The first thing I notice about Struthless (real name: Campbell Walker) is his tattoos. Or, more specifically, a single tattoo. He’s covered in an eclectic collection of ink, but one in particular catches my eye. Two words scrawled across his collarbone in hurried handwriting: “Role Model”. “I got that a few years back,” Walker says, sitting opposite me at a cafe in Sydney’s Inner West. “But I can’t stress enough that it was, and still is, 100 per cent ironic.”
And yet, with hundreds of thousands of people regularly watching his self-help videos on YouTube, role model is precisely what Walker has become. A comment on a recent video titled “Before You ‘Quit Your Job and Follow Your Passion’ Watch This” reads: “You are so inspiring, thank you for being you!” Adds another: “This helped get me through a dark place.”
Internet fame is nothing new to Walker. Over the past few years, the 30-year-old artist’s Instagram account, @struthless69, has garnered almost 250,000 followers with its colourful mishmash of finger-on-the-pulse cartoons that cover everything from Australian identity to internet culture, political apathy and the appetite for nostalgia. But in the past 12 months, Walker has altered the Struthless trajectory, shifting from Instagram cartoonist to YouTube self-help guy. “I’ve loved comics for such a long time but one day I felt like I’d represented every idea I could represent in a single frame,” he says.
In early 2020, Walker posted a clip titled “The Drawing Advice That Changed My Life”. Ostensibly it was a 10-minute video about his career. In reality, it was life advice packaged as a discussion about creativity and the struggle to find motivation. “Firstly, you need to act and only then will you find your motivation,” he says in the clip, staring down the barrel of the camera. “Thinking about stuff is not doing stuff.” The video racked up more than two million views as people connected with Walker’s unflinching honesty and relaxed delivery. Fast and loose, here was Tony Robbins with tattoos.
“This guy just gave me more legitimate advice in one video than my therapist ever has,” gushed one of the 7,000-plus comments. “Best video ever!!!!!” shouted another, using all caps. Walker was hooked. “I remember someone commented, ‘This changed what I was doing and now my life is better,’ ” he says. “That was like an adrenaline shot to my heart.” It’s no secret that we live in a society hooked on self-help, an obsession that has spawned a succession of cringeworthy gurus. “We can all agree that the genre sucks,” Walker says. “It has been corrupted and bastardised. And that’s because most people are doing it for money.”
Market research conducted in 2018 suggests that the self-help industry in the US alone will be worth $US13.2 billion (about $17 billion) by 2022. What sets Walker apart is that he doesn’t mimic practitioners he sees online. Instead, he tests their advice to discover what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t.
“I’d noticed on YouTube that a lot of mainstream self-help voices have this undercurrent of, ‘Look how great I am,’ ” Walker says. “But the ones that made me feel good as a viewer, people like Brené Brown, focused more on, ‘Look how flawed I am.’ And that vulnerability makes you feel comfortable.” Today, Walker’s YouTube subscribers outweigh his Instagram followers, with more than 300,000 viewers tuning in to his weekly videos. The subject matter ranges from the typical (imposter syndrome, self-sabotage) to the topical (New Year’s resolutions, life in lockdown). “It’s usually based on whatever I’m going through at the time,” he admits.
Struthless Creates an Artwork for T Australia
Like so many of his millennial viewers, Walker is both fascinated by the concept of reinvention and challenged by the paradox of too much choice. “We have a lot more choices now and that breeds anxiety,” he says, “and with anxiety comes the need to ‘solve’ all those problems.” Hence the appeal of his self-help videos.
Rather than be crippled by the tyranny of choice, Walker has chosen to embrace it. “I know now that I am somebody who needs a lot of irons in the fire to feel good about the future,” he says. Hence his latest venture: Struthless Studios, an animation studio based in Marrickville, Sydney. Since launching the business in January, he has recruited a team of animators and collaborated with the Instagram account @BrownCardigan to produce an online cartoon series “Birdz of Australia”. The studio has also been animating content for the Dallas Mavericks NBA team and has just signed a TV pilot deal with a major US network.
Also on the horizon is Walker’s first book, “Your Head Is a Houseboat: A Chaotic Guide to Mental Clarity”, to be released in September. “It’s like a journey to the inside of your head,” he says. “But it’s super quirky, kind of funny and hopefully helpful.” As our interview finishes up, I suggest to Walker that “super quirky, kind of funny and hopefully helpful” is the most accurate way I could describe him in print. “If that works for you,” he says, smiling. “Just don’t call me a role model.”