JV Tanjuatco is the head of CB Lab Media Services, which serves as a comic book imprint. In collaboration with Good Intentions Publishing, he helped coordinate and publish the graphic novel anthology Stay: 21 Comic Stories, which includes the work of 17 creators working on 20 different stories. He also worked on another publication, Open Doors, Open Hearts for the Israeli government, and is currently publishing and selling two comic book titles, War of Whispers and Mythopolis, both of which they sell online and at local comic book conventions and comic book stores. JV enjoys collecting graphic novels and blu-rays, watching movies, tv shows, reading books, and listening to music. You can find out more about JV Tanjuatco on Facebook. And you can also click on the following links to learn more about Comic Book Lab and their two imprints, Mythopolis and War of Whispers.
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’ve always had a love for comic books. It was the perfect pastime for an introvert like me. While other kids moved on to sports and dating, I found myself enthralled not just by the stories but by the craft of creating them. This fascination turned into an urge to write comic books. While I worked in the corporate world, I dabbled in comic book writing on occasion. Nothing got published, though I did enjoy writing them.
After years of working in a good job in the corporate sector, I found myself wondering if this was truly the career I wanted. It provided me financial stability but I wasn’t fulfilled creatively. It left me greatly conflicted but I decided to play it safe. That is, until my company decided to dissolve my department and offered us two choices – stay and shift to another department or take a severance package.
It was like the universe was telling me “the time for searching was over. It is time to make a definite decision on the course of your life!” I was torn! I wanted to write comics but I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to make it a successful career and I was afraid of how my family would react to such a decision. I needed to work on these issues first before any decision could be made.
The crucial turning point was when I had an energy healing session that cleared my limiting beliefs and made me realize that I, not anyone else, needed to give myself the permission to steer the course of my life. After that session, it was like a heavy weight got lifted from my shoulders and I chose to make a career in creating comics.
The next day, I promptly submitted my resignation letter and took the severance package. I had personal investments that I used as my passive income to keep me afloat financially (it’s really important to have passive income, otherwise DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB. While you’re starting out, you still need money. DO NOT BE A STARVING ARTIST. I cannot stress that enough. If I didn’t have the resources, I would have stayed in the company and worked on comic books after office hours).
I’m also quite grateful that I have a tremendous amount of support from my wife. Without her, I don’t think I could have been able sustain the work I’ve been doing these last couple of years. If you have a family to consider, you need to make sure that they are onboard with this career shift.
Months after my resignation, I took classes in Comic School Manila with Tintin Pantoja. That helped me understand and learn the craft of comic book writing. I also studied the scripts of professional comic writers who worked for Marvel and DC. After that, I set up a business called Comic Book Lab that offered comic book services to clients who wanted to create their own comic books. Within a couple of months, I was commissioned to do two comic books, Mythopolis and War of Whispers.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
Ever since I started, I’ve struggled with my ego the most. I believed that I had created books of the highest quality that would be in demand right away! When I published my first comic, I thought it was as simple as having a presence in the conventions and sales would automatically follow. How arrogant was that?!
My peers in the comic business had been working hard for years and here I was expecting to be an overnight sensation! In my first years of selling, it would gnaw at me when sales in conventions were low. I would have moments of doubt and wonder if the books were any good.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
The reality of the situation was I wasn’t putting enough effort to push the books. Now I am constantly conceiving of and applying new strategies to generate awareness of my comics.
I really had to get over myself and put myself out there and promote the books. In comics, there’s no truth to the saying “If you build it, they will come.” The books won’t sell themselves. You have to go to the readers and show them why they should care about your book, especially because there’re so many brilliant titles out there vying for their attention.
I came to realize that in this type of business, I had to hustle and keep on going. I had gotten used to clocking in and out of work when I was an employee. I was my own boss now and even though I had flexible hours, I had to make those hours count or nothing would happen.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
Practice really does make perfect or rather improves your craft. There’s no other way around it. Once you’ve studied and learned all you can about publishing, you just have to dive in. Publishing is made up of several components and it can be quite overwhelming.
The only way to master publishing is to keep repeating the process. As you go though each stage repeatedly with every project, you will eventually get familiar with all the different aspects of publishing. This has also helped me become a better writer. Writing comic books is a collaborative process – the script impacts all aspects and you need to play to your team’s strengths. Each project is a different learning experience that has helped me grow as a writer.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
This is in relation to your question about what my biggest struggle is - I wish I had realized sooner that publishing comics is success in itself. It’s a feat to manage putting a book together and share it with everyone. So if you’ve made a comic, give yourself a pat on the back.
Take note, you really cannot be satisfied with publishing one comic book project and simply waiting for sales and critical acclaim to follow. I drove myself crazy doing that. I learned that once the project is complete, it’s on to the next comic book. Better yet, have many comic book projects running concurrently so you don’t focus all your energy on just one book and pin all your hopes on it.
At this early stage in the business, I’ve also taken on projects that are outside the scope of comics, such as social media marketing campaigns. These projects help to expand the sources of income.
Financial and critical success will follow if you work hard and smart at your craft. Other artists seem to operate the same way. Look at directors and actors. They don’t wait for box office numbers and reviews, they move on to the next movie.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making your art?
The craft of comic book storytelling and the type of stories you can tell through sequential storytelling fascinates me to the point that I want to create them myself. There’s an indescribable pleasure when the synergy between writing and imagery are completely in sync that I want to share with readers. I want to put them on cathartic journeys that will bring them to powerful truths and mind-blowing epiphanies.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I get up at around 6:30 am (earlier if possible). To wake myself up, I exercise. I take a bath. I eat some apples. I bring my wife to work. When I get back home, I surf the Internet for news and social media online while eating (if I’m still hungry) for an hour.
After that, I answer emails and send messages to the artists to provide my inputs and check the status of the projects. I usually end up having a late lunch, and then I start writing (scripts, proposals, emails, and messages) in the afternoon. I work all the way until early evening. By that time, I need to step out of the apartment and I take walks around the neighborhood for exercise.
We have dinner and if I’m not satisfied with my output, I keep working until 10 pm. I keep later hours when there are tight deadlines to reach.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
I try to keep the Internet time to an hour. Yes, I could probably bring it down to thirty minutes but I notice when I do that, the next day I end up spending two hours on the Internet, which is completely unproductive! So I try to balance it out. Good social media (no bad vibes) is a good outlet for my stress so I like to have it in moderation versus not having it at all.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I step away from the laptop when I find myself stumped writing a script. I take a walk or do something else. I prefer walking, as that’s when I usually discover how to move forward in a story. I like it when the solution comes to me because it’s usually a twist in the plot that I didn’t see coming. And if I can’t see it then hopefully neither will the audience when they read the book.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
2018 was epic for us because we published the graphic novel anthology Stay: 21 Comic Stories. I got to collaborate with Angelo R. Lacuesta, who’s a Palanca Award-winning author. I expanded my network of artists by a quantum leap, working with Trese’s Kajo Baldisimo, Eisner Award winner John Amor, Roy Allan Martinez, Ara Villena, Jim Jimenez, Randy Valiente, Chocnut-san, Fritz Casas, Ace Continuado, and many of the most brilliant professionals in the business.
Until now I can’t believe how lucky we were to get such a group of A-list talent! Overall, we worked concurrently with seventeen artists on 21 stories and completed the book in five months in time for our launch in Komikon Grande 2018! It was an honor to learn from these pros and it’s opened my mind to how I can expand Comic Book Lab’s core business!
In addition to that, the book got critical recognition from CNN Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philiipine Star, Spot.Ph, Esquire, and Coconuts Manila.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
Ever since I started my writing career, I’ve been submitting scripts/proposals to comic book competitions from publishers in the US and here in the Philippines. I haven’t won yet. But I’m not sure that can be defined as a failure though. Failure feels so final. But it won’t stop me from submitting scripts when the next competition comes around.
Not winning at these competitions can mean many things – it’s more a matter of preference than it is quality, or there was someone who actually worked that much harder than you to make a better story. And that’s okay as well, this should strengthen your resolve to learn how to be the best. It’s important to realize that failure is an excellent motivator than it is a roadblock.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
Comic book conventions have been a great way to introduce the books to my prospective audience and get a feel for the market. I get to find out what specific types of people find my work engaging. Be friendly. If they like you there’s a greater probability that they will buy a copy.
How you pitch to them is a good test to see how well you see your product. If you can get them sold on your elevator pitch then you’ve most likely got yourself a customer, plus it reveals how confident and familiar you are with your own product.
If you don’t believe in what you are doing then chances are that this business may not be right for you. If they don’t purchase then smile and thank them for dropping by. It’s also fun! If they buy copies they usually ask you for your autograph!
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
Originally, I wanted to build a portfolio big enough for major publishers such as Marvel and DC to take notice of me and recruit me to become a regular writer on their books. If they do come around then that would be great but I’m committed to growing Comic Book Lab into a big business with hundreds of active projects globally.
I attended a Master Class by Eisner Award-winning writer Marjorie Liu a few weeks ago and she said something that really struck me. She told us that comics could be about ANYTHING and opened my mind about the countless possibilities for Comic Book Lab.
I want CBL to provide work for all the comic book creators in the country and really be able to make it a livelihood instead of their sideline. I’d also use these resources to continue to create titles for stories that I personally want to tell. It would be cool if they become the next big IPs (Intellectual Properties) that will be adapted into movies, tv shows, toys, video games, and novels.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
I have many sources. They come from my experiences in life, what people share with me, dreams, the news, comics, movies, books (fiction and non-fiction), and TV shows. They are the triggers for my ideas. From there, I just play with the ideas in my head and visualize how I would do them.
After that, I record them in my notebook so I won’t forget them. I do notice that the most potent ideas tend to stick in my brain whether or not I write them down. I sit on these ideas for a while. It’s almost as if my subconscious is piecing them altogether until one day I decide to flesh them out further into an actual plot.
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?
Part of the reason I left my corporate job was because I felt that I wasn’t living up to my upmost potential. Honestly, I couldn’t help putting up on a front as a manager. While I was capable, I didn’t feel comfortable in the role. Comic book creating really plays up to my strengths in writing and creativity. I’m true to myself now and it’s such a liberating feeling! I have a confidence in myself that I have never known in my life before I made this life-altering choice!
NOTE: This section contains affiliate links. In plain English, that just means that if you buy a product through any of the links below, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s a great way to support the magazine, and at the same time improve your art by learning something new. ^_^
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
For comics, it was the Incredible Hulk run by Peter David. David redefined a character that seemingly reached a creative dead end (man turns into monosyllabic monster when angry). He breathed new life into the character, showing us that there was so much more that could be done through smart writing.
In novels, it was The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. The prose was so vivid that I felt like I was transported to this fantastical and surreal world.
It’s a tough call when it comes to movies but I’d pick Die Hard. All the key elements - the script, the direction, the cinematography, and the acting – are seemingly in perfect creative alignment with one another. One didn’t stand out from the rest, they all served to make this entertaining package of cinema.
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)
Writers On Comics Scriptwriting by Mark Salisbury – Learn from the best writers in the business – Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and so on.
For workshops, go attend Comic School Manila by Tintin Pantoja and the 5th Comic Book Creators Workshop. They’ll give you the skills you need to become a comic book creator.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
I would love to have a beach house somewhere in Mactan Island, Cebu. I love the beach. It’s the kind of nature that makes me flow creatively. But I also need that balance of civilization and socialization as well so it helps to have the city of Cebu nearby.
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?
Tough question. There are so many brilliant creators out there! If I had to pick one though then it would have to be Neil Gaiman, in terms of craft, dialogue, plotting, and characterization, his Sandman series is the comic book creating at its finest.
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.)
It’s still Neil Gaiman. It helps that on the deluxe editions of some of his graphic novels, he includes his scripts for the issues. His commentary on his scripts make for great teaching tips. I’ve always found his writing style to be intimidating and he was the chief reason why I was reluctant to become writer. Now I challenge myself to be as good or even better. You have to. You can’t be anything else but the best in this business.