On the Spot: Lyndon Gregorio, Creator of Beerkada, on Making People Laugh and Enjoying Life
"Don't follow your passion" and more great advice from a man who has been making comics for 16 years (and counting)
(SPOT.ph) The rain that day caused miles and miles of traffic along EDSA. Fortunately, Lyndon Gregorio works in cafés. We had coffee to keep us warm and help us fight the blues brought by the downpour. Briefly, there was an attempt to apologize for keeping him from what he needed to do for the rest of the day, but he dismissed this with a joke, "Did the rain ask anyone if they had any plans?"
So there we stayed for more than an hour, building a conversation from the mundane to the inevitable sharing of wisdom. Gregorio has been making comics for 16 years, telling the story of Glen dela Costa and his friends through Beerkada. It started out as slice-of-college life comic strips, peppered with some oddities here and there. It’s now 10 books later, and Glen the torpe is getting married. There’s not enough room here to explain how that happened because unlike your typical comic book characters, the boys and girls of Beerkada grew up and became men and women...with jobs and everything!
We were eager to find out how Gregorio managed to make us care about these characters enough to follow them into adulthood...and how he stayed funny, relevant, and motivated.
Is this (a café) where you usually work?
Yes! I've even started a coffice manila to celebrate those who work in café offices. These places allow me to concentrate without being distracted. Before, I worked from home but there were too many distractions. [Internet, naps,] and there will always be that bill collector guy who has the wrong address. But here, no one knows me. No one bothers me.
No fans who ask for pictures or autographs?
There's a random fan, but that's once in a while. Very rare.
Which coffee places do you usually frequent?
The Starbucks [in EDSA Shang], McDonald’s. There’s one near my place, Tipsy Beans. You can also find me in Bread Talk.
What are your "essentials" when you’re writing?
You mean aside from my tools? Hot beverage! It has to be hot. It paces me. If it’s cold with ice, it goes away quickly. I'm stuck drawing for two hours with nothing [to drink] and then there's glances from the servers who are probably thinking, "That guy should get out of here." If it's hot, it's still here, and they can’t make me go away because I’m still drinking.
If it's pastry, it has to be a pastry with less sugar because I have a sugar problem. Hm, what else? (Pauses for thought.) I mainly draw with headphones on, with running music. Slow music makes me sleepy. My friend, Elbert Or, listens to café conversations and he picks up a lot, so I'm trying to not use the headphones too much.
How long do you stay to work on a strip?
Two hours. Two strips, and one extra Beerkada art. And then I make notes, plan my day, build the empire. (Chuckles.) My pacing is the time I have to go to the bathroom. And then I take a break and stretch or go home.
And how do you start with a strip?
I start with an idea and I list it down, because if you forget to write it down, it's a lost idea. I use Evernote, I file all the jokes. (Shows his long list of ideas.)
That’s quite a list! Where do the ideas come from?
I try to engage in life. I've got the ability to find humor out of most situations. All I need to do is find a situation. For example, I would make jokes about the dog that would make my wife laugh, and she insists that I make a strip out of it. But it’s a habit. I wasn’t focused on humor before, I wasn't funny before. It developed after 16 years. I defined myself by making people laugh. Now I want to draw more strips than usual. I'm 40, I just turned 40. I have 25 years of productivity so I better make the most of it.
How have the characters evolved over those years for you? (Editor’s Note: Beerkada began in 1998)
It started with my friends and I lost contact with them, [so now,] basically they're just aspects of my personality. [As for growth,] Glen started out as torpe because of me. Then seven, eight years in, being torpe was no longer part of me. So Glen couldn't stay torpe even though it was still funny. He had to evolve into someone who had a solid relationship.
What’s your relationship to your characters as their creator? How do you feel about them, now that they’ve grown?
It's envy. They've been friends since college. I don't have that. My best friend is my wife and her friends are my friends. (Laughs.) They know they can rely on each other, they hang out regularly. I’m stuck in cafes drawing by myself. (Fake sad tone and then laughs.) There's joy in that. But I guess they're my surrogate friends. I live vicariously through them.
[The plus in having fictional friends like them is] if I want them to go away, they go away. Unlike real friends. (Laughs.) [Real friends] you have to tolerate until it's 10:30 p.m., even though you want to go home because they want to stay out or drink. They look at you when you’re not being sociable and go, (high pitched tone) "What's wrong with you?"
So you have a bit of an antisocial streak?
Non-social streak. Antisocial is when you start shooting people because they get the hot girls even though you have the nice car.
Great distinction. On that rather morbid note, is there a character that you want to kill off? Like a character that’s just annoying now?
The most annoying character would be Psychocow. No one likes him (laughs) but I can do a lot of things with that character. I can enslave him-I turned him into a joke about 12 Years a Slave. Maybe turn him into a villain. (Pauses to muse.) I don't think I want to kill anyone off. I think if I'm going to kill someone, it's probably someone people like, because that would have an effect. But then, I already broke up one of the steadiest relationship in the comics.
Did you ever have to explain Boopey and Alan’s break-up?
They haven't gotten married yet and it's not going there. They let six months happen. They let the feelings pass.
The funny thing is, it’s Boopey who’s accomplished, but it's Alan who starts dating again. And he gets [the other girl] pregnant and they are getting married! Boopey [becomes this] brilliant and intelligent woman who their friends pity. I'm going to explore that dynamic. How women who are accomplished [become the] subject of pity-all of her accomplishments are moot, because the guy is getting married and has a kid!
So it wasn’t really planned, just a natural flow of things?
I've experienced those things. I know people, what's happened to them, the results of that situation. The real affects the fiction, fiction affects the real.
Let’s go to the "real" bits. What are trivia about Lyndon Gregorio you’d like to share?
I have to keep up with the trends. There's a fear of being obsolete, so now I am experimenting with digital art. I just bought the equipment. Keeping up with the times. There's the younger crowd, hungrier, they want to be established. They are trying to edge you out. They want to disrupt my business model. (Laughs.)
How do you counter that?
I have 16 years. You're established after 16 years. They say webcomics is a great place because there's no more publishing, printing, editorial, censorship-it gets you exposed. But since everyone is getting into webcomics, everyone is getting into webcomics and people don’t work as hard. It's hard to distinguish yourself from your competitors. I’ve gone through that.
What got you to this point?
The fear that I might miss out. That I would die and I didn't get to do what I wanted.
Did you ever have strips you regret publishing?
I claim that it's from a former time. But I try to avoid that now-the Walt Disney mistake. You know, those blackface jokes? Funny at the time but racist now. He wasn't that far-thinking and I don't want to be labeled that. I try to think ahead. Will this strip be controversial in the future?
I noticed that [up until] 2011, I was making throwaway jokes and I thought that was okay....like that strip about Machete? This guy didn't want to carve Machete because that would be gay so he asked the girl to carve it. It was funny, but it was a thoughtless joke. If the whole point of the joke is to comment on the controversy, maybe it's okay, but if it's a throwaway joke, it’s better to avoid it.
How did you grow up from that humor?
I've actively been monitoring the web. It’s there. There’s a growing counterculture against thoughtlessness. But then, even if you try to be progressive, you find that you're not progressive enough. I haven't included an LGBT character in my comic, but I find that if I do and it's halfbaked it's just patronizing. I'll just add more controversy, you try but you don't get it. Better avoid it all together.
What about the audience? Alan Robles wrote a piece the absence of the satire gene for Pinoys. How do you help them grow up too?
There was this great cosplayer in ToyCon this year who posed as Bong Revilla and I posted a few pictures of him that I took. It got one of the highest likes I've ever gotten on Facebook this year. That was pure satire. People got it immediately. So it’s there.
For me, most jokes I make have multiple levels. There’s the base humor, you get it immediately and everyone can relate. I made a strip about the Gocos who try to reserve a raft at the beach. It’s funny when you look at the conflict, but it’s funnier when you get the commentary on the Spratley situation.
The trick is to have the base humor that doesn't merit explanation. The other levels are Easter eggs. If you get it, you are rewarded for it. If you get the movie references, you are rewarded for that. But if you miss it, it's okay. And the [other levels] are always going to be there. You don't lose anything, but if you do, you appreciate more.
More advice for the younger generation of comic book artists or people who want to start?
At this point? Don't follow your passion. It's a bad way to start a career. Some people say follow your passion because you would always have energy. There are strengths to following your passion. You do things not just for the money. You polish the thing, you polish it better.
But the trick is, when you're following your passion and it's a hard market, you have to imagine yourself in the Top 10. If you can do something that will put you there, you will succeed. If you can't imagine that, if you're only going to be as good as the next guy...you're not gonna make it. You have to find a way. That's as general as you're going to get. That's a timeless advice. The big rule is picture yourself in the top five.
Following your passion itself will not work because there are a lot of factors. You have to have a way, a model, a plan, an approach, and talent. The big secret is you look at what everyone is doing and check out what everyone else is not doing-then figure out how to succeed in what everyone is not doing. It is a big step and it requires a lot of imagination. Imagination is in shortfall in our country. Innovation is in short supply. People want to play safe even though it won't succeed. You're going to fail being safe. You have to take chances.
One of your innovations is having the characters age. Was that part of the plan?
Beerkada was part of the plan. The characters would grow old. The goal was for Glenn's son to go to college. I have 20 years to do that. I have to think loosely of what will happen, based on my life and the people I know.
I always complained that these characters never grow old. I wanted that approach that people grow old. When they don't age, it gets awkward. Bart [from The Simpsons], they kept him at that age and it's still popular...but now he's this ’90s kid trying to be relevant. When characters grow old, they face problems and they have some things they can no longer relate to with the new generation. I don't mind that. It avoids all of that mess, that timeline mess, if they grow old.
What about staying in the industry? One of the things people seem to forget is that life goes on and on. How do you keep going?
Continuity was a plus before, it was a convention. Nowadays the trend is to end it. Short sweet-everything is still juicy and tasty, you don't let it dwindle to nothing. How do you compete with that? I was one of the last people to last this long.
For me, try new things. Try new art styles. Try new approaches. Try new storylines. Revive formulas. Especially past the 10-year mark.
What does the work mean to you now after this long?
I feel fresh after work. I'm embarrassed to read the ones I did during the first 10 years. It’s so crude. But when I read the last five years-it's fresh, I like it. It's like someone else did it and I like the work. People hate it when people criticize their work, but really, you are your own worst critic.
I used to excuse my crappy art because hey, Dilbert did it-but there was crappy art because the people behind it are not artists. I can do better. I should do better. I have talent.
I think I also want to say that I have never taken it for granted. If The [Philippine] Star kicks me out, for one reason or another, I'll let go. It's been a great 16 years, I could end the thing online. But I've been grateful for what's happening. Gratitude saves you...it makes you a happier person.
Oh, but I don't mind drama in my life. I would make bad choices, if only to find out where it goes. At least you have an interesting life, instead of the same predictable stuff. (Laughs.) You would not mind if people made bad decisions-because you'll find out about it and you'll see where it goes. You watch your friends eat lechon while you have a salad. And then you watch what happens to them. (Laughs). I take care of myself now.
Speaking of which, we’ve come to the all important question about life advice.
What do I know? (Laughs.) I've been doing what I want my entire life. I read all the books I wanted, watched all the movies I wanted to see...I explored. I did things I wanted. I was on track. No regrets.
I'm way past midpoint. I have about 25 years of productivity, 30 years of life maybe. So I'm networking, meeting up, connecting. I'm an introvert...but I'm 40. I can let go of the shame. It's just the rest of my life I have to live out. I don't mind mitstakes anymore.
Beerkada is part of our Top 10 Most Iconic Pinoy Comic Strip Characters.