Sitting inside a room battling with tons of storylines in mind, coming up with a stirring plot for the next series, and handling tight headlines while maintaining high standards of works are the scenarios that a comic book artist encounters. No ifs, ands, or buts— it takes a lot of guts to be in the abstract world of the comic book.
With hard work and passion, Joseph Torres’ keenness has brought him not only to his dream career but to the compelling field of the comic book industry. Starting from a comic book strip for a school paper that gained tons of compliments, a light gleamed in front of Torres that made him walk through his purpose as a comic book writer.
Let’s take a closer look at the synopsis of the award-winning Filipino Canadian comic book writer Joseph Torres better known as J. Torres, who won a Shuster Award for “Outstanding Canadian Writer” in 2006 for his work in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Love as a Foreign Language, and Teen Titans Go.
Series 1: A comic book writer
A semi-autobiographical “homemade” comic entitled Copybook Tales made the way for Torres and his collaborator Tim Levins as they fire up their career in the comic book industry. Copybook Tales was first published by an American comic book publisher Slave Labor Graphics in the early 90s and later collected and reprinted by Oni Press.
“The story was about a Filipino-Canadian kid a lot like me, growing up in the 80s, and later dealing with
post-college woes in the 90s like getting a job and following your dreams. It was a
semi-autobiographic, slice-of-life comedy,” Torres said.
Torres and Levins’ first grind in the industry set their feet on the real battle of comics; they were recognized by editors and publishers who opened doors of opportunity for them.
“This was both our first attempt at making comics and we were considered part of the “indy scene” in Toronto for a time. That comic got us noticed by editors and publishers who would then give us
other work. Tim eventually went to work on a Batman book, I went to work on an X-Men miniseries, and our careers took off from there,” Torres added.
Several top comic book publishers have trusted Torres such as Oni Press, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics due to his exceptional stories that fascinate avid comic readers.
Torres has worked with characters from A (Archies) to Z (The Mighty Zodiac) and many more in between (Avatar, Batman, Ninja Scroll, Simpsons, WALL-E, Wonder Woman, YoGabbaGabba, and X-Men to name a few), and has also written for animation and television (including a Degrassi webisode in which “Drake” ignored the script and adlibbed his lines).
Series 2: Immigrant Story
Torres’ family decided to move to the great land when he was four years old. Like the usual immigrant story, his parents— who were originally from Pampanga— hastened their plans to fly to Canada during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos when there was a threat of implementing Martial Law.
Looking forward to gain a career in the white-collar industry, his parents who are degree holders strived to enter their career paths in the most populous municipality in Quebec but their diplomas weren’t recognized. However, they were “overqualified” in some blue-collar jobs they attempted to work in.
“I think my dad’s first job here was working in a warehouse and mom worked some kind of assembly line. Hardwork, and not what they studied all those years for, but they had to earn a living. Eventually, they found entry level jobs in their field and worked their way up the ladder so to speak,” he said.
Torres emphasized that living in Canada provided him and his family good opportunities. Aside from having the right to acquire benefits and the country’s great social program, Canada also gave them the opportunity to be multicultural-friendly citizens.
“Moving here gave my siblings and me a lot more opportunities than we would’ve had in the Philippines, especially growing up in the 80s. We were also exposed to a lot of different people and cultures and languages we wouldn’t have otherwise. Canada is known for being a healthy, safe, and multicultural place to live, and that gives you a lot of advantages growing up,” he added.
For Torres, living in a North American country has various advantages; one of those is living in the land that is a plane ride away from major destinations such as the United States, South Africa, and the Caribbean. Connecting to different people, learning new things, understanding divergent cultures, and experiencing colorful festivals are the incomparable privileges for Torres.
“I love how multicultural Canada is, and especially the Toronto area, so that one month we’re celebrating Chinese New Year, the next month or so Easter, then summer hits and it’s Caribbean, Greek,
Italian, and even Filipino festivals galore. And you work and play with people from all of those cultures every day. It’s wonderful, and the sort of thing you can only experience in relatively few
places in the world,” he said.
Series 3: Filipino roots
Even though he considers himself as a Canadian, Torres made sure that his natural Filipino spirit will remain inside their home. He shared that his family is still able to incorporate their Filipino heritage such as using Tagalog words when speaking to one another and eating famous Pinoy dishes.
“We eat a lot of Filipino food. My wife has learned to cook all my favorite dishes from rellenong talong to lumpia shanghai to beef calderata and even Filipino style spaghetti. I’m a lucky man!” Torres said.
Despite of speaking English most of the time, Tagalog is still a part their everyday vocabulary.
“My youngest son calls his older brother kuya. All the Filipino adults in their lives are titas or titos, ninangs or ninongs, lolas or lolos,” he added.
Torres also shared that his whole family loves to attend Filipino food festival and competition every summer, as well as cultural shows such as folk dances, cabarets, and talent showcases.
Series 4: Success
Vying to be one of the most in demand comic artist has been a rough road for Torres. He believes that it is not only talent that will help aspiring comic artists to reach their goal but dedication, and a good planning should also be their companion.
“It’s not easy. It requires not only talent but dedication, good planning, and a little bit of luck. You will have lean years, you will have dues to pay, but eventually if you do good work, or even enough work, you’ll make a name for yourself and the rest should follow,” Torres said.
Holding the responsibility of a father while chasing his dream career was not easy for Torres; sustaining financial stability was the hardest part. Fortunately, Torres has his wife as his support system in pursuing his dream career.
“First of all, my wife. She is great with money, and if it wasn’t for her, I would probably in be major debt or even broke by now!” he said.
Torres also shared how Canada’s good benefits aid his necessities as a freelancer.
“I’m also lucky to live in Canada, where we have universal healthcare. I know American freelancers, for example, who have had to deal with large medical bills and have come close to personal bankruptcy due to an illness in the family. That is something I never have to worry about, fortunately,” he said.
Torres leaves three words to aspiring comic artists in order to succeed in the industry: good, fast, and nice.
“If you’re good and nice, you may run into trouble being slow with your work, but you’ll get away with it. If you’re fast and nice, not necessarily the best writer or artist out there, editors will remember you and you’ll get work. If you’re good and fast, you’ll likely find work even if you’re not the nicest person in the world. Take that with a grain of salt, but there’s a lot of truth to it,” he added.