Friday, April 18, 2014

Harvey Tolibao’s wit, wisdom & art

Harvey Tolibao with his work on Ultimate X-Men with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and his first professional work ever… Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for Dark Horse.
Harvey Tolibao’s wit, wisdom & art
by rick olivares

Harvey Tolibao almost never turns down a request for an autograph, picture, or even a sketch. That is until it becomes humanly impossible to do so. He once signed and sketched for a Singaporean audience for over five straight hours without any break. His wife, July, became worried and agitated because the artist needed a food and water break that she asked if they could put a stop to the line.

After his wife left to get some food, Harvey told them all to get back in line and he continued to put his signing pen to the books of fans.

When July came back, she was surprised to see this Singaporean cry unabashedly as Harvey, battling fatigue and hunger, still lovingly drew her a sketch. Then she understood.

“It can be a life-changing experience if you show a person kindness or indifference, meanness,” underscored Harvey. “Paano if that person gives up on his dreams? Pwede magiba yung buhay niya sa maraming paraan.”

It’s ironic that Tolibao says that because almost all through his life people at every turn told him he could never be a comic book artist or even savaged his work.

Harvey Tolibao pangalan ko; hindi “men”.
An American comic book agent was in Manila to take a look at portfolios. Harvey heard about it and brought his portfolio – an assortment of sketches drawn on all sorts of paper from boards, toilet paper, and the backs of placemats of McDonald’s restaurants – in hopes of landing a job drawing American comics.

During the first day, he wasn’t let in because he couldn’t afford to pay his way in. So he patiently waited outside for an opportunity to ambush the agent. Only he never had the opportunity.

The following day, he waited once more outside. With the seminar about to end, the organizer finally allowed Harvey to come in and make a last ditch effort. The agent took a look at his work and called over the remaining artists in the area. When they had flocked around the agent, he declared, “This has got to be the ugliest drawing of Superman that I have seen.”

Incredibly, instead of feeling bad from the stinging remark, Tolibao laughed.

One hopeful illustrator quizzically looked at Tolibao and asked, “Drawing mo ba yan, men?”

Tolibao smiled and answered, “Hindi ‘men’ ang pangalan ko… Harvey Tolibao.”

“Tinira na yung trabaho mo natatawa ka pa, men?”

“First time kasi may nag-comment sa work ko in English. At sabi na, “Harvey Tolibao” pangalan ko; hindi ‘men.’ Ikaw, trabaho mo yan, men?”

“Oo. Gawa ko yan at hindi ‘men’ ang pangalan ko… Stephen Segovia,” jokingly shot back the other artist.

And thus began what has since become an enduring friendship between the two artists (Segovia has since made a name for himself drawing Thor and other Marvel work) who began with big dreams in their eyes and today are living their dreams in four-colored panels.

Tolibao, a Bukidonon native, inherited his illustrator’s genes and talent from his father, Jesus, who used to paint movie poster and streamer advertising back when it was the norm. “My father drew everyone – Charles Bronson, the cast of Star Wars, Clint Eastwood and just about every big Hollywood actor and actress. “We used to go to all the cinemas in our area to take a look at his work,” recalled Harvey who idolized his father.

“I used to joke that I was the son of God as my father was born on December 25 hence the name, ‘Jesus,’” deadpanned Harvey.

It was also around this time that he discovered his grandmother’s treasure trove of Filipino comics from Aliwan, Filipino Komiks, Liwayway and other local publications and they thrilled Harvey no end. The younger Tolibao began to draw and paint as well much to his father’s dismay. “Huwag kayo mag-a-artist kasi walang pera doon,” he dissuaded his children.

Harvey paid no attention and joined every school competition reaping honors. He even drew his classmates’ homework in exchange for a meal. “We grew up poor and drawing helped me get through the day if not life. In fact, I cannot recall a time where I did not use my drawing to help me get through any situation.”

When he saw Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 (from one of his rich neighbors), the book rocked his world. “Iba yung style ng drawing. Pwede pal ang ganito,” he recalled of that fateful day when he saw Lee’s artwork that further inspired him.

“In Bukidonon, when children grow up, the either become a policeman or a teacher. Third choice yung farmer,” said Tolibao. “I didn’t want to be any of them.”

Thus Harvey abandoned his initial dream of becoming a scientist when he made his decision to draw comics for a living. He moved to Cebu for college mistakenly taking up Information Technology that he thought would teach him the rudiments of art.

Tolibao continued to draw and landed quite a few works while in the Philippines’ southern capital. He got so good that the Cebu Sun Star featured him in an article titled, “Harvey Tolibao’s world.” He showed it to his father who merely scoffed at the recognition, “Wala nang taong ma-interview sa Cebu kaya ikaw na lang isinulat?”

Instead of getting crushed, Harvey persevered. “It was just my father’s way of pushing us. It’s an old school way of encouragement unlike today. Nevertheless, I told myself that when I am in that position, I will do it differently.”

Tolibao got his break drawing an issue of Star Wars for Dark Horse (that made his father proud real proud and came back in a full circle kind of way). That was followed by an issue of Iron Man for Marvel that was his big break. Since then, he’s illustrated Green Arrow, Silver Surfer, Heroes For Hire, X-Men Legacy, Uncanny X-Men, Avengers Assemble, Psylocke, and IDW’s Danger Girl – among many others -- for which he garnered even more popularity.

If you can draw a woman you can draw anything.
While courting July who was then working in Singapore, Harvey would kill time by honing his illustrating skills at every opportunity. He drew people and buildings on the bus, on the MRT, or even while waiting outside July’s place of work.

One time, while on the MRT, a crowd of commuters gathered around Tolibao mesmerized by his sketches of voluptuous women that they missed their stops.

Tolibao’s version of Marvel’s ninja-mutant Psylocke (in the four-issue limited series he drew) and the assassin Elektra, as well as IDW’s James Bond/Charlie’s Angels-inspired Danger Girls of Abbey Chase and Sydney Savage have become fan favorites. Not bad for someone who was once criticized for drawing the ugliest Superman.

“The female form is the most difficult to draw,” pointed out Tolibao. “If you can draw a woman then you can draw anything.”

“Specialty talaga ni Harvey ang mga chicks,” lauded comics fan Jason Inocencio.

In a review of Danger Girl: The Chase, Adventures in Poor Taste writer David Brooke wrote: “As far as action sequences go though, the flow is clear and the pace well done. That’s largely due to artist Harvey Tolibao who has a realistic style that’s hyper detailed, particularly with the backgrounds. His style reminds me a lot of Leinil Francis Yu. His expressions, much like Yu’s, are up and down from panel to panel. Some look amazing, others a bit odd, particularly Abbey as he draws her with some huge eyes. The action is clear and concise though and the backgrounds also remind me of Yu. The sequence in this issue takes place during a parade in China with tons of people cluttering the backgrounds. The amount of detail Tolibao has drawn into these backgrounds is staggering and really livens up the panels.”

In another comic book fan site, Flickering Myth, reviewer Villordsutch said, “If you can draw your eyes away from the large bosoms, the other art work by Harvey Tolibao is fantastic; it truly is. From the rainfall to the fight scenes it is impressively drawn and coloured beautifully by Romulo Fajardo who brings us to a drab, rain soaked back street Shanghai and then blinds us with an eye straining glow from the computers.”

“It is nice to be known for that,” chuckled Tolibao about his penchant for drawing sexy women while drawing me a sketch of Abby Chase. “But I want to be more known as a well-rounded artist who can not only draw but also innovate. While in Singapore, I drew a lot of buildings and landscape and that helped me get some work with Leinil.”

It is because of his mania for detail for urban landscapes that he infused Parkour sensibilities to Green Arrow; something that he was criticized by his editors at the time but is roundly used today for the character.

Tolibao shrugged at the experience. “There’s always another day,” he said.

Tumigil ka lang mag-drawing pag naubos na ang papel at lapis
When Harvey arrived in Manila to earnestly begin his quest to become a comic book artist (the demand for Filipino illustrators grew after the terrific finds of Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jay Anacleto, Roy Allan Martinez, Edgar Tadeo that became the second wave of Filipino artists to invade the American comic book industry that was spurred by the success and help of Whilce Portacio), he met Carlo Pagulayan who had made a name for himself drawing the Incredible Hulk for Marvel.

One of Pagulayan’s first lessons for the budding artist was to learn how to tell a story through sequential art. Pagulayan gave him the standard 11x17 inch board. “Harvey, heto yung comics,” said the master to the padawan as he thrust samples of original art in the wide-eyed Tolibao’s hands. “Dito ka mag-drawing; hindi sa bond paper.”

Tolibao’s best friend, Carl Rieman Cortez, also had another nugget of wisdom for him, “Titigil lang akong mag-drawing kung ubos na yung papel at lapis sa mundo.” True enough, Harvey hasn’t stopped drawing since.

His father didn’t finish school to work and put his siblings to school. Harvey’s skill brought him to Manila and to places he never once thought he’d ever visit. He’s been to the huge American comicons and book signings in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia. And now, it’s his turn to help budding artists hone their craft and be discovered.

“Your hard work and perseverance will get you through,” he reflected. “And respect for the medium. That is important.”

During one signing alongside Taiwanese-American painter James Jean, one person flew in all the way from a faraway place to have her books signed. The problem was, she needed to purchase one of the books from the store where the signing was held. Art books and hardcover graphic novels aren’t exactly cheap and the lady didn’t have enough for that. Store management didn’t allow Jean to sign to any of the books. That image imprinted itself onto Tolibao’s mind and he made a promise to himself to always give back to the fans.

On the occasion of another book signing – this time in Singapore – Harvey sat next to an artist who made a name for himself drawing Marvel’s Daredevil. Tolibao patiently signed and drew sketches for everyone who asked. At one point the queue for the other more famous artist transferred to Tolibao’s prompting him to ask the Filipino, “Who are you?”

Respectfully, the boy from Bukidnon with big dreams as a child answered, “Hi, sir. I am Harvey Tolibao and I have all your comic books.” The two shook hands and the young lad from Southern Philippines went back to signing and drawing sketches for everyone who asked.

His name is Harvey Tolibao. And not “men.”

Author’s note: It sounds more correct to write the title as “The Wit and wisdom of Harvey Tolibao.” But I wanted it to be a homage to that Cebu Sun Star article that first recognized the burgeoning artist in an article titled, “Harvey Tolibao’s World”.

With Harvey and his wife, July. And me holding up the sketch of Danger Girl Abbey Chase.

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