Friday, August 25, 2017

STGCC 2017: Booth Highlight - Treat Yourself with a Dose of Callous Comics!

Dr. Carlo Jose San Juan is a great example of how one can be scientific and artistic at the same time. He also proves that with determination and passion, one can have a busy professional day job as well as achieve success from your own creative ideas.

His comic strip "Callous", which chronicles the life of Dr. Rianne Nicah and Cal Duck (yes, he's a talking duck who guides her through good times and bad), has been on-going for over 20 years. It is also published in the Manila Bulletin.

Red Dot Diva knows that there may be many aspiring creators out there who already have their own webtoons, self-published stories or zines who find a challenge getting their work to more people out there. Perhaps, you might like to learn something from Dr Carlo's personal experience!

Red Dot Diva: Hi there! Please introduce yourself to the comic book/ cartoon readers here, and how you got into sequential art.
Dr Carlo: Hello! I'm Dr. Carlo Jose San Juan from the Philippines and I'm a practicing physician, cartoonist, comic book writer, and voice actor. Watching a lot of cartoons and reading a lot of comics when I was younger inspired me to pursue sequential art as a profession in the hopes of replicating the positive effect these media had on me on other people.

Red Dot Diva: Tell us a bit more about your comic strip "Callous". How did the name come about, and what inspired you to start your own comic strip?
Dr C: I have been drawing comics as far back as I can remember, doodling them for my own entertainment in notebooks and scrap paper in my youth. I was inspired by various newspaper comic strips and comic books to create my own adventures in similar fashion.

"Callous" is a newspaper and online comic strip series that features Dr. Rianne Nicah, a physician who, like a lot of us, struggles to get through each day. She happens to have a Guardian Duck, Cal Duck, who helps guide her to discover herself and the world, facets of life that she had put aside through many years of focusing on her medical training. It's a lighthearted look at life in medicine and beyond!

"Callous" began in 1996 in my university's student newspaper and it was a college situation comedy back then. I also started publishing my strips online as a webcomic around the same time. I continued "Callous" in my medical school's student newspaper where it became much like it is today, a situation comedy set in the world of medical students and doctors. I felt the desire to incorporate Cal Duck into the series, mostly for sentimental reasons. Back in college, Cal was the series mascot going through goofy misadventures but I wanted him to have a more significant role. A good friend of mine suggested that he become something similar to Yoda in "Star Wars" how he guided Luke Skywalker into becoming a Jedi. I thought that was a brilliant idea especially after realizing that Cal had to that date been a typical unlucky cartoon duck which was nothing everyone had not seen before. The juxtaposition of an insightful nature with his comedic appearance was very interesting to me.

Furthermore, going through the trials medical students and doctors face on a daily basis, I needed an outlet to manage my stress and introspective dilemmas. For some reason, drawing comics was a great medium for me.

Red Dot Diva: How did the name of "Callous" come about?
Dr C: The series' name came about when my editor in my college newspaper required me to come up with a title for the comic and I couldn't think of one. I didn't think the title would be important so at a moment when I was left alone in the student publications office, I picked up a large dictionary and dropped it on a table on its spine. It opened up and the first word I saw was "Callous". So I went with that. Today, considering a callous is a toughening of our skin to external stresses, I say that Rianne is going through a similar strengthening against life's trials, albeit within her.

Red Dot Diva: Is Rianne Nicah based on someone in real life?
Dr C: Visually, Rianne isn't based on anyone. She occasionally appeared in my college comics as a minor character. I noticed a lot of readers found her relatable for some reason so when I brought the series to my medical school I opted to use her as the main character. I find it interesting that many assume that she is based on my wife, who apparently looks a lot like her and is also a brilliant physician, but I met her much later on in life. Perhaps something subconsciously attracted me to her? Perhaps it was destiny? Who knows?

Red Dot Diva: And why a duck? Why not say... a mynah bird?
Dr C:  Quite simply, I like cartoon ducks (no offense to mynah birds)! The duck was always my favorite in any series. Daffy, Donald, Count Duckula, Wade, Ducktales, etc., I loved them all!
Red Dot Diva: And I was just about to say something silly about quack doctors ... :D

Red Dot Diva: You must already be busy with your day job & family life, so how do you find time and the right balance to maintain both?
Dr C: I do what I can to make it work. Though, admittedly, it's very difficult. A typical day has me at my drafting table to create a comic strip once my wife and kids are asleep at night. I try to sneak in some comic work during the day when I can. To make a long story short, I make the time for it.

Red Dot Diva: Who are some artists who have influenced your creative work in a big way?
Dr C: I read a lot of comic strips in our newspaper when I was younger so those artists influenced my art and writing the most.  Charles M. Schultz, Jim Davis, Bill Watterson, and Dan DeCarlo are my "Big Four".

Other influences include Herge's "The Adventures of Tintin", Walt Kelly's "Pogo", Alfonso Wong's "Old Master Q", Massimiliano Frezzato's "The Keepers of the Maser", Don Rosa's Disney Duck comics, Eddie Pittman's "Red's Planet", and Sobe Amako's "Nintama Rantarou." Several Filipino artists inspired me as well, such as Tonton Young, Roni Santiago, Pol Medina, Jr., and Monlee and Roxlee.

Putting all these influences together gives my art an interesting mix. And my list of influences continue to grow, especially with the rise of amazing independent work!

Red Dot Diva: What are your favourite cartoons/ comic strips of all time and why?
Dr C: If we're talking about comic strips then my favorites would be "Calvin and Hobbes," "Peanuts," and "Archie." They portray an innocence and optimism to the world that many of us somehow recognize yet rarely acknowledge. I'm a firm believer in positivity so any comic that shows that life is good, no matter what, would win me over or at least get me to give it a second-look.
I absolutely love Jeff Smith's "Bone," Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," Hiroaki Samura's "Blade of the Immortal," Herge's "The Adventures of Tintin," and Marjorie Liu's run on "X-23." I re-read those a lot. They're just great tales that totally suck me in.

Red Dot Diva: How did you get to be published in Manila Bulletin? How it feel the first time you saw your strip on the comics page?
Dr C: Back in 2010, being envious of my webcomic buddies in the USA as they tell tales of amazing experiences in comic conventions, I started to look for similar events in the Philippines and nearby countries. At the time, I was just rejoining the world after going through the black hole of medical training so I had no idea that there were comic conventions in my country!  

I started participating in comic conventions and building a rich network of comic production colleagues. One thing led to another and in 2012, I submitted around 20 or so comic strips to the comics page editor of the Manila Bulletin.  I selected comic strips that best described "Callous" and those that received the best feedback online. Soon afterwards, I was on the phone with the editor who was telling me that he's accepting my series into the comics page! A few days later my first comic strip appeared in the newspaper and I was thrilled!  It was a dream come true, really.

The Manila Bulletin is the widest-distributed national broadsheet newspaper in the Philippines so knowing that my work was potentially reaching so many people per day is exciting!
Red Dot Diva: Your personal experience gives a lot of indie comic creators out there much hope!

Red Dot Diva: What tips do you have for those who already have a comic strip/ web comic and want to boost their signal even more?
Dr C: First, realize that the actual production of the comic is only 10-20% of the work.  The other 80-90% is marketing.  There are so many online tools nowadays to get people to read your work such as social media services and webcomic hosting platforms. To maximize readership, use them all.
Also, connect with your readers.  Reply to e-mails, tweets, private messages, and comments. Get your readers invested not only in your work, but you as an artist.  Share your trials in producing your work through a YouTube channel, Instagram, livestreaming, or other similar services. With services like Patreon, they can even help fund the continuation of your artistic career for bonus, exclusive material.

Red Dot Diva: What did you learn from self-publishing your creations? And how did you get the funds to do so?
Dr C: Through self-publishing, you can have full control over your creations. The success or failure of your projects are completely on you. Once I treated my comic work as a profession instead of a hobby, it also became a business. And like any business, it required an initial investment with my own money.

Using the income from the margins of my first book, I was able to fund the next volume.  Then that and the first book funded the next, and so on. However, with the most recent book which commemorated the "Callous" 20th anniversary, I wanted it to be particularly special. So I partially funded its production through crowdfunding via Indiegogo and my Facebook page.

Red Dot Diva: With web comics/ comic strips that punchline in the last panel is crucial. How do you nail that?
Dr C: In the world of humorous comics, I like to think of comic strip authors as the stand-up comedians of the art. I feel there's a natural rhythm through the panels and dialogue and the writing should follow those beats. So, while the actual content of the writing is crucial to the effectiveness of a strip, the timing and delivery is just as important. We see stand-up comedians tell these short gags with a basic structure that work just as well in comic strips a lot.

Red Dot Diva: What other conventions have you attended, and has boothing in these help raise your profile in a significant way?
Dr C: In the Philippines, I frequent a lot of pop culture conventions such as Komikon, Komiket, and AsiaPOP Comicon Manila.  Internationally, I have exhibited in Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC) and Emerald City Comic Con.  I've also attended New York Comic Con recently as a professional.  

I feel each one opens up my work to a different audience and it's great to meet readers, whether they be new or longtime fans!  Furthermore, as a professional, the opportunity to meet fellow comic producers and artists to learn from them and for potential collaborative work and projects is priceless to me.

Red Dot Diva: What made you decide to have a booth at STGCC 2017's artist alley? What will you be offering at your booth?
Dr C: First of all, returning to Singapore is always a joy. The country has a warm place in my heart and I consider each trip a homecoming of sorts since I spent the first decade of my life there. To be able to share one of my passions with the people that have had a significant role in helping me grow to be the person I am is always a fantastic opportunity, so as long as I'm able to I'll always grab the chance to participate in STGCC! I've always had a good experience in that event.

This year, I'll be bringing two "Callous" books that haven't been in Singapore before, including the 20th anniversary book. I'll also have two comic series the I co-created and wrote: "Immortal Wings," a four-issue comic mini-series that I worked on with Eisner-nominated artist Rod Espinosa published by Antarctic Press in the USA and "M.O.U.S.E. - Multiple Ordnance and Utility Synthetic Entity," a self-published all-ages sci-fi adventure comic that I worked on with artist Pilar Esber.

I'll also take requests for art cards!

Red Dot Diva: Any other goals that you aim to achieve for Callous Comics?
Dr C: I believe the next logical step in the series' evolution is to produce an animated series, and that would be another dream come true, though I believe it would be in the very far future at best. But who knows?
Red Dot Diva: An animated series would be awesome. All the best wishes for that!

Do check out Callous Comics, and say hello to Dr Carlo Jose San Juan at STGCC 2017 Artist Alley, Booth AA-32!

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