Talking Comics and Aspiring Artist Advice with Jade Sarson

Jade SarsonThe Artist’s Alley at the MCM London Comic Con is a constant feature that brings some of the most talented artists from across the land to showcase and sell their artwork. One particular regular at the show is artist Jade Sarson, creator of webcomic Café Suada and one very exciting talent. MCM Buzz caught up with her this Comic Con to talk about her most recent work, exciting news about upcoming projects, and some very useful and interesting advice to aspiring artists!

MCM Buzz: What have you been up to since the last London MCM Comic Con?

Jade Sarson: I’ve had a new book out, number 3 of Café Suada, and that’s been reviewed really well by Broken Frontier and they also reviewed Cup 4 which has literally just finished online, so that’s all available to be read on Inkblazers.com now. I’ve been gaining a lot more readers on Inkblazers, which is really great. If you don’t know, Inkblazers is subscription-based, so the more readers I have the more support I get, and I actually get paid to do it per month based on how many readers I have. The more clicks, the more cash, really, ka-ching! Haha. But yeah, it’s actually starting to support making the comic. Because sometimes sales online for the books just dry up completely. I sell books more at events. It’s good to have a webcomic site that supports the artist financially as well as giving them promotion and stuff.

I also got some great news yesterday! I won the Myriad First Graphic Novel competition, which is basically an award run by Myriad Publishing, and the prize is a week’s stay in France to work in a little French cottage on your graphic novel idea. So I had to pitch a 15 page sample of this graphic novel I want to work on. And they picked it and the prize is essentially, other than staying in France to work on it, that you get it published through Myriad. I have no idea how long it’s going to be, but I have a lot of work to do now because I’ve only done 15 pages of what would be a much larger work. But it’s called For The Love Of God, Marie, and it’s about some really unconventional Catholic schoolgirl. Very much based on my experience of Catholic school and how much I hated it. The people who have seen the extract really like it, and it’s probably my favourite work yet – the art’s kinda levelled up.

To sum up the story: Marie is a girl with this special power of understanding people, but that often leads to her being misunderstood, ironically. That’s pretty much what I’ve been up to.

I’m also doing some work for my local library. I’m going to be doing a comic to promote that, and I’m also going to be doing a whole lot of workshops locally, so if you go to my website teahermit.co.uk, I’ll have a list of events on the side of the main page, so there’ll be loads of workshops for you to sign up for.

So yeah, really busy!

MCM Buzz: Could you describe some of your other projects for the uninitiated, such as your webcomic?

Jade Sarson: Yeah, sure, Café Suada is my main side-project. That’s a webcomic that’s a tea-stained comic, so every page is drawn digitally, but it’s on a scanned tea-stained page, and all the colours are based on tea stains. I do it digitally, but I try to make it look as natural as possible. There’s three books out so far and it’s about a little British teahouse run by Geraldine, our main character. She’s a bit eccentric, she’s a bit obsessed with tea, she wants everyone to fall in love with tea like she has. But in the first issue, a coffee shop opens up next door and she’s not best pleased. So a war breaks out between them and all the customers are drawn into it. They try and fight each other over customers and whether tea or coffee’s better. It just leads onto sorta wacky hijinks, proving which drink is better, more characters come along as well to do sort of flair bartending and waitressing, and all that sort of thing. And there’s a whole romantic overtone to it as well.

There’s four chapters available to read online, and like I said, three in print at the moment. The fourth should be out in print for London Film and Comic Con, which will be in July.

I don’t really know what other side-projects I can mention. Mainly I just do a lot of freelance illustration at the moment. For brochures, and the occasional personal comic someone wants to do for someone’s birthday, that sort of thing.

I’ve been pitching a lot, as well, to publishers. But now that Myriad’s come along, it’s like ‘Great, I can actually work on something!’ rather than pitching it.

MCM Buzz: Could you talk a bit about the pitching process?

Jade Sarson: It’s very gruelling! I started pitching three years ago when I was on this internship in London. It was a comics internship, so we learnt how to do workshops, but we also learnt how to pitch from Carrie Fransman, a graphic novelist.

Pitching is basically about summing up your work in a really succinct and enjoyable way so people who read it immediately want more. You have to get your elevator pitch right. If you don’t know, an elevator pitch is a one or two sentence hook that draws people into the idea, but then for the pitch you have to get some really good sample pages drawn up. Which is quite stressful, because you have to pick the pages that you think will really appeal to the publisher. You also have to write a summary of the story, the characters, the themes as well. You have to tailor it to every publisher you go to. I applied to Cape with it at one point and with them they’re more about very high-quality work, and pretty much all their graphic novels are for adults. I don’t mean that in like they’re pornographic, I just mean that they’re very mature in their themes. So like in the stuff I was pitching to them this story’s quite fun, so I have to try and pitch the historical side to them, because they’d be more into that. And then with other publishers who are more kid-friendly, well, this is a fun story that kids will enjoy. You have to tailor a pitch to every single publisher.

Basically it’s like applying to jobs, really. But you’re also pitching them this comic baby that you’re really precious about. It’s like, ‘Please don’t hate this and shoot it down in flames!’

Mainly I was pitching Siddown!, that time-travelling train story. For anyone that doesn’t know what that is, that would be described as a British time-travel story about a man who’s a bit confused. He’s just run out on his fiancée and he ends up on this time-travelling train where he meets people from loads of different time periods who help him understand himself better. And he ends up leaving the train knowing himself a bit better, and obviously I can’t say much more because that’s going to ruin the plot, but hopefully he works out his marriage with his fiancée…That would be something that would have loads of historical overtones to it. I really want to play with a lot of fashion from different eras and stuff.

That’s mainly what I was pitching. The thing that won the Myriad award entry was something I pitched to Smutpeddler, which is a sex positive, ladies positive, comics anthology, which is really successful. I didn’t get that in for that, but it’s shown me what’s great about pitching, because even though I couldn’t use it for that I ended up using it for Myriad, and then it’s actually gone somewhere! So pitching is really good to do, even if you’re not really successful. Over and over again, just keep doing it.

Cafe SuadaMCM Buzz: Would you recommend first time illustrators to go straight into pitching? Or self-publishing? Putting their own stuff online? What route would you recommend to people who want to go into this industry.

Jade Sarson: I’d think I’d definitely not pitch straight away, because my first project, Café Suada, was something I would not pitch to publishers now. I was discussing this with my table mate Amanda Tribble – paintedlunacy.co.uk – we were saying that the artwork for Café Suada #1 is ageing quite a bit now, seeing as I drew it a few years ago. It’s going to be harder and harder to sell that. You don’t want to pitch something that is work in progress when you’re still working. You don’t want to pitch that to publishers and give them the impression that you’re unprofessional. I’m not saying that my first work was unprofessional, because I worked really hard on it, and by self-publishing it I learnt a lot of lessons, and it ended up being very professional because I taught myself how to get it to that point. But I wouldn’t have pitched it at the time, because it was still evolving. I feel confident pitching stuff now because I feel I’ve come to a professional level. When I was starting out, it’s like every single piece of work I did seemed to get better and better which isn’t appealing to publishers because they want consistency.

You have to wait until you get to a point where you’re consistently good, and then you pitch. So yeah, self-publishing I would definitely recommend because it just teaches you so much, because making a webcomic, you only really learn about publicising online, you don’t actually learn about the printing process and publishing, and the financial side, which is a bit woeful, but you have to deal with those things if you want to be a comic artist. Definitely I would suggest if you wanna choose between self-publishing and pitching, try self-publishing first. You can still do really short print runs, or even just print zines at home on your printer and just staple them together, it’s a much more interesting process to learn about. And then you can have a go at pitching when you feel ready.

MCM Buzz: Any other advice you’d give, other than the usual stuff that everybody says? Is there anything unique or not usually recommended?

Jade Sarson: What do people usually say? Oh, ‘Have a blog. Make a website.’ So everyone knows make a website, and I’m pretty sure everyone and their mum has a website now…It’s so easy to buy a domain name these days.

I guess I’d recommend…That’s a point. Someone came over to me and showed me their portfolio today, and they were really focused on background concept art and that sort of thing, but the problem with their portfolio was that even though it was really high-quality, their perspectives were all the same. It was all one point of perspective. So especially with comic artists, I think a lot of people who are starting out sort of draw people from the front, and a room from the front, and from one point of perspective. And it’s like, ‘Okay, your pages are going to get boring really, really fast,’ so I would recommend just playing around with perspective a lot, because I’ve been doing that more myself lately, just like having a perspective from above can make a scene way more dramatic, or it can highlight something really important in a scene, like an object, or whatever. And then like pulling back out and pulling back in for an extreme close-up, it just makes your comics way more interesting and also visually, your artwork will get much better, because you’ll challenge yourself more.

A lot of people just draw people from the front. A direct profile. That’s great and all, it’s a good skill to be able to do those things, but then try everything else, don’t stick to those two angles, because that will get pretty boring. Unless you’re doing a gag comic, where people like talking from the side over and over again, it’s the same panel. That’s fun, but definitely play around with perspective.

And also, colour. A lot of people don’t think enough about colour. People colour too literally, so like, ‘Oh, jeans are blue. I’m going to paint with blue.’ A lot of new artists do that and I’ve learnt lately to work with limited colour. It just works so much better. So yeah, in reality, a pair of jeans might be blue, but if I’m working in a limited colour scheme of greens and oranges, then I wouldn’t necessarily just use blue randomly for the jeans of a character. I’d pick some variant green so that everything ties together and works nicely. So with Café Suada the reason it works really well is because it’s all a limited, tea-stained palette. And black and white comics and so on are so appealing because they are just in black and white. Even though you have the choice to do full colour, that doesn’t mean you need to use every colour available in the rainbow to paint a picture. It won’t be as appealing as if you challenge yourself and limit yourself and then you work within some boundaries you set yourself.

MCM Buzz: Do you have any recommended reading or watching? For example with film students, you’d recommend, ‘Watch Citizen Kane, watch The Godfather Trilogy, watch this.’ Is there anything? It doesn’t even have to be comics.

Jade Sarson: I’ve been watching a lot of American stuff lately, like The Office and Parks and Recreation. Those are amazing in terms of camera angles and the way scenes are set up. It’s just so clever. You don’t need to be so literal when you write a story. You can have really subtle moments that tell you about a character without them saying, ‘I am depressed about this thing.’ You don’t need a character to literally say that. That’s a boring story and it’s boring to watch or to read. Shows like The Office, where it all comes through in subtle interactions between all the characters, it seems hilarious but it also seems sort of sad discovering something about this character, like their dark past or whatever….You learn about the characters through interaction, rather than them talking into the camera or something.

So with comics, people who are writing their comics for the first time kinda go, ‘This is me, I am so and so, I like pie, whatever,’ you know? They say really literal stuff and that’s not how you teach people about your character, that’s not how you should learn stuff about the character, you should learn it through the storytelling.

Comics reading, there’s a graphic novel that that’s come out at this event called The Summer of Black Sinclair, by Sarah Burgess. Sarah’s work is amazing and she finally got her first graphic novel published. It’s basically about hipsters at university, but it’s so sweet and the colour schemes are limited and lovely like I’ve mentioned, and storytelling, like I said about the TV shows I like, her storytelling is just so subtle and the Blake character is kind of effed-up, really, but he doesn’t know it at the start, he’s just quite smug. He’s like, ‘I’m brilliant, swiggity-swag,’ you know…But by the end, by interacting with all these other characters in the cast, he actually learns about himself and the reader learns through that what’s actually wrong with Blake. So that’s definitely a recommended read.

Apart from that, I picked up Sex Criminals from this, and I’ve read the first three issues, oh my god, it’s amazing! The colours are fucking gorgeous! The writing is fantastic, it’s just so funny. I find myself gasping after every panel! It’s the one case where actually talking to the camera, essentially, works. Because it’s just hilarious and breaks the fourth wall.

Oh, and Saga. I picked that up with Sex Criminals. Saga just keeps getting better and better. It’s freaking incredible! I haven’t read Volume 3 yet, so I keep waiting for the trade paperbacks, but oh my god, Fiona Staples’ artwork is incredible!

Those are the kind of comics I’d recommend at the moment.

And there we have it. A fantastic and insightful interview with the artist Jade Sarson. Go to teahermit.co.uk for more information and links to her work, including webcomic Café Suada. Look out for her at the next London MCM Comic Con in October, and definitely check her stall out. Very promising and impressive work from a soon-to-be professionally published illustrator!

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