Isobella Jade may seem an unlikely graphic novel writer, coming from the modeling world. But then, she was an unlikely model. Jade, standing about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, calls herself the Seabiscuit of models, referring to the undersized thoroughbred that became a racing sensation.
She first wrote a memoir, Almost 5’4”, and now she's written a fictional graphic novel based on her experiences in modeling. Model Life, illustrated by Jazmin Ruotolo, will be published by Soft Skull Press in October.
"I reached out to Richard Nash, who I had talked to previous about other projects, and he dug the concept and samples that I shared with him about a graphic based on my modeling adventures," Jade said of the book's origin. "Then I hunted for an illustrator right for the book and Soft Skull and I got together. I like publishers who are bold and up for the unconventional, and Soft Skull has an edge I like."
While the book has an edge, Jade focused on keeping the story based in reality and touching on modeling in the Internet/digital age. "I wanted to put aside the glamorous appeal of being a model and show the present day highs and lows of the journey of being a model in the Internet age, for better and worse."
Instead of heavy dialogue, much of the wording appears in text messages and e-mails. In fact, Jade created a live e-mail account for the character, who will respond to readers. The book is completely based in the online world, having been inspired by the following Jade developed through her modeling blog.
Fittingly, the book's art is inspired by fashion illustration. Jade said she sought out Ruotolo because of her background in fashion. "Drawing the female form in a sexy but still honest way was very important for this project," she said. "However, the character is not a fashion model; she is shorter than average models, so although the body form, styling and appearance of the character has an attractive fashionable appeal, she is not a Giraffe smoking a cigarette before a Chanel show."
The lead character instead is forced to trudge through the seamier side of modeling, which Jade addresses directly. "I wanted nudity—nipples, curves and realness—so the book could be as humanistic as possible." Her goal, she said, is "to shock my readers and inspire them afterward."
Jade, who started modeling in 2001, continues to work in the industry. She sees the business changing, with more chances for motivated people of all body types.
"Fashion will always hate the short chicks, but as advertising calls for more types of models more opportunities will arise," she said. "The average American female is shorter than 5 foot 4 inches, and I don’t think she would mind if a shorter girl modeled the clothing in the ad campaign. Modeling is more about marketing than being perfect or a certain height. That, and the 'being discovered' thing is over. It is all about discovering yourself."