Andrew Villar is an art teacher at the Community of Learners School for Children, for both elementary and high school. He is also the art director for Batibot, the director of Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas, and one of the heads of a small group of artists that attend toy and comic convention called, Convention Arists.
Andrew Villar is known for his comic Agents of Ambush, which appears daily in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and has several self-published works, including Agents of Ambush, Hari, and Malate. He is currently working new comics under the titles, Princess Buttercup and the MP, “-30-“ in collaboration with Jess F. Santiago, and “The Empress of Zulu” in collaboration with model and entrepreneur Avi Siwa.
You can find out more about Andrew Villar and his work on Facebook.
Q: Everyone has an origin story. Could you share with us the exact moment (or moments) wherein you realized that you wanted to become an artist?
I was really young when I realized I wanted to be an artist. I remember I used to draw cars when I was 5 (yep I still remember). And when I was around 7, there was this full page Purefoods ad on the paper promoting Voltes 5. I attempted to draw it several times, but it was always a disaster. In a family reunion, my Tito Billy took a white cartolina and copied the ad (yes, dala dala ko ang page ng newspaper like it was a toy). I watched him draw and learned a lot from the way he drew my fave robot.
After that, I was able to draw Voltes, Batman, Spiderman etc etc. And I realized I wanted to do this when I grew up. Draw pop culture icons. Well, actually, they’re called cartoon stuff or “mga pambatang drawings.” (Cartoons were considered only for kids during those times… well actually they are, but I wanted to watch, read and draw them for the rest of my life)
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
The struggle is to be the best. In elementary, I had a classmate (THE GREAT GRANDIER BELLA…look him up, he’s still great!) who was trained by Fernando Sena when he was Grade 1. So whenever there are art contests in school, he always won. I was the third placer or sometimes I didn’t have any place at all. So I had to think on how to win.
I studied drawings by Jim Davis and Pol Medina in High School. I thought, if I can’t do realistic stuff and beat Grandier from contests, then I’ll just have to go with an original style, an original look. I went on to do a cartoonish style and then mastered that.
Fast forward to after college, my friends and I wanted to be published. It was the era of comics! The era where all of our drawings looked like Jim Lee’s or Rob Liefeld’s. We approached GASI‘s cousin publication, Sonic Triangle and proposed an anthology comics called Metal Gear. It was accepted and was paid for a number of issues. But Metal Gear was never published. GASI closed down. Our group disbanded.
After that, only one in our group became successful in the world of comics. He migrated to the US and found a comics gig there for Antartic Press. Today Rod Espinosa is one of our best Filipino US published Manga artists.
Fast forward to 2006, I was able to get a comic strip gig at Manila Bulletin. Ambush appeared there Sundays for 8 years until I transferred to Inquirer, 2014.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
I just drew my way away from those struggles. Comics is like something I just needed to do. Actually, I never stopped submitting my work to publications. Until I realized that if no publisher wants to take in my work, then I’ll just simply self-publish. I learned about self-publishing from a group of women artists who publishes KOMIKERA (not to be confused with KOMIKERO ha) for an event (di ko pa alam ito noong time na yun) [I didn’t know about it at the time] called Komikon.
I learned to create comics by photocopying my works… then eventually to offset. MAGASTOS! [EXPENSIVE!] It’ll really take a big toll from your budget. But the sight of your very own book… the smell of newly offset printed books…WOW! Something that is priceless.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
Practice. That will really level up your skills. Also, research new materials! Explore other stuff. You don’t need to go digital, just explore!
For me, someone pushed me to level up my skills. She is my greatest critic. Maybe get someone who won’t just applaud your works, but someone who can push you to do your best!
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
I have always known that artists have difficulty in earning money. Something that my mom had engraved in my mind since I was in high school (I would hear my mom in my head…. ANG ART SA SIDE LANG YAN. [Art is only done on the side]) So, I don’t know if I have anything I wanted to know before this career.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making your art?
I want to make something new. I want to tell more Ambush stories.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I have a day job as a teacher. I draw at cafes after work, or if I don’t have budget for cafes, I just draw at home, early in the morning. I sleep early and wake up early.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
Art is my distraction for all those challenges I encounter in life.
Facebook is probably the only distraction when I draw. Hahaha. I turn off the phone.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I go to toy kingdom or Toys R Us to destress. Sleep helps too.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
Agents of Ambush is my win.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
When I was kicked out of the Manila Bulletin. I felt really bad at that time. I felt I was a big disappointment to my editor. I wish I wasn’t.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
Attend shows/conventions. That’s the best way for people to know who you are, to meet new people and to see your works too. And my advice is to attend different kinds of conventions. Explore! Different places!
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
I still want an Ambush movie. That has been my goal ever since. I was close to this dream, but obviously nothing happened. Tumanda na si Heart Evangelista, wala na nangyari. [Heart Evangelista is older now, and still nothing’s happened] Ahehehe.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
In the books I read, movies I’ve seen, and also life experiences. Especially those most hurtful, you just have to express that through art.
Q: What is your big “WHY”? Why do you feel the need to make art? Who are you doing it for? What’s the hidden reason behind your big dream?
I always wanted to do this for my kids. To provide them. But what I earn from comics isn’t enough. BUT! I was able to share these experiences to them. They see me draw, they see me organize our booths at conventions, they see how to self publish… now all three of my kids are doing their own stuff for conventions. Most of the time, nowadays, my kids are the ones who man our booths already and I can go around and chill.
Ganoon naman eh di ba? [That’s the way it is, right?] What’s always the end goal? To be able to share what you know to the next generation. I think I’ve done that with my kids and also with my students.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
AGENTS OF AMBUSH: GI JOE, Beetle Bailey and Psylocke of Xmen
Malate: the Before trilogy
In general: STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns…oooh ooh Larry Alcala’s Siopawman!
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills? (Feel free to plug in as many as you’d like)
I give workshops… sa akin na lang kayo magpaturo. Ahehehe.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
In Lucasfilm… ‘nuff said.
Q: Name ONE artist/writer that, if you could, you would pick their brain and find out all the hidden secrets behind their amazing work?
Chris Claremont… or JK Rowling
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
(Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally. Can be someone you look up to, or someone whose art has inspired you to get better, over the years.)
VOLTES FIVE and BATMAN! Ahehehe
I have loved the works of three storytellers for years… George Lucas, Steven Speilberg and JK Rowling