Budjette Tan is most-known as the writer for the Trese komik series, a three-time National Book Award-winning comic series that has sparked the imagination and awe of the entire Filipino Komiks community, and Mikey Recio and the Secret of the Demon Dungeon, which won Best Graphic Novel in English at the 33rd National Book Awards.
He spent 17 years working in the McCann Worldgroup agencies, wherein he and his team (MRM, the digital division of the McCann Worldgroup) were able to capture the Digital Ad Agency of the Year award five times in a row at the Campaign Asia Agency of the Year Award Show.
In August of 2016, he left the McCann Worldgroup and moved to Denmark to work in the internal creative agency at one of the most-beloved toy companies in the world—LEGO. He spends his free time whipping up the script for succeeding Trese books, as well as upcoming issues of Mikey Recio and the Secret of the Demon Dungeon, and other comics in the works. He is one of the collaborators of that helped create The Lost Journal of Alejandro Pardo, which is a creature book about monsters of Philippine folklore. You can follow him on Facebook, or follow his and Kajo’s work on Trese at the Trese Comics Facebook Page.
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?
Well I guess the closest, or the most immediate memory that comes to mind was my very first comic book. It was called Cosmic Man, and he flew in the cosmos, and he had a cosmic ship, and a cosmic gun which fired a cosmic net. And he captured cosmic criminals. I think it was my mash-up of Space Ghost and Batman.
I remember, as a kid, two (or three) of the comic books I really have a vivid memory of getting from my dad were these three digest-sized books. They were about the secret origins of DC Superheroes, and the secret origins of DC Supervillains. And then the third was about the secret origin of the Justice League. And for those of you who remember, they were like the size of Archie’s Digest, but they were reprints of old DC stories. And what they did was, in each book was compiled the secret origins of all these different heroes.
So, as a kid I thought that was the normal way of presenting the origins of characters. So out of that—for some reason—I wanted to make my own. And I created Cosmic Man.
And I also created a guy named Lightning Hawk. He was a professor who had a pet hawk that got struck by lightning. And then, the lightning-hawk bit him and gave him lightning powers, and hawk powers as well.
And then later on, I made a comic book entitled The Computer Creeps—which, I guess, was inspired by Voltes V, Transformers, and… I don’t know what else I was watching at the time, but it was about a computer set.
So, back in the 80’s your computer had a monitor, a keyboard, a CPU. Our computer had to be plugged to a transformer because it wasn’t the right voltage. Of course, it had computer chips inside… And then one night, lightning struck the computer set, and they all came alive! Each part of the computer set came alive, each with its own powers. And then, when the bad guys came, they would volt-in to become a giant robot named Creepo.
So those are the first comic books I actually made.
And I always tell people how I wrote on the cover, “Sold for 25 cents!” And then I went to my mom and said, “Give me 25 cents. Here’s my comic book.” And then, after she read it—since I only had one copy—I went to my dad and said, “Give me 25 cents. Here’s my comic book.” So, I could actually say that my first comic book was a bestseller because everyone in the house bought it. So, I don’t know what got me to really start doing that, but I still have some of those comic books.
I wish I’d kept the digests of superhero origins. But I sold them. I actually traded them in for other comic books. But now that I think about it, I wish I’d kept them. And ever since that time, I think I had a love of telling stories through comics. That was way back in grade school. And I started to hang out with some friends who were also comic book collectors. And it was through them that I discovered X-Men and Teen Titans.
It was during that time that the official handbook to the Marvel universe came out, as well as DC’s Who’s Who, which was the guide book to the DC universe. And as a kid I ended up reading about the different origins to the superheroes, and how they had different powers.
Marvel was more scientific, wherein they would tell you actually how much each hero could benchpress, how their powers worked in a pseudo-scientific way, and I guess that influenced me because I started to create more characters.
I didn’t make comic books, but I would like… follow the format. And I would draw—on a pad paper—a character on one side; and on the other side I would write his story. I would do that on a weekend; and then on Monday I would show it to my classmates. And they, in turn, started to make their own heroes. And that’s what we did during break time. We just started to share all of our crazy heroes with each other. I guess that just helped encourage me to write and think up more stories.
Of course, later on, in high school, is when we discovered the Marvel Super Heroes Role-playing Game. And we met up every weekend and usually—more often than not—I was the judge. And I would come up with the storyline for their characters. So, in a way, that also helped me hone my writing skills, my storytelling skills. Of course, we also played Dungeons and Dragons, and I think we also played this other military strategy game. But it was Marvel Super Heroes that we really played a lot during our high school years. And I think all of that, combined, is what made me love wanting to write comic book stories.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
Overcoming laziness of writing, I guess. Thinking that I need to wait for inspiration to get started on something. But yeah, I think even today that’s probably the reason why the Trese readers aren’t getting a Trese book every year. It’s easy for me to get distracted by other things, especially on the internet. But I think it’s finding the time to really sit down and do the dirty work of writing.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
One of my favorite writers is Stephen King. He was the one who said that what has helped him, and his biggest advice to other writers is to set a schedule as far as when you will write. And Stephen King writes as if he’s going to office. He says he wakes up, and then he goes to his writing room, and then he writes all the way up to lunch time, has lunch, and then comes back, and then writes, and then ends his day. So, it’s like a 9-5 job, as far as he’s concerned.
Neil Gaiman also seems to be one of my favorite writers, and writes anywhere. But when he really needs to sit down and write the book he usually rents a house—or he has his own writing shack. In his writing shack he doesn’t have wi-fi or internet connection. He just writes there. I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve been hoping to have a schedule as well. But what has happened really, it’s really the deadlines. Giving ourselves a deadline. Knowing that the next Komikon is coming up has served as a pretty good deadline as far as we’re concerned. And then me and Kajo would also have deadlines for each other.
But since this is not our full-time job, we still have to put time into our day jobs, and we have to put time into our families. Then, meeting these deadlines every time has become more difficult. I wish I could really write every day, just like the writers I idolize, but I don’t get to do that.
At the very least I try to just keep on writing down notes or ideas in one notebook. So I would always carry a notebook around. Whenever I would have a particular idea, whether it’s a story that I’m working on or a story that will happen later on in the future, I just make sure to write it down so that I can go back to it and refer to it and remember it later on.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
I think working in an ad agency is what allowed me to learn to respect the deadline. Working in an ad agency is what made me realize that you don’t need inspiration, you don’t need to keep staring out into space and wait for that idea to come. Sometimes the deadline becomes your inspiration.
I realized that in the ad agency. There was a period in time wherein we had to keep writing new scripts for radio commercials and TV commercials. Sometimes our TV commercials were very story-based. It had a narrative that needed to be told. And, of course, it’s not always that your idea gets approve. So it would get rejected and shot down, and you would have to revise it. And you’d think you wouldn’t be able to revise it because you’re already in love with that story. And you realize that you still can—that there is another way to tell that story.
I guess that’s where I learned that having a deadline and getting rejected isn’t the end of the world, and that has allowed me to keep coming up other stories and even better stories.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
In the early years of Alamat (backtracking a bit)… In 1994, that’s when me and a group of other Filipino comic book creators got together and formed Alamat Comics. I guess the quickest way to describe it is: it was the local version of Image Comics. It was different people, different studios, with different ideas and stories. But the idea was if we were all under one logo then more people would be able to feel that there was this big movement of comic book creations coming out at the same time.
And I guess from ’94 to ’99… I didn’t get to write much during that time. I thought that I would wait for the right moment to come, and that’s when I’ll write. So throughout all those years I saw all of my co-creators in Alamat produce and finish their own comics more than I could. And I wish I had that discipline to just keep writing everyday with the knowledge that what I’m writing today might not be what gets published later on.
That’s something I discovered while writing Trese. There were moments when I had probably written a half-script or almost a full script, and I ended up completely scrapping and deleting what I had written, because I realized that there was a better way to write that particular story. But I had to—I guess—get it out of my system, or tell it a certain way for me to see that that’s not how it was going to work.
So I wish that—back when I started writing—that I would have taken more time to just keep writing. And that would have been the best way for me to learn how to become a better writer—and not just wait for inspiration to come. I think that’s what’s important: to write and do something that’s connected to writing every day, whether it’s writing something new or editing something old. Because I end up getting rusty—which has happened to me in the past year or so. It’s only in the past six months that I’ve started to get back into doing more writing. And I wish I knew that way back in 1994.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making art or comics?
I guess I’m inspired by the things that I read, or the things that I watch. I’m inspired when I see how much fun other comic book creators have in making their stories, and I want to feel that kind of fun as well.
I see something, or I watch something, and it makes me wonder, “What if I tell it this way?” or “What if it ended some other way.” And sometimes that’s what makes me want to write a story. Or it could be a real life story. It could be somebody’s story that was shared online, or it was something that I read in a newspaper that just makes me wonder, “What if…?” or “What could have happened?” or “Why did it happen?”
That’s what inspires me to write a story for that particular spark.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
My average day… I guess my average day here is still pretty similar to my average day in Manila, except my average day here ends earlier compared to Manila.
So usually work starts in the morning. Back in Manila, it would end in the evening. And our work here actually ends at 4:00 P.M. So works starts at 8:00 or 9:00 AM and ends by 4:00pm.
Right now, I’m living here by myself, and my family will be joining me this February. So since I’ve been living by myself here, usually after work is when I do household chores. That’s when I do the groceries, do the laundry, some cleaning up—not a lot of cleaning up. It’s after that that I find time to do my art.
Sometimes, for example, before doing the grocery I would stop by a café and that’s where I would write. So it would usually be after all of those things that I end up writing, whether it’s writing stories, or writing down notes, or doing research.
And, of course, the problem with doing research online is that it leads you from one site to another, and the next thing you know it’s already 12 midnight, and you weren’t able to do any work. So I guess the other tip is avoid the internet.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
With great difficulty, I might say, haha!
So most times I write the first draft—or my first notes—with pen and paper. I bring a notebook. I tend to want to work in a place like a café. You know, someplace where there are other people but I don’t have to interact with these people, whether it’s a café or a restaurant.
And by writing it down on paper at least I’m not tempted to look up things on the internet.
Of course, since I always have my phone with me, sometimes that becomes the problem. So usually I try to put away my phone, but sometimes I always get that nagging feeling where, as I’m writing down an idea, I suddenly remember, “Oh! What is this called?” or “What was that article that I saw that I want to refer to?” And again, even though I keep saying, “I’m just going to check this one detail and then that’s it,” I end up checking so many other things online that an hour has gone by and I’d barely written anything.
So I’m still a big fan of writing down ideas on pen and paper. I can scribble. I can doodle. If I’m feeling lazy and I don’t want to write down the entire scene, I actually draw comic book panels. At least I know, and I’ve already put the idea down on paper so that when I start to write down the script, I can quickly refer to these drawings that no one will ever see! And I know the flow of the story, and that’s what I can put into the script.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I eat. Hahaha!
Coffee always helps. That’s been the big help for me as far as getting my creative juices going. Eating makes you feel good for a while, but if you eat too much it just makes you feel too heavy. You feel sleepy. And then you don’t get to write at all.
Writing down my notes. Writing down ideas that I want to do in the future. I mean, I guess it just makes me feel good that, “Oh! This is the story I wanna write after I finish writing this particular story.” And I guess it just gets me excited enough to look forward to doing that thing. And maybe that unlocks that feeling of being burnt out. It just makes you a bit happy that you can… That there’s this other story that you want to tell.
I read somewhere—from one of these articles that I read… It said that if you’re feeling uninspired, write an interview to yourself talking about how you finished your story. And I think I did it once or twice and it kinda helped. I mean, in the pretend interview I started to write about what inspired that story and what the story was all about. And I guess, unconsciously it allowed me to figure out what the story all about, and what I really wanted to tell with it.
So there, if you wanna distract yourself. Pretend you’re getting interviewed by some Hollywood reporter, or some reporters from Newsarama or CBR, then that might help. And at least the thing is that it gets me writing. I guess the mere motion of writing things down helps unlock… I guess it warms up your hands. It warms up your brain. So, you know, it’s a nice way to warm up. It’s like a writing exercise to warm up to finally writing that story.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
Well the easy answer would be, of course, us winning the National Book Awards. It obviously feels good to be recognized and awarded for your hard work. But at the same time, it’s also whenever we meet new readers—especially readers who have started their own work. And they would say they started doing their comics because they read Trese. For me, I guess, that is one of those things I would call an epic win.
Sometimes we meet children who started to read Trese as well. Those would be the epic wins: to have kids—even if I’m not so sure kids should be reading all of Trese immediately. Maybe some of them [stories].
But to know that our work is being read by children and that they’re getting introduced to the stories I grew up with, or we grew up with, stories about Philippine myth and folklore, about the aswang and engkanto… That it now populates their brain the same way that, you know, all of these characters from western pop culture and myth (as well as Japanese pop culture and myth) are occupying the brains of these kids and new readers. I think it’s already a pretty good victory on our part—most especially knowing and finding out that we were somehow helpful in getting new writers and artists to pick up a pen and tell their own stories. Those would be the big wins for us, as far as I’m concerned.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
Kinda hard question to answer… Biggest failure would be, I guess, every single story that I know I want to write but haven’t had the chance to write. And it’s hard to say that all of these unfinished projects are failures because they’re unfinished. And I think that even though sometimes they can be unfinished, as long as you keep writing, these failures can somehow… will somehow… contribute to the success of another project. That every failure is a learning experience for you, or for me, as a writer.
Taking Trese, for example, the first draft of Trese was in 2002 and it started out with a scene of a police investigator standing over the dead body of a lady wearing all white—and we were at the corner of Balete drive and 13th street. And back then I think I made Trese an NBI investigator—obviously my riff of Fox Mulder as an NBI investigator.
The name Anton Trese itself was a name that my friend Mark Gatebola came up with. And it was the name of a narrator for a radio show that we created called, “The World of the Unknown”. And the Anton Trese character was, like, the crypt keeper. Or he was like Rod Serling in Twilight Zone. You’d never see who he was, but he was always the one that introduced you to this world, and led you through this world, and safely guided you out, but would always welcome you back whenever the new episode comes out.
So we never really devoted any background to that character, but I always loved the name Anton Trese. It felt like it was a very Filipino version of John Constantine. And so I got the name and created an NBI investigator. But somehow along the way, again—since I kept waiting for inspiration—I think I got to write halfway through, and then I stopped.
And then in 2003 I picked it up again and decided, “Maybe I could write it in Tagalog.” Since I’m not very good at writing in Filipino, I thought this would be a way to improve my skills. I should write it in Tagalog… And then I changed him into a tabloid reporter. But, of course, in the back of my head I knew that I was taking a riff off of Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker, which is a 1970’s TV show about a tabloid reporter who always ended up encountering the supernatural cases of the city. And again, I just got halfway through that particular script and couldn’t finish it.
And then one particular night I was hanging out with my barkada. And I was hanging out with Bow Guerrero, and JB Tapia, and my brother Brandie, and also Mark was there. And I was telling them this story that I was trying to write. And it was JB who came up with the idea of the ending, wherein to solve the mystery, the street needed to replace the white lady who died. He was the one who came up with the idea that the person who killed the white lady ended up becoming the white lady on Balete Drive—spoilers for those of you who haven’t read that particular story.
So finally I had an ending. But again I waited for, like, the right time to write it. Funnily enough the right time came in 2005. And that was when Kajo sent me a text message. Out of the blue he just sent me a text message and said, “Budj, gawa tayo ng komiks. Gawa tayo ng monthly na komiks.” And I just laughed and I said, “You know, that’s impossible.” Because we were both working for ad agencies at the time, and we were working with very busy accounts. And we were normally doing a lot of overtime. So we would stay in the office till midnight or past midnight.
But the thing was, Kajo made a commitment to me. He said, “If you can give me a twenty page script I will finish it in 20 days.” He said, “I will spend one hour a day drawing that page.” And what he actually did, is that he would draw it during lunch time. And he supposedly would be drawing with one hand, and he had, like, a sandwich in the other hand, and that’s how he got to do a page a day.
So what I did was, I looked at what scripts did I have. And I had a bunch of unfinished scripts, and it was, I guess, Trese that was at least halfway finished. And at least I had an ending in mind.
So now that Kajo had given me a deadline for the script, I had so many things that I wanted to put into the story. And now that he had given me twenty-page limitation. It just forced me to edit out all of these things that I wanted to put in.
And I guess that’s one of the traps that you get especially when you are a new creator: that you spend so much time creating this world around your character that you wanna put it all in at the same time. Or you immediately wanna tell your two-hundred page epic story.
And I guess being given the limitation of twenty pages, and being given… I think he only gave me like a week or two weeks to finish the script. Having those limitations is what suddenly freed me into finishing the story. And so I did.
And I finished the story, sent it to Kajo. And true enough in twenty days he finished it. I revised the script based on his drawings and ten days later he showed me the revised lettered pages, and we had finished a story. And then Kajo said, “Where’s the next script?” And it amazed me that we had been able to finish one whole story. That’s how we finished the first six cases of Trese doing this kind of workflow.
Trese went through so many obstacles—or, at least, I was the biggest obstacle to it being finished. But finally, when I was given a deadline, and limitations, and parameters on how to get it done, it just made it easier to write, in a way.
There are so many other stories that I’ve been wanting to tell. I can only hope that I would have the time and find the right co-creators to get all of these stories done.
And I guess as part of this story is how we eventually found Visprint. So, when we started Alamat we actually self-published our stories. The first comic book we ever came out with was called Comics 101 and I actually used money that my parents had saved up for me. They saw that I was really, really into this project, and they said, “Here’s the money that we were going to give you when you graduated, so go ahead and use it for your comic book.”
And I don’t think I ever made that money back. I don’t think that comic book ever sold… It didn’t sell so many copies. I still remember that I had stacks and stacks of the comic book in my room after we published a thousand copies of it. And the same thing happened when we published Alamat 101, which was another anthology which we release during the first year of Alamat. And that was co-financed and co-produced by the other Alamat creators. And all that also didn’t sell a lot.
So when we created Trese, me and Kajo said, “Let’s not produce a thousand copies.” I think we made just thirty copies in the beginning, and we just sold it through one store, through Comic Quest. And that was it. We were just all too happy that we finished a comic book and that we were able to share it with people and make some money back.
And—funnily enough—is that one week later the thirty copies were sold out. They were sold out, and we printed thirty copies more. And the following week it got sold out again. And this cycle of producing X amount of copies just started to happen more and more. So we started to get more readers.
Then, I think we pitched it to two publishers and got rejected. It was when we pitched it to Visprint that we got accepted. And we’ve been with Visprint ever since, doing more projects with them. So, yeah, I guess it’s also just a matter of finding the right partner at the right time. And I guess we learned from those pitches. We learned how to properly pitch your work. And not to expect that just because it’s made that people will love it immediately. That it still takes hard work. That after you get your comic book done the hard work is pitching to people: pitching it to the stores, pitching it to readers, promoting it. That’s the harder work that a self-publisher or a creator needs to deal with, especially if you’re making your own stuff.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
The internet has been the biggest help, I think. As far as our work is concerned. Soon after we created Trese I created a blog for Trese. This was around 2005, 2006? Must’ve been around 2006. I noticed at that time Marvel and DC started to actually put up complete issues on comic book news sites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources, and they would upload the entire 24 pages of the first issue of a comic book—which was, I guess, their way of promoting that new issue or that new series. They gave it away for free.
And I thought, “Okay, maybe it’s an interesting tactic, a way to find new readers.” And it just so happened that that particular month had a Friday the 13th. So I thought that was a perfect time to upload the first issue of Trese. By that time I think we already had three issues out. And that’s what I did. I uploaded the entire first issue of Trese on our blog and started to promote it on Twitter. I don’t know if anyone was on Twitter back in 2006.
At that time Pinoy Exchange was still the big message board that everyone went to, so I promoted it there. We had Yahoo Groups—which I don’t think anyone uses now—and promoted it there. I promoted it on Friendster, and eventually on Multiply. And yes, eventually on this thing called Facebook. DeviantArt was another place I discovered, and started to promote our works there as well.
So yeah, it was just constantly trying—I also used Pinterest later on, but I’m not an active user of Pinterest—but yes, as far as reaching out to new fans is concerned, that’s how we reached out to new fans, sometimes to the point of spamming some people, which I’ve stopped doing.
I’ve even attempted to cross-promote Trese to John Constantine readers. So when the TV show came out, I would look for people on Twitter who loved the Constantine show, and then I would send them a link to Trese. I don’t know if any one of them bought Trese but at least nobody blocked me for spamming them with Trese ads.
Something that I used to do but haven’t been able to do so much lately is that during the early years of Trese I would actually send copies of our comic books to all of the newspapers and all of the magazines—local magazines. So I open up the newspapers and the magazines and look for people who reviewed books, and for the few people that reviewed comic books.
Because at the time, in the mid-2000’s there were already people that were reviewing comics, people like, of course, Ruel De Vera of The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) has been a big comic book fan—and of course my classmate back in college. And Oliver Pulumbarit in the PDI as well. So I sent them copies hoping that they’d at least review it, or at least feature it.
I would send it with a press release. So putting together a press release is something I learned from my friends at NU107, from Camille Portugal, because we used to hang out at that radio station and we saw how they would put together a press release for their shows or for their events. So I put together a press release for our books and sent it out to the newspapers. And yeah some of them picked it up, some of them didn’t, but at least it slowly got us attention so that the next time we finished another book of Trese then at least they would find some reason to feature us—whether it was a review of a book or an interview with the creators. I guess that would be something to keep in mind: how do you keep your story fresh as far as the new sites are concerned.
And then, of course, later on we started to reach out to all of these online news sites to hopefully cover us.
So, yeah, it helps a lot to send a copy of your work. Send a very friendly letter. Don’t be annoying. Follow-up if they’re going to feature it or not, but don’t be annoying. Don’t stalk them. Don’t stalk the editors and the reviewers. But yeah, it’s okay to, like, send them a hi-hello every four months, or every six months. Show them new work if you can.
Same thing with the publishers, I guess. If you’re pitching to the publishers, I don’t know if all publishers would be able to—especially when you get rejected—give you a reason why you got rejected. Maybe you’ll get a form letter. Maybe you’ll get a long letter explaining why they’re not accepting your book at that particular time. But always send new work.
Don’t expect that, “Maybe if I’ll send it again, they’ll accept it this time.” Most probably they won’t. But if you have new work and you want to pitch it to these publishers, then send it again. No harm in keeping in contact with these publishers and editors. But again don’t be annoying. Don’t stalk them. And don’t expect that they owe you anything just because you’ve finished your work.
Keep in mind that these are busy people and that they are doing a whole lot of other stuff in their work. So that’s why you shouldn’t annoy them with, like constantly following up your submission, or your asking if you could be reviewed or not.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
Of course I can’t help but think that the big dream, of course, is to be able to be a full-time comic book artist. And I know that’s a dream for a lot of us. It’s difficult to achieve, especially in the Philippine market situation.
As I record this today. Today is the day when Carlo Vergara uploaded a letter saying that this might be his last year in comics. He talked about the financial difficulties in trying to create a comic and trying to survive on making comic books in the Philippines.
[Editor’s Note: Carlo Vergara has since decided to continue his pursuit of making comics. In fact, he’s taken a step further in his marketing efforts. Based on some advice he’s been given by his friends, he’s decided to create a mailing list for his fans. If you want to sign up for Carlo Vergara’s mailing list, click here.]
But yes, I don’t know. Some way, somehow I’m still hoping that I will eventually be able to make a living off of my writing. As Brian Bendis, one of my other favorite comic book writers said, it’s a difficult game to play. Not impossible but it’s you versus a million other people out there who want the same thing. So it’s a question of how persistent are you, and how good are you at planning and achieving this grand plan.
It helps that I have a day job that allows me, and also challenges and stretches my, creativity; and that my writing brain is also being put to use. So it’s great to have that advantage, as far as I’m concerned. There are actually lessons I learned in my day job that I applied to writing comics, and there are lessons I learn when I write comics that I get to apply when I do my day job. So I guess I’ve got the best of both worlds now.
I look at my favorite writers and artists, and I’ve read up on their stories, and I’ve listened to interviews on their very long struggle to eventually reach this place where they are actually writing comics or creating comics full time. And it took them a very long time before they could get to that point. And yes, it did involve writing every day, or putting your heart to this passion on a more regularly-scheduled basis, and not just leaving it to chance.
So it would be great if I could achieve that—in, I don’t know how many years. But yes, I would have to give it a try. And it would be great to have my own writing shack with no wi-fi connection where I could just spend my Mondays to Fridays writing there, and get home in time to be with my family.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
I guess you can say Trese has been 20 years in the making. I guess you can say that all the stories I’ve been writing have been 10, 30 years in the making. Trese was inspired by the stories I heard as a child.
It was inspired by the stories I shared with my friends during grade school, high school, and college. It was inspired by everything that I read—the books that I read, the songs that I listened to, the movies and TV shows that I watched. It was inspired by growing up in Manila, by the news that I read, the news that I saw. And again, just the stories of everyday people.
And it just, finally, ended up getting into this right mix. It just started to feel new and exciting for me when I finally put this mix together. Because I had so many attempts to mix other stuff, and it just wouldn’t fly. You can sometimes get the same ingredients, but maybe it’s the way that you put them together that it just doesn’t seem to work.
But sometimes you can get the same things and maybe just change one thing in that ingredient, in that mix, and suddenly you’ve got something very, very exciting and you just can’t wait to write the next story. I guess that’s really it. And it’s constantly getting this input.
I remember how, around that time I was starting to write Trese, it was also the time that AXN (the cable channel) started to show Ghost in the Shell. And strangely enough, it was how the Ghost in the Shell episodes were written and structured, and the themes being covered by Ghost in the Shell that partly inspired me to do the Trese episodes. But this time I flipped it around. And instead of sci-fi, I made everything magic. And instead of the themes being about cyborgs and artificial intelligence, it was like, “What would it be like to live in Manila where magic and magical creatures co-existed with everyone on an everyday basis.”
And funnily enough, it turns out (and I only found out about it later on) Kajo was also into Ghost in the Shell at that time, and he said that also inspired him in the look and design of Trese.
For me, at the time, I was also reading a lot of Warren Ellis’s stuff. So that was Global Frequency, Planetary, and The Authority. And in all of those three books there were three very strong female characters—which I’m sure, in the back of my head, informed the creation of Trese without me knowing. But on the surface, Trese, of course, is my version of Batman, John Constantine, Fox Mulder, and Carl Kolchak all rolled into one.
So yeah, you’ll never know what will inspire you. It’s just a matter of, you know, constantly having this input and absorbing and experiencing the world, and finding a way to do your own mix, to do your own remix, your own riff, your own reboot and telling it your way. And finding the thing that excites me. You can feel it. You can feel it in your bones if you’re doing something that is new and exciting.
I remember we once interviewed Pol Medina Jr. in the advertising agency. We invited him for a day to talk about writing Pugad Baboy, writing comedy, writing humor or satire. And then somebody in the room asked, “How do you know when what you’re writing is funny?”
And he said he just feels it. That as he’s writing the punch line, as he’s writing the script, he’s got a smile on his face. And sometimes he’s not sure, and he shows it to his wife. But yeah, I believe him when I’m writing something and I don’t have a smile on my face, or I feel bored as I’m writing… Then I know I will also bore my reader.
So it’s a good mix of the academic stuff of writing things, but at the same time it’s a whole lot to do with your gut, that gut-feel that you are writing something new and exciting that even you yourself can’t help but get excited about.
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
I love Kajo’s answer to this question. If you ask Kajo this question he will most probably say we are making Trese for two people. We are making Trese for Budjette and Kajo. And he’s right.
When we started had no pretensions of it becoming a bestseller, of it becoming an award-winning comic book. We just wanted to do it because it was fun.
We wanted to do our own comic book because we were working in an industry where every day your idea was rejected, where every day your idea was scrutinized and criticized, and was shot down. And I guess we just wanted to do something where no one else was the judge except ourselves. And that we wanted to do it for fun.
And I guess that would be the simplest reason why I still write stories. I’m writing it cuz I feel excited when I do write. It is a big bonus, of course, that other people like it. And it’s an even bigger bonus when people are willing to pay for it.
I’ve uploaded Trese stories and my other stories on my blog and online and, you know, I’ve freely shared it with the world. I like telling stories. I like sharing my stories with people. And that would be the top-most reason: that I love doing what I’m doing.
And of course it would be great if this passion and this love for telling stories can be a way to make a living. We’ve seen other people do it, so we know it’s not impossible. And maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right mix and the right formula all over again for us to make it happen.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore… or maybe Grant Morrison… or maybe Chris Claremont, and Stephen King.
Of course, sticking to Trese it would be, like I mentioned earlier… it was Warren Ellis who, at the time, he was saying comic books should be pop culture grenades. That’s how he described it.
I guess he was ranting against this whole 50 years of continuity that new readers were afraid to get into. And it was during that time he had at column at Comic Book Resources (CBR) and he would talk about his, I guess his belief system and his manifesto on creating comics.
And in one of those articles he talked about making comic books a pop culture grenade. He talked about how it is important that if a reader picks up one issue of your comic book, that it’s like an explosion, that he should feel this great explosion of being immersed in the world that you created, of meeting the characters you created.
And if this person doesn’t pick up any other issue from your comic book, that it would’ve been a great experience for him—much like holding a grenade and having it explode in your hands. And the interesting thing is that’s exactly what he was doing. He wasn’t just preaching and not doing anything about it.
So if you take a look at what he was doing at that time. A lot of the comic books he was doing were pop culture grenades, and it didn’t matter if he was doing a long series, each issue itself would be like a self-contained story—or in like, two issues or three issues the story would be done. And that would be easily compiled into a trade paperback, and that’s his pop culture grenade.
And I took that to heart. It was a challenge. He was challenging comic book creators at the time to do that. And it felt like it was a challenge to me, and partly that was the reason why Trese was structured in that way—aside from the fact that I really didn’t think that we’d ever get beyond issue number one, because again, of the realities of our day job.
So we structured Trese so that each issue—or like, at least these days, it’s like, each volume—if it’s your first time, even if you pick up book six of Trese for the first time, it would actually be easy for you to understand what’s happening in this world. And great, of course, if you get to read the whole thing so you’d have a better understanding of everything.
It was Neil Gaiman, of course, with his American Gods and Sandman, who posed the question, “Where are all of the old gods in our modern society?” Which is the same question I’m answering in Trese. Where are all of the old creatures of Philippine myth and folklore, and have they found new jobs in the city. And that’s what I’m exploring and revealing in the stories that I have.
Of course, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Killing Joke showed how comic books can be pushed to tell more mature stories.
Also Twilight Zone was a big influence in my storytelling. Again, Twilight Zone did feel like cultural grenades, in the words of Warren Ellis. They were like mini movies sometimes, wherein whether it was like a five-minute episode or a thirty-minute episode, the best stories felt like you were introduced to this fantastic universe or parallel world that you wanted to explore more of.
And I like how those stories were structured, and how most of the stories had this little twist in the end. It just completely surprised you. And I love those, those little twist endings that Twilight Zone would usually have.
So there was Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories in the 80’s, and the Ray Bradbury Mystery Theatre.
And I guess it’s like—as I would usually mention it would be like—X-Files and CSI. X-Files showed that you could use the procedural format to explore the supernatural and the paranormal. CSI showed that you could focus on a different way of explaining the crime. It used science to explain how a crime was done. It wasn’t a whodunit. It was a howdunit.
So, yeah, those are, I guess, the big influences on Trese. And I guess you could say that somehow they also influence my other works as well.
And we thought these would be the quick-fire questions!
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills?
Funny thing is, I think back in the 80’s and 90’s there were not a lot of how-to-write or how-to-make-comic-books at the time. But I did find, in my dad’s library, a lot of books on how to write film scripts.
My dad was a broadcaster. He worked in TV. And I guess that’s the reason why he had a lot of books about film. So I found these scriptwriting books and started to read them. And then, eventually, through different magazines or comic book stores—like Filbar’s at the time, and Comic Quest—started to bring these magazines about the comic book industry.
That’s where I started to learn about the comic book writing script. And most especially, of course, when DC came out with Sandman: Dream Country. And in the back they actually reproduced the entire script of one of the stories.
So, suddenly, it was like, a revelation. It was like the secret formula was revealed to me, “Oh this is what a comic book script looks like.”
But later on there were some books that I found in National Bookstore about how to write comics. But they’re all long gone by now, so I don’t know if they’re still worth looking for.
But most recently, Brian Bendis’s Words and Pictures. I would highly recommend that.
And then there’s this other book called, Make Comics Like the Pros: The Inside Scoop on How to Write, Draw, and Sell Your Comics and Graphic Novels by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente. The great thing about this book is that it does take you through the art side of it, as well as the business side of it.
This is the first time I’d seen a book cover the entire process of comic book creation. Of course, this is designed for comic book creators in America, which is why when you get to the business side of it, it actually teaches you how to solicit your book into the previews catalogues through Diamond distributors.
It also teaches you how to price your comic book, how to promote your comic book online. And the wonderful thing about the book is they actually created brand new characters. So they show you how they created these new characters, how they came up with the concept for it, how they wrote the script, how they designed the characters. And then they show you how the pages were penciled, inked, lettered, and colored.
So it really shows you the entire process from a complete perspective, and it really covers all of the bases whether you’re a new comic book creator, or an old comic book creator. It’s just a great way to see how the process is done from beginning till the very end, until you book gets into the store—until it gets on the comic book shelf or on the online store.
The great thing about the Brian Bendis book is that he also has interviews with writers, editors, and artists. So you get that perspective of what are editors looking for. Or if you’re a writer, “How should you write for your artist?” Or if you’re an artist, “What does an artist look for from a comic book script?”
So it also gives you multiple points of views with a whole lot of Marvel art at that. You get to see a lot of the Marvel stuff, and how a lot of Bendis’s scripts got made at the same time. So if you’re a big Brian Bendis fan, you’ll also enjoy this book.
There are also other books. I think there was one book that had a very simple title called, Comic Book Script Writing, and what the editor did was, he interviewed over 20 or 30 different writers, and then just asked them their process [Editor’s Note: It’s possible that the titles of the books are Writers On Comics Scriptwriting Vol. 1 & 2].
So it was just great to see all of these different writers talk about it—which just goes to show that there is no one singular way of making a comic book script, or making that comic book.
So whether you write the script by yourself, or whether you’re working with an artist, it got to cover the many different ways a comic book was done.
It was also inspiring to hear their stories as well on how they were able to create their own, or the struggles of being a comic book writer.
Those would be the books I know that are available locally. So I have seen some of these books at National Bookstore. I know that Filbar’s also has a section in their store that is completely devoted to just the art of comics. So, in other words, they have started to solicit books that are about how to draw, how to write, and all of these other books. So check these out if there’s a Filbar’s near you.
There are not a lot of workshops. I do know that the Komiket group, at least, used to do comic book workshops, and then the output of those comic book workshops is that the winners, or somehow the participants of the workshop get to get a free table at Komiket itself.
So just check out Komiket on Facebook and see if that workshop is still ongoing.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
Well right now I’m stuck in Denmark. So I guess this would be a pretty good place to be stuck in.
Where in the world would I wanna be?
I would be happy in any place that served me unlimited coffee, and spam, and bacon… All day. Which would not be healthy.
I don’t think I can do what Gaiman does, which is like, he locks himself inside, you know, these big houses. And he’s like all alone there. That’s where he writes, and he would usually take long walks in the forest at the back of the house, and he would walk around town when he wants to free his mind, and then come back to writing.
I would gladly work, you know, anywhere in the world that has a really nice café with air-conditioning that would be close to the place where I sleep, or a nice bookstore for that matter—although I might be distracted by all of the books that are around.
On a business trip I got to visit New Orleans once, and our hotel had one of those really classic cafés with nice art deco—I don’t know if it’s art deco—floor tiling, and these dangling lamps from the ceiling. And I could’ve just stayed there all day to write if I had a choice. And it was near some pretty old bookstores, so it would be nice to just walk around that area of New Orleans and come back to that café to write.
But yes, anywhere with coffee, and where people aren’t too noisy. I’d be happy with that.
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?
Well I’d love to say Neil Gaiman but I think I’ve watched every single Neil Gaiman interview online. So I think I already know how his brain works.
But if I could have a chance to have dinner with these people then yes, I would invite them to dinner to just talk about work, to just talk about writing and creation and comics. Would be good to talk to Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore, and of course, yes, let’s toss in Grant Morrison as well into that mix.
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.)
I guess it would have to be Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman. Through their interviews and through their writings they’ve become my guidepost, I guess you could say. I guess I can’t help but try and imitate what they’ve been doing.
Normally, I think, that’s what happens to a lot of artists—especially if you’re an artist, who, at the beginning stages of your drawing, tends to copy your favorites. And I guess that’s what I was doing. And in some Trese stories you can actually see who I’m copying—and hopefully I’ve taken a step away from that. I don’t know if it still shows.
But I guess it would be the works of those two writers that I’ve been trying to emulate—or at least spin away from. To immerse myself in their work, and then spin out of that and see what I can do with it.