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Face of Defense: Citizen-Soldier Pursues Civilian Career as Cartoonist

By Terrance Bell U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee

FORT LEE, Va., Oct. 19, 2016 — Outwardly, there is nothing indicating Army Pfc. Devone Jackson is an escape artist. When he describes tales of alien power thieves, distant planets and supernovas, however, it’s clear his imagination served as a getaway from the hard realities of growing up in North Philadelphia.

Jackson, who recently graduated from the Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic Course here, had an upbringing full of challenges. His father endured health problems following injuries sustained from a shotgun blast, and his mother was “never really in the picture,” said the National Guardsman.

Father’s Influence

Under the pressure of his circumstances, Jackson found refuge in the sketching his father Charles introduced to him as a 4-year-old. He now has plans to attend college as an art major and is set to launch his own comic book series online.

“As long as I commit myself to it and motivate myself, I can do it,” Jackson said.

That could have been Jackson’s mantra for survival growing up in one of the nation’s largest cities. His Francisville neighborhood in Philadelphia was not an idyllic suburban haven. The unfortunates were numerous, the eyesores aplenty and safety was such a concern his father “walked him to and from school every day,” although it was only two blocks from his home, Jackson recalled.

Charles shielded Jackson from the perils of the streets but turned him inward as a result. “He is the reason why I am introverted,” he said. “He kept me in the house most of the time, and he really didn’t let me out.”

Nonetheless, his father’s protective measures allowed Jackson to create his own world though art. When he was about 11, he viewed a Japanese anime TV series called “Naruto” and became a fan. “After I watched the first episode, I was hooked,” he said. “I loved the art style, the beautiful visuals and the storylines were really intriguing.”

Soon, Jackson immersed himself into anime and worked on his craft as much as three hours a day after school, creating people, places and things that were far different than those that existed just outside his door. In retrospect, Jackson said, anime consumed him during his teenage years, causing him to appear a bit odd and nonconformist.

Outsider Artist

“I was more of an outcast wherever I went,” he said. “I was always different than other people, and I never really got into the mainstream. A lot of people were more focused on having the coolest clothes or cars, but that really wasn’t me. I was never really a flashy guy. I was just more intrigued by my passions rather than just following the crowd.”

Jackson’s introversion and his father’s influence helped him troubles in what he called a “tough” neighborhood. Moreover, he said, he was aware one tiny misstep could change a life full of promise to one shaped by hopelessness. Jackson was tempted more than once to step away from the fantasies of anime to the realities of life in Francisville.

“It did get lonely over there on the other side, so I did try to fit in,” he recalled, noting he always pondered the consequences of his actions. “In some cases I did, but I was more comfortable where I was.”

Ignoring temptation did not necessarily clear a pathway to success. It only meant he averted some measure of victimhood. Jackson said he knew he would have to commit himself to anime as way out of his environment. He made the decision in his freshman year at Boys Latin High School, receiving encouragement from families and teachers as well as his buddies to push on.

“That inspired me to keep moving in that direction,” he said.

Finding Motivation in Service

Joining the National Guard bolstered his commitment. He figured the educational benefits could help him attain an art degree and the training could provide job skills he could use on the outside. Most importantly, it polished his self-image, strengthened his resolve and taught him to extend himself beyond the lines of his potential.

“The Army is always motivating you, always pushing you,” he said. “I take that with me. Anything I do I try to push myself to the limits and do the best I can.”

Jackson said he will go back to work with his father once he returns home from advanced individual training. In addition, he said he is scheduled to attend community college.

Furthermore, Jackson said he will continue to consult with a few well-known artists and animators he met during an afterschool program. He said he has aspirations to break into the big time within five years -- starting with the launch of a comic strip about energy-deprived humans fighting for survival well into the future.

“Hopefully, I’ll be in the studios of the Cartoon Network and my show will be seen by kids all over the world,” he said. “That’s my main goal.”

It’s a lofty aim, but if it happens, Jackson’s pursuit would validate him as an artist and give credence to the notion that rising from the most difficult circumstances – through commitment, encouragement, resourcefulness and positive outlook -- is an escape act any determined kid from Philly can pull off.

Distribution channels: Military