Alex Pena is a self taught manga artist and creator of the webcomic, Sen and Kai. Alex has created a website, www.mangachasers.com, which offers a variety of content for manga fans: an original webcomic, How To videos, art, and a print shop. Saturday AM spoke with Alex Pena about his webcomic and Puerto Rican roots.
Saturday AM: When did you first begin drawing manga? Being self taught, how did you perfect your drawing skills? Did you ever think about taking art classes?
Alex Pena: I think when I was 17 or 18 years old I started drawing. I’m far from having my skills perfected. I still have lots of practice to do before achieving a level I’m comfortable with.
I would love to go to art school. At this stage, I would need to learn Japanese, since the art schools I would like to go to learn more about drawing manga would be in Japan.
Saturday AM: Who/What inspires you as an creator and your manga/ artistic style?
Alex Pena: My life, things around me, my friends, manga, anime. There are many to specific artists to mention, but just to name a few: Hayao Miyazaki,Takehito Harada, Yukito Kishiro, Tite Kubo. Some of them influence me as an artist, and some as writers.
Saturday AM: What is your favorite manga past and present? Are you an anime fan too?
Alex Pena: That’s hard to say…I don’t think I have a specific favorite. Each artist and storyteller has something awesome and unique. I like each of them equally, and yes I’m also an anime fan.
Saturday AM: Being Puerto Rican, is manga and anime popular in the country? Does your background influence your work or do you stick to an Eastern feel?
Alex Pena: Manga is not super popular in Puerto Rico, but it is growing pretty fast. There's got to be some influence from my background. Since childhood, I used to draw American super heroes so I guess there are still lots of things I still draw unconsciously from Western influence, not that I can tell which ones they are. Nowadays, I try to concentrate on and get the influence from the Japanese way of drawing and writing comics.
Saturday AM: How did you decide on the url: mangachasers.com?
Alex Pena: I had this website call Dreams Chasers and ended changing it to Manga Chasers when we decided we would create a manga.
Saturday AM: You have a creative story partner for Sen and Kai. What is your creative process in generating the story? Do you have the entire manga planned out already?
Alex Pena: We do not have the entire manga planned out in advance. Usually, I would do the writing for one chapter. Then I send it to my friend for review, and we go back and forth talking about our likes and dislikes until we are satisfied. Then it is time for me to start sketching the page layout. Once I have the page sketched, we look at it again and make some more changes to the panels or the potential dialogues, before we go to the final stages of art.
We probably have a unique way of writing the story and our daily lives and friendship influence the storytelling. We can go through events and real life situations that may be added in the story. This can make the writing and drawing process a bit difficult because it's spontaneous, but, at the same time, the creative process is full of surprises. As we change and evolve in life, the story, backgrounds, and characters could evolve as well. So even if we had previously agreed on the ending of the story, it could change as well. I think this is what will keep Sen and Kai fresh and unique.
Saturday AM: Does fan interaction/feedback influence your manga or brand?
Alex Pena: I’m not sure if fans' interactions & feedback do or don't influence us. Most people are excited about Sen and Kai, and they don’t give us criticism or constructive feedback. Only a few might say it's not the type of stories they like. So I think I’m writing and drawing for myself and for those who are excited with me.
Saturday AM: How would you describe Sen and Kai? Genre?
Alex Pena: It’s about two best friends who love and hate each other. I can’t say too much because then I'll spoil the story. Sen and Kai could fit in the Adventure/Fantasy genre.
Saturday AM: I love the humor and interaction between Sen and Kai. It is such a realistic relationship yet heightened perfectly for the comic world. How did you create the idea for the manga and decide the character dynamic for Sen and Kai?
Alex Pena: Sen and Kai are characters based on my friend and I. I think about it this way—who would I be and how would I act as a fictional character in a fantasy world? How do I see my best friend as a fictional character and how would she act? Situations we go through in real life tend to influence the writing of Sen and Kai in a fictional, fantasy and comedy way.
Saturday AM: What tools do you use to create your webcomic pages?
Alex Pena: I use Manga Studio 5ex.
Saturday AM: You upload How To Draw videos as well, even in multiple languages. How did this come about?
Alex Pena: That was my friend’s idea. We started Manga Chasers with how to draw video content while working on Sen & Kai Manga. Since I'm Puerto Rican, we decided that a Spanish version would be a good idea. We then ran into a Brazilian fan who asked if he could help us, and we thought that translations into Portuguese would bring in more fans. Since TB is Vietnamese, she thought that some Vietnamese translation would also be a good idea.
Saturday AM: What is your dream for Sen and Kai?
Alex Pena: Many dreams, almost infinite dreams. Sen and Kai is starting out as a manga, but our vision is that it will go beyond a manga. We want to create a magical world where people can visit and children can play in, where everyone smiles when they see all those fictional characters/creatures and feel that they are in that fantasy world themselves.
Saturday AM: What are the 3 most important things you have learned as an artist and creator since beginning that you wish you knew before?
Alex Pena: 1. Be spontaneous with your story
2. Have fun when you draw
3. Always believe in your art.
Saturday AM: Thanks Alex!