Interview with American Cult Icon, Jade Arcade
A Google search of the name Jade Arcade will bring up a long list of websites like comicbookdb.com, comicvine.com and lamiek.com. In fact, you’ll find fan sites dedicated to him from almost every corner of the globe … but who is Jade Arcade? How did he start? Where did he disappear to? What are his plans now that he’s back? These are just a few questions that will be answered in this exclusive first interview with American cult icon, Jade Arcade.
Born and raised in Northern Tennessee, Jade grew up an only child. He was into comic books, movies and music. Mighty Orbots, Spiderman (1967 version) and Speed Racer were his favourite cartoons and if there was mischief to be found, Jade was on the scene.
When asked how he got into drawing, Jade replied, “The story my mom tells is that I wanted more things to colour besides colouring books. So, she handed me a pencil and paper and told me to draw something to colour. So, I did.”
His interest in becoming an illustrator started with an issue of The Amazing Spiderman by Steve Ditko, a Marvel Comic’s illustrator. “He’s the one that made me stop drawing just ‘ooh doggy’ or ‘ooh kitty’ and I start drawing people,” Jade explained.
“Steve Ditko was the one that started it all for me.”
Before being introduced to the comic style of Steve Ditko, Jade was accustomed to the typical 1950’s behaviour portrayed in the older Batman and Superman comics. “It was boy scout behaviour and even the bad guys weren’t really bad guys.”
What stood out for Jade was Ditko’s more realistic portrayal of a heroes and villains. “Peter Parker had to go make money for rent or Aunt May was sick. You really had the sense that <Peter> was in trouble in his personal life and with the villains. He was having real teenage problems at the time and the Green Goblin could be a real douche.” Jade laughed. “It made me rethink how bad guys and good guys were depicted. What a real sense of drama was in comparison to ‘this is the bad guy’s deed for the day and this is the good guy’s deed for the day’ and how they so cleanly meshed together to resolve themselves in the end. <Ditko> showed that the good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t always lose.”
Jade was impressed by Ditko's style. “Sometimes he’d have 15 panels on one page that would give you this real motion-picture sense of action and he had this really cool funky style that wasn’t like anything I’d seen before in comic books. I saw what he did and said:
‘I want that. I want to do that.’”
In order to get a jump on his illustration career, Jade began to study the techniques of Ditko and his other art heroes; Vaughn Bode, John Bryne, Frank Frazetta, Art Adams and Ralph Bakshi to develop his skills and find his own style.
Jade’s First Steps
Still in his pre-teen years and clueless how to proceed with a professional submission, Jade referenced some of his mother’s old school books on secretarial studies, gathered a list of every comic publisher he could find and started sending out queries. “I sent out art submissions and letters to DC, Archie comics and Marvel; anyone that was still in publication and I could find an address for. I’d send an art sample and cover letter saying how I wanted to work for these guys, drawing whatever characters I could. I got a slew of rejections letters from the most famous people in comics.”
Undeterred, Jade did the next logical thing. He picked up the phone and started to call people. “I ran up a humongous phone bill tracking down everybody I could to ask them, ‘What am I supposed to do to get a job with you guys?’ Or, to at least have a chance to talk to them.”
Learning from the Masters
With the exception of Stan Lee, Jade had the opportunity to speak with everyone that he’d set out to contact. Jade fondly recalled how Marvel writer, Bill Mantlo sent him an original Fantastic Four script covered in Liquid Paper corrections after Jade asked what a real script looked like. “I wanted something to go off of so I could send something professional-looking to people.”
The longest conversation Jade recalls was with William “Bill” Gaines, founder of Mad Magazine. “I talked to him forever. It was like I was one of his grand-kids or something.” Jade smiled fondly at the memory. “We talked about anything and everything comics; from the horror comics he’d done in the past to Mad Magazine. He taught me what was proper parody; how to do parody the way that they did it at Mad and all the little ins and outs of writing a parody.”
Jade compared learning from Bill Gaines to getting painting lessons from Da Vinci. “He told me exactly where on the canvas to put the brush when it comes to parody. Anytime I do a parody now, I look back and remember what he said.”
Comic ArtClick thumbnail to view full-size
Introduction to the World of Indie
Jade continued to receive rejection after rejection from what he calls “the Big Boys” until he discovered the indie comic scene and started to garner favourable attention with his style of illustration. “I discovered there was this whole world out there other than Marvel or DC, which I was still cool with and reading, but they weren’t answering my letters beyond:
‘You suck. Try harder.’”
Jade was impressed by the fact that people in the indie world didn’t have to play by the rules or abide by schedules set down by major companies. “These people, who may or may not have had a professional career before, had decided to set out on their own. They were calling back and were interested in what I was doing. They were willing to put me on a cover of whatever they were publishing or let me do a whole issue."
"It was pretty nifty being able to do professional things without having to be okayed by a committee. Most of the time they didn’t pay me or give me credit, but by God, they gave me work.”
Although his heart is still with the indie world, Jade holds no animosity toward “the Big Boys” who rejected him in his tender years. “I’d still consider doing things with the big companies. If Marvel or DC asked me to do a comic, I wouldn’t turn them down … Unless it was schlock. Then I’d have to say no, because life is too short to do sh-t.”
Pencilling, inking and writing for various independent comic, magazine and role-playing companies, Jade went “viral” eighties-style. His art and unique name spread throughout the independent art world.
As he grew in notoriety, Jade began to take private commissions for art and custom tattoos. “I was just hungry to do anything,” Jade said with a short laugh. “A cartoon series here, a skateboard design there. Anything I could get.
"And then from indie comics, it expanded to the whole indie universe; independent music, movies …”
Jade touched briefly on his work with indie films. “I was doing independent films before I knew I was actually doing independent films. I got a wind-up 8 mm camera at a yard sale and proceeded to make these little movies. I would do stop-motion and animation, making my own movies with cassette accompaniment, because there was no microphone connection on the camera. It was an old 1950’s wind-up movie camera. It wasn’t easy to get film for it," Jade laughed.
“There’s a ton of my work; footage of me on video, doing a part in someone’s movie and little animated epics I did.” He paused to recall some of his first movie attempts, then explained that most of the films had been lost over the years. “There’s a lot of stuff I did that I don’t know what happened to it. It just sorta disappeared. Maybe it’s in a box somewhere out there.”
Jade began to compose his own music and tour with several bands, performing live in front of thousands of fans. “I noticed that each scene had its own celebrities; people that you’d look upon as the Frank Sinatra or Elvis of that scene. The difference was that you had a really good chance of being able to talk to them, whereas you couldn’t pick up a phone and talk to Sinatra or Elvis or whoever was at the top of their professional field.”
Musician Frank Zappa, Cerebus creator, Dave Sim, Wendy and Richard Pini who write and illustrate the cult comic, Elf Quest … Jade recalled how these amazing indie artists and many others took the time to share their wisdom with him. They unwittingly had a profound impact on a budding artist. “I think that a lot of what I do is shaped by the indie thing since they actually paid attention to me. They were part of a world that embraced me, just like that -" he snapped his fingers "- as opposed to the very cold corporate response I got trying to break into the world of comics, music and everything else. They would - and still will - talk to folks.”
The Downside of Indie
Jade’s bio blurb on his Facebook Fan Page and other sites mention that the indie star wrote several books. When asked about these, Jade groaned. “That is where the indie world killed me. If you don’t have the resources to stay on top, you can fall off the face of the earth. I wrote tons of stuff that I never got paid for and never got credit for. If you didn’t buy something when it came out, the material disappeared with the exception of being at the bottom of someone’s book collection.”
Publishers encouraged him to use various pen-names or work for them as a ghost-writer due to his young age. Much of what Jade wrote had a single print run or met with unfortunate circumstance, such as a warehouse fire that eradicated the stock of one of his publications. “They told me, ‘We’ll put your name on it and give you credit. We’ll dump lots of money into it!’ And, when it hit the streets - BOOM! - it was gone.
“Unfortunately, that happened with a lot of indie books. You would do something that you think is the most amazing thing on the planet, and it may have very well been, but there’s the circumstance that nobody has the money to print anymore or no one has the original copies anymore for some reason and it all just disappears," Jade explained with a grim smile.
"In the best of circumstances, you got credit, you got paid and you got a copy of the work to show your mother that you’re actually doing something with your life.”
Despite these hurdles, Jade admits that he still adores the indie scene. “It is still the coolest way to express yourself. There are major successes in the indie world, which is the opposite side of the coin I just described.”
One of the biggest mysteries for Jade Arcade fans revolves around his disappearance from the indie world in the mid-90’s. The topic of his 17 year absence is still tender for the artist. “I guess you could call that a bit of an unwilling exile. I don’t really want to touch too heavily on that. A lot of people assumed I fell off the planet. Others thought I’d actually died.”
When asked about the reason for his disappearance, Jade replied:
“I got married and that’s about as far as I want to go on that topic.”
Despite his distance from the limelight, Jade kept busy. “I did a lot of stuff for Kevin Carrier’s Fantasy Theatre comic, some political comic-strips on the Bush/Gore election campaign and worked with Spectrum Games for their role-playing series.”
During those years, Jade also launched his own comic series, Mr. Dodsworth and released a comic book about a crime-fighting alien titled, Circus Arcane. He also continued to take commission work. But in his heart, Jade felt that he was held back from truly expressing himself and that his professional work was far from over.
"I've got way too much to say and I can't die without saying it."
Mr. Dodsworth comic
Inspired by the simple beauty of Disney’s early cartoon movies, Jade ventured once more into animation with a Mr. Dodsworth short. He fell in love with animation and began to study it seriously.
Jade cites Chuck Jones, Don Bluth and Hayao Miyazaki as his role-models for animation. “Animation-wise, Battle of the Planets and Speed Racer put a dent in the way things were done with action and flow of motion in animation. They had a certain look which took a lot of the early Disney influence I had growing up and put a weird twist on it.” Jade gave a laugh. “Warped it quite nicely. Sort of like, it took Snow White and gave her a sword.”
In autumn 2010, Jade decided to take a risk and go to Canada to see if he could make a fresh start. He had intended to jump straight into work, producing every book, comic and animation that had been building up in his special notebooks. He had visions of doing workshops and hitting the world with a big splash.
Instead, Jade discovered that his marriage had taken a bigger toll on him emotionally, mentally and spiritually than he expected.
“I feel like I’ve woken up from some type of nap.”
Jade was forced to take some time to heal and recover before opening himself up creatively to the world again.
After being away from his professional life for so long, Jade has finally re-entered the indie world. A lot has change. Modern technology has made it easy for independent artists to self-publish. Animation time has decreased dramatically with the introduction of readily available software programs. Youtube and Blip.tv offer avenues for indie films to be viewed world-wide in the beat of a heart. It’s a dream come true for Jade who struggled for so much of his youth just to catch a break.
The only problem he sees? Anonymity. “That’s one of the problems with the indie world. You can be so easily forgotten by those who are not constantly kept informed. It’s like tales being handed down from generation to generation in a tribe so your name is remembered. Sometimes you get lucky to become famous enough that people remember you no matter what. There’s a lot of people I can list where you would basically go, ‘Who? Never heard of that person,’ because they’re not always remembered. These people were the biggest things on the scene while they were doing what they did. Then, they just stopped doing it and were forgotten, because they didn’t put a big enough hole in the earth.”
New Animation by Jade
Much to Jade’s surprise, his fans have not forgotten him. Fan pages from Asia, fan mail from India, autograph requests from across the United States and Europe … Jade bowed his head in humble gratitude.
“When you’ve spent so many years being told you’re nothing, it’s hard to believe that there are people out there who still think you’re worth something.”
With nearly a year of self-discovery and reawakening to get himself together, Jade has begun working seriously on animation projects, including a web-series titled, Zomb-Eh?
Although Jade Arcade fans are thrilled to see him active and productive once more, they wonder, “Why now? What’s changed?”
Jade gave a thoughtful pause before answering. The past still haunts him. His face pinched while he struggled with it. Then, he released a sigh and shook it off with a serene smile.
“I have such a positive influence in my life lately, in comparison to what I had. I’m happier now. I’m ready to rejoin the waking world and kick a--.”
Heartened by the thought of his loyal fans, Jade gave a grin. “I was worried when coming out of retirement - or exile - whatever you want to call it. Now, not so much. If people don’t know about me, they’ll be informed and if they do know, they’ll be updated. I’ll just do what I do.”
For now, what Jade does has shifted to animation. He hopes to return to music in the near future and eventually tackle live-action film-making.
It is with sincere gratitude and a profound new understanding of Jade that I finish writing this. I feel honoured that this incredible man has granted me permission to interview him and share his story with the public.
We all had dreams when we were kids, but how many of us went to such extremes to realize them? How many of us had the determination to find mentors and the wisdom to sit by their side and learn from them?
“Reality” is forced upon us as we’re told to “grow up” and “get a real job.” Obstacles arise, passions are put aside and a little bit of us dies as our dreams fade away. Who among us has the courage to walk away from a life that is slowly killing us?
Most of us simply endure and watch those brave few stand tall against the scorn and disdain of those harsh critics that smother us. We watch in envy, fear and hope. We know that if that one brave person succeeds, he proves that our youthful dreams can be rekindled. We, too can rise up and shape our lives into something beautiful. When that happens, we all win.
Welcome back to the life you started all those years ago, Jade. Your fans wish you great success.
All Photos and Artwork are courtesy of Jade Arcade. Used with permission.
Article © 2011 I Am Rosa