Born October 12, 1969 (Manila, Philippines)
J. Torres is the rare comics author who has succeeded in both independent and mainstream comics. In his independent works, such as Sidekicks, Days Like This, and Alison Dare, Torres explores issues such as friendship and teenage life with real sensitivity to the emotional complexities of growing up; in his mainstream stories for the Teen Titans Go! series, Torres shows a sure hand with fast-paced action, yet he never loses touch with the relations between the teen superheroes. What unites his work in these different realms of the comics publishing industry is Torres's deep interest in family dynamics and the emotional state of young people. In a column he penned for the Web site Comic Book Resources, Torres stated: "It seems most of the stuff I write, regardless of genre or concept or format, involves some kind of family theme or dynamic. If it's not about a character trying to keep their family together (Alison Dare) or someone searching for a lost family member (Siren), it's about someone finding a kind of surrogate family to help them accomplish something (Sidekicks)." What makes Torres's work so distinctive is that he has been able to treat these themes in ways that are appropriate for readers of all ages, using both humor and sentiment. His skills have earned him several comics industry awards, and promise a bright future.
"[Teen Titans Go! is] sort of like a dream gig.… It's almost like I've been preparing for this project my whole life."
Works his way into comics business
Joseph Torres was born on October 12, 1969, in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. When he was four years old his parents, Renato (an engineer) and Guia (an accountant), fled the political instability in the Philippines and settled—in the dead of winter—in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where Torres later became a Canadian citizen. After finishing high school, he attended McGill University in Montreal, where he earned a bachelor's degree in communications in 1993, followed by a post-graduate diploma in education in 1994. After college he gained a job as an elementary school teacher—but being a teacher was not what he had hoped to do for the rest of his life. "I think I've always wanted to be a writer," Torres told Ruel S. de Vera of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "and comic books were my first love. So it made sense to get started there even though I had aspirations to write children's books or work in TV as well.… I wanted to work in comics really early on, I just didn't know how to do it."
Sidekicks: The Transfer Student. (2003).
Copybook Tales. (2003).
Days Like This. (2003).
Jason and the Argobots. 2 vols. (2003).
Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures. 2 Vols. (2003, 2005).
Love as a Foreign Language. 4 vols. (2004–05).
Teen Titans Go! 3 vols. (2004–05).
Degrassi: Extra Credit. Forthcoming.
Even before he graduated from college, Torres began working on a mini-comic with his friend, illustrator Tim Levins. The pair created Copybook Tales, a story about two young men growing up in the early 1990s and trying to make it as storytellers. The story was semi-autobiographical, with the characters loosely based on himself, Levins, family, and friends. At first, they self-published the comic book; by 1996, they had sold the series to SLG Publishing. Torres told Graphic Novelists (GN) that he worked on the story "whenever I had a chance," between teaching English as a second language and directing a summer camp. "Looking back, I sometimes cringe at some of the storytelling, the corny lines, bad jokes, etc.," Torres told de Vera, "but overall, I'm pretty proud of it." The comic helped Torres and Levin get their foot in the door, and they have both been working steadily in the comic book industry ever since. By 2000, Torres had gotten enough comics work that between creating the mini-series Siren, writing for Nickelodeon Magazine, and handling the Rugrats comic strip, he was able to quit teaching to write full time.
Succeeds in independent comics
Torres's first big success with an original comic came with Sidekicks. Introduced in 2000 and first published in comic book format by Fanboy Entertainment, Sidekicks is set in a high school for the gifted. Not the intellectually gifted, mind you—this is no school for super bright kids—but for those gifted with superpowers who need help in figuring out how to use those powers for good. Other than the fact that these kids have superpowers, the characters in Sidekicks are normal teens, with all their concerns about fitting in, finding love and friendship, and maintaining a good relationship with their parents. Sidekicks is illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (1978–), a Canadian illustrator whose work resembles the look of Japanese manga.
In 2003, Oni Press (which specializes in producing comics that don't fit into the standard superhero mold produced by DC Comics and Marvel Comics) bought Sidekicks and released it as a graphic novel called Sidekicks: The Transfer Student. A Publishers Weekly review noted that the book was "written in the universal language of youth trapped in high school hell." Both drawings and words teamed to capture the high school experience, and the book was unusual for its realistic and sensitive treatment of female characters. Sidekicks established Torres as someone to watch in the comics industry.
In the mid-2000s, Torres published a number of works that proved him to be a writer who brought a fresh sensibility to comics. His biggest success came with Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures, a story about a twelve-year-old girl who is the daughter of an archaeologist and a masked superhero called the Blue Scarab. Though her parents hope that she will lead a normal life, Alison Dare craves adventure—and she finds it. Rebelling against the limits placed on her by parents and school, Alison leads her friends Wendy and Dot on a series of adventures that combine danger, humor, and adept explorations of friendship. Torres told GN that to invent this character, he "took a childhood favorite, Jonny Quest, made him a girl attending my sister's private Catholic girls' school, and gave her Lara Croft and Clark Kent for parents. Basically, I created a pastiche out of cartoon, comics, video games, and movies that I like and hoped that the mix of genres, combined with some familial themes and personal experience, would result in something familiar yet fresh and fun for the whole family." Like Sidekicks, Alison Dare was focused primarily on girl characters and crafted to be appealing to kids of all ages; in fact, the book was nominated for an Eisner Award for "Best Title for Young Readers." The second volume of Alison Dare was published by Oni Press in 2005; both volumes were illustrated by J. Bone.
While Alison Dare and Sidekicks were suited for middle school and high school readers, Torres's Days Like This and Scandalous stretched the audience appeal to adults. Days Like This was set in the early 1960s and followed the rise to stardom of a group of talented young African American singers known as "Tina and the Tiaras." Based on Torres's research into the pop music industry of the time, the book resonated with the emotional thrills of teenage success. Publishers Weekly called Days Like This "a cheery little fable about girls on their way to the top." Torres followed Days Like This with Scandalous, a story set in 1950s-era Hollywood. Again well researched, Scandalous takes readers inside the world of two gossip columnists who are vying for supremacy in the competitive world of celebrity tabloid newspapers. The illustrator for both works was Scott Chantler.
Joins Teen Titans team
In the summer of 2003, the Cartoon Network began to air an animated television series based on the DC Comics series The New Teen Titans, which was an updated version of the comic series called Teen Titans, which began in 1964. The TV series immediately became a huge success for network and publisher alike. DC—ever open to an opportunity to hook young readers on a comics series—decided to launch a new comics series called Teen Titans Go!, designed to appeal to readers of all ages. One author they turned to was J. Torres.
Torres was thrilled to be invited, he explained to de Vera: "I've always had a special place in my heart for the Teen Titans. And sometimes I still can't believe that I'm working on a series based on characters who were favorites of mine in high school.… I see Teen Titans Go! as an opportunity of a lifetime." Torres leaped right into telling stories about the five Teen Titans—Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven—and as project editors had hoped, he proved spectacularly adept at the combination of adventure and humor. At first, Torres was slated to be part of a team of writers, but DC liked his work so much that he has been the writer for all but one issue in the entire series. Since the fall of 2003, Torres has written twenty-nine of the thirty individual Teen Titans Go! comics (Adam Beechen wrote #8), fifteen of which have been collected into three Teen Titans Go! graphic novels.
Coming from the world of independent comics, where he had nearly complete control over the characters and the content of his books, to an ongoing series with specific character demands and a specific target audience might have seemed like a challenge, but Torres greeted it as an opportunity. He has told several interviewers how important it is for comics creators to pass their love of comics on to a new generation of readers, and Teen Titans Go!has been his way of doing that. Torres's work on Teen Titans Go! did not signal a move away from producing original works. In fact, among others, he continued to work on Love as a Foreign Language, an ongoing series published by Oni Press about an English teacher working in Seoul, Korea, who must overcome the difficulties of living in a foreign culture.
Torres has also branched out into a number of different areas. He has written several episodes for the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi animated television show, penned stories for the X-Men, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, and Batman Strikes series, and in 2005 began work on a graphic novel series called Degrassi: Extra Credit, based on the Degrassi: The Next Generation television show. Torres thrives on the variety. He told de Vera: "I think I'd go crazy if all I did was superhero stuff and I'd probably go broke if all I did was the vanity press, indy stuff." Or, as he told the Teen Titans Web site, "Life is a buffet, my friend. You have to try a little bit of everything and go back for more of what you like."
For More Information
Publishers Weekly (June 9, 2003): pp. 38–39; (September 29, 2003): p. 46.
Raiteri, Steve. Review of Days Like This. Library Journal (September 1, 2003): p. 143.
De Vera, Ruel S. "This Fil-Canadian Writes Comics about Teens and Titans." Philippine Daily Inquirer (Manila, Philippines). http://news.inq7.net/sunday/index.php?index=1&story_id=46830 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Encarnacion, Jonathan. "Talkin' TCAF: J. Torres." Silver Bullet Comics. http://www.silverbulletcomics.com/news/story.php?a=451 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Jozic, Mike. "J. Torres: Age Appropriate." Silver Bullet Comic Books. http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/features/107535404816206.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
JTorresOnline. http://jtorresonline.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Supernatural Lola." Broken Frontier. http://www.brokenfrontier.com/headlines/details.php?id=619 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Teen Titans Go!: J. Torres Interview." Teen Titans. http://teentitans.toonzone.net/index.php?content=ttgo/misc/torres (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Thompson, Greg. "Interview with J. Torres." My Comic Shop. http://www.mycomicshop.com/subscriptionservice/communications?AID=95 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Titans Go. http://www.titansgo.net/comic_guide.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Torres, J. "Open Your Mouth" (May 8, 2003). Comic Book Resources. http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?column=oym&article=1641 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained in an e-mail interview with J. Torres on December 2, 2005.