Koi Carreon is one of the artists behind the 2015 National Book Award nominated graphic novel, Mythspace (written by Paolo Chikiamco). Currently, Koi works as a freelance artist and illustrator, whose commissioned work includes variant covers for Star-Lord, Weirdworld, and most recently Voltron #4 (coming out in November, 2017). When he’s not listening to podcasts while working or creating amazing art to share it online, he’s usually either playing video games, watching movies or TV, or simply reading comic books. You can follow Koi and his gorgeous artwork on Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and 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’ve drawn a lot when I was a kid. But we never had an artist in our family that I can look up to, so I never considered it as a career back then. But it was all that I knew how to do, and I wanted to learn. It’s all what I wanted to do back then, so after a semester at a different course, I shifted courses to Fine Arts, and learned how to properly draw there.
I never really considered comics as a career. Not until when I graduated from college and I couldn’t get a job. I was consuming a lot of comics and manga because what else am I going to do if I don’t have a job haha.
One day I just thought of doing my own comics. I did a 20-page comic. It was crap but I enjoyed the process. And that was it. That was when I thought I wanted to do this.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
Not being able to draw as fast as I wanted to. Not being good enough. And there’s always this nagging feeling of I could’ve done better with this and that, and wanting to edit stuff until it was perfect. The internet! It’s a gift and a curse—too much distraction!
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
I still struggle with these things until now. I just keep at it, hoping that I’m getting better with each piece that I draw. I do think I’ve gotten slower, though, as my work got more detailed. And man, I can’t escape the internet. It has consumed me.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
Drawing. There’s just no other way around it. If you want to get good at drawing then you have to invest a lot of time and effort in trying to get good at it. I’ve sacrificed a lot trying to get good at it, and I’m still nowhere as good as where I want to be.
I always get asked, “How do I start making comics?”, and my answer always is, “You just do it.” It’s not going to be good of course. Nobody ever got an award winning something the first time they do it. Chefs never really cooked mouth-watering food the first time they boiled something.
People always expect a technical answer and a step by step explanation on how to do it. Maybe a panel by panel analysis on what to start with (we both know you ain’t gonna follow it anyway). You can devour as many videos, books, tutorials as you want but as long as you don’t pick up your pen and put lines on your paper, you won’t get the answer that you’re looking for.
Art, as much technical people think it is, is more of self-discovery, learning about it firsthand, learning about yourself. Discovering what works for you and what doesn’t. Put the hours in it. Put years in it and that’s when you’ll see how far you have really gotten.
And man, I’m a really bad friend. I don’t attend anything, just so that I get to draw. It’s all I do every day, just draw and draw. I know it’s kind of sad, when you think about it. But there’s always this rush that I feel whenever I finish a piece. And that makes me happy.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
I wish I’d known that this is hard work. I would’ve taken it more seriously. I wish I’d known that there are no shortcuts, and that if you want something, you have to work for it. But this is the most satisfying, ever.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making art or comics?
To improve my art, I guess. It’s what really drives me. So when people say that I’ve improved over the years, I appreciate it a lot. And whenever you finish a piece, and you know in your heart that you did good, there is nothing more special than that.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
Mostly work and mostly drawing. The work that I accept now always involves drawing so that I would still be drawing even when working hahaha!
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
Just focus on the work. If I really need to finish something, what I do is I don’t open my browser—because that’s where all my distractions come from. I’d just be Googling something, like say a car, then the next thing I know I’d find myself watching videos of the best car chases in movies—something like that. So no, no browsing for me when I need to work.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I power through it. A couple of years ago, I was an in-betweener. That would mean that I was tasked to draw the frames in between the key frames for certain scenes. Those frames would typically range from 20 to 30 per scene, depending on the action involved. I was often tasked with movement-heavy scenes because we were a small team. If the action in the scenes was small, the key frame artist would handle that. So yeah, 20-30 frames a day, I couldn’t afford to feel uninspired. And I guess that’s one of the good things I learned from that gig.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
Landing that variant cover gig from Marvel is probably up there for me. And the cover for Voltron because I really like the old show and I love the new show from Netflix. So yeah, its high up there for me. And of course, Mythspace. I’m still proud of that small book Paolo, the gang, and I did.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
Being so slow. I have tons of comic book projects that are still works-in-progress.
Not that I consider it a failure, but I want to take the time now and talk about Mythspace and why I’ve failed and am still failing to draw the follow up for that. Comics, as much fun as I have whenever I’m doing it, takes a lot of time. And time costs a lot. We never notice, but whenever a project would take a month or so to do, it eats up resources, cash. And right now, I don’t really have the extra cash to take a break from work to do it.
I know maybe I can do it in my spare time right? But that spare time I have, the very little it is now, I use it for self care. To take a break from all the drawings I’m doing everyday. To keep me motivated so that I can keep working. I know people would want to see a follow up for that. For the story of Bros and the gang, and I too would want that, I still get all excited whenever I’d reread the story Paolo had planned for it. And I’m the biggest fan of that book. I guess, what I wanted to ask is keep the hope alive. Because I too am still hoping that I could get back to it as soon as I can.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
The internet! Post works on your social media pages. I got work through the internet. And, of course, nothing beats going to cons and meeting artists there. Artists you admire, people who admire your work. Make friends, say hi. I’m still not good at it, talking to people. But I try haha.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
I guess it’s, “To make this work.” To make a living out of drawing these things that I enjoy. To make it a financially viable thing that I could actually say that I made a living out of drawing.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
I guess, life in general. The best stories are the stories that you can personally relate to. Experience life to the fullest. From the highest point to the lowest and everything in between.
Might sound contradictory coming from me because I usually stay at home working, but I go out of my way to experience things that I like. I like drawing scenery, mountains and stuff. I used to go hiking so that I could experience it myself. Nothing beats observing from life. I wanted to improve my anatomy before, so I signed up for Muay thai class hahaha!
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
Art has this way of making an impact in somebody else’s life. It has this way of shaping him, molding him and making him keep on going at it even if it’s a constant struggle. I want to be able to do that someday, if somehow, in some way my little postcard made you smile the same way that I did when I first saw stuff from people whose art I admire, then I guess I did my job.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
I would probably say Star Wars, Akira and probably Princess Mononoke.
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills?
For books, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki, Hellboy by Mike Mignola, Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis, World of Edena by Moebius
For videogames, I love the art of Banner Saga.
Jake Parker has a YouTube channel where he usually answers questions regarding art and making a career out of it, it’s good too.
Artgerm’s talk from 3dsense last year is really good as well. Lots of really good insights on using social media to get work.
Tres Komikeros podcasts by John Amor, Butch Mapa and Alex Cipriano. It’s a comics podcast and since the hosts are comics artists themselves, I get to learn stuff from them whenever they’d talk about art.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
I think I’d like to live and work in a quiet rural place as long as its not too hot or too cold and as long as the neighborhood is quiet and I have access to good wifi, I’m good. What can I say, I’m a simple man.
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?
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 really inspires you to get better.)
Jake Parker probably. I always listen to his videos whenever I’m having that self-doubt feeling.