On the occasion of the 117th anniversary of the Philippines’ declaration of independence from Spanish colonial rule, we look back on the work of some of our favorite comics creators from the Southeast Asian nation.
In the Philippines, June 12 is celebrated as Araw ng Kalayaan (“Day of Freedom”), a commemoration of the nation’s declaration of independence from Spain in 1898 after three centuries of colonial rule. It’s probably worth noting here that neither Spain nor the United States—at the time engaged in a war over foreign territories—recognized the First Philippine Republic. As far as I know, the only notable acknowledgement the young republic got from a foreign power was the vocal but unofficial support of pan-Asian ultra-nationalists in Japan’s Meiji government (interesting fact: an Imperial Japanese Army officer by the name of Hara Tei purportedly led a small deployment of Japanese troops to reinforce the First Philippine Republic army during the subsequent conflict against the United States). By the time the Philippine-American War officially ended in 1902, the Philippine Islands were once again fully under foreign sovereign control and it would remain an American territory until July 4, 1946, when the Truman government provisionally recognized Philippine independence under the terms of the Treaty of Manila.
I’m actually old enough to remember when there was still some confusion over the proper date of Araw ng Kalayaan. Many of my teachers in grade school and high school grew up observing July 4 as the date of Philippine independence—it wouldn’t be until 1964 that June 12 would be officially designated as Araw ng Kalayaan—and a number of them insisted that marking June 12 as the date of Philippine independence promoted an ignorance of historical events in the larger, international context. I don’t agree with that point of view—I think there’s much more merit to the idea of independence as something a nation claims for itself rather than something bestowed upon it by a foreign power—but I can understand the logic behind the argument.
Anyway, those of us who are part of the Filipino diaspora still commemorate June 12, although understandably, the event isn’t so much about patriotism as it is about celebrating Filipino culture, beyond the confines of citizenship or government allegiance. It is in this spirit that I’ve put together the list below enumerating, in alphabetical order, some of my favorite Filipino, Filipino-American, and Filipino-Canadian comics creators. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list of all artists and writers of Filipino heritage who’ve worked in North American comics (they probably number over 200 at this point)—think of this as something of a personal recommendations list for those interested in learning more about classic and contemporary Filipino contributions to the international comics scene.
Gerry Alanguilan: Notable works include writing and illustrating the graphic novel Elmer, winner of the prestigious Prix Asie awarded by France’s Association des critiques et journalistes de bande dessinée (ACBD) in recognition of excellence in Asian graphic novels (previous recipients of the award include Naoki Urusawa for Pluto and Keiji Nakazawa for Barefoot Gen), and inking Leinil Francis Yu’s pencils on Wolverine (Marvel Comics), Superman: Birthright (DC Comics), Avengers (Marvel Comics), Indestructible Hulk (Marvel Comics), Superior (Marvel/Icon), Silent Dragon (DC/Wildstorm), Supercrooks (Marvel/Icon), and High Roads (DC/Cliffhanger). He is also a leading advocate for the preservation of Filipino comics history and the promotion of Filipino comics art.
Alfredo Alcala: Among the most well-known of the “First Wavers” (the first Filipino comics artists to break into the American comics industry in the early 1970s), and a master of inking and wash techniques. Notable works include stints illustrating The Savage Sword of Conan (Marvel/Curtis), House of Mystery (DC Comics), The Rook Magazine (Warren Publishing), Planet of the Apes (Marvel/Curtis), Ghosts (DC Comics), Weird War Tales (DC Comics), The Unexpected (DC Comics), and the Masters of the Universe pack-in comics published by Mattel.
Eric Canete: I’ve got a somewhat personal connection to Canete’s art. I came across his work at what I would describe as a low ebb in my life, in terms of both my interest in comics, and in a general sense. It’s funny how sometimes the most mundane things can inspire us. I picked up the Ladytron graphic novel he illustrated on a whim, and for some strange reason, it just clicked for me, and wouldn’t you know it, it even became a means for connecting with someone whom I eventually developed a relationship which lasted for a good while. Canete’s dynamic style, what I would describe as Peter Chung-meets-Jim Mahfood, is something I just can’t help but enjoy looking at, no matter what he is drawing. Canete’s comics work has been a bit sporadic given that he also works in animation, but he has a new comics series from Image Comics entitled RUNLOVEKILL. You guys have to check it out.
Eufronio Reyes “E.R.” Cruz: One of the most prolific and talented war and horror comics artists of the 1970s (he compiled over 200 penciler and/or inker credits in his first ten years working for DC!). Notable works include lengthy stints contributing to DC’s G.I. Combat, Our Fighting Forces, House of Mystery, and The Unexpected, as well as an overlooked three-issue run as the illustrator on The Shadow.
Mike Del Mundo: Shuster Award-winning, Eisner Award-nominated Filipino-Canadian cover artist whose most notable interior work includes drawing the most recent Elektra series published by Marvel. A versatile illustrator and painter who can work in a variety of styles, he has also designed album covers and skateboard decks.
Tony DeZuniga: The artist credited with introducing DC Comics editor Joe Orlando to the wealth of artistic talent in the Philippines. It was DeZuniga who convinced Orlando to go to Manila in 1971 to meet and build contacts with local illustrators. Co-created the DC Comics characters Jonah Hex and Black Orchid. Notable works include illustrating DC’s All-Star Western, Weird Western Tales, Jonah Hex, Arak, Son of Thunder; and the Black Orchid back-up stories in Phantom Stranger.
Steve Gan: Perhaps best-known these days as the co-creator of Marvel’s Star-Lord, Gan had a relatively brief but nonetheless impressive career in American comics. His Ka-Zar strips in the Savage Tales anthology are some of the best-looking comics featuring Marvel’s jungle hero. Also worth tracking down is his work on the trippy Skull the Slayer series. My favorite Gan work, however, has nothing to do with American superheroes—he co-created the Filipino comics character of Panday (“Blacksmith”), whose earliest film adaptations were some of my favorite lazy Sunday afternoon viewing as a kid.
Francis Manapul: Recipient of the 2011 Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Artist. Before landing his current, critically-acclaimed stint as the artist/co-writer of DC’s The Flash, was mostly known for his marathon run illustrating Witchblade, published by Image Comics/Top Cow Entertainment. Was a cast member of the short-lived Space/SyFy documentary series Beast Legends.
Lan Medina: Among the currently active Filipino artists working in the North American comics industry, Medina can be said to have a style that most resembles that employed in the classic Filipino komiks of the 1960s and 1970s. Medina is the first Filipino artist to win an Eisner Award, sharing the 2003 plum for Best Serialized Story with writer Bill Willingham and inker Steve Leialoha for their work on Fables (DC/Vertigo). Other notable works include stints on Punisher (Marvel/MAX), Foolkiller (Marvel/MAX), Deathlok (Marvel Comics), and District X (Marvel Comics).
Rudy Nebres: My favorite Shang-Chi artist, bar none (apologies to Paul Gulacy). An inker with few peers, he was cited by John Buscema as his favorite inker and was once described by Neal Adams as one of the best artists he’s ever met. Notable works include issues of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (Marvel/Curtis), Vampirella (Warren Publishing), The Rook Magazine (Warren Publishing), and inking over Buscema’s pencils in The Savage Sword of Conan (Marvel/Curtis).
Alex Niño: Every national comics tradition has its preeminent, game-changing stylist—its Jack Kirby or its Moebius or its Rumiko Takahashi—and for many fans and historians, the inimitable Niño occupies that role for the Filipino comics community. One of the very first comics I ever read was the Pendulum Press comics adaptation of Moby-Dick, illustrated by Niño and later reprinted (in abridged form) by Marvel in its Marvel Classics Comics line. Bold and spontaneous in his approach to art—he has been known to skip pencils altogether and go straight to working in ink—Niño’s has spawned many imitators but he remains unparalleled. Significant works include stints on House of Secrets (DC Comics), House of Mystery (DC Comics), Weird War Tales (DC Comics), Weird Mystery Tales (DC Comics), Heavy Metal (HM Communications), Eerie (Warren Publishing), 1984 (Warren Publishing), 1994 (Warren Publishing), Adventure Comics (DC Comics), and the graphic novel Space Cluster (DC Comics).He is also known for his work as an artist and designer in animation, most notably for Walt Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Mulan.
Whilce Portacio: For a generation of Filipino comics readers who came of age in the 1990s, Portacio was the biggest comics artist of Filipino heritage to ever make it on the international stage. Along with Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Joe Chiodo, Portacio was a founding member of California’s Homage Studios (which would eventually become Wildstorm Productions). Portacio drew some of the best-selling Marvel titles of the late 1980s and early 1990s, including The Punisher, X-Factor, and Uncanny X-Men. In 1992, Portacio would join Lee, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, and Rob Liefeld in founding Image Comics. Portacio was instrumental in helping the likes of Gerry Alanguilan, Leinil Francis Yu, Jay Anacleto, and Philip Tan to get a foothold in American comics. As with many of his superstar artist peers from the late 1980s/early 1990s, his design and storytelling sensibilities maybe somewhat out of step with the current trends in comics art, but he continues to be a positive force in the Filipino comics community, scouting talent and helping them break through to the global comics industry.
Nestor Redondo: Arguably the most talented and consistent of the “First Wavers,” Redondo supposedly had something of a long-running professional feud with Alfredo Alcala that stretched back to their days working for Ace Publications and CRAF Publications in the Philippines, with each seeking to outdo the other in terms of the quality and volume of work. Redondo served as the art director for Pendulum Press’ Illustrated Classics line while working for DC Comics, where his most notable works include stints on Swamp Thing, Rima the Jungle Girl, House of Mystery, and House of Secrets.
Philip Tan: Notable works include a lengthy run on Spawn and its spin-off, Spawn: Godslayer; brief stints on various DC Comics titles including Green Lantern and The Savage Hawkman; and contributions to Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and Iron Man. Tan has also published a doujinshi entitled Garan Guard, which debuted last year at the Tokyo International Manga Festival. Image Comics also announced earlier this year that it will be publishing Heaven, a space opera collaboration between Tan and Eisner Award-winning writer James Robinson.
J. Torres: A rarity in the international community of Filipino comics creators, in that Torres works exclusively as a writer. In 2006, Torres became the first Filipino-Canadian to receive a Joe Shuster Award, landing the Most Outstanding Writer prize for his work on Love as a Foreign Language (Oni Press), Teen Titans Go! (DC Comics), and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (DC Comics). Other notable works by Torres include the graphic novel Lola: A Ghost Story (Oni Press), the Alison Dare all-ages comics (Oni Press), and Ninja Scroll (DC/Wildstorm). Last year, Torres went on a statewide speaking tour in Alaska to promote literacy.
Leinil Francis Yu: The heir to Whilce Portacio’s title as the most popular artist of Filipino descent in superhero comics. Yu has worked with just about every major Marvel and DC superhero property since making his American comics debut in 1996, while still managing to find time to work on smaller, non-superhero projects. Among his most notable works include Wolverine (Marvel Comics), Superman: Birthright (DC Comics), Avengers (Marvel Comics), Indestructible Hulk (Marvel Comics), Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk (Marvel Comics), Superior (Marvel/Icon), Silent Dragon (DC/Wildstorm), Supercrooks (Marvel/Icon), High Roads (DC/Cliffhanger), Secret Invasion (Marvel Comics), Ultimate Avengers (Marvel Comics), X-Men (Marvel Comics), and Uncanny X-Men (Marvel Comics). Yu was described by Howard Chaykin as one of his favorite active comics artists, alongside elite talents such as Eduardo Risso, Sean Murphy, and Vittorio Giardino.
Click here for a list of Geeksverse articles related to the topic of Filipino artists in the American comics industry, including interviews, artist retrospectives, and historical essays.