As one of the most highly-regarded Filipino comic book artists in the world, Harley Tolibao has drawn some of the most popular superheroes including DC’s Green Arrow and Green Lantern, Dark Horse’s Star Wars and Marvel’s Iron Man, Avengers, X-Men, X-Force, Silver Surfer and more.
Along with Leinil Francis Yu, Harvey was one of the Filipino artists who graced Marvel’s “Creative Day Out” event early this month at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde in Manila.
In an interview with InterAksyon, Harvey revealed that he belonged to a family of artists.
“My grandfather was into drawing, ‘my father is a commercial artist’ and letterer who paints designs for jeepneys and tricycles for P100 per job which during his time was already a big deal,” Harvey recalled in mostly Filipino.
Harvey, who grew up in Bukidnon and later studied in Cebu said that while his dad taught his siblings how to draw, the elder Tolibao actually discouraging from pursuing a similar path.
“While most sons of artists are afraid of following their father’s footsteps because they don’t want to be compared to their old man, I was the opposite. I wanted to be an artist but my father didn’t want me to be one. Since we are based in the province, my7 father said it would be more respectable for me to become a teacher or a policeman there,” he noted.
Growing up, Harvey became familiar with local serialized novels that run in “komiks” publications like Liwayway and Pinoy Klasiks but it wasn’t until he was pursuing his tertiary in Cebu when he came across two comic book artists that would further inspire him to become an artist.
“I was already a fan of Filipino artists like Alfredo Alcala and Alex Niño but when I saw Jim Lee’s work in “WildC.A.T.S.”, I was blown away. And then I saw Leinil Francis Yu’s interpretation of Wolverine and later found out he was Filipino, I was more pumped up to be like him.”
Harvey’s talents eventually landed him a job as a web designer in Manila but when he got laid off, he had to find work to pay his bills so he worked as a messenger even as he continues to harbor his dream of being a comic book artist someday.
“During deliveries and especially when I’m stuck in traffic, I would make the most of my time on the road drawing whether I’m inside a bus or jeepney. I love to draw so while everyone else hated the traffic, I would love it as it gave me time to practice my craft. And I would draw on anything, be it a McDonald’s tissue paper or any scratch paper,” he noted.
Harvey continued to work more on his portfolio until one day, he heard about an American comic book agent arriving in Manila. When he finally saw the guy, Harvey showed him his work and got a strong reaction.
“The agent asked the people in the event to gather and said, ‘Look at his work. Look at his Superman. This is the ugliest Superman I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’ And I was so happy,” he shared.
“Stephen Segovia, another Filipino artist was there and asked me why I’m still happy with a guy who called my work the ugliest he has ever seen. I told Stephen it was the first time somebody ever commented in my work in my English and he delivered it well, the diction, the flow.”
Harvey didn’t mind the criticism because he believed he can always improve. Later he found his initial niche in the comic book industry-drawing backgrounds for other artists.
“Many artists hate doing backgrounds you know like doors, windows, cars but I loved it. Because artists hate drawing backgrounds, I had a job drawing for them. It also allowed me to polish my work and focus on details like anatomy and doing them right.”
Believing in the adage that “opportunity will find you if you work harder on your craft,” he got a call from Dark Horse comics to draw its Star Wars series and no less than George Lucas himself was impressed with his work.
Stints with other companies including DC and Marvel followed and today, Harvey remains one of the most sought after talents in the industry. Crediting his success to his determination to never stop pursuing his dream, Harvey said he also drew inspiration from something he personally witnessed from fellow artist Leinil Francis Yu.
“When I first saw Leinil at Comic Con, I was amazed how he was so nice to everyone. He drew for everybody there without asking for payment. He never stopped entertaining fans and drawing for them, did not even ask for a glass of water. He just keep drawing without complaining,” Harvey further revealed.
“For me, that’s the key to one’s success. Just keep working and don’t complain. If you want to complain then go to the barangay,” he quipped.