As someone who enjoys a lot of things, I’d like to think I can understand the world of fans, but sometimes you meet someone and realize, ‘Oh, dang. This is what a real fan is like.’
In the early 2000s I found the website TheArnoldFans.com, a place on the internet devoted solely to the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I grew up on Arnold Schwarzenegger so I checked up on the site periodically. The Arnold Fans produces a steady flow of articles about upcoming Arnold films, what Arnold should do next, what his co-stars are up to. Everything Schwarzenegger. This isn’t an ironic mocking of a ’80s action hero. It’s celebration in its purest form. Child-like enthusiasm about the movies and life of one particular star.
The man behind The Arnold Fans is Randy Jennings, an illustrator out of California who has maintained the site for over a decade and has been invited to countless Arnold related red carpets and other events. Randy is a true fan. The biggest there is.
I’ve known Randy for a long time now and consider him a good friend, so when we met up at last year’s Comic Con and he told me he was having a photo shoot for the cover of his upcoming book ‘Arnold’s Army‘ I asked if I could tag along. I was able to see Randy in Super Fan form as he worked his Arnold fan’s magic and got Sandahl Bergman (Valeria from ‘Conan the Barbarian’) to join a bunch of other costumed fans for the shoot.
Jennings’ book is not about Arnold Schwarzenegger the man, but about all of the Arnold fans across the world. With ‘Arnold’s Army’ Jennings sought out others like him, those dedicated fans looked to the Austrian Oak as a hero, on and off the screen.
ET: Before we get to all of the Arnold stuff, I wanted to talk about your art career, which is pretty impressive. How did you end up doing freelance illustration? You worked corporate art production before, was freelance something you were looking do to?
RJ: Around 1999, my once full-time graphic arts job was reduced to 3 days a week with Tuesdays and Thursdays off. I still came into the office 5 days a week and on my free two days, I’d use the computers and resources there to look for side jobs. Back in those days I wouldn’t find much freelance work opportunities but I’d still use the day to strengthen my portfolio. At that time, I don’t think I was looking to be a full-time freelancer. I just wanted full-time work.
Your main freelance work is in children’s books. Was this a market you sought out?
Originally I wanted to be a Disney artist. From childhood up through college, I dreamt of an office at the Disney studios. I studied background paintings in the films and focused on them in my senior year. Just when my portfolio was nearly ready to go, I began hearing tales of Disney artists complaining of their overworked and underpaid jobs. So after I graduated, I looked closer to home for fun jobs.
There was an opening at Galoob Toys in San Francisco to be an artist on the Star Wars division for their upcoming Phantom Menace toys. I had a very good interview but I didn’t get it since I only had a few days notice to arrange a sci-fi portfolio from scratch. Over time I’d have several more interviews for projects which I would have killed for. They all made me pump up my drawing skills in various genres.
Although I didn’t get any of those dream jobs, after a year of trying, I came out of this with a bigger and more respectable portfolio which helped me eventually land many freelance gigs, including my first children’s book: ‘Boing Boing Bear.’
How do your work days go? As a freelance illustrator, how much of your day is spent working versus trying to find work?
Currently I am booked at least until the end of the year thanks to my commitment to three current children’s books. Usually, December is very slow but I’m lucky this time. Towards the beginning of the year I did have a slow period. In times like those, I work as long as I can and look for freelance jobs on Guru.com and other freelance-geared sites. But no matter what, I’m always at my computer from 8am to 4:30pm.
If I only have 3 hours of work on a slow day, I’m spending the remaining 5 hours looking for work or creating personal art which could be later used for a portfolio piece. I’m not one to lack discipline.
Besides illustration you’re also the main man behind the Arnold Schwarzenegger fansite The Arnold Fans. Every now and then you’ll post a Arnold themed image that you created, but pretty much your two interests rarely meet. How did Arnold Schwarzenegger and your site The Arnold Fans become such a priority for you?
TheArnoldFans is an after-hours hobby as I don’t let it interfere with my work. Maybe I’ll put up a quick tweet or Facebook post throughout the work day but the Arnold site really doesn’t come into play until after 10pm usually or on weekends.
No, that’s not true, I do let the occasional Los Angeles trip interfere. Sometimes movie studios invite me onto Arnold’s sets or I cover roundtable interviews or red carpets. If I take off a couple of days in the middle of the work week, I try to work a few hours on weekends here and there to make up for that time.
You’ve made a good career out of illustration — is there a next step? A career goal you’re working towards?
As long as I’m working on a job in the art field, I’ll always be happy. Give me a pencil, paints, or Adobe illustrator and Photoshop and I’ll be a happy man for life. My favorite jobs are sci-fi and fantasy related but I’d also be very happy with doing nothing but children’s books all year.
As a father myself of a three-year-old, I feel like I’m working on these books for him and I like to sneak in little personal images or characters. Like If I’m doing a book about dogs, you bet my dog, Fiona, will make a cameo on a page. Sometimes I’ll even put myself in a crowd.
On the other hand, there’s always the dream job of being offered a position by Schwarzenegger himself to work for him at his office in PR or as a personal assistant. It’s probably unlikely that I would get such an awesome position but I do think I am qualified.
Some might think running TheArnoldFans.com for 15 years certainly shows my loyalty to the heavily-promoted action hero. Maybe you’ve convinced me to write Arnold a letter for such a position to join his staff? That would be my next step.
One thing that your book Arnold’s Army illustrates is just how much time and effort you as a fan have put into being a part of all things Arnold. There are trips to movie premiers and film locations. You even travel once a year to see Arnold’s bodybuilding competition, the Arnold Classic.
I think it’s pretty amazing how dedicated you are, which your book does a great job of portraying. How do your family and friends feel about your fascination with Arnold?
I try not to talk about Arnold as much as possible unless someone brings him up first. Probably the ONLY times I bring Arnold up to my wife is when Arnold announces a new movie and I’ll tell her what new film he signed on for. Or I’ll tell her highlights from an Arnold-related vacation such as The Arnold Classic.
I know my friends and family don’t share the same Arnold-admiring interest and I won’t preach it either. But if a friend brings up an Arnold topic and doesn’t mind the discussion, I’ve certainly got something to say.
What was the inspiration for starting The Arnold Fans? Do you remember your first post?
My first involvement with the site was contributing a weekly Arnold cartoon panel. That probably lasted for 3 weeks and then I wanted to become more involved with the growth of TheArnoldFans so I started writing a few quick news stories and editorials.
I don’t remember my first story from 1997, but I’m sure I was very proud at the time seeing my name attached to a story and featured on the top Arnold news site.
Was there a point in your life when you realized just how much your Arnold fandom was taking over?
That seems to be a reoccurring issue for me. Perhaps once a year it will dawn on me how involved and caught up in the Austrian web I have become. Sometimes I step into my Arnold room to view the world’s biggest Schwarzenegger collection and I’ll think to myself, ‘What have I done?”
Other times I’ll feel on top of the world, knowing that Arnold is such a supporter of my website that he’ll set us up on the red carpets or film sets. I’ve certainly come a long ways. When I first started in my 20s with the site, it was a major goal to just get an Arnold autograph. Now I hear from Arnold’s friends, co-stars and film studios regularly through emails and phone calls. Arnold even called me at home one year for a T3 interview. I’m caught up in this inner circle…and it’s an exciting place to be.
You had a huge chunk of time when Arnold was governor of California, and doing nothing movie related. I’m an avid reader of The Arnold Fans site and was impressed how you were able to still put out content for the site. How difficult was that time when Arnold stopped making films?
The site lived on; even though many of us were depressed as all hell that he was stepping away from heavily-anticipated films such as West World and With Wings As eagles. Movie news was terminated indeed but it was a great opportunity to learn more about the fans during that time.
Our community bond strengthened over these years. The best and ballsiest fans stayed together and we got to do a lot of news stories on everyone’s personal stories and shared pictures of our tattoos and our collections. Much of the years were spent watching old movies or listening to ArnoCorps.
One of the strong points of your book Arnold’s Army is how it comes at its subject from the fan perspective. You have a good story of being on set of ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ as a member of the press and winning an opportunity to be turned into a terminator from the Terminator make up department, which is an awesome prize that none of the other press members wanted. When you get access like that, what’s your approach? How do you balance fan and professional?
As much as I’d love to try to get an opportunity to hang out with Arnold longer than my usual 2 minutes, I’m now a professional. I probably get to see Arnold three to five times a year depending on his projects and I’d say I only ask for an autograph once every four to five years. There’s always a few other people around me when Arnold is in the room and it’s easy to spot the very anxious fans or the children who are giddy with excitement. For their sake, I stand back and let them have their incredible moments. I’ve had mine.
For me now, it’s all about keeping Arnold’s popularity up, reminding the fans why he’s such a badass, and to get a good news exclusive (when possible). Besides, the more respectful I am in the room and the more I show some class, the more likely I’ll continue to be invited back by Arnold and the film studios.
Beyond Arnold, do have anything else that you’re that dedicated to? As a kid, did you do a lot of collecting of one thing? Has anything ever come close to knocking Arnold off of the top of your list?
I’m also a hardcore Star Wars geek. That film rocked my childhood world and began my need to draw. From my childhood, I still have tons of character drawing from that galaxy. My mom kept all my drawings and one would think that’s all I was into as a kid. My love for the original trilogy film never diminished. I collected the toys as a kid, as a teen and as an adult (having stopped only around 4 years ago).
For years I questioned which I would pick if I HAD to choose between al things Star Wars and the Arnold universe. I couldn’t decide. In the end I had to put one of my massive collections into storage. it was either I display an Arnold room or a Star Wars room. Jedis might have midichlorians running through them but my blood pumps strongest for the world’s greatest action hero. Hundreds of Star wars collectibles were put into storage. Now if only Arnold will star in the next Star Wars films…that would be the best of both worlds.
Why Arnold? For years I’ve been giving the standard response that he inspires us all for greatness. He’s generous with his charities, his witty, he’s a leader, he starred in some of the greatest films of action, comedy, sci-fi and fantasy…and he’s the world’s greatest success story. Blah, blah, blah, right? Well, for you Chris, I’m going to give you an exclusive and tell you the real reason Arnold means so much to me. The answer: He’s just fucking cool.