Interview with Ace Vitangcol, Founder of StudioStudio
Last week, we introduced StudioStudio, the comics and manga arm of Alturia Hill Publishing. This time, StudioStudio founder Mr. Ace Vitangcol shares with Manga Planet how Japanese manga influenced their company’s works as well as the changes he observed in the comic industry in his home country, the Philippines.
Could you please give us a brief introduction of yourself?
Mr. Vitangcol: My name is Ace Vitangcol, I was born and raised in the Philippines. I’ve been writing books and graphic novels professionally for over 12 years now. I also teach part-time at the Fine Arts Department of Ateneo de Manila University, where I handle comics production and visual communication classes.
Please share any memories you have of manga during your childhood.
Mr. Vitangcol: Like many Filipinos, we were first exposed to anime, though at the time I considered them simply “cartoons” in the same vein as Merrie Melodies and other shows on local television and Cartoon Network. One of the first series my brother and I finished was Akazukin Chacha. As a child I also watched shows like Daimos, Voltes V, Bioman, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Fushigi Yuugi. I didn’t get into manga until I was an adult.
When did you get interested in Japanese culture or manga and how?
Mr. Vitangcol: It wasn’t until after college that I learned that the shows I used to watch had comic book equivalents, and that’s when I learned about manga. Later, when I started my comics career, I studied both American and Japanese techniques, and as a university teacher I began focusing on the genre distinctions and production processes of both. That led me to learning more about Japanese culture and the manga industry.
Which manga attracted you the most and why?
Mr. Vitangcol: I loved watching Slam Dunk on cable television, and when I found out that the anime didn’t cover the whole story, I desperately hunted down copies of the manga in bookstores. Takehiko Inoue’s manga was a big reason why I added basketball elements to our very first series, Love is in the Bag.
Did you watch or read any Japanese TV programs, games, etc. during your childhood?
Mr. Vitangcol: Aside from the anime shows I mentioned, I have fond memories of the local dub of Takeshi’s Castle. Also, my favorite video game of all time is the JRPG Chrono Trigger on the SNES. I was particularly struck by the wonderful artwork of Akira Toriyama for that game. I have also been playing Pokemon since the Red/Blue era.
Is there any manga you are personally into right now?
Mr. Vitangcol: I really love the Kadokawa manga version of the BBC television show, Sherlock. The artist Jay really captures its essence!
What kind of manga do people prefer in the Philippines? Are there any characteristics or trends?
Mr. Vitangcol: From my own observation, shonen is very popular here nowadays. Titles like Naruto, Bleach, and to a lesser extent, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, as well as newer titles like Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia are all really big locally.
What do you think is the difference between manga fans in Japan and in the Philippines?
Mr. Vitangcol: Fans here in the Philippines tend to begin their journey from anime, before branching out to read the manga source material.
Due to differences in culture, we may miss some aspects that are tied heavily into Japan that are not explicitly described in the story, such as situations about social interactions (how a character acts, versus how one is expected to act), and little jokes about food (like a teenager being proud of cracking chopsticks properly, which is something a child would have been proud of, but not something an adult would celebrate). Fortunately, it is becoming easier to learn about Japanese culture and society, so I believe Philippine fans are catching up quickly.
Please tell us about StudioStudio.
Mr. Vitangcol: Alturia Hill Publishing – Studio Studio was started in 2007, and as of December 2019, we have completed 28 titles. Our first book was Love is in the Bag Volume 1, and we continued that series until its conclusion with Love is in the Bag Volume 5: The Finale in 2011. There were also eight spin-off coloring books, a light novel called The Great Donut Caper, and a multiple-ending book called The Mystery of Valehollow: The Lorelei Wang Case Files, which had thirteen different endings. We followed that series up with Angel Crush, which ran for six volumes from 2011 to 2019. Our current series is My Celestial Family, which has two titles so far: Sunshine the Star Collector, and The Distant Heart of Bellatrix. We also have other titles such as Tonoma: The Tower of North Manila, and Gladys & Furr.
The studio’s head artist is Jed Siroy, who has been with us since day one. We also work with several artists and assistants (Mikel Bondoc and Jee Saavedra being frequent collaborators), as well as workshop writers on a part-time basis, as needed for each project. Our Editor is Roy Vitangcol, and I serve as both Creative Director and Lead Writer.
Why did you decide to start your own company and to publish your own manga?
Mr. Vitangcol: I’ve always been interested in telling stories. My good friend, Jed Siroy, was great at drawing characters from anime series that he watched, as well as characters from stories that I wrote back in grade school and high school. Together, we wanted to make our own stories.
Unlike Japan where there are widespread regular periodical comics publications, the infrastructure for comics publishing here in the Philippines was not as robust. So, it was easier to turn to self-publishing, where you can really enjoy the creative freedom afforded by doing it yourself.
How do you publish your own manga? Please tell us about your team and the process.
Mr. Vitangcol: The work is divided across several people. As the lead writer, I come up with the story pitch, which is then run through our editor and, depending on the project, workshop writers. The lead artist also gives input and begins character conceptualization. Once the project is greenlit by the major team members, I then do the thumbnail breakdown and do the page layouts before turning it over to the head artist and assistant artists. Once the art is finished, the pages go back to me for typesetting, and we make adjustments based on our editor’s comments. After several read-throughs and proofreading sessions, we send the files off to the printer and then off to distribution.
What were the difficulties in publishing your own manga?
Mr. Vitangcol: Like many personal businesses, you need to handle most things on your own. Big publishing houses have staff who will handle promotion, distribution, and marketing, but when you’re publishing your own work, you’ll need to do all those yourself.
What are the changes have you observed in the comic industry in the Philippines? How do you think it will change in the future?
Mr. Vitangcol: We’re seeing a shift in distribution and consumption avenues as more and more comics and manga conventions appear, which has really helped foster a community of creators and readers. It puts a face to the authors and allows us to interact with readers. Conventions also give plenty of exposure to new artists, and many readers are also beginning to create comics of their own. With the advent of online commerce and interaction, this relationship becomes even more important. I think in the future, we are going to see equal monetary interest in the process of making comics and the actual finished product itself.
We’re also seeing an increase in academic interest in comics and manga. Several universities and organizations are now offering classes and workshops on comics writing and illustration, comics and manga history, and various production processes, which has led to more creators and an increase in content at conventions. In addition to people in the academe, several industry professionals are lending their talent and knowledge to this movement.
What is your future vision for your company/manga titles?
Mr. Vitangcol: To live up to the brand and values of Alturia Hill Publishing, which are to make great books that teach good values, continue to make high quality, polished products, and to reach more readers. Perhaps we can branch out to different modes of entertainment as well!
What can you say about Manga Planet and our sibling service, futekiya?
Mr. Vitangcol: I like that it allows interaction between the creators and the readers. No doubt this will inspire both sides to create more and to read more. I’ve seen subscription models work on other platforms, so I have high hopes for Manga Planet and futekiya. I wish you the very best!
If you were to describe what manga is for you in one word, what would it be?
Mr. Vitangcol: Freedom. Manga can take us to different worlds and time periods. There are so many ways in the medium to express yourself as a storyteller: from the art, the writing, the typesetting and layout. It offers a style of expression that is quite unique.
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