There’s that one kid. You know them. The one who’s getting out of the hospital, after attempting to do something involving a cow, a Harley, and a blowtorch. And as they’re getting out of their wheelchair they’re looking for the nearest place to bungee jump. Jason Beckwith may not take crazy physical risks, but he’s certainly believed in himself enough to take some challenging leaps. Read along to find out more about this fascinating dude.
You walked away from a full ride scholarship at UCSC to work in Silicon Valley. That’s a pretty risky move for a young man. What prompted it?
It was a mixture of being close to Steamer Lane, one of my favorite surfing spots, great single track trails for mountain biking, and access to the Silicon Graphics lab. At the time, my major was CIS, Computer Information Sciences. I was obsessed with a company that had recently broken free from Industrial Light and Magic and was financially backed by Steve Jobs. The company was called Pixar, and they were creating digital shorts with computer animated characters. I took an art class based on software called Alias/Wavefront, and had access to the lab. I wanted to continue working and learning on the equipment, but was informed that after the class ended, I would have to wait two years before before I could have access again.
So, at that point, I made the jump from higher education, and into the private sector. I started with a data entry job, while I purchased a better computer and put together an example of my capabilities. That led to my first agency job, programing and animating cross-platform multi-media CDs for clients like Netscape, Quantum, Macromedia and Cisco. Two years later, I moved to USWeb/CKS, a larger agency. There, we created self running, interactive, in-store demos for Apple and Compaq. At that point, I was solely creating animations and motion graphics, leaving the programming in my past. As video became accessible digitally, I grew with the tools, moved away from animation, and into video production, editing and post production.
At the peak of your career you were a well respected media professional and you tossed it all away to make comics. Did anyone ask if you were insane?
After USWeb/CKS merged with another company to form marchFIRST, it imploded spectacularly in the Dot Com bust. Our group was acquired by another agency called Design Reactor, and I spent the next eleven years there. At the height of my career, I was manager of video services, over-seeing 4 professional digital-betacam edit suites and a small studio. I purchased the video equipment, and rented it to the company, which worked out very well for me. As the quality of cameras improved, I took a chance on a new company and ordered a Red One camera for an exorbitant sum of money. With that I began shooting short films like ‘Project Arbiter’, ‘Delve’, ‘Home’, and ‘Over my Dead Body’. Unfortunately, the company lost most of its prestige during the recession, after the housing bubble burst. I had already begun making the comic books, by this time, and it was a perfect opportunity to move away from creating everyone else’s project and to work on my own. Thankfully, I made some decent choices along the way and am currently blowing my life savings on creating my comics. A couple of years ago, I found myself contracting on a TV show. While the work was cool, It was preventing me from working on my comics. When I took a deep look at why I was taking the work, it was to afford the next upgrade on my Red cinema camera. I had become a slave to my equipment, taking freelance jobs that I didn’t want, just to keep my equipment on the cutting edge. So, I sold my Red Dragon to support my work on the comic books.
Now, I just need to get to the point where the comics are financially self-sustaining.
Seriously, your first book, Taking Eden, is a gorgeous, gothic romp. Which positions it diametrically opposite of anything you’d done professionally before. What inspired it?
Thanks for the kind words. I think that Malcolm and I were feeling a bit jaded on life, around the time that we began writing Taking Eden. I believe that I was reflective of my quickly fading youth. Writing a character such as Marnie, who is just starting out in life, really appealed to me. She begins the story unsure of herself, naive and full of hope. Then, given the situations that she goes through, both supernatural and horrific, we get to watch how she grows and adapts. There are a lot of characters in ‘Taking Eden’, and quite a few dynamics tugging at each of them. At times, I feel like I’m just weaving all of these threads together and it’s my job to make sure that they form into something beautiful rather than a tangled pile of knots.
The characters of Taking Eden are the heart of the story. They are all deeply flawed individuals, but then again, aren’t we all? David is driven with desire and twisted by addiction. Crystal is out for herself, and getting as much out of life, as she can. Sky is drunk with power and in pursuit of more. Jasmine is looking for stability. The Patchwork Man is looking for… well… he’s looking. And Marnie is still trying to figure out who she is, and what she wants out of life.
Taking Eden began in the early oughts, as a way for a co-worker and I to escape the monotony of 12-16 hour days. Malcolm Johnson and I started the story through email. I would write about a page and a half, then stop mid-sentence. I’d email that to Malcolm, and he’d continue it. At some point, I realized that we had well over a hundred pages. I printed it out, and gave it a read through. There was some really great stuff in there, so I gave it a healthy amount of editing and converted it into a comic book.
I now feel that it is sheer insanity to attempt an eighteen issue story arc as your first comic series. As I write this, we are working on inks for issue twelve. That will complete Act II of the story, allow me to compile the second 150 page trade paperback. With six more books in the story, we still have quite a ways to go. Rest assured, Taking Eden has a very finite ending in issue eighteen!
You followed that up with The Tool, Chronointel: Messages from the Future, and Anarchy Beyond the Wall. Each title is wildly different than the others. Give our readers your elevator pitch on each and a little bit of the thought behind each.
It was probably a mistake to launch so many titles at once. It has a benefit, when I’m tabling at cons. With books covering diverse genres such as sci-fi, post-apocalyptic adventure, gothic horror and government conspiracy, I can appeal to varied interests and reach more people with my work. But, one of the largest mistakes that I’ve made is having one artist on multiple titles. Niño Cajayon does the art for Taking Eden, The Tool, and Chronointel. Don’t get me wrong, Niño does a great job on all of them, but he can only do so much at a time. When I brought Samir Simão on for Anarchy, it was great having the books progress concurrently. Let me throw in a quick shout-out to Gonzalo Duarte who does the color for all my books, and provides the final polish. These guys really bring my stories to life. But, Niño just spent the last year working on Taking Eden, with the goal of bringing you a second trade paperback. Since he’s been on that, Chronointel hasn’t had a new issue come out in over a year. That’s a bit frustrating, but we are going as fast as we can. Next year, I’d like to do a 3 issue story arc for Chronointel, but that means putting Taking Eden on the back burner. It’s no secret that I’m just making this up as go along. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, along this journey. But, it’s ok, as long as I learn from them, and don’t repeat them.
The Tool is a college aged espionage and conspiracy story with a female protagonist. It’s almost too real in today’s political climate. I really love this book, though. The first issue is loosely based on the old ‘cointelpro’ program that the government ran in the 1960s. The follow up issue is broken into 2 stories. In the first, we follow the CIA agent involved in the first issue through a forced vacation. The second story involves industrial espionage. The Tool is kind of my playground for experimenting with different narrative techniques. Each of the three related tales is a specific experiment in telling stories visually, and/or non-linearly. Framing the stories in the way that I chose was challenging, and I’m proud of the result. The next story has Ashley going undercover as an agent provocateur.
Chronointel is a time-travel story, with no time-travel in it. I love the time-travel genre. Terminator, Back to the Future, Dr. Who, Safety not Guaranteed, Idiocracy, Time after Time, The Girl, the gold Watch, and Everything… I grew up on these stories and films. I knew that I really wanted to do something with the genre, but I felt like so much had already been done, there was nothing fresh that I could bring to it. I drive for hours to get to Comic Cons around the state, so I started listening to pod-casts on quantum science, string theory and anything that could help spark a new direction for a story. It turns out that we, as humans, are ill suited for time-travel; we tend to turn into goo around the speed of light. After listening to hours upon hours of pod-cast, one scientist finally came on and said, “Look, if you want to change the past, you don’t have travel there to do it, all you have to do, is send a message.” That became my “Ah-Ha!” moment. I took a look at how we send messages, and we do it primarily over radio waves, electrical impulses or flashes of light across fiber optics. So, I was able to create a story about a brilliant young physicist who finds a way to make light act like a particle instead of a wave. He then bombards the the light particles with another sub atomic particle, controlling where it bounces to in space-time. But, instead of building the transmitter, he first builds the receiver that catches pulses of light, and decodes them into data. Five minutes after turning it on for the first time, light starts shooting into it from nowhere. He receives the first message, from himself, from the future. He’s like, eighty-eight years old, and has spent a lifetime designing the transmitter. Then, he begins to receive the plans to build the transmitter. He teams up with Steve, an ex-military guy with a haunted past. Together, they are sending themselves messages from the future so they can create the best reality for us all.
Anarchy Beyond The Walls is a cross between a western and a fairy tale, set after the financial collapse of the United States. Shane’s family ran a small gas station before the collapse. After the collapse, the rich impose martial law, and remain in control of the largest cities. Walls are erected around the cities, and all control beyond the walls is lost. Shane’s family begins brewing moonshine to use as ethanol. Shane becomes a motorcycle messenger for the gang-lords that control the areas outside the city. Karina leaves the protection on the walled city to avoid an arranged marriage, and everything changes when she meets Shane. When her fiancé, Dylan, finds her and brings her back within the walls, Shane will stop at nothing to save her. I wanted to do something post-apocalyptic, where the population at large still existed. I didn’t want to go with a comet strike, zombie outbreak, or post nuclear war which would leave most of the population dead. I wanted to play with themes like wealth disparity, family and rebuilding government in the form of the ‘New Republic’. By putting my main character on an iron horse, I get to pull western themes into the narrative. Anarchy Beyond The Walls is a story that mixes action and adventure with high stakes survival and romance.
Between all your titles you have eighteen issues out, and counting. Do you find it difficult to remember the beginnings of each series when you meet new customers?
Not at all. I’m getting dangerously close to tabling for my 100th comic con. My verbal elevator pitch is rock solid. My writing process is probably a bit longer than for most writers. I usually begin with an idea, jotted down in notepad on my phone. I find that the hardest part of writing anything, is having a solid ending. It’s at this point, that I usually write an ending or two. Then, I start brainstorming scenes that I think would be cool, and write them on 3×5 note-cards. I have a large bulletin board that I use to pin-up and organize the 3×5 cards. I like this process, because I can easily see everything that will happen in an issue, as well as holes where something will have to written to transition from one scene to the next. I also find that it really helps with the pacing of the story as well. I can see if the action is going on too long, or exposition is taking too many pages. I guess my writing style, is that of a planner. Everything is planned out, worked over, reworked, and written again before I ever start individual page layouts. I like to layout the individual cells for my artists, although I’m pretty loose about how they are implemented.
Because I’m so hands on, and spend so much time trying to maximize the amount of story that I can get into twenty-two pages, I am very familiar with every twist and turn. I know every facet of every character. If you ask me why Crystal Pamo decided to help David in issue 4, I have an answer. Those are the conversations that I want to have with fans at comic cons. I truly hope there is a day when I panel somewhere, and I have an audience devoted enough to my work, that they are able to ask questions about my writing and character decisions. At this point, most people just want to know how to get their comic book off the ground. I never wanted to self-publish. I still don’t. I’m terrible at the business side of all of this. I’m really bad about growing mailing lists, and increasing my social media reach. I’ve never run a KickStarter for my books. In an ideal world, a publisher would run with my books, and I could devote more time to creating them, rather than marketing them. I’d much rather watch a YouTube video about character development or world building, than videos about converting mailing list enrollees into paying customers.
Given your work in cinema I wasn’t surprised to note that each of your titles have a cinematic feel. Was that purposeful or just a bonus from your experience?
It’s probably a bit of both. When working as a cinematographer, I would often be tasked with creating a shot-list for the project. This entails taking the script and listing out the exact shots needed to tell the story through imagery. Well, it turns out that comic book layouts are exactly the same. It’s still a matter of dissecting the script, and figuring out the fewest number of panels needed to tell a story visually. I have sent books on framing for cinematography to my artists, along with my favorite example of sequential story-telling; G.I. Joe, issue 21. Larry Hama’s ‘silent issue’ tells an entire narrative in a single issue, with no word or thought bubbles, and it’s brilliant. When looking at past influences on my work, everything I’ve done has involved some form of visual story-telling. Interactive programs, animation, motion graphics, video and film; all are forms of telling tales with images. Even during my career as a magician, I always thought of my routines as “prop assisted story-telling”. I’ve studied different ways of telling stories over the years. I can’t watch a film or read an article, without thinking about how the information is formatted for presentation. I’ve studied 1950s serials for inspiration, and they have influenced my story-telling. In some books, I’ll start with the third act of a previous story, then present act I, and end on a cliff-hanger at the end of act II. It’s perfect for comic books, because beginning with the third act starts the book off with action, and ends with the audience wanting more. It was well used in the Indiana Jones movies; each begins on the third act of story unseen. I am constantly trying to humanize my characters, but still move the story along in dynamic ways. I think that all of these influences have meshed into the perfect skillset for creating comic books.
Your company, Never Static Pictures, has done an immense amount of narrative and commercial work. When will we see your comics brought to the big screen?My comics probably won’t be brought to the screen anytime soon. I have more experience than most, in regards to adapting a story for film. I don’t want to do it, unless I can do it right. That requires budget. It also requires a finished story. The closest title to completion, is ‘Anarchy Beyond The Walls’. It’s a six issue story arc, and we’re finishing the fish book now. Taking Eden is currently on issue 12, so it still has six more issues until it’s complete. Right now, my focus is finishing my stories, and reaching out to the public, to find my audience.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’m just trying to get this business to a sustainable, break even point. My short term focus is spending the cold winter months writing and laying out all of the pages of Anarchy and a three issue story arc for Chronointel. I’m starting some video blogs on process, and will be reaching out for more online reviews. Our goal is to have the collected volume of Anarchy Beyond the Walls and the second trade paperback, collecting issues 7-12, of Taking Eden available on our table at WonderCon 2019.
In 2019, I will be tabling at:
Silicon Valley Comic Con
Wizard World Sacramento
Central Coast Pop Expo
Los Angeles Comic Con
My books are available to order on our website:
or digitally at ComiXology:
And the biggest event for me, in May of 2019, is running my first Kickstarter. Please visit our website, and get on our mailing list for more information as the launch date nears.