In today’s Filipino artist spotlight: Fury of Firestorm and Conan the Adventurer illustrator Rafael Kayanan, the brilliant Warren Publishing artist Abel Laxamana, and Marvel Classics Comics penciler Pete Lijauco.
Author’s Note: Readers who have been following me on Tumblr will know that I’ve recently started a series of weekly posts highlighting the the “Filipino Wave” artists who worked on the horror, sci-fi, western, war, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery comics published by DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Warren Publishing, and other outfits in the 1970s and 1980s. Today’s column is a collection of the most recent posts in the series.
As with all the art I post in this blog, the images below are being shared in the spirit of fair use.
Discovered by American artist Pat Broderick at a comic convention, Rafael Kayanan only just qualifies as a borderline case of a Filipino Wave artist by my estimation, given that he made his American comics debut just as the recruitment of Filipino artists by American publishers was winding down.
That first work was as a penciler on DC Comics’ Fury of Firestorm Annual #1 (1983), where he was inked by compatriot Rodin Rodriguez.
Kayanan’s stint as the regular penciler on The Fury of Firestorm ran for 22 issues over the next two years. Towards the end of his time on The Fury of Firestorm, he started picking up freelance assignments with independent publisher First Comics, for whom he would pencil (and partially ink) four Hawkmoon miniseries between 1986 and 1988.
Kayanan’s next major gig was as the regular penciler on DC’s Captain Atom, an assignment that ran for 17 issues published between 1989 and 1991. From there, he would eventually land on Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan magazine, where he penciled a five-issue-long adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s novel Conan and the Gods of the Mountain.
Kayanan worked primarily as a penciler during his first dozen or so years in the American comics industry, although he did have more than a few pencil-and-ink gigs during this span, most notable of which is perhaps his time as the primary artist on the relatively short-lived 1994 Conan the Adventurer series.
The late 1990s saw Kayanan doing work on Acclaim Comics’ Turok one-shots and miniseries, as well as various contributions to publications from Marvel, DC, Image Comics, and short-lived graphic novel publisher Cross Plains.
Kayanan also happens to be an expert practitioner of the Filipino martial arts—he holds the rank of tuhon (“master”) in the Sayoc school—and he has worked as a fight choreographer and hand-to-hand combat adviser for film and television. His film and TV credits include the fight choreography for the 2014 Liam Neeson film Non-Stop, fight boards and fight choreography for the 2003 Tommy Lee Jones-starrer The Hunted (click here to see a video highlighting his fight choreography on the film), and fight choreography on three episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles.
Kayanan remains active in comics today, although his output is irregular compared to what it was during the 1980s and early 1990s. Significant recent works include a two-issue fill-in on DC’s 2013 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, a short story in the Immortals: Gods and Monsters tie-in paperback published in 2011 by Archaia Entertainment (Kayanan also worked as a concept artist for the actual film), and 2010’s What If? Daredevil vs. Elektra one-shot, a comic perfectly suited for an illustrator with his extensive martial arts background.
Rafael Kayanan’s American comics bibliography is listed here.
If there’s one thing we’ve seen time and again in our continuing rundown of the Filipino Wave artists, it is that sheer talent alone, no matter how prodigious, does not necessarily assure an artist’s place among the consensus all-time greats. Such is the case with Abel Laxamana, a brilliant illustrator and visual storyteller who, at the height of his American comics career, was one of a handful of artists who could legitimately challenge the legendary Alex Niño for the unofficial title of the Filipino Wave’s most dynamic stylist.
Laxamana’s relative obscurity—he is a virtual unknown among those whose tastes run towards the comics mainstream—might be attributable to the somewhat limited showcase for his work: For the most significant years of his comics career, Laxamana’s art appeared exclusively in the Warren Publishing stable of black & white comics anthology magazines, at a time when the publisher was struggling to maintain its position in the market.
Laxamana’s first American comics work, a ten-page story in Eerie #92 (May 1978), offered up hints of his potential as an all-time great:
It would just be a scant few months later that the artist would begin work on one of his best serial works, a strip in Warren’s 1984 magazine featuring the cheekily-named Rex Havoc & the Asskickers of the Fantastic, an offbeat and irreverent sci-fi romp that would serve as a platform for Laxamana’s rapidly evolving inking and storytelling tendencies:
Laxamana would go from strength to strength with each outing but for some reason, he never made the transition to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, or any of the upstart independent publishers making waves during the early 1980s such as Eclipse Comics and First Comics. When Warren Publishing shut its doors in 1983, Laxamana’s burgeoning comics career ground to a sudden halt. All in all, he drew 33 strips for the publisher, with most of them appearing in the “adult fantasy” magazine 1984 and its successor title, 1994.
Like so many of his Filipino Wave peers, Laxamana would eventually make his way to the animation industry. He worked primarily as a background painter and a storyboard artist during the late 1980s and for a significant part of the 1990s, and his many TV animation credits include C.O.P.S., G.I. Joe, James Bond Jr., X-Men, The Real Ghostbusters, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Exosquad, and Skeleton Warriors.
Laxamana wasn’t entirely done with comics, however. He is credited with providing art assists in a 1990 issue of Dark Horse Presents and in 1995, he inked Sharon Bridgeman’s pencils in a short story that appeared in Bongo Comics’ Radioactive Man 80-page special. He would return to Bongo in 2001, providing pencils for a short story that appeared in the second issue of Bongo Comics Presents Radioactive Man.
The series would go on to win the 2002 Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication with Laxamana being cited as one of the responsible creators, making him the first Filipino Wave artist to receive recognition from the Will Eisner Comic Industry panel for a contemporary work.
Abel Laxamana’s American comics bibliography (does not include reprints):
- “The Microbe Patrol”: 1984 #2 (August 1978), Warren Publishing
- “Commfu”: 1984 #3 (September 1978), Warren Publishing
- “Rex Havoc & the Asskickers of the Fantastic”: 1984 #4 (October 1978), Warren Publishing
- “The Spud From Another World!”: 1984 #5 (February 1979), Warren Publishing
- “She Who-Must-Be-Okay!”: 1984 #6 (June 1979), Warren Publishing
- “Madmen and Messiahs”: 1984 #8 (September 1979), Warren Publishing
- “Humungus”: 1984 #9 (October 1979), Warren Publishing
- “Thinking of You!”: 1984 #10 (December 1979), Warren Publishing
- “Baby Makes Three!”: 1994 #12 (April 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Voyage to the Bottom of the Barrel”: 1994 #13 (June 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Baby Makes Three, Part 2”: 1994 #14 (August 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Baby Makes Three, Part 3”: 1994 #15 (October 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Baby Makes Three, Part 4”: 1994 #16 (December 1980), Warren Publishing
- “The Big Cerebration”: 1994 #17 (February 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Et Tu Casey!”: 1994 #19 (June 1981), Warren Publishing
- “The Warhawks!”: 1994 #27 (October 1982), Warren Publishing
- “The Warhawks, Part 2”: 1994 #29 (February 1983), Warren Publishing
- “No One Gets Over the Underground!”: Bongo Comics Presents Radioactive Man #2 (March 2001), Bongo Comics [note: pencils only]
- “Risky Be the Rumpus Room”: Bongo Comics Presents Radioactive Man #7 (June 2003), Bongo Comics [note: pencils only]
- “The Thing in the Haunted Forest”: Creepy #102 (October 1978), Warren Publishing
- “Rapid Fire Angel”: Creepy #115 (February 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Junior”: Creepy #133 (November 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Crash Ryan (Part II)”: Dark Horse Presents #45 (November 1990), Dark Horse Comics [note: credited for “art assist”]
- “Strangers in the Strangest Places!”: Eerie #92 (May 1978), Warren Publishing
- “Strangers in the Strangest Places, Part Two”: Eerie #93 (June 1978), Warren Publishing [note: co-illustrated by Alfredo Alcala]
- “A mystic-phychic-magician-genius-inventor should believe in luck…”: The Goblin #1 (June 1982), Warren Publishing
- “Fantastic Void”: The Goblin #2 (August 1982), Warren Publishing
- “Catastro the Convertible”: The Goblin #3 (November 1982), Warren Publishing
- “The Radioactive Man of 1995!”: Radioactive Man #1 (1995), Bongo Comics [note: inks only]
- “Joe Guy, America’s Foremost Hero!”: The Rook Magazine #7 (February 1981), Warren Publishing
- “January 30, 1981”: The Rook Magazine #8 (April 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Cardinal Synn, Archfiend Of The Universe!”: The Rook Magazine #9 (June 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Dad!”: The Rook Magazine #10 (August 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Air Whale Express”: The Rook Magazine #13 (February 1982), Warren Publishing
- “Steak-Out”: Vampirella #84 (January 1980), Warren Publishing
Pete Lijauco was already a reasonably successful cartoonist in the Philippines during the late 1950s and early 1960s, with his most popular humor strip Baby Damulag (a serial about an oversized baby featured in the pages of Bulaklak Magazine) being adapted into a feature film in 1961. Such was the popularity of the strip and its film adaptation that “baby damulag” eventually entered the local lexicon as a colloquial term for a large child or alternatively, an immature adult.
For all his success as a komiks cartoonist, Lijauco’s foray into American comics was quite brief and somewhat unremarkable. His American comics debut took the form of a solitary pin-up in Legion of Monsters #1 (September 1975), a black & white horror comics anthology published by Marvel’s magazine counterpart Curtis Magazines.
Lijauco followed this up by providing inks and tones to a 19-page Sons of the Tiger story penciled primarily by Ron Wilson, with additional pencils by Sonny Trinidad and additional inks by Rudy Mesina (like Lijauco, both Trinidad and Mesina hailed from the Philippines). This story was published in another Curtis publication, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #29 (October 1976):
Lijauco’s third (and final) contribution to American comics came in Marvel Classics Comics #27 (1977), which featured a comics adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novel Kidnapped. This time, Lijauco and Trinidad’s roles were reversed, with the former providing the pencils and the latter doing the inks.