5 Questions for Jade Armstrong

Jade Armstrong wears glasses and a grey t-shirt. Jade draws on a tablet computer using a stylus.

Interview by Kaileigh Funnell

Jade Armstrong is a non-binary cartoonist who was raised in Almonte, Ontario. They studied animation in the Greater Toronto Area and worked as a background painter for a number of years. They are a member of the comics collective Hello Boyfriend, where they work with their friends creating more zines and short comics. Scout Is Not a Band Kid is Jade’s debut graphic novel. You can find them online at @jelajade. 

Who or what was your biggest inspiration when working on Scout is Not a Band Kid?

Hmm, that is a good question. Hard to say one thing in particular, but I guess if I had to choose I would say my besties were my biggest influence. After all, the book is actually about friendship more than it is about band. I wanted to write a story about making new friends and leaving old friends as a tween and how difficult it is! The friends I have today are truly the best I could ever ask for. They are inspiring, funny, caring, and thoughtful people. I feel like I can truly be myself around all of them, they have all seen me at my best and at my worst. Whenever I lost sight of the book, I thought about them and how much I wished I had sought out and strengthened friendships while I was a kid, and that desire kept me on track (both narratively as well as emotionally!). Of course, I was also a trombone player in middle and high school band, and that was a huge influence as well. 😉

Did you ever get writer’s block while working on Scout is Not a Band Kid? If so, what
helped you power through?

Oh yeah, all the time. I always thought of myself more as an artist than a writer, so this was my first time having to write a Real Big Story(™). I remember pretty early on I printed out a “story template” worksheet from somewhere off the internet and filled in sections like “beginning, middle, end”, etc. I was like… “is this what professionals do?” Haha! To get through writers block later on in the story, I would turn to my friends a LOT, especially the other members of Hello Boyfriend! They would listen to my whole idea, give really good feedback, and amazing ideas on where to take the story. Their input was so invaluable! I also have to say that my editor, Whitney Leopard, was incredible! I turned to her when I needed help with both big things like the direction of the story, and also small things such as “how should this character phrase this thing…?” Something really special about Whitney is she asked me lots about what I wanted from the story, and how whatever I was struggling with would serve that. I feel really lucky to have had an editor who works with the author’s intentions in mind.

What is your character creation process like?

As anyone who knows me knows, I LOVE drawing characters! Especially cute girls! So naturally this book has two very cute girls as the main characters! There are two parts to my character creation:

1) Writing: While all the characters are me in one way or another, they are also, very transparently, based off my friends in real life! Sometimes that is in look or name alone, but other characters have some personality traits, interests, and hobbies that I see in the people around me. It’s pretty helpful. For example, I had Lou like gundams, and while I know nothing about gundams, I messaged my friend who does for some advice on putting that interest into the book (albeit it just ended up with some gundams in the background sometimes aha). I do wanna say though; just because they are based lightly or strongly on my friends, doesn’t mean they ARE my friends! I do worry about that sometimes. The characters take on their own lives in my head as a story develops and progresses.

2) Drawing: When designing how the characters look, I first and foremost sit down and think: “What do I love to draw?” For example in Scout, I knew I loved to draw school uniforms, so I made the school a Catholic school (this is also my lived experience, despite not being a Catholic at all, so I thought that would be important). I love drawing top knot buns and long curly hair, so that made it in there too…

What was an unforeseen challenge you faced when writing Scout is Not a Band Kid?

Hmm. There was a point, maybe 75% through the book where I absolutely couldn’t stand the comic any more. I got burnt out on working all the time and I really started to doubt myself, and it got to the point where anytime I read the book I would burst into tears! I remember going on many sad walks by the river to be sad and feel awful, as dramatic authors are wont to do. It is very challenging to make such a long book while also working full-time in animation. Near the end of inking, I got a Literary Creations Grant
from the Ontario Arts Council, which was a life saver. With that, I was able to quit my job and focus on finishing the graphic novel.

Paying artists enough to be able to survive is so important! It is very difficult to work on comics and often book advances do not cover cost of living. Therefore, many full-time artists are already wealthy and are able to financially take the time to make art. I am no exception to this! How much of my career success is because I grew up white, upper middle class, with very supportive parents? For example, my parents paid both my college tuition and my rent while I was in art school, leaving me lots of time to focus on drawing, comics, and I could even travel to comic festivals outside of Canada (this is where I met my editor!). I even lived at home for a few months of making the book, meaning I didn’t have to worry about rent or food for a time. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I wish publishing would pay their authors more and artist grants were more accessible so all kinds of art could thrive without financial barriers.

What do you hope your readers take away from your graphic novel?

While I know every reader will take away something different from this book, the biggest questions I was thinking of with this book are “Are my friends supportive of my passions, and am I supportive of theirs? Can I be who I feel to be myself in this moment with the person/people I hold close to me?” I struggled a lot with these questions over the years, and still do to this day. I like to remind myself to sit back and reflect on whether or not I am doing things or acting in a certain way to be a person I think others will like, or is it coming from a genuine place of who I am in that moment? It is scary to be vulnerable with others and to show them who you really are, in case they reject it. However, the moments where I do take that risk and am accepted for being who I really am from others is absolutely worth it. It is a beautiful thing!

Kaileigh Funnell is a non-binary student at the University of British Columbia studying theatre design and production with a minor in Creative Writing. They grew up in Clarenville, Newfoundland, and are now based out of Vancouver, BC. They have a passion for writing, specifically young adult novels and comics.

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