Rafael Kayanan, comics artist and Hollywood trainer, returns to PH for pop convention

Rick Olivares

Posted at Oct 13 2019 04:31 PM


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MANILA -- When the first SuperManila Pop culture Convention unfolds this coming October 18-20 at The Podium in Pasig City, it will be quite a homecoming for Rafael Kayanan. 

The 56-year old Kayanan was born in Manila but migrated to the United States when he was eight. His last trip back home was when he was 12 years old.

Kayanan made a name for himself illustrating the adventures of DC Comics’ Fury of Firestorm about a nuclear-powered hero from 1984-86. He jumped into the world of independent comics after where he worked on Hawkmoon for First Comics and Phaze for Eclipse Comics. In the 1990s, he caught even more attention drawing Conan the Adventurer and the Amazing Spider-Man for Marvel.

He will be joined in SuperManila by Whilce Portacio, another Filipino who migrated to the US in the 1980s and became a big name back in the late 1980s up the mid-1990s when he worked on titles such as The Punisher, X-Factor, and Uncanny X-Men for Marvel Comics, and his self-produced, Wetworks, for Image Comics.

Other current Pinoy stars like Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Elmer Damaso, Mico Suayan, Edgar Tadeo, Carlo Pagulayan, and many others are also joining this massive gathering of Filipino talent in comics.


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What makes Kayanan’s run on Conan poignant is that he followed the great Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan, and Tony de Zuniga – all Filipinos -- who worked on that character that was created by the great Robert E. Howard. 

“I believe many Filipinos like Alcala, Chan, and de Zuniga were what black and white magazines like Savage Sword of Conan needed due to their exceptional depiction of value and texture. Unless (American) John Buscema was going to ink his own work, very few could ink his open and loose breakdowns, and make it look good for that format,” Kayanan said.

Kayanan’s own work on Conan (that was published in 1994) was highly detailed and emotive. There was an energy to the art work that made the title jump out at the reader from the cover alone. 

“Most of the time, it was surreal drawing characters I had grown up reading,” reflected Kayanan about his work on the four-colored page that is comics. “One through line was my history with the classic Spider-Man story, ‘The Death of Gwen Stacy.’ Gerry Conway wrote that story and he was the writer on my first comics job. When we met in New York, he invited me to my first-ever Broadway show. Little did I know that many years later, I would be the main illustrator for Julie Taymor’s Spider-Man on Broadway, illustrating that same Gwen Stacy story that Gerry wrote.”


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However, Kayanan eventually made the jump elsewhere. To Hollywood, in fact, where he put his master-level status for Sayoc Kali, a martial art that makes use of edged weapons, to good use. He has choreographed fight sequences and trained actors Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones (for "The Hunted"), Sam Rockwell (in George Clooney’s "Confessions of A Dangerous Mind"), and "NCIS: Los Angeles."

“No matter where I have traveled in the world, people have seen 'The Hunted' or an episode I did on 'NCIS: LA.' Sayoc being featured in a mainstream American film like 'The Hunted' forged the way for Filipino martial arts into action scenes from 'John Wick' to 'Mission: Impossible,' 'Game of Thrones,' and 'The Bourne Identity.'”

Sayoc Kali is acknowledged as the “art of the blade,” developed by the late Pamahana Tuhon, Chris Sayoc Sr.

Rafael Kayanan with Danny Trejo and LL Cool J

Regarding working with Hollywood elite, Kayanan shared: “As far as working with talent like LL Cool J, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Benicio del Toro, or Sam Rockwell, one standout story for me is working with Fil-American actor, Ernie Reyes Jr. Literally, Ernie was the sole Filipino face of Hollywood as an action hero. Ernie has been away while raising a family and I reached out to him to see if he’d like to guest star on an episode of 'NCIS: LA.'”

The New York-based Kayanan is proud of all the Filipino talent making waves in international comics today. “They are all amazing,” enthused Kayanan. “They have such diverse styles and I am always curious when I see a Filipino name in the credits.”

“I really look forward to seeing the comic book culture in Manila,” said Kayanan. “It would be nice to meet the fans and the other pros. I met a few of them years ago in the DC Comics offices. It would be a blast to meet them all again.”

The SuperManila Pop Culture Convention is organized by Filbar’s, Comic Odyssey, Rocketsweep, Hot Toys, Funko, Lego, Pilot, and Epik.