The How-Do-You Series is an ongoing collection of interviews I’ve conducted with creators. In each edition, I’ll ask (pretty much) the same three questions. The goal is to show the different ways that different people tackle problems fairly common to everyone who works in the arts.
Our first edition features Jerry Teo. Jerry is a full-time freelance illustrator. In 2013, he created the online comic strip, Rex Regrets, which follows the misadventures of a tyrannosaurus who just never learns that his short arms put him at a bit of a disadvantage in modern life.
I met Jerry, I think, at a 24-Hour Comics event in the early 2010s. Since then, we’ve conducted workshops together, been guests on each other’s podcasts and, to everyone’s horror, shared way too much with each other about our bodily functions.
1. How do you start working on a strip? Do you have a ritual or a routine that helps you get into the right frame of mind, or an exercise that helps you build momentum?
JT: Going from idea to strip is easy, since I’ve been kinda working on Rex for a decade now. Once the idea pops up or if there’s a theme I want to explore, it’s just a matter of trying to fit Rex into various scenarios and see how it works out. Very often, the joke tells itself as I start sketching. The big issue really is to actually write down the ideas so that I wouldn’t forget them.
I’m not quite sure how I get into the right frame of mind too. I just figured I need to do this, then I’ll just sit down and do it. I’ve deliberately picked a simple art style for Rex precisely because I wanted to get ideas out fast. There was a lot more momentum in the beginning. Now, it’s just a matter of consistency.
2. How do you overcome creative fatigue? How do you stay in love with what you do, or how do you get out of a creative slump?
JT: Overcoming creative fatigue for me is easy… but hard…
I just stop what I do completely. To say there is no fatigue is a lie. I don’t believe I was depressed, but definitely it was harder to motivate myself to do things outside of work. I guess being a freelance illustrator and in the visual arts industry for so many years kinda blunted the excitement I had for drawing as a kid. During the heaviest covid restrictions I found myself just video gaming a lot. Since there was not much in terms of freelance work back then, a lot of time and headspace went into that. So, in an unfortunate but serendipitous way, I was able to clear out some cobwebs, had a lot of fun learning how to fly planes in flight sims and now, as the world starts to reopen, I feel ready and kinda recharged.
So, yeah, TLDR: taking long breaks works for me but it might not be financially prudent.
3. How do you balance the creative with the administrative? As a full-time freelancer, how much time do dedicate to your art, whether it’s creating the strips or putting together the print collections?
JT: I’d say perhaps 70% of the time is used to create art, research and interface with clients needs. The other 30% is for backend stuff like doing up accounts, invoices, P.O.’s, taxes, etc. I guess it’s become quite a routine that I don’t find it a chore. But a responsible freelancer (alas, that is not I) would also take time off to improve themselves, their skills and learn new things to value-add to their repertoire of toolsets to justify their rates.
With regards to Rex, until I have to send a volume to print and/or if we have to go sell stuff at conventions, there’s usually not much to do except produce the strips (hopefully consistently). So, yeah, just like Hasbro, I too think Rex is under-monetised.