Featured Columns

April 13, 2014

Artist of the Month: Rafael Kayanan


You ever had a friend or just known a guy that made you feel like crap whenever you compared your life to his?

Everyone knows that guy; Multi-talented, hardworking, and annoyingly humble. The kind of guy you hate because there is no reason to hate him. You hate him because you suck as a person. Yet he’ll never tell you that. He’ll encourage you to work hard and pass to you insightful and hard won positive life lessons that will stay with you all of your days; the intelligent, caring, empathetic dick.

Such a man is Rafael Kayanan, a Filipino-American visual/martial artist who has worked for both Marvel, DC and every other major comic publisher under the sun, with his own visual style that is as technical as it is and visceral. He’s also a concept artist


for films such as Relativity Media’s “Mirror, Mirror” and the action packed adaptation of the Greek myths of Theseus

“Immortals”. That is when he’s not too busy showing Hollywood actors how to be hardcore warriors in films like “The Hunted”

with Tommy Lee Jones and “Non-Stop” starring Liam Neeson. A world renowned edged weapons master in the Sayoc Kali system, Kayanan has also brought his skills to the small screen. As the fighting technical adviser On “NCIS: LA” (featuring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J), Kayanan has gotten to impart some of his blade expertise on the likes of Machete himself Danny Trejo as well as Ernie Reyes Jr. who some will know as the little guy who took down The Rock in “The Rundown” but I will always remember him as Donatello in the first Ninja Turtle film.

Comic Attack managed to catch up with the very busy artist and throw a couple of questions his way and here’s what he had to say.


Comic Attack: Thanks for talking with us. So how did you get started in drawing?

Rafael Kayanan: My father was an architect and he brought home stacks of comics that I would copy. There were always various forms of art discussed in my father’s home and I was exposed to museums at an early age.

CA: And how did you get started in the martial arts?

RK: Well officially at the age of 12 or so I was enrolled in a local Florida Okinawan school for Karate. It was run by Vietnam Vets who trained it overseas. It was a very strict hard style. I held my first live kris sword [asymmetrical sword with a wavy blade] at four. I remember my cousin handed it to me. He had it sheathed underneath his dashboard in the Philippines. At the time I did not equate Filipino combat arts to a martial art. I did love boxing after meeting the Filipino legend Flash Elorde but then again I thought of boxing as more of a sport.

CA: So if you could only do one (drawing vs martial arts) for the rest of your life, which would it be?

RK: The thing is I would not be who I am without one art complementing the other. I use the lessons I learn from drawing and martial arts to develop the other skill.

GALACTUSScan-130729-0001CA: How does your fighting knowledge inform your artwork? How does your artwork inform your fighting knowledge?

RK: I take the lessons I’ve learned about determined practice as a process for quantitative deconstruction and knowing about the human body’s motion language from both to use in either field.

CA: What was the first piece you were ever proud of?

RK: It was a double page spread pencil copy of artist Gene Colan’s Daredevil drawn on cardboard. It was the first time I drew a foreshortened figure and I had to find out how it was originally done. It got me looking at how to books (pre-internet).

CA: Now you do storyboards for live media.  How do you find that process different from working in comics?

RK: The two are similar in that you frame the world in moments but story boards are sketches for the director not a vision unto themselves. With storyboards you are thinking about communicating with the director and cinematographer first.

CA: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?


RK: So many! [Jean-Michel] Basquait was one. Eiko Ishioka was another. Then Roger Dean, [Lorenzo] Matotti, Tim Conrad,

Chris Foss to [Frank] Frazetta. Young Guns? So many out there like Sean Murphy, Michael Lark, Jeff Lemire, Tons of excellent work going on.

CA: What do you think is the best art work you’ve ever done?

RK: I liked the Elektra/DD WHAT IF I did a few years ago- they used a few panels from that on the new Captain America film. Literal art panel captures to live screen. I posted it on Facebook. The background set drawings for Taymor’s Spider-Man on Broadway. The costume illustrations I did for Eiko Ishioka on a few Tarsem films like THE IMMORTALS. There are a few Conan comics that stood out. I’d say what most artists will agree to: the best has yet to be seen or drawn.

CA: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, about either fighting or drawing?

RK: Observe life.

CA: Okay so let’s say you’re putting together your very own “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” out of your favorite characters. Who’s in it and why?

Kayanan ShadowRK: The Shadow, Archie Goodwin’s Manhunter, Deathlok and Black Widow, because they all have a unique design from simple to detailed but can also be depicted as complex characters in a hyper espionage type thriller

CA: Which of the upcoming comic films are you looking forward to the most?

RK: Definitely “Guardians of The Galaxy” because I think it can become Marvel’s Star Wars.

CA: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

RK: No Problem.



A true artist in every sense of the word with credits that range from “Turok the Dinosaur Hunter” to “Spider-Man” the Musical, Rafael Kayanan may in fact be the most interesting man working in comics today.

Check out NCIS: LA on both CBS & USA Networks and follow Rafael on Twitter: @RafaelKayanan

Cameron Crump



One Comment

  1. Fantastic write up and that would be one interesting League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that I would love to read! But I will always remember Ernie Reyes Jr. for his role in The Last Dragon!

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