If there was any man that truly epitomised humility, it would be Leinil Francis Yu. Despite being one of Marvel’s foremost talents in the past decade, having worked with several critically-acclaimed writers and being entrusted with some of the most well-known icons in the comic book industry, Leinil came across without any airs, meeting his fans from the region with true graciousness at the Singapore Toy, Games and Comic Convention 2010 (STGCC).
In fact, on day one of STGCC, Leinil was dressed in a casual blue stripes-on-pink polo tee that allowed him to blend almost seamlessly into the crowd. It was probably only when he took the stage with the rest of the Marvel guests that people realised he was a big name in the business.
Having established himself drawing everyone’s favourite member of the X-Men, Wolverine, Leinil then went on to headline the big Marvel event of 2008, Secret Invasion, so as you can imagine it was a true privilege to just sit down and chat with this extraordinary gentleman during the Con.
Leinil Francis Yu boasts a 13-year career with Marvel, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping anytime soon. As a young boy in Manila, he grew up with the classic book “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” by Stan Lee and John Buscema, while idolising Filipino-American artist Whilce Portacio, who had already established himself at Marvel a decade before with X-Factor. It was Portacio, Leinil reveals, who gave him his big break when the veteran returned to his roots in the Philippines to search for talent. When a deal to get Leinil to start at newcomer Image Comics, where Portacio was one of the founders, fell through, Portacio sent Leinil’s work on to Marvel, who decided his dynamic style was a perfect fit for their Wolverine title and the rest as they say, is history.
Drawing Wolverine has become a career trademark for Leinil and the popular anti-hero is undoubtedly his favourite Marvel character. His boast is that he knows the character so well, he could probably draw the X-Man with his eyes closed – but we’d rather he continued to have his eyes open when sketching Wolverine for us. Interestingly enough, his second favourite character would be Luke Cage – who in his current incarnation has no superhero costume. Having worked on the first volume of New Avengers, he grew to appreciate the former Power Man more and more, and by the time Secret Invasion came around, Leinil was drawing panel after panel of Cage. According to Leinil, there’s just something about Cage’s face – and who would disagree?
Though Leinil was too humble to admit it, his immense value as an artist for Marvel comes from consistently churning out top-notch work on a regular basis, revealed writer Matt Fraction. In the demanding world of major comics publishers, where the monthly schedule means that artists have barely more than a month to churn out a 22 pager, a talent like Leinil Yu is a cherished gem whom all other aspiring artists should emulate. Yet he downplays the praise, simply saying that he is constantly improving his art style, which is constanly inspired and influenced by the likes of manga, the work of his fellow Filipino artists as well as art from the region, including Singapore-based Imaginary Friends Studios.
I got Leinil to talk a bit more about Superior, a new title that he is working on with long-time collaborator Mark Millar on the Icon imprint of Marvel Comics. Ever the gracious gentleman, Leinil first gushes about teaming up with Millar again, whom he describes as a “great writer” and “fun to talk to”. He then reveals how Superior is very much a concept birthed by Millar, but that, as an artist, Leinil really felt pressured to bring his A-game as he believes your latest work should always be your best.
Despite the relatively simple concept of the story – it is essentially Superman meets Big, the Tom Hanks movie where a boy makes a wish and the next morning finds himself transformed physically but still himself mentally – Leinil spent hours wracking his head to produce “a hundred different versions” of the protagonist to show Millar, “none of which has underwear on the outside,” grins the boyish artist. However, the real thrill for him is getting to portray an old-school art style, reminiscent of the action movies from his childhood. With a big childlike grin on his face, however, he hints to us that there’s going to be a huge twist coming up in the next two issues and that the villain will not be who or what we expect.
Leinil also revealed that it was very “generous” of Marvel to create the Icon imprint, which prints creator-owned work, and he feels that it is an excellent way to reward writers and artists. After the short but informative interview, it was clear to me, if there was anyone who deserved to be rewarded, it would be Leinil Francis Yu, a gifted talent who is constantly trying to improve himself and is never satisfied with resting on his laurels.