Noel Pascual is a researcher and writer who took up Library Science in UP Diliman. He has written several indie komiks including “Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents”, “Patay Kung Patay”, and is one of the creators working on ABS-CBN Publishing’s “Shake Rattle & Roll” books. He also dabbles in illustration and some of his art has appeared online and in print, including a comic for Esquire Philippines. He likes to go to the movies whenever his schedule allows. You can contact him and see some of his works through the Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents FB page.
AJ Bernardo is a freelance comic artist based in Quezon City. Together with writer Noel Pascual, he is known for helping bring to life the comics, “Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents” and “Patay Kung Patay”.
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?
NOEL: As a kid, I always used to draw comics at the back of my school notebooks and at one point, perhaps in Grade 4, I created a superhero comic about some of my classmates. I think that was the first time I let somebody else outside of my immediate family read a comic that I created. Fast forward to years later when I’m in college and a member of a Film Org. I still had dreams of being a comics creator, although I hadn’t really drawn, or had some artist friends draw for me for quite a while. But being in a film org composed mainly of Fine Arts students, there was always the random conversation about translating this or that story in the comic medium instead of in film. After a while, I ended up writing a comics script myself, showing it to my org mate, AJ Bernardo, and that ended up as issue 1 of Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents which we started to sell in Komikon.
AJ: My grandfather was an artist. Everybody doodled as a child. Having someone to look up to at a young age, even if you weren’t encouraged to, I guess that empowers you a bit. I fell out of drawing in high school in favor of what counts as a social life at the time. When it was time to choose a course for college, I was like, “I can draw a bit. I’m not super good but it’s all I have. I guess I’d go to art school.”
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
NOEL: As a creator of indie comics, it’s mainly the distribution and selling side of the industry that presented the biggest hurdle.
Aside from the conventions wherein we’re able to sell our wares, there hasn’t been an easy way to get our comics into more bookstores in Manila, and much more difficult to have them in stores outside of Metro Manila.
AJ: Not being able to draw as fast, and the insecurity that comes with comparing yourself to other artists, most especially established ones. It’s debilitating.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
NOEL: There are other venues aside from conventions where one can sell one’s comics. Sometimes you just have to be on the lookout for new places that would agree to sell your comics for you: some of these would be the usual comic book stores, some would be the hip new cafes and bars that cater to bibliophiles and board game enthusiasts. We’ve also gotten contacts who work in magazine publishing, and they’ve been willing to get us to create comics for their magazines, or hire us to do illustration work now and then.
AJ: It’s a constant struggle. It’s a reality for a lot of artists, and there’s no concrete way to overcome it other than to try to do better. I’ve been thinking of stepping out of drawing for a spell, so I can come back to it fresh—hopefully minus all the baggage that comes with it.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
NOEL: As a comics writer, it’s mostly just putting in the time to create more and more scripts, with the intention of having each one be the current best work you can put out.
AJ: Time. This should always be the case for any endeavor. You invest a lot of TIME learning and practicing. There’s just no other way. You manage it, and if needed (and more often than not, you’d have to), sacrifice your time with others for this thing that you want to be good at.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
NOEL: Time management skills. I could’ve probably come out with a lot more work, been a lot more productive if I had developed better time management skills early on. There’s always the potential for collaboration with other artists in the local comics industry, and as a writer, it’d be great if one had a lot of scripts and materials ready for other artists.
AJ: There’s no such thing as talent if you don’t practice. I had the fallacious assumption as a child that since this runs in the family, I don’t have to do anything to get good at it. Like a super power.
I only really started getting my head into drawing seriously only after art school. Now I’m 30 with barely 10 years of practice. I could have had double that amount of time if I never stopped doing it in my teens, with the added benefit of hardwiring all of that into your brain in the crucial formative years of 7 to 13.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making art or comics?
NOEL: Just the potential to work on new stories and to create something good that you yourself, the creator, would love to read is inspiration enough.
AJ: I’m in love with stories. I don’t think I can ever draw for art’s sake. You know, make this thing that’s just pretty to look at and nothing else. I have a lot of stories to tell and I can’t wait to tell them all. Stories are powerful enough to change people’s minds. I feel like that can be my contribution to the world.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
NOEL: I have some non-comics work—recently I’ve been working on film projects as a researcher—but pretty much most hours of the day are spent creating concepts for future comics. I’ve also been dabbling in comics illustration myself and am also currently working on a book project as an illustrator. Most parts of the day, thus, are spent in front of the computer, switching from word processor to Photoshop, depending on which particular project I’m currently working on.
AJ: I have an on and off-season. Right now, I’m deep into drawing Patay Kung Patay #4, which is due this November Komikon. This has been my routine this past month: wake up, finish the panel I didn’t finish last night because I passed out, coffee, breakfast, draw, rest my back, lunch, draw, rest my back, dinner, walk the dog, then pass out trying to finish a page.
After I finish a deadline, I usually take a few weeks to a month to be a little more relaxed, like watch a movie or series, check out a few comic books, mess around the internet, go out with friends, and exercise.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
NOEL: The Internet’s one of the biggest distractions. I have a program called “Freedom” which forces my computer to disconnect from the Internet for specified periods of time. Mostly it’s just the fear of possibly missing deadlines imposed by other people that keep me working, despite having many distractions in my environment.
AJ: When I’m beginning the work season, it’s very difficult to shake off the distractions. I usually attack distractions from two fronts: unconsciously (i.e. hacking the brain) and consciously (i.e. through sheer willpower).
For the former, one thing I’ve been trying recently is to exercise or go for a bike ride to exhaust my body as much as I can, so I can empty my mind. I also try to avoid caffeine at first because I get easily excitable, hence easily distracted. I also play music on a loop, usually those without lyrics, like jazz, metal, or motion picture soundtracks—sort of to lull me into a trance-like state.
For the latter, posting progress shots in social media because seeing the comments and reactions helps a lot. I also have an app that can block chosen websites. I set it to block about 24 hours at a time. Once I’m on my way, visualizing the finished product keeps me going.
If all else fails, there’s always the dawning realization that a deadline is a month away. The panic is usually more than enough to flush all distracting thoughts.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
NOEL: I read comics to get myself inspired to write. Sometimes you read the works of other people and you think to yourself, “What if this happened instead?” Sometimes, that serves as enough of a prompt to get the ball rolling when it comes to creating stories for comics.
AJ: I think inspiration is a luxury for those who don’t have to do this for a living. For the rest of us, you just have to get up in the morning and do the work until something snaps into place. I think Warren Ellis said something to the tune of that.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
NOEL: It’s a pretty simple Epic win, actually. Getting to sell Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents #1 for the very first time in Komikon was a pretty memorable moment in my life as a comics creator.
AJ: I’m usually so miserable while trying to finish a project, the very act of laying down the finishing touches, exporting the pages, and sending them off to the printers feels like such a big win. There’s nothing like it.
It’s like giving birth to something. It’s usually so painful to do, but when you’re over it, you so proud and satisfied that you wouldn’t mind doing it again.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
NOEL: There have been long stretches of time in my 20’s when I could say I was in a “non-productive” mode. I guess just keeping at it, actually finishing works, is the solution. No matter what, as long as you keep on creating new stuff, you’ll eventually improve in your craft. So, I guess the secret there is to lower one’s expectations of creative brilliance, at least with regard to one’s first few works.
AJ: I did a comic for my undergraduate thesis in art school. I talk about it a lot but will never dare show it to anyone else. It would be a great tragedy if the UP CFA library were to burn down, but there will be a small part of me that would be comforted that the culmination of my misspent youth is in ashes.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
NOEL: Basically, just going to conventions and releasing works, taking whatever opportunity comes along. I also attended a couple of writing workshops and I found that aside from the improvement in one’s craft, the new friends you make during the course of such activities can be people who would end up being very helpful to you in your professional life. Some would introduce you to somebody in need of a writer for a project, some would be able to help you put out a book as a publisher.
AJ: In this day and age, the best answer should be the INTERNET. But me and Noel are OLD. It feels like we’re not utilizing it to reach the maximum amount of people.
What has worked for us so far, is WORD OF MOUTH. The fact that we’re not too visible in social media is sort of what gives Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents its charm.
I’ve also gotten work off recommendations and from people seeing us at Komikon.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
NOEL: The ultimate dream is to eventually have all the resources needed to produce stories or creative content in whatever medium I’m interested in, and to have the ability to let these works reach an audience interested in them.
AJ: First, to get financially stable doing this thing that I love. Next is to be as good at it as I can. And lastly, to affect some kind of change long term, whether it be a cultural or social change.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
NOEL: Just everyday life and always asking oneself, “What if?”
AJ: I take a lot from humor. Usually the sillier, more twisted it is, the more it gets me going. I also take from other creative works and from life experiences, like most people.
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
NOEL: I find art interesting and I find the creation of art interesting. It’s a lucky thing there may be ways to make a living through something that interests me.
AJ: One can’t just be contented with simply EXISTING. You know, to work for a paycheck and go through the motions just like anyone else. You have to bring quality to your existence.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
NOEL: VALIS by Philip K. Dick because it’s one of the most mind-blowing novels ever written. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind because it’s got a really interesting sci-fi concept but it pulls on your heartstrings the entire movie, and Watchmen, because it’s just plain brilliant and you could read it again and again and always find something new in it.
AJ: Mulholland Drive, Watchmen, Wildcats 3.0
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, pod-casts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills?
NOEL: YouTube has all the tutorials one might need when it comes to improving your art skills, just watch one tutorial video, practice the main skill involved over and over again until it’s second nature, and repeat the process over and over. As a writer, there are also a lot of blogs dedicated to teaching the craft of writing, but mostly, improvement is just a matter of finding somebody who can give you useful critiques. Try to find out who’s good in the field of comics writing and who might be accessible to you, try to make contact and see if they’d be willing to help you as you try to work on your craft.
AJ: I used to listen to podcasts while working. These were a long time ago and better podcasts have come since: Deconstructing Comics, Webcomics Weekly, Tim’s Late Night Lounge and more recently, Helping Writers Become Authors. There’s also Feng Zhu’s Design Blog along with his YouTube videos.
Books on my shelf that are constantly referenced: The Art of Jaime Hernandez, James Jean’s Fables Covers, Ashley Wood’s Popbot, Studio Space, How to Draw Noir Comics, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, Figure Drawing: Design, and Invention and Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
NOEL: The beach would be great, as long as the internet’s reliable. Unless you’re trying to save yourself from distractions in which case no net would work just fine.
AJ: Anywhere with a lower cost of living but still accessible, near the ocean but tsunami-proof, several stories above ground but earthquake-proof.
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?
NOEL: Alan Moore.
AJ: Either Alan Moore for writing or Mike Mignola for art.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills? (Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally.)
NOEL: Alan Moore, I think.
AJ: Way before Facebook, I had a short email correspondence with Gerry Alanguilan. First, to air out my reaction for Elmer #1, and then to solicit advice on how to get started in the “biz”. He probably doesn’t remember it, but that stuck with me.