Jason Masters is part of the African talent taking the comic book industry by the scruff of the neck.
“Twitter was certainly instrumental in me getting to work with Warren Ellis, one of my all-time favorite writers. Out of the blue, a couple of years back, I decided I’d push my luck and mail him; just to say I was a huge fan and really appreciated his work. That and, of course, I made it abundantly clear that I’d love to work with him in any capacity someday. He was very gracious in the way he batted my email advances away. Warren is always busy, when you’re as prolific as him people are constantly trying to convert his creations into capital, often in a very obtuse form of Hollywood alchemy.”
“So, of course my feelings weren’t hurt, it was the most ridiculous of longshots anyway. Sometime later I had just completed a comic commission for a friend of one of his most notable anarchic creations, Spider Jerusalem. Never one to miss an opportunity I tweeted the picture out tagging him in the post. That re-started the conversation of possibly working together. We chatted a bit via email about what sort of book we might do and then a few days later he sent me an email asking what I thought of James Bond.”
Masters loved James Bond. He thought Warren would be hinting at doing a Bondesque comic book. It turned out that Warren was working with Dynamite Entertainment in the process of launching the first James Bond comic in over 20 years.
“It’s part astonishing that I got to do this, and petrifying. Once the wave of joy that accompanied the idea of being in charge of all the visual aspects of 007 passed, I was left with paralyzing dread. It was a huge responsibility. Never mind just James Bond, but the M, Q or Miss Moneypenny I designed might not fit the narrative that the staunch Bond fans have. Thankfully, it was well received and the work Warren and I did has opened the doors for other Bond books,” says Masters.
The series was launched in 2015 and won acclaim. The company has also published adaptations of franchises like RoboCop, A Game of Thrones and Sherlock Holmes.
Reinvigorating the secret agent is the biggest gig for Masters’ career. Not bad for a man who worked as an art director for an advertising agency a few years ago.
“I’m still waiting for a pinch of either glitz or glam to be sprinkled into my life, but I get to draw and tell stories for a living. That’s way better than most,” says Masters.
Many comic fans in South Africa consider Masters a homegrown hero. One of them is Mahdi Abrahams, owner of Readers Den, a comic book store in Cape Town.
“Jason is one of the few South African artists who has landed gigs with international publishers and had the opportunity to work on high profile characters such as James Bond and Batman.”
Abrahams says Masters got his break in the international scene long before his tweet.
“[He] has managed to acquire regular work from big international publishers,” says Mahdi.
Masters is now one of the few Africans to have brought characters to life on paper, like the X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman and Wolverine.
“There are ridiculous talents in this country, the only thing holding most of them back is actually making product. Not a lot of idealistic young artists realize the amount of work that goes into just doing one 22-page story. It can get discouraging working on something for weeks on end in your own time and not have a completed story to show for it. We need more people to just finish those original stories and share them with the world. Almost 100 percent of the artists I know that have done that have gone on to bigger and better ventures,” says Masters.
Someone who has kept a keen eye on Masters’ work is Moray Rhoda. Known as the godfather of South Africa comic books, this 47-year-old design lecturer has been fighting for more than a quarter of century promoting African talent.
“Jason has grown a lot over the past few years. I think what sets him and Sean Izaakse (another international comic artist) apart is their dedication and love for comics and the craft of creating comics. They aren’t just artists, they are full collaborators when they get involved in projects – they always add to and improve on every script they are given. Jason is definitely an inspiration to anyone who’s ever met him – not just the artists and writers, but to people in general: the passion for his work is infectious,” says Rhoda.
While he may spend his days drawing superheroes that lead extra-ordinary lives, Masters prefers the quieter side of life in Johannesburg. His day starts in a very homely way by making breakfast for his wife and seeing his daughter off to school before being consumed by the world of the fantasy in comic books.
“Honestly, 264 comic book pages later, it’s still quite unreal for me,” says Masters.
The man with a license to draw because of a tweet.