtown financial firm, but after a few years of being the only “creative” member of the team, he craved alternative outlets to feed his creative fire.
The shove he needed came during a mundane day while on jury duty. Required to remain in a courthouse room with no WiFi or entertainment, Jobson experienced a sort of existential panic. Overcome with anxiety, he broke out his laptop and typed a list of 100 things he wanted to accomplish in 2009—everything from reading a book to taking cooking and ceramics classes. Somewhere near the bottom, maybe number 76, Jobson wrote, “start a blog.”
Jobson created Colossal as a humble passion project in summer 2010. He didn’t want to rehash the mainstream art already being discussed. He wanted to find obscure, underground art and artists. This led to endless hours scrolling through Tumblr accounts run by college students, reading hundreds of blogs and trying to navigate a Korean art gallery’s website. If Jobson conducted a search and couldn’t find anything written about a particular artist or piece, he’d share it on Colossal. Since the beginning, Jobson’s desire to share never-before-seen content has set Colossal apart from the rest of the blogosphere.
And this passion for curating rather than creating aligns with Jobson’s sensibilities: He has always considered himself an appreciator of the arts rather than an artist himself.
“The best part of [Columbia] was being around other people while they were making art,” he says. “And I was terrible at it. I did not enjoy making art, and it was awful, and it was frustrating.”
Treating Colossal as a sort of virtual gallery, Jobson strives to appeal to the most prestigious of readers and critics. “I think about these fictional 30 or 40 people who are completely plugged into the art world who have seen absolutely everything, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to make them my audience,’” Jobson says.
FROM SIDE PROJECT TO CAREER
After Keita’s doodles went viral, Jobson was hooked. How many unknown artists could he find and share?
Jobson began receiving submissions from artists all over the world. He spent endless hours scavenging for the “one obscure, weird thing” that nobody had seen. He blogged about five hours every night after work as well as on his lunch breaks at the financial firm.
As agonizing and exhausting as the process could be, Jobson’s labor started to pay off—literally.
In 2012, Colossal was nominated for a Webby Award in the Art category. Actor Neil Patrick Harris even tweeted about the blog, endorsing Colossal as “artistic, smart and inspiring.”
Then a Google advertisement featured Colossal as an example of how to add a publication to a Google Currents account, showing a few pages of the site being swiped across a screen. In 2012, Colossal showed up in an Apple iPad commercial. (For a few seconds, the audience can see Colossal bookmarked in the browser window.) People began approaching Jobson, saying, “I had never heard of Colossal before I saw it in that iPad commercial.”
The blog’s audience continued to grow, attracting nearly 2.5 million viewers a month. Jobson made repeated attempts to sell advertisements, but his site traffic was too large for smaller agencies, and better-known agencies were hesitant to work with a site they didn’t know.
Finally, New York-based advertising agency Nectar Ads asked Colossal to be a part of an “art ad network” with site-specific content that catered to the art world. Jobson says the ads displayed on Colossal are “almost an enhancement,” adding that many of the site’s sponsored posts and advertising efforts have gone viral themselves.
“It was one of the greatest things I’ve done as a person—to create this thing that I can live off of—but it was terrifying.”
Knowing he, his wife, Megan Stielstra (associate director of Columbia’s Center for Innovation in Teaching Excellence), and their son, Caleb, could live a comfortable, sustainable life with the revenue from Colossal’s ads, Jobson decided to blog full time. He left his job at the financial firm in early 2013—nearly two years after the Keita doodles went viral—but it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition.
“Those first four weeks … I was just a nutcase,” Jobson says. “It was like flapping my wings—like I don’t even know if I’m flying. It was one of the greatest things I’ve done as a person—to create this thing that I can live off of—but it was terrifying.”
Last year, Colossal added a store—an additional small revenue stream—where featured artists can sell merchandise from a “stock room” conveniently run from Jobson’s Rogers Park apartment.
“I hope that whatever comes out of [Colossal]—if I end up creating actual art shows or maybe even open a gallery or store—that I’m still waking up at 8 in the morning so I can put something up on the blog,” Jobson says. “That’s the core of all of it; it’s the most important thing.” By Sean McEntee (’14) / Photography by Jacob Boll (BA ’12)