Profile: Jason McArthur

Today I’m going to introduce you to Jason McArthur. I met Jason two and some years ago at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. He was there as part of the Fatkat contingent, along with another very talented fellow, Steve Valdez. Neither of these guys were execs for the company, or sales reps, or anything else like that. They’re artists. Fatkat was cool like that. Sure, the sales people came to events too, but once in a while they’d throw a trip at one or two of the artists. Part reward, part distraction from life in Miramichi. I was somewhat familiar with Jason’s work, mainly from online samples, and we had some friends in common. Well, along with Steve, I’d like to say Jason and I hit it off. Jason’s part of what I call “the club”. There are a lot of people in this industry who treat it like a job. They head in to work, switch to job mode, and get it done. I’ve never been able to do that, and, to a certain degree, I’m envious. I’ve always taken this home with me, ever since I stumbled into it sixteen years ago. This business insinuated itself into my private life and took it’s toll on relationships and any other hobbies I might have once had. It’s funny like that. I like to think that in recent years I’ve learned a little thing or two about life/work balance. But I found out, pretty quickly, that I’m not alone in this. There’s a percentage of the animation community who really look upon what they’re doing as part of something bigger, who keep learning and trying new things and have a respect for what’s come before. In my opinion, Jason McArthur is one of these folks. I’d love an excuse to work with Jason, and will always look for that opportunity.
Jason’s not just a talented and skilled artist, but he’s a very cool guy, with a certain amount of kindness and generosity about him. But I’ll get to that later. From here I’m going to share a conversation that he and I undertook over the course of a few weeks back around New Year’s. It started with me asking about 2009 and how the downturn had affected him:

Jmc: Getting laid off was a major turning point for me this year. It forced me to be a more creative person, and focus more on being an Animator/Artist rather an Animator/Artist for hire. 2010 is looking up to being a good year for me.

MV: It’s nice to see people who take advantage of crisis to refocus and renew their commitments to themselves and their craft. What steps did you take to this effect, and how has that been playing out for you?
Jmc: What steps have I taken? First thing is I draw more, filling up those sketch books. Then I sat myself down and really thought about who I was as an artist and how I wanted to spend my time as an artist. Working in a production environment is good for some, but for me it crushed that creative spririt and I lost sight of why I want to create in this medium. I came to the decision that I want to create cartoons I want to see, games I want to play and books I want to read. So far it is playing out really well for me, I have 3 projects on the go that should start to see the light of day early this year (2010).
I am very excited about them and have been working many, many late nights after my duties as Mr Mom, to complete them.

MV: And how have you managed to survive your rededication? A lot of people found themselves out of work this past year, and obviously, you’ve chosen to take advantage of that to reinvest in yourself. Have you had to take other work to support this? Many who do then find themselves in that position where they then complain about the other work taking them away from their own stuff. Any words of wisdom?

Jmc: How have I survived my rededication, you ask. Creatively, I keep my self inspired, buying art books, reading blogs, watching movies, frame filtering and most important drawing all the time… You know the usual things us animation types do to fuel the fire. To support myself, I have great woman in my corner, who believes in me. And I am taking a different approach to funding my projects. In the past I have worked on freelance gigs or other art projects thinking that doing a job I love would give me more time to work on my personal projects. WRONG! So I took ofF my artist hat and put on my investment hat. I made a few investments last year that are paying off, and they will fund my projects 100{f2e86ea6af82e2bb048871abf045622abf0ed27fb513932dc1ee8c05a54cbefd} for the next few years and support my family. Words of wisdom eh….. I think whatever craft you go after in life, be it the guy that can eat 100 hot dogs in 1 min, to the artist you desire to be, just work hard at what you do, and if roads grows dark turn on your head lights and hit the gas. Rowan Atkinson said it best in one of his stand ups “Nothing is easy in life…the Elephant said to his mistress the mouse.”

JMc's corner of the world, his home studio

MV: How do you see the industry looking for 2010?

Jmc: I think the industry is turning to a more creator driven environment…..broadcast via the internet. Or this is what I would like to see happen. Ralf Bakshi said it best in his Comic Con interview.


MV: We all talk about our own projects, try to budget our time, but few follow through on that. Some of that can be due to laziness, sure. But most of us succumb to the bitter realities of paychecks, especially those of us with families. To be fair, there’s a huge percentage of people out there in this community that talk a good game. There’s a fantasy that if there were money for it, we’d all be producing films of our own, shows of our own, realizing our ideas. Quite frankly, if there were money for that, most of it would be wasted. But once in a while someone follows through, and that’s the key. Taking advantage of the time you’ve created for yourself to actually follow through. You’re fortunate to have some support, and to have been smart enough to make your money work for you, congrats on that. But what now? If you do actually make these ideas a reality, where will you take them? How will you make your ideas into your livelihood?

Jmc: I have tried and failed at many projects in the past decade , walked the walk talked the talk etc. There is no guarantee that these projects will see the light of day. But I feel I have found a new approach(meaning funding the projects outside of working in the animation field) this has created a new drive and focus to create….. I have only the distractions of life (and maybe a little Xbox 360) to slow me down.
“but what now?” Jump in feet first……………These projects are being done for me, as artists we are selfish, we create art for ourselves, from what is inside, I am not looking to gain great success or create a livelihood from it. For me success would be if it is enjoyed and entertains someone, leave my mark on the world…thats all I am really looking for, big or small.

MV: Care to talk a little about the projects themselves?

Jmc: Yeah man…..as far as the projects go….
I am working on 3 projects based on things I have always wanted to do: Comic strips , Animated Short Films and Video Games.

1st is a Comic Strip. Noodles and Big Boy. It’s about two guys that have grown up together. Monty Miller (FatBoy) is a computer programmer/Short order Cook and the other Arthur J. McMick (Noodles) is an animator/stay-@-home dad. These guys are my alter egos. We will follow their misadventures in life, love and video games, on a daily web comic, and after every 60 or so strips I will be publishing a comic volume of the strips along with roughs sketches and my notes etc……. if there is enough interest.

2nd is a children’s book/flash game/ipod app….Goo Monster 5000 is the working title. In a nutshell it’s about a boy that doesn’t listen to his mom, neglects to clean his room, plays too many video games. A giant monster is involved.

3rd a Short film, but I am keeping a lid on this. I have something planned and I don’t want to let the cat of the bag just yet.

So I think this is my year set up for me creatively.

Readers can go to my blog for updates about my projects if they want. In the coming weeks I will be starting to share more about what I am doing, as well a launching a web site to promote and share my hair brained crap with the world…

MV: Tell me something of your influences. Art-wise, writing, music, what inspires you now, and what inspired you back when you were just starting out?

Jmc: My influences. Art wise I have been and I still am inspired by Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Mary Blair. Bill Peet, Milt Kahl Gene Keane, Bill Watterson, Richard Williams. These days I am inspired By Hans Bacher, Lou Romano, Teddy Newton, Steve Lambe, Jamie Baker, Nick Cross, Jake Parker, guys that are kicking their own thing or pushing the norm beyond what is going down right now.
As for music, back in the day I was hooked on Pearl Jam(still am), but these days I am into irish rock and chill beats, Swell Season,The Frames, Mic Christoher, Air. Boards of Canada, Peace Orchestra.
Writing or Reading, I am a huge Tolkien and Philip K.Dick fan, but for the last little while I have been lazy, listening to Audiobooks. Right now I’m listening to 1984 by George Orwell.

MV: Did you always draw? Were there any specific moments that moved you to this field? Was it arts and creative in general, or animation in particular that interested you?

Jmc: I always wanted to be an Animator/Artist, I just have taken the long way around. After high school, I went to Algonquin College for T.V Animation, dropped out after the first year, worked freelance, got married, made a few babies, worked construction jobs, worked as an editorial cartoonist for a year, moved to Vancouver and went to game design school, learned Maya, worked as a freelance TD for a 3 or 4 years, turned down a few big jobs, then hit a creative block, and took a break from drawing for about a year. Then a good friend called me up asked if I wanted to animate a Flash show, moved to New Brunswick worked for Fatkat, Fatkat tanked…now I am here drawing more than ever and creating for myself…. I haven’t had huge professional success as an animator, but for me I never really wanted that, it is about the art form, the passion to create that fuels it for me. That is my animation life in a nut so far, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year, things should really bare fruit this year, it going to rock bro.

Did I always draw? Yes. So much so that in grade school it landed me in a special education class, and the teacher ended up getting me to draw all my assignments….yeah it rocked. I still fill up about a sketchbook a month.

I would have to say my current direction is a result of moving from Ontario to New Brunswick to work for Fatkat, getting laid off…… it all started with a random IM form my good buddy Tavis(Silbernagel) asking if you want a job…..

But the main reason I wanted to get into animation was Walt Disney, Mickey had a huge influence on me. When I was a kid, I would draw him all the time. From there I found my love for drawing and it lead me to the search for what animation was and how to do it…I am still searching for a voice as an animator but this is what it is all about: being an artist, looking for next great line, great pose, great sketch….dreaming on the end of a pencil, or these days, a wacom pen….

Earlier on, I mentioned Jason’s kindness and generosity. He’ll probably blush at this, but it’s not just opinion, it’s documented fact. The main point of this piece is to illustrate how one artist used his downtime to reinvest in his art, but Jason uses it in other ways as well. At the time of this exchange, here’s how Jason described his other endeavor:

Jmc: I would like to mention I am using my art to promote and raise awareness for children in need. My wife and I run a non-profit helping children in need. http://ora-international.org/ . I just did a coloring page for a non-profit in Nashville. They had former child soldiers colour them and then sent them out to their sponsors. http://www.projectak47.com/. They are helping child soldiers in Burma. It was truly moving to see something I drew, coloured by an ex-child soldier….groovy stuff bro.

Since then, Jason’s been to Haiti and back. He was the point man for his organization for their relief work there. He managed to get a few very moving updates out via Facebook. He’s back, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about his experience there and see what he’s up to next.

From Jason's Facebook: Landed in Jacmel Haiti today,walked around the town looking at the destruction, crazy to see so many people in need..came across some writing on some rubble that says it all...

Jason McArthur is a self-described “low man on the totem pole” of animation. Most of us are. But it’s more than a little inspiring to see what a low man can do when he uses his time effectively.

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