In the comics, Jayson’s roommate Arena Stage was always a scene-stealer. She stood beside Jayson from the very first strip I drew in 1982, doling out advice and cheering Jayson on when no one else believed in him. In real life, my friend Andrea Jartman played the same role, and inspired this unforgettable character.
As the 1980s drew to a close, I concluded that Arena was ready for her close-up. She had the distinct advantage of being heterosexual, a prerequisite for success in the mainstream newspapers of the day.
I had written myself into a corner with a story called “Jayson Gets Engaged,” which meant that Jayson would soon have to marry Arena — or at least he would have to try. I knew he wouldn’t go through with it, but in the run-up to “Jayson Gets Married” I found the opportunity to introduce the rest of Arena’s family and create a backdoor pilot.
After Jayson rejected Arena at the altar, she stormed off to Manhattan and into the embrace of her family’s advertising agency. Thus was born “Arena Stage,” a daily newspaper strip that I shopped to syndicates in 1988. Although I received some very encouraging rejections, I never found a champion, and Arena returned to Jayson a few stories later in “Jayson’s New Lease on Life.”
Jayson Comics #6 publishes, for the first time ever, the five weeks of daily and Sunday strips I created to establish the world of “Arena Stage” for mainstream consumption.
Just after this issue went to press, I learned that Andrea Jartman passed away in February. I didn’t intend for this issue to be a tribute, but now it is. My plan is to conclude the story arc from the daily strip, and tell several more tales from Arena’s time in Manhattan, in the forthcoming graphic novel “Arena Takes Manhattan,” which will truly be the tribute Andrea deserves, with reminiscences and photographs aplenty.
Meanwhile, I have the bittersweet honor of debuting Jayson Comics #6 at San Diego Comic-Con this July. If you can’t make it there or to the other conventions I attend this year, Jayson Comics #6 is also available for print-on-demand and digital download at IndyPlanet, along with the other 5 issues of Jayson Comics.