LOOK at superstar comic book artist Leinil Francis Yu’s portfolio and you’d think he must have studied in the best art schools in the world.
Fans and critics from around the world rave about his kinetic, dynamic pseudo-realistic style.
For the past 15 years, Yu has worked for comic book giants Marvel and DC with illustrations that grace the cover of some of their most popular titles including Wolverine, X-men, Superman: Birthright, Batman/ Danger Girl, Secret Invasion, and New Avengers.
He’s considered one of today’s superstar comic book illustrators and continues a tradition of great Filipino comic book artists in the multi-billion dollar mainstream industry.
“The dynamism and raw energy in his work put him head and shoulders above many of his peers — but then so does his prolificity (sic),” wrote Swain Hunt comic, art and pop culture podcaster on Sidebarnation.
“In a fanboy world where we throw the term ‘superstar’ around willy-nilly because someone ‘draws good’ and quickly gains popularity, Yu actually cranks out the pages.”
“He does the work. He makes comics,” Swain added.
The most fascinating part about Yu’s accomplished career is he admits he has no formal training. He’s never set foot inside a comic book illustration class, or spent thousands of dollars preparing to get into the industry.
All he did was spend $12 on a book that changed his life.
In an interview with Asian Journal, he said when he was younger, he bought Stan Lee and John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics The Marvel Way and that pretty much solidified his love for drawing.
“Been drawing as far as I can remember, before I memorized my ABCs,” Yu said in an email to Asian Journal.
“I still remember my nanny getting irked that I was drawing while struggling to remember the alphabet. I figured I was better than the other kids early on so I’ve been the ‘artist guy’ in school since childhood. I drew all the time in school, even during exams. I wish I could find my notebooks.”
Yu said he mostly taught himself to draw, using the book and by absorbing the works of other great artists and illustrators in the industry.
His influence includes Travis Charest, Mike Mignola, and Fil-Am Whilce Portacio, who gave Yu his first big break.
The 36-year-old Manila-based Yu continues a great line of comic book artists from the Philippines.
Marvel and DC have recruited the island’s best illustrators (going back as far as the 1970s) with luminaries like Tony DeZuniga, Nestor Redondo, Alex Nino and Alfred Alcala, among many others who were on their roster.
The beginning of bigger things
In the 1980s and 1990s, Fil-Am comic book legend Portacio, who was illustrating X-Men at the time, was making headways, in the industry.
Yu said he sent out samples of his work to some other publishers and Portacio, who was in the Philippines recruiting artists for his Wildstorm project.
Though he wasn’t initially impressed by Yu’s work, Portacio extended an invitation for the young man to work as an apprentice under him.
That’s “what got me started for real was getting into Whilce Portacio’s Studio in 1995/ 1996,” he said.
Though that one-year stint didn’t end with a permanent job with Wildstorm, Portacio sent his protégés portfolio to Marvel who hired him on the spot.
His first gig with Marvel was Wolverine, which at that time was the fourth highest-selling book in the industry, he said.
The rest is comic history.
Yu’s work can be seen gracing the cover and insides of several mainstream comic titles including last year’s hit, The Indestructible Hulk.
In that new re-telling of the Hulk brand, critics loved Yu’s work.
“Yu has a gift for capturing the humanity and diversity of the world,” wrote Andrew Wheeler of Comics Alliance. “But Yu also excels in the jerky frenzy of the battle scenes. Yu can fill a page with action without losing the thread, and that’s a rare pleasure.”
“His Hulk has all the sinew and scale you expect, but Yu doesn’t let him eat the frame so he can take shortcuts with the scenery,” Wheeler added. “There are no shortcuts here, and the result places the reader right in the middle of the fight.”
Keep learning and keep getting better
Yu said he’s been very fortunate not to have faced any major obstacles in his career. For many comic illustrators, it takes years before they get their big break. For Yu, it’s been relatively easy.
“The fans are great and the Internet made the world small. Competition is tough but it’s also easier to get noticed nowadays. No need to physically be present to show your work around,” he said.
“I actually had smooth sailing from the get go. Marvel and DC have been good to me and I was always lucky to be in high profile titles.”
He said the Filipino comic scene is growing and it shows in the country’s annual KOMIKON.
“The great thing is that it’s mostly Indie and Homegrown. Local creators are starting to see the fruits of their labor,” he said.
Still fairly young, yet already accomplished in many ways, Yu believes he still has a long way to go.
“I intend to keep getting better and learn new things. The Internet is a great resource. Artists that I would’ve never have heard of turn out to be huge influences on my work. Lots of new things to explore,” he said.