The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most influential and important comic book event in North America. It’s mission is to “promote the creators of comic books in their broad and diverse voices, for the betterment of the medium of comics”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interview with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s festival. The Comics Beat will be releasing a series of interview with cartoonist in attendance. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences.
As I was browsing the list of TCAF attendees for 2017, I was surprised to see that Jade Armstrong, a comic artist from Almonte, Ontario, was attending the festival. My wife and I got married in Almonte in 2014 and I’ve been many times since. It’s a charming town with a vibrant art community, but I had never seen any comics in town. I wasn’t looking hard enough. Jade Armstrong is a prolific cartoonist with a wonderfully developed style and a strong sense of colour. I talked with her about her experience as an animator, making comics and her involvement in the Arts community.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jade Armstrong: Absolutely! My name is Jade Armstrong, I am 20 years old and currently in my third year studying animation. I illustrate the webcomic Crutch, written by Jake Rice, which we started in September. I work mostly digitally, but my favourite medium is acrylic ink and watercolours. I like drawing cute girls and backgrounds with lots of stuff in them.
PL: You are an animation student from Sheridan College from Almonte, Ontario. How did you get into comics and animation?
JA: Like many artists, I’ve been doing it ever since I was a kid! One of the first sequential art pieces I did was before I even got into kindergarten. It was the story of a girl who cuts her knee and her mom gives her a bandaid, all done in stick figures with pencil crayon. I remember getting very excited about using the red pencil crayon for her blood. My parents kept a lot of Calvin and Hobbes around, which I would read often, and as I got older I fell in love with manga and anime. I would fill notebooks with rough comic pages of self-serving magical girl rip-offs and show them to no one. I think I still have them stashed away in my parent basement.
PL: I believe your first published illustration book was Road to Bree’s House. Could you give us a little bit more information on the book?
JA: After I graduated from high school, I received the Summer Company Grant to do watercolour portrait commissions during the summer. Business was… slow… so naturally, I started to make a comic during my “work hours”. I then took the grant money from the government and used it to back the printing costs of Road to Bree’s House, which as a full-colour zine was pretty substantial.
All the illustrations are done in watercolours and inks, and they tell the story of a young girl walking to her friend’s house. Her trip takes her through many fantastical lands, and she collects treasures along the way. When she does show up, she has a bunch of useless junk in her hand, but if you go back through the book you can pick up where she finds each treasure.
The zine is about imagination, and my thought for the book was that parents could read it to their kids, and due to the lack of dialogue in the fantasy scenes, they could make up their own versions of the story, or perhaps tell a different story each time.
JA: It all started halfway through first year. Some friends and I had started a “comic-making club” at Sheridan and I wanted to get better at drawing comics, so I challenged myself to create one comic a day for thirty days. The first two comics were silly fictional things, but I quickly switched to autobiographical comics because I found them much easier to think of ideas for. I had my whole day to find something cute or funny to make a comic of! I finished the challenge and kept up the daily comics sporadically throughout the year, and decided to put together a collection of my favourites at the start of summer. People seemed to like it and I love drawing them, so the tradition continues! I just printed up the third book, Confessions Of A Third Year Animation Student which is debuting at TCAF this year.
PL: You’re also been working with Jake Rice on a webcomic called Crutch about two unlikely friends in school trying to help each other get better at either running or maths. How do you like working on an ongoing series and with a collaborator on a webcomic? How different is it from your other work?
JA: It has been wonderful. I love working with another person on a project. For one thing, having the story done for you takes away half the work, haha! I am so fortunate to have my collaborator be someone who is open to new ideas and very flexible artistically. I have complete control over how I want the comic to look. I don’t feel like I am illustrating his story, it feels much more like it is “our” story. The serialized aspect of the work has been enjoyable too. Before Crutch, I brought all my projects to completion before releasing. I’ve been really enjoying being able to received feedback from the readers as the comic goes forward. It is really inspirational.
PL: How has your working process changed since your first illustrated book? Apart from using your experience in animation school as a narrative tool for your ongoing series, do you feel you have integrated your experience as an animator into your comic?
JA: I don’t really have much of a “process” to begin with, haha! Each book or short comic I’ve created I have done very differently. If anything, I think since my first book I’ve learned to trust myself to figure out the story and art however feels ‘right’ for the comic, not worrying what others do or how I ‘should’ structure my work.
My experience as animator, although limited, is definitely integrated into my art. School has taught me so much and I feel like my art has improved dramatically since studying at Sheridan. I think what made the strongest impression on me was one layout teacher in particular… he taught me to get excited about telling stories through narrative detail. It’s a lot more work to give reason and storytelling to the visuals, but it improves the comic by leaps and bounds and I feel so much better about the results.
PL: Your first book was coloured in watercolour, but your latest work appears to have been coloured digitally. How have your colouring process changed over time? Is there a method you prefer?
JA: Road to Bree’s House was done in watercolour partly because watercolour and inks are my favourite medium, but also because I needed to be able to count the book as “marketing” for my watercolour portrait business. The majority of my work after that has indeed been digital. For me, digital is much faster and more economical, which is a life saver as most of my projects have been done on a tight schedule. I like having the freedom to change and move things around at any point in the project, whereas watercolour is much less forgiving if you want to go back and change things.
PL: You’ve done an Adventure Time fancomic about Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. I’m curious as to where this idea came from.
JA: I am a big romantic! The comic is about Princess Bubblegum staying up all night to finish a lab report, and Marceline keeps her company. It’s simple and cute, and plays on the tropes of Marceline being a vampire and PB being literally made of gum. I was a big fan of the two of them in the show and wanted to make a small comic that explored the funnier, softer side of their relationship. There is not enough LGBTQ representation in media, and queer couples are often shown filled with angst and drama due to their sexuality. I want more romance stories that feature queer couples being more goofy. This zine gave me the chance to do that in addition to drawing my favourite gals from a cartoon I love!
PL: You used to be a part of the Almonte and Area Artists Association. Now Almonte is a small Ontario town outside of Ottawa. How is the arts community there? How have Almonte influenced your art?
JA: I feel so fortunate to have been raised in Almonte. The town is so supportive of the arts and works to preserve its independent businesses and heritage. For example, Almonte has a population of 7,000 and STILL has weekly life drawing courses. Almonte founded theHumm which is a hugely successful free, monthly, independent newspaper covering the arts in the small towns and communities of the Ottawa Valley. The AAAA has been amazingly supportive, even though I am often so far away. They reach out to me with projects, commissions, and even the occasional comic’s gig! I have been a part of their annual art sale Art in the Attic among other hangings, and the members have been so wonderful in giving me both artistic and professional advice. The Mayor even bought one of my paintings and it’s hanging in his office.
Almonte is beautiful, artsy, and everyone knows everyone. Small towns in Ontario really do have their own cultures, and I love to put that into my work. Even after being away for so long, Almonte always feels like home.
PL: What do you want readers to take with them once they’ve finished reading your comics, whether it’s Crutch or Confession of an Animation Student?
JA: My favourite stories to tell are those that focus on the smaller things in life; I love to tell stories that are just friends hanging out, people being alone with their cats, or 10th graders teasing each other in the library. In the case of Confessions, I love to laugh at myself and reveal in the kind of life I’m living. The content of my work could easily be described as “boring”… my professors often tell me that stories need conflict and I don’t believe that is true! I wrote a comic for the BOPU SQUAD’s Anthology Dreams, and it’s about the Greek Gods and it’s got no plot structure at all; it’s 8 pages of solid pop culture references and silly banter and I am so proud of it. Art and storytelling can be just things happening and still be enjoyable, and that is the kind of content I love to produce.
You can follow Jade Armstrong art and latest comics on her website. You can also read Crutch on Tapastic. You can read Road to Bree’s House online as well. Her comics Confession of an Animation Students can be found here and here. You can find her comics on her shop as well.
Come meet her at TCAF, she’s looking forward to telling you all about Almonte!
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.