Tori Tadiar is an IT Manager by day who also happens to be an illustrator and comics artist anytime she can. She is the author and artist of Filipiniana historical-fantasy comic Sagala, which won Best Komiks at Komiket 2017 and Indie Bestseller at Komikon 2018. She is also the creator of the webtoon Pretty Please, and is the character artist for Golden Hour, a mobile game by indie group Matchaa Studio.
She collects graphic novels and art books, plays videogames, spends an alarming amount of time and savings on kpop, raises her 5-year old Belgian Malinois, and dreams of coffee on a regular basis.
She posts WIPs and other work on Twitter (@haitori), and you can view her portfolio at www.haitori.com.
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 been fascinated with stories for as long as I can remember - both consuming and telling them. My earliest work (that I managed to dig up) was an illustrated storybook I made when I was in kindergarten: an opus entitled “The Magic Ocean” - which strangely did not take place remotely near an ocean and was about a six-year old’s birthday party. Six year old me was tripping.
After that, I was exposed to all the Disney movies and the Tagalized anime of my generation, and I set out to draw all 151 Pokemon (from the first generation. I still haven’t accomplished this).
On my tenth birthday, my aunt gave me three copies of the old How to Draw Manga series along with a huge sketchpad, and I took most of those learnings to heart. Especially this one quote I found in one of the books: “In the field of comics, many are called - but only few are chosen.”
I guess I took it as a challenge!
It was a challenge to dream up worlds and create engaging stories for the characters within them, and it’s something I really wanted to pursue - be it through comics, through games, or whatever medium I can work with.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
My biggest struggle has always been balancing art with everything else I need and want to do. Since I don’t do art full-time, I find myself unable to really hone the craft and churn out as much output as I would like.
I have dozens of story ideas and illustrations I want to work on, but can’t seem to squeeze out enough hours in a day to actually work on them because most of my hours go into my day job in corporate IT. And when I actually get a few hours in front of the canvas, I find that my skills aren’t up to par with the images I’m seeing in my head.
It’s quite a vicious cycle - I oftentimes wish I had followed my parents’ advice to take up art for college instead of IT (contrary to many of my peers’ experiences, my teachers and parents were actually really supportive of my budding artistic abilities! I was the one who wanted to go down a more “traditional” route). Art school is still my biggest “what if”.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
It’s a balancing act - I actually really like working in IT, so I made a decision to make it an “AND”. I don’t want to settle for deciding either to become an IT professional OR an artist - I want the best of both worlds.
And it’s as difficult as it sounds - I have to travel a lot for work so I end up making thumbnails or writing scripts while I’m on a train or on a plane, so by the time I get to my desk late at night or on the weekend, I can start getting in the flow and actually draw. It gets pretty taxing and I sometimes have to spend weeks without drawing anything just to get the inspiration back.
But at the end of the day, I think it’s more than worth it - especially when someone tells me that they’ll work on their own craft because my work has inspired them to create something of their own.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
Joining communities and finding like-minded people! I came from the early days of deviantArt when RP groups were a thing, and then a group of friends and I decided to join game jams and eventually came together to become an indie game studio. I also pushed myself (and dragged a friend - hi Ara!) to join Komiket University, which sort-of “forced” me to really release a comic within a deadline.
When I see the works of my peers or the artists I admire, I’m inspired to create my own and share it with them as well!
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
Stop comparing myself with everyone else. I spent a lot of time thinking art was just a hobby, something I can do to de-stress, and that there were a lot of artists who were a lot better than me, so why bother?
Looking back, I hope I shared a lot more of my work, accepted critique, and practiced more meaningfully. Making art and telling stories isn’t a competition. It’s about creating something meaningful for myself and hoping that it makes an impact - no matter how small - on the people who would experience it.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making your art?
I’d say it’s a need. I have gone through numerous bouts of melodrama, in which I threaten to delete all my work because nothing was good enough - but I always end up still doodling on scrap paper, the back of receipts, even on my own hand. The world’s an amazing place, there’s so much you can take in and there’s so much to give back. And creating these drawings and telling these stories is my way of doing just that.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I wake up in the morning to have breakfast with my family, after which I go to work. I sometimes walk my dog in the late afternoon to get some physical activity in, if I’m not going to the gym for a round of boxing. I only get the chance to draw after I clock out in the evening, but mostly I’m limited to spending full hours on art only on the weekends or on holidays. When I do get into that zone, it’s going to be hours on hours just staring at the screen until my mom calls me for dinner.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
Unfortunately, I don’t! When I’m distracted by something on social media when I’m supposed to be in-the-zone and rendering hair strokes on an illustration, I find that I won’t finish that illustration at all.
What I’m trying to do now is to really find focused time - I collect my references beforehand, then I switch off the internet, and put my phone somewhere I can’t conveniently reach it. Let’s hope it works!
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I need to step back and stop working on art. Maybe go out with friends, take long walks, play videogames, watch movies.
And when I do come back, I need to work on something completely unrelated to what got me into the art block before. Especially with comics, you draw the same characters a hundred times, it can get redundant; so that’s when I start working on completely unrelated illustrations.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
The obvious answer to this one was winning the Komiket Awards for Best Komiks for Sagala, my first-ever comic; but it’s actually when people message me or approach me during cons to tell me that they loved the story. Every single one of those comments feels like a huge win.
The first comic strip I worked on was published in my highschool’s magazine - and nobody understood it. The pacing was bad, paneling was horrible, and my choice of words were vague at best. My own sister couldn’t understand what the comic was about. So I was considerably nervous when I created my first comic book for Komiket.
I was expecting to sell just a handful of copies when I first printed Sagala, and I ended up selling out fast! The support I got even after I released the second and third issues was overwhelming. It felt like I had reached a high point in my personal character development arc, because people actually understood what the comic was about and wanted to read more!
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
I don’t consider it a failure, but trying to create a webcomic while simultaneously working on Sagala and Golden Hour is the closest thing I can think of. I started Pretty Please, an ambitious, full-color, 40-panel-per-episode comic on Webtoon last year. At first I was confident I could do it - how hard would it be to release 40 colored panels per week?
It turned out to be very, very hard, bordering on impossible. My laptop died on me several times because of the sheer size of my working files, my art style was starting to get inconsistent, I slacked off on my schedule for Sagala and the Golden Hour character art. By the end of the year, I had a half-baked webcomic, I didn’t finish Sagala’s last chapter, and I wasn’t able to meet my deadlines for our mobile game.
It was glaringly obvious when I made my year-end recap for 2018: I barely had anything to show for the year that passed because I stretched myself and my limited time too far.
But as a very good friend of mine often tells me, “You will never fail, you will either succeed or you will learn.” - and I did learn a lot from that experience.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
Engaging with readers and fellow creators. During my first few comic conventions a few years back, I got a rush out of the conversations I had with anyone who would pass by my table. It isn’t about networking and sales talk - it’s about being authentic and sincere and really finding people who share the same interests. Listen to what they have to say, learn from them.
Even for the mobile game I’m working on with my friends, our first priority was to create an online community on Discord to interact with our beta players. The players have been nothing short of supportive, and I would like to believe that they enjoy interacting with us as much as we do with them!
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
If I were to be audacious, I’d say that my dream is to create a feature film or a game on the same standard as those of international studios. We have such a rich history and culture as a nation - and I’ve always wanted that to translate into something that the international community can enjoy. Imagine something on the scale of Mulan or How to Train Your Dragon, but using a distinctly Filipiniana aesthetic.
That is why Sagala was created to be understandable to non-Filipinos, but really showcase local mythology, history, and fashion. Golden Hour (our mobile game) is set in a fictional alternate Philippines. The characters wear clothes based off the working man’s favorite - the polo barong; and the cast has extremely pun-ny names (ie there’s a character named Kouya Ibara, a play on the slang term koya and Noli Me Tangere’s Crisostomo Ibarra).
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
Just about everything!
From reading history books, to seeing a nice car parked in front of a hotel, to all the shows I watch - I get a story idea and suddenly I need to bring it to life by putting ink to paper. It’s a double-edged sword, though; because sometimes I end up with more ideas than I can realistically work on.
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?
The easiest answer to this is I make art for myself. It’s just something I enjoy doing.
But in finding a subject, in devoting myself to what kind of art I can make and what kinds of stories I tell - I think it’s because I want to contribute to how we see ourselves, our culture, and our countrymen. I grew up with the Western influences of Disney and the East Asian influences of anime and manhwa, and I ended up admiring those cultures and wanting to learn more about them.
If my work makes a kid out there somewhere feel the exact same way about their own heritage, and feel inspired and empowered that they could make something too - that would mean the world.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
Ragnarok (both the game and the manhwa), W.I.T.C.H., Assassin’s Creed II.
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills?
Not sure if they’re still around, but the old How to Draw Manga series was really a game changer for me when I was ten years old. I still revisit a lot of references there. After that, I learned digital coloring from various resources and tutorials floating around deviantArt.
For beginner komiks artists, I highly suggest attending Komiket University! It teaches you the basics, and really lights a fire under your butt to actually come up with a full comic book at the end of a few months.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
In a place with lots of natural light, smells like coffee, and plays soft jazz, a stone’s throw away from a nice open park. Maybe in Seoul or Sydney?
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 has inspired you to get better, over the years.)
Anastasia Kim (Phobs) and Seoul Kim (GrandYoukan)