Tepai Pascual is a Fine Arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Since then, she has worked as an Art Director in a top advertising agency, and produced comic book series: “Mark 9 Verse 47” with Maika Ezawa; Noodle Boy, Alamat ng Matibay and Buhay Habangbuhay with Paolo Herras which is now a feature full length film. She is known for her National Book Award Nominated comic book, Maktan 1521 which was first featured in Komikon’s first indie comic anthology, Sulyap before becoming a full graphic novel published by Visprint. Now as the Creative Director of Meganon Comics, producing the comic anthologies like Lunatic and the comic coloring book for adults, Comicolor while making storyboards for TV and movie directors.
Maika Ezawa works as an engineer at ROHM LSI Design Phils Inc. When she’s not working or writing comic scripts, she often finds herself staring off into space. Otherwise she busy being productive at playing games, reading komiks, and browsing the comments sections around the web. She’s best known for her work with Tepai, Mark 9verse27, and has a reputation of being very loyal—as is evident from the loyalty award she received in high school.
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?
TEPAI: I don’t actually remember that actual moment. All I know is, I wanted to be an artist ever since I was a child.
MAIKA: I don’t really know when. All I can remember is that I’ve enjoyed telling and making-up stories in my head for a very long time. I just started writing them down in high school.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
TEPAI: My biggest struggle would be the first times.
First time to join Komikon and sell our comics (Mark 9verse47). We didn’t know at that time if people were going to buy and read our comics. First time to make our comics a trade paper back book, because we didn’t know if people would prefer to buy a bit more expensive book than buying zine-type black and white comics. The first time I jumped from a day job to a freelance work.
I think all of those who did this can relate to what I’m about to say, haha! When you are used to having a salary every month, it’s a bit difficult to move on without it. So freelancing calls for more work in the sense that you always need to look for work. Because if you don’t work, you don’t get money, and you don’t get to pay the bills. What I do love about this, though, is that I love what I’m doing. Plus, I don’t have to go to Makati every single day.
Add, also, since it’s the first time that I’ve owned a publishing house, it is, I believe, difficult as of the moment. Hahaha!
MAIKA: My biggest struggle is writing a slow-paced scene, especially when I have a scene in mind that is something I’m excited to write down. It happens all the time. It’s tough because I usually get stuck at this point. I get distracted by scenes, actions, and even dialogues that will occur way ahead in the story.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
TEPAI: It’s still a roller coaster to be honest. And I think it’s going to be like that for many more years. Hahaha!
MAIKA: I write everything down just to get it out of my system. At least I have a reference by the time I arrive at that scene.
But there are times that I have to stop, clear my head, and read the current scene I’m working on. Because I won’t be able write that scene until I’ve progressed from current one.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
TEPAI: Practice. That’s it. If I don’t draw or practice, I won’t be able to level up.
MAIKA: It was when I started sharing my stories and listening to people’s feedback.
When I started writing back in high school, I kept it to myself. I barely passed my language subjects, and so I was not confident at letting others read my work.
I started being able to share my stories by telling them to someone. It’s easy. I can drop a side comment or two within the story, and I receive a feedback immediately. But it’s usually a friendly exchange rather than critical feedback.
Mark 9verse47 was the first story that was actually read by someone. I recall Tepai asking someone to check it for grammatical errors. It came back bloodied with red marks on all of the pages, and feedback that I gave that person a headache.
After reading through it and re-typing it, I understood what my mistakes were. Until today, feedback helps me hone my skills. And it’s the courage to share stories that helps get that feedback. 😀
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
TEPAI: Learned how to save! Hahaha!
MAIKA: Read more. I would’ve probably fare more in writing if I read more books and comics.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making art or comics?
TEPAI: My readers. Of course I want to satisfy myself with my work; but more than that, I want to make comics because I want to be read and I want my readers to enjoy my work.
MAIKA: Just like every storyteller: to share stories.
Q: What does your average day look like? And when do you fit in the time to create art?
TEPAI: Average day for me is work. I do my freelance work, comics work, and then house work. When I have a clear schedule (which is probably once or twice in two weeks), I find myself eating or watching a movie with friends. If I don’t do that, I’ll explode.
MAIKA: Work. Sleep during breaks. More work. At times, I just write. At times, I just stare into space (often while commuting), thinking. It’s not really planned. That’s probably why I haven’t written much in a while. Haha!
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
TEPAI: I sometimes succumb to it. LOL. But most of the time, I just have to condition myself that I need to do things right away. Otherwise, I’ll also be the one who’ll pay for it. Facebook, for example, is one distraction. So I’ll just NOT OPEN my FB page. For me, if I don’t see it, I don’t turn to it.
MAIKA: I zone it out and put small goals to help me focus, like completing a scene, or writing until a certain action. Then I’ll take a break.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
TEPAI: I watch movies or read or travel. Sometimes I bake, I clean my house or I shop. Then, when I get to do all of those, I’m most likely ready to work again. Being uninspired is just you needing to do other things than work. So, I’ll do other things then come back to work refreshed.
MAIKA: I take a step back. Read whatever I’ve done so far like I’m not the author of that work and try to get a new perspective.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
TEPAI: We published our books! Then, Maktan 1521 got published by Visprint then got nominated for Best Graphic Literature in 2015. So those were wins for me. Other wins are I get to know a lot of great people within the community. Comics people are awesome.
MAIKA: When Tepai actually got stressed after reading the narrative for chapter 6 and chapter 7 of Mark 9verse47. It builds up to a very important scene near the end of chapter 7. I really wanted it feel heavy. So when I got that reaction from her, it was a win for me.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
TEPAI: I couldn’t follow up on my comics fast enough. Since work comes first, I don’t get to work on my comics fast enough to release them on time. But I do hope that when I finish them, my dear readers would still be happy to pick up and read them. :’D
MAIKA: Not being able have Mark 9verse47 vol.3 finished yet.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
TEPAI: As long as I do a good job on everything, that’s what I show my clients in person. With the art or comics that I do, I use social media sites. For example, I post my works on Facebook because it’s the easiest and fastest way to promote them.
MAIKA: Going to events and selling komiks. Not only in komik events, but also events like MIBF and Global Pinoy where a lot of people are not aware of the indie komiks scene.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
TEPAI: Before, my goal was to be published by Visprint. Then after that, for our books to be available in bookstores.
Now, it’s make another solo comic book. I’ve been collaborating with different writers for years now, and I think it’s high time that I make another solo work. But as for an end game? I don’t think there is. Because if you have an end, what then will you do after? It’s good to have a goal, but it’s better if you have infinite learning alongside it. So every time you make it to your goal, you’ll have other things to do and learn from.
MAIKA: Write more. Learn more. Create more stories. I don’t have much planned ahead except for the stories I have in mind.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
TEPAI: This is a bit cheesy, but of course, my talent is God-given. As for creativity and ideas, they come from different things and places. It depends on when I need to take them out and use them.
MAIKA: It’s the “what if’s” I encounter every day. It can be from something I’ve watched, read, or even noticed from other people.
Mark 9verse47 started from the actual verse from the Bible. I thought, “What if someone actually took the verse literally?” POOF! It became a story.
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
TEPAI: Ay, ang lalim ng hugot nito! [This goes really deep!] Hahaha! Actually, it’s not really that deep for me. I’m really just an artist making the most out of what I can do. Making art is a living for me, so I need to do it so my family and I can live comfortably.
MAIKA: I have fun. And it’s fulfilling to see my work on paper rather than thoughts in my head.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
TEPAI: Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. Sin City and 300 by Frank Miller. Trinity Blood (not the story but the artwork) by Thores Shimabata.
MAIKA: Se7en, Fullmetal Alchemist, Monster (Anime)
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills?
TEPAI: Oh dear! Ang dami! [There’s a lot!] Aside from the things I listed in number 16…
Alan Lee’s works in The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Studio Ghibli films, Satoshi Kon films, Rurouni Kenshin, Takehiko Inoue art books, Scott McCloud books, Will Eisner books, Fables, David Mack’s Kabuki, Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah by Carlo Vergara, Trese by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Alex Ross’ books, Mike Mignola books, Rodski Patotski by Gerry Alanguilan and Arnold Arre.
As for Podcasts, I have friends from the komiks community that have a podcast page on YouTube. It’s called Indie Komiks Podcast. They have loads of happy and light discussions about indie komiks and other events.
As for workshops, Common Room has a lot of workshops all throughout the year. Komiket University also has a comics workshop every year.
MAKA: Go to Komikon, Komiket and other Komik events. Talk to people there.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
TEPAI: I’d be in Japan. Why? It’s Japan! XD
MAIKA: New Zealand. It looks like a perfect place, away from distractions.
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?
TEPAI: JP Palabon of Puso Negro. This artist really has a lot of brilliant ideas and it’s fun to discuss it with him!
MAIKA: Nikolai Tesla. What? He did write a couple of books.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills? (Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally.)
TEPAI: I’ve always looked up to Carlo Vergara and Manix Abrera. I’ve also looked up to Thores, Hiromu Arakawa, Frank Miller, David Mack and Alex Ross. I have a lot of idols! XD
MAIKA: I would say Naoki Urasawa.