Believing in the Heart of the Cards – The Jack of Spades Saga Interview

Written by Matt Bowes

This month, Alberta comics creators Chase Kantor, Dan Schneider, Sylvia Moon and Stephanie Chan launched an Indiegogo campaign for a comic book that will lay bare the secret history of playing cards, The Jack of Spades Saga.

Here’s a synopsis of what readers can look forward to, right from the book’s website:

The land, once unified under a single banner, has been divided into four territories, each territory ruled by a family. The Diamonds, wealthy and corrupt; the Clubs, strong and resourceful; the Hearts, ambitious, though loyal to a fault; and the Spades, hard and merciless, and all of whom desire power above all things.

Centuries of bloodshed have won a tenuous peace between the families. To prevent another war, the Four of a Kind, an order of wise and holy men, have been entrusted to keep the peace at any cost. Each King is watched closely by a member of this conclave, though, like all things, corruption has, too, spread through their ranks. The land, yet again, finds itself poised on the edge of a sword.

Jack, the Prince of Spades, is the sole heir to the Spade Kingdom, that is if his father would hurry up and die. Jack is your typical over-privileged royal. He’s cruel, selfish, and believes people, especially women, are there for his amusement. Despite these flaws, Jack has an unnatural ability to persevere, though some call it blind stubbornness. There’s a saying that goes: to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Jack is more like a screwdriver. I’ll let your imagination take over. He’s charming, quick-witted and quick-tongued, his mouth usually landing him in more hot water than his libido. But there’s a spark of something great in Jack, and we’ll learn that not even a self-centered misogynist is beyond redemption.

Jack, disregarding the advice of his life-long tutor, David Tell, accepts the position of Minister of Executions, a position that comes with a very quick retirement. But Jack is eager to prove himself to his people and, above all, the King. When a certain band of gypsies who call themselves The Euchre begin terrorizing the Spade Kingdom, Jack makes it his personal mission see their leader on his gallows.

The book, which will appear in both electronic and paper form, should be available for purchase in stores and online later this year. We were able to check in with a few of the creators on the eve of beginning the crowd-funding campaign.

Image courtesy of Nothing Works Entertainment Inc.

The Pulp: So, the Jack of Spades Saga takes place in a world that’s based on the figures and iconography found on playing cards, correct? It’s an intriguing concept; how did you guys end up putting it all together? Did you look into the history of playing card manufacturing for ideas? Tarot cards?

Chase Kantor: The mythology of playing cards is already incredibly dense. And these stories have been passed down literally over centuries. When we came up with the original concept for The Jack of Spades Saga, we definitely wanted to pay homage to those traditions while still adding something new. In the very early stages, before we even started coming up with characters, we were surprised that no one had really fleshed out a story in that universe. I mean, it’s such a rich mythology: Spades, Suicide Kings, Crazy Eights, Euchres, no one has really come close to creating a comprehensive narrative that incorporates all of those elements. Then we started actually writing the story and it became almost immediately evident why this story hadn’t been done yet: it’s crazy complicated. When you look back on its history, people have been using cards as storytelling devices since their invention. Not only does every culture have their own version of playing cards, but there are so many different ways they’re utilized. As a gaming device, they’re incredibly versatile. Just think of how many games can be played with the classic North American deck. Now multiply that by a swath of unique cultures and all the variations over the centuries.

So, we not only researched the classic deck, the Italian deck, tarot, I mean, countless hours devoted to building that framework, but we also wanted to inject that kind of playful, swashbuckling tone that you used to find in old Errol Flynn flicks from the 30s and 40s, like The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, and Captain Blood. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the grim, gritty historical realism. We really fought to keep it light; to keep it a world people would actually want to visit.

Daniel Schneider: When I came into the project the foundations for the world Jack lives in and its history connecting it with a deck of playing cards were already laid. So my job was to bring that world to life through visuals. There are visual cues throughout the story that help build these icons. I didn’t want to make carbon copies of the cards’ artwork but instead allude to them. Show the origins of these stories at their core, before time forgets the details and boils them down to a deck of 52.

I also got really invested in laying out the physical world. Things like the city plans, architecture, [and] maps. One of our rewards for this first issue is a city map of Spade City. The Wheel of Time nerd in me is having way too much fun with this.

Sylvia Moon: It’s such a simple idea but Chase has really done his research on the subject and hopefully that hard work translates for readers.

Image courtesy of Nothing Works Entertainment Inc.

The Pulp: The art style, at least what we’ve seen so far anyway, has to my eye a real El Cazador/Ruse/Arabian Nights vibe to it. Which artists were especially useful as inspirations on this project? Is your work primarily inspired by the Western comics tradition, would you say? Or perhaps something like nineties Disney animated films?

DS: I’m not going to lie, two of your three artistic references went straight over my head [LAUGHS]. My art style changes depending on the project and was influenced directly and indirectly by so many things at times it’s hard to nail down what exactly I’m pulling from.

For this project I was most heavily influenced by The Princess Bride and Shakespeare in Love. They allowed me to nail down an aesthetic for this comic and its world (open chest, puffy shirts, dude—they’re all the rage in the Spade kingdom).

Your last two guesses were pretty spot on, though. Western comics and animation are two of my biggest influences. For this book I feel like my love of Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Sword and the Stone and Mulan really show through. Which mixed in quite well with my love of artists like Kevin Maguire, Stuart Immonen and Francis Manapul.

Also: mustaches. I really got inspired to draw a lot of characters with glorious staches. Don’t question it, just accept it as artistic beauty.

SM: The art is great; Daniel has really put in a lot of hours making this comic look and feel adventurous and fun. The story will match the artwork very well.

CK: Dan’s style, I have to say, wonderfully captured the tone of this book. It’s really gorgeous. Those Euchres are one hundred percent what I envisioned from the start.

The Pulp: You’ve mentioned several fantasy and swashbuckling movies as inspirations for the look of your main character, Jack of Spades. Will readers be enjoying further film and media references apart from the ones you’ve already mentioned?

CK: Absolutely. Film was incredibly important to me growing up and I get a huge kick out of adding subtle references to my favourite flicks or straight up ripping them off. A lot of the characters in this book were definitely born in that environment. Jack, for example, is kind of a mix of Wesley in The Princess Bride, Errol Flynn in anything Errol Flynn did, and Blackadder. Blackadder was a huge influence for this book. I love that dry, sarcastic wit Rowan Atkinson brought to the character. But not only film references, readers will find some nods to video games I like.

DS: I love hidden characters and references in comics so I always try to include as many as I can. This issue, though, I got a little carried away with one hidden reference throughout the book. I’m a huge wrestling fan, so I knew I wanted to include Andre the Giant in there as a tribute to his role in The Princess Bride. Knowing this, once I started drawing I decided to hide as many different wrestlers in the comic as possible. I hid roughly 10 in there in total. Oddly enough, Andre isn’t one of them. He was drawn as one character that we ended up deciding to switch the look of. After all that I forgot to find another spot for him.

So to answer your question…no, I messed up the one single reference to those films I tried to put in. But any wrestling fans are gonna have one heck of a Where’s Waldo? game to comb through in this first issue!

Image courtesy of Nothing Works Entertainment Inc.

The Pulp: The project is being funded by an Indiegogo campaign; do you see this becoming the norm for comic book financing in the future? What benefits do crowd-funding campaigns give to artists working outside of the traditional “Big Two” comics sphere?

DS: Yes and no. I see crowd-funding as an important part to opening the door for the future of comics. Publishers will never die out and I think will always be hugely important to the industry. What crowd-funding does is allow creators more control. And not just control in the sense of content and ownership. Crowd-funding gives creators a platform on which we can more easily control our worth as creators. We’re no longer dependent on the publishers in order for us to connect our talents and stories with the fans. That’s a powerful tool [that] can be used to help us create a stronger, healthier, more diverse future for the comics industry as a whole. Creators now have options and that will be key in the comics industry’s future.

SM: Yeah, I absolutely believe this is a viable way to get financed. It’s getting harder to be recognized and to submit work to companies. Unless you’re ready to put in the years and money going to conventions and talking to comic creators, there aren’t many opportunities to get your comic in with a publisher. I think using crowd-funding sites help raise awareness that there are creators ready to produce exciting genre driven stories and even more important is to know the audience that wants those comics. It shows that the reader’s palettes are broadening, they want more variety and not the same homogenous story telling and publishers need to know that those readers exist. Crowd-funding can be so rewarding and informative for the creators; it’s certainly more personal and the best building blocks to create a community. It’s not about the money, it’s about being understood and telling your story and I feel like that’s a big goal for us using crowd-funding for The Saga of the Jack of Spades.

CK: That’s a really tough question. I can only speak to my own experience (this is my first book I’ve been able to finance). The first issue of The Saga of the Jack of Spades is being partially funded by our Indiegogo campaign and the other part privately. I don’t think the current crowd-funding model is just a fad. It’s really fantastic that a lot of unconventional comics, comics that aren’t obvious commercial successes or made by untested creative teams, can find a way to get to their audience. I honestly don’t know very much about this process. I’m kind of learning as I go. Ask me this question in another year; I’m sure I’ll have a very different answer then.

The Pulp: How long would you like The Jack of Spades Saga to go on? Are there any other projects you have lined up after this?

CK: I’ll be writing for this series as long as people keep reading it. This has been a special project of mine for the past six years: several different artists, lots of rejection letters, and in that time the characters have become incredibly important to me. I absolutely love writing these stories. I’ll probably keep writing them even if no one reads them but me.

DS: I plan on sticking around for as long as Chase will let me. I love building this world with him and definitely want to see this story out to the end.

I have some other comics and art projects I’m working on after this, most are my own art projects and there’s two or three comics I’m going to be trying to dig into as well.

The Jack of Spades Saga’s Indiegogo campaign is live right now, so if your appetite has been piqued by this interview with the creators, why not go check it out and maybe pledge some money? More information about the book can be found on the website.

Cover photo courtesy of Nothing Works Entertainment Inc.

Editor’s Note: Read a previous Pulp interview with Sylvia Moon in “Artist Alleys and the Growth of Convention Culture.” – CCS

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