Art and Storytelling: An Interview with Jackarais

If you’ve done any exploring into the realm of webcomics, you’ve likely come across Bicycle Boy. Started in 2013 by artist Jackarais, it is a story of an android named Poet who wakes up in the middle of a post-apocalyptic desert, not knowing where he is, who he is, or why he’s surrounded by corpses. Over the course of the story so far, Poet has seen amazing places, met (and fled) fascinating new people, and has so far avoided being murdered. Oh yeah, he also has a bicycle.

Jackarais is a Canadian artist living in British Columbia. He was kind enough to agree to an interview, so we sat down over skype a couple times over the course of a week and talked about comics, storytelling, and how to build skills as an artist. Links to all things Jackarais are at the bottom of this article.

JS: Hey Jack!

Jackarais: Hey dude!

JS: Before we get into Bicycle Boy, what other projects are you working on? I heard you were doing the background coloring for Follow the Leader, for Jonas.

Jackarais: That was a while ago. He’s riding the poor-train too so he can’t exactly hire me to do that very often. I did that for him for like five pages I guess. The other project I’ve got going on is working for Moko Press with Jonas. I don’t even know how to summarize it. It’s like a Japanese folk tale that’s incredibly violent.

JS: Are you enjoying working on that?

Jackarais: Oh dude, totally. The bosses are so knowledgeable about comics and shit. I’ve learned so much and I’ve only done two pages so far.

JS: I understand they’re looking to make the first issue then kickstart the rest of it?

Jackarais: Yeah that sounds about right. I think they wanted to have it published as a webcomic too. They want it in print and online. It just depends on the success of the first issue. On how well they’ll be able to afford to keep making more.

JS: What else does Moko Press do?

Jackarais: I’m pretty sure they teach. They give YouTube talks on world-building and story-making and shit like that. They do creative consulting and they do a bunch of comic books.

JS: Are you working on anything else? Besides Bicycle Boy and this other project.

Jackarais: Well those all I’m working on right now. If I take on too much work at once I end up hurting myself. I like to draw really really fast, so I’ve got tendonitis like crazy.

JS: Aw that sucks!

Jackarais: I know right? I’ve had it since I school so I don’t really care anymore. It started when I did a comic book in high school. It was supposed to be a group project but I did all the work. It was supposed to be like a Shakespeare parody, using Assassin’s Creed characters. It was so stupid. It was like twelve pages that were fully colored and I drew those in three days. So fair to say, I could not use my hand for a couple weeks after that.

JS: So looking through your DeviantArt profile, You have another thing on here that I can’t find anything else about called GLiTCH. What is that? Is there another place to look at it?

Jackarais: [DeviantArt] is the only place to look at it because all of the stuff I have for it is physical and also incredibly old, so there’s no point in putting it up anywhere anyway. I think I did the comic for it in 2006. I was eleven, so it’s bad, but I think I did three or four books that were 120 pages long. It was just a typical anime comic in a fantasy work.

JS: You’ve definitely got kind of a Lovecraft-y vibe going on.

Jackarais: Yeah. That’s totally what’s going on. It was more a light-hearted fantasy when I was doing it as a kid, but I wanted it to be more like a horror story. That’s the one I’m gonna do when Bicycle Boy is done.

JS: You’ve mentioned that you’re going to do it in black and white?

Jackarais: Yup! You have no idea. Take it from me, if you’re working on a project by yourself, do it in black and white if it’s really long. If it’s short do whatever you want. My guess is that Bicycle Boy is gonna end up being six or eight hundred pages. And that going to take me years. Years!

JS: Do you think you’ll ever take a break to work on something else?

Jackarais: Maybe. It depends on if I get sick of it or not. The slow pace of it makes it weird to look back on. Just how many pages were in night-time just recently.

JS: You had a nice, lengthy brawl going on for a while. How long were working on just that fight alone?

Jackarais: It starts in the end of February and I finished it in July.

It’s definitely unreal realizing how long a comic can take to make. Especially when reading action sequences. You’re flipping through it and it goes by so fast. You don’t think about just how much work goes into a single page until you catch up, and you’re suddenly waiting for the update every week.

JS: When you work on one page, what percentage of that work is coloring?

Jackarais: I think it’s about half of it. Flats take a long time but painting takes longer. But I think the part that’s the most time consuming is the line work. I’m pretty shaky with that still.

JS: What program do you use for this?

Jackarais: I use PaintTool SAI. I never learned how to use Photoshop for painting. I can use it for almost anything but I have no idea how to paint in it. And I never had the patience for Illustrator.

JS: You have a world map for Bicycle Boy. When you drew the map, did every location have a planned part of the story or were you just having fun drawing a map?

Jackarais: Sadly, I put so much effort into making the canyons accurate to what they actually look like, and I don’t think they ever go there. Because all the major places are all in between there and to travel between the major places you don’t have to go into the canyons.

JS: I don’t know, they could have a mad-max style car chase there. There’s a little story idea for you. I expect credit.

Jackarais: (laughs) Well I don’t write the whole thing myself

JS: Who helps you?

Jackarais: My partner helps me.

At the time of this Interview, the story of Bicycle Boy had reached a point where the protagonists were talking to a character named Skip. Skip had recently been undercover in another city, but he had to help someone, which made him blow his cover. He escaped to another city on the other side of the map.

Jackarais: Yeah someone asked me just the other day why Skip would go so far away when they could have just met in between the two places but they don’t understand how scared he is. When he was still undercover he would not stay in the same place for more than twenty-four hours. And he’s well aware that he’s a small person. Like if someone got a hold of him he’d be screwed.

JS: What kind of comics do you read? What are some of your favorites?

Jackarais: I don’t read a lot of print comics to be honest. I mostly read online ones. I put most of my favorites on my website. My favorite one that always comes to mind is Unsounded. This comic is really long. The artist super talented and inspiring to me. She updates this three days a week! And at this quality level! She’s doing it all by herself. It’s fantasy and she’s got this crazy, super fleshed out world.

Art isn’t a hobby for her, it’s a job. I know that she’s very passionate about storytelling and comics are the way she wanted to tell them. Because she did go to art school for a very long time.

Some of the pages in Unsounded, the effort spent on them is ridiculous. You know the love is there. It knocks you off your feet.

JS: Are you participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year?

Jackarais: Nope. I do not have time. I have two jobs and a webcomic. But I have done it before. I wrote Bicycle Boy for Nano in 2010. The amount of the story I wrote was not much. If it was still the same length, we would be about seventy five percent done by now. But in reality we’re about twenty five percent of the way through the story. That’s how long it is now. The majority of the fifty-thousand words were just fluff and bullshit. I trimmed it down and the only part that was relevant was fourteen thousand words. I think that’s when I turned it into a script. It went from a novel format to a script format because that’s how I write.

It was a really crappy outline. My plot is still complicated and it takes me a long time to figure it out. But because it takes me so long to draw everything, by the time I get to the parts I’m working on, they’re already figured out.

I’m not a writer either. Writing for me is really hard. That’s why I’d rather do comic books. Because I can totally make up a story, whether it’s good or not, but the thought of describing something when I could just draw it frustrates the shit out of me.

JS: Well that’s just prose then. You are definitely still a writer. You’re telling a story and you’re writing the dialogue of all this stuff.

Jackarais: Yeah the dialogue is so hard for me. Like how do you give a character their own voice? That’s the part I struggle with.

JS: Absolutely. And trying not to have your characters just blurt out exposition.

Jackarais: Yeah that’s what I’m being really careful about in the part that we’re on right now. When I have really wordy pages like this, I actually count how many words of dialogue are on there just to make sure I’m not overdoing it. I don’t have a limit, but the latest page on there looks really busy, and I don’t really like it. But it’s not so busy that you can’t understand how to read it. So in that sense it’s okay.

With really long conversation like this and the one that just happened the night before between Machk and Poet, I put a whole bunch of words on it. I’m still writing the dialogue like it’s for a novel. The conversations just go on and on and then I’m like “I love everything about this conversation, but this has gonna take ten pages! If I space it out really nicely like my first pages were, it’ll be twenty pages, it’ll be thirty. The pacing will be so bad and it’ll take forever to get anywhere.” That’s why there’s lots of words on that page, because I didn’t want to stretch it over two pages.

JS: Have you ever taken any art classes or gone to art school?

Jackarais: Yeah. I mostly taught myself stuff. Then had my friends learn with me. We would teach each other stuff like “Oh you can do better than that!” We’d chase each other up the ladder basically. I worked like a hot damn. I’m so much better than I used to be. That works really well with anything though.

But anyways, I went to secondary for like a year and a half. For the first year you can’t choose anything and it was terrible. I didn’t learn anything about art. I already knew the stuff they were teaching me. But keep in mind this was first year and they were teaching stuff that I actually had taught to me in high school art class. They were teaching basic, one point perspective in one of the classes and I was like, “Are you serious? What?” But then I realized that lots of people go to university without art skills and come out with them, but I didn’t know that. I thought you supposed to already have them.

I learned a ton from all the classes that weren’t art classes in the first year. Then I went to Vancouver and did half a year at Emily Carr. I took an animation class and a book binding class and I learned so much from those. So much! Because they’re not my area. Then I also took a drawing class and didn’t learn very much from that.

But I don’t know. All the life drawing I did in art school was probably the most helpful but you don’t have to go to university to do that. I think any artist that has any degree of humility at all should know that you don’t NEED to do post-secondary school of any kind. Because it’s not engineering, it’s art!

You can read Bicycle Boy, starting at the first page, right here.

Moko Press is a creative consulting company focused on storytelling and education. You can check out what they’re about here.

For all other things Jackarais, you can follow the links from the Bicycle Boy page. You can follow his blog here. You can also check out his DeviantArt portfolio here, where he sometimes draws totally radical things.

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