MANILA -- Comic book artists Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Jay Anacleto are some of the local illustrators who garner a lot of attention and acclaim for their work on American comic books.
But there is one other artist who came up alongside them in the famed Starfire Visuals that was put up by the great Whilce Portacio that opened doors for Filipino artists in the American industry, and his fingerprints as well as storytelling, pencils, and inks on many a pivotal local comic book – Gilbert Monsanto.
Monsanto, along with Roy Allan Martinez, were the first among the Starfire Visuals Studios artists to fully draw releases from Image Comics in the mid-1990s and that was Hellcop and Hazard respectively.
Although Monsanto drew a few more titles, he channeled a lot of his energies to the local independent scene. While working with Portacio’s art school in SM Megamall, he also produced the country’s version of Justice League of Americana and The Avengers in Bayan Knights, a team composed of heroes created by different artists.
Among the more popular Bayan Knights characters (that have also seen their own releases by their respective creators) include Astiging Boy Ipis that was created by Mike Ignacio and lovingly inspired by Spider-Man, Amely Vidal’s Phantom Cat, Gio Paredes’ super-strong Kalayaan, and Reno Maniquis’ Maskarado.
Filipino artists who have made names working on American comics such as Yu and Harvey Tolibao have provided covers to a few issues of Bayan Knights.
Since its initial publication in 2008 under his own independent imprint, Sacred Mountain, there have been some nine issues of Bayan Knights with a bunch of spin-off titles featuring the individual characters such Sarhento Sagrado and Phantom Cat among others. That has morphed into the logical progression of Bayan Knights which is The Demigods that has seen a few issues published.
“Hindi ko akalain na may impact 'yung Bayan Knights,” said a grateful Monsanto. “Hindi naman natin ito ginawa expecting that people will like it. Bonus 'yun. Pero nakaka-inspire lalo kasi I believe that we Filipinos can do even more good work in this medium.”
Monsanto has been approached to see how Bayan Knights can be developed into something more – perhaps a film adaptation. However, he is protective of the work. The challenge is to maintain control and to not comprise the characters. “Let’s see what happens,” he can only comment.
The prolific Monsanto has also published several comic magazines in Rambol and Tropa, assuming roles such as editor-in-chief, writer, penciller, or inker depending on the story.
Prior to that, Monsanto was a part of the first independently produced local comic in Exodus that was published in November 1994 that included local creators Mike Tan, Jim Jimenez, Lui Antonio, and Martinez among many others.
He also took part in the high-profile new millennium release of Darna (from Mango Comics) along with Boboy Yonzon and fellow Starfire Visuals alumnus, Ryan Orosco, and the local magazine reprints of DC Comics where he pens a column on illustration techniques for budding illustrators. He has also worked on a graphic novel series for Black Ink publications titled Hands of the Dragon, and Anthony James Perez’s exorcist story, Patron.
Monsanto is working on comics full time. He just finished a Blade Runner comic book in the US and is doing some work on projects he cannot disclose as of the moment. And hopefully, more Bayan Knights stories.
He is amazed that through this profession – once a mere hobby and a love for the medium – has allowed him to raise a family.
“Nothing beats that… Following your passion, doing something for the industry, and helping your family,” he said.