Graphic Jetta, a beautiful Japanese woman from an old and powerful family, has been having violent, bloody nightmares. The dreams begin with her father standing over her in the night. At least the figure looks like her father. His elongated shadow stretches up the wall, wrapping her ridiculously curvy body in profound darkness. Then wordlessly and without warning, he grabs her by the throat and plunges his hand deep into her chest to crush the heart he helped to set in motion. That's when Jetta wakes up in a cold sweat, panting with fear. Fortunately for her, she isn't real.
"Jetta has been with me for a long time now," says Martheus Wade, a Memphis comic book artist and trained kick boxer who started drawing his signature character when he was only 13, and who has been self-publishing his martial arts-inspired graphic novel series Jetta: Tales of the Toshigawa since 2004. Jetta was recently optioned and is currently being adapted to the big screen by Lizard Brain Productions, a small but ambitious film company based in San Francisco.
"One of their producers found a copy of one of my comic books in a used bookstore," says Wade, sitting on the floor of his comfortable Uptown home, in a tiny office filled with action figures and comic memorabilia. "When I got the first email I thought it was some kind of scam," he adds dubiously, as though he has trouble believing his own story. But it wasn't a scam; Lizard Brain's producers were entirely serious about developing a superhero franchise around a female character. Contracts followed and shortly thereafter Wade was flying to California to hammer out the details.
"Jetta doesn't consider herself a hero," Wade says, explaining why his graphic novels about a warrior princess chosen to protect a clan that doesn't trust her from a wicked father who doesn't love her, is different than most superhero stories. "She's reluctant to do anything or help anybody. Obviously there are fight scenes — you can't have a comic book without fight scenes— but my stories are more emotionally driven than action packed. [Jetta] just wants to have a normal life. She wants to have a relationship. I ask myself, "What would she be doing if not a superhero? How does she feel from day to day? If she's out on the street all night and she doesn't eat right, how is this going to affect her?"
One unexpected result of placing more emphasis on Jetta's interior monologues is the number of female fans the series has attracted. "That still has me baffled," Wade says, admitting that his character's overdeveloped physique was supposed to make her attractive to comic fans who are traditionally male. Janet Wade, his wife and longtime writing partner, is not nearly so surprised.
"His women used to look like men with breasts," Janet cracks, teasing her husband a bit about just how far his fluid, cinematic drawing style has come.
Although Wade continues to take freelance work as a graphic designer, Jetta has found a loyal audience and has evolved into something very close to a full-time job.
"I'm really doing this," he says, crediting Crusade/Top-Cow Comics' writer and illustrator Billy Tucci for encouraging him to take stock in himself and publish independently.
Wade met the like-minded Tucci at Dragon Con, an Atlanta-based fantasy/sci-fi and comic book convention where the maverick artist was receiving a very public acupuncture treatment. But even the long scary-looking needles couldn't keep the ambitious young artist from showing his work to an acknowledged hero.
"You've got a really cool character," Tucci told Wade, encouraging him to self publish instead of waiting for one of the bigger comic book companies to take notice. Three graphic novels and a film deal later, Wade is glad he listened.