Meet rising Pinoy ‘G.I. Joe’ artist Roi Mercado


Just when artist Roi Mercado made a leap of faith to go full-time in comics, the world went into lockdown last year. A few months ago, his family faced a crisis after his baby girl, Hannah, was rushed to the ICU.

But things now seem to be turning out well for the 26-year-old father of two. In the second year of the pandemic, IDW Publishing will be featuring his covers for not one, but two G.I. Joe: The Real American Hero comics. The official blurb calls him a “superstar-artist-in-the-making.”

I got to chat with the man of the hour himself about his comics career picking up!

Jerald: Roi, can you share how you started in comics?

Roi: I started as a local comic creator in February 2020, at a Komiket event at SM Megamall. I released my self-published comic book, OPHIR. The event was absolutely amazing. Being it was the first I had, I was encouraged to continue making comics. At that time, I was still employed as a supervisor of a small team. But because of that event, going as a full-time comic artist seemed to be a viable venture.

J: So you quit your job in February last year? I kinda have an idea what happened next.

R: Yeah, unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived because in just a few weeks the lockdown started. That’s when I started going heavy on (Facebook) group posting. Slowly, my art got noticed until one day, an agent reached out with a representation contract. 

J: Wow, that was relatively quick. It says a lot how good you are!

R: Well, I grabbed the first opportunity that came my way. I still have no experience, depleting savings, not to mention, a very young family (Roi has a four-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter). I knew nobody. I just figured my way into writing, drawing, and producing comics. It may not be ideal for many; definitely not free from problems but, it can be the only path to becoming the awesome version of 'you' that you've always wanted.

J: I pretty much get that you are a family man. Last May, I saw your posts about your daughter needing prayers and help for her hospital bill.

R: We’re caught off guard because, at that time, I'd just quitted my day job to go full-time in comics. Meaning, we really do not have much to rely on to deal with the astronomical medical bills. Good thing I made a lot of good friends in the local and international comics; despite being a newcomer in the community, they initiated raising funds for her. I would say, a substantial amount came from the friendships we built on the foundation of love for comics. 

Hanna’s doing great now, she recovered well. We are thankful to all that helped us to go through it and bounce back. This year’s been a rough start for me and my family. But, there’s no reason not to be grateful especially for all the opportunities I've been given.

J: And now you’re the cover artist for G.I. Joe! So tell me, how did you get the gigs?

R: A few weeks after (I got the representation contract), the agent offered me the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Yearbook #3 cover gig with IDW Publishing. It’s going to be available in September this year. Soon after that, we got a three-issue gig with Heavy Metal Magazine. While working on that project, Tom Waltz, Manager, Creative Development/Senior Editor at IDW Publishing, said he loved the Yearbook #3 cover and wanted me to do the G.I. Joe A Real American Hero #284 exclusive convention cover featuring (Filipino G.I. Joe character) Multo and Black Hat.

J: Sorry for the slambook question, how did you feel when you read “G.I. Joe” in your inbox?

R: Absolutely thrilled when I received the email! I’m not really much of a comic book nerd but I know it’s going to be really special because Multo is the first Filipino G.I. and #284 is going to be his first cover appearance. I also just happen to know through a local G.I. Joe collector that, it’s not just the cover that makes it so special but also the file card printed on the back cover where they used the same cover art. Now, every time someone is going to purchase a comic or possibly an action figure of Multo, it comes with the file card where my art is on.

J: Is Multo your fave G.I. now? 

R: I haven’t read much about Multo yet so, I’m going with Snake Eyes for this one. I think I speak for most of the Filipino G.I. Joe fans that we are definitely excited to see more of Multo in action in the next issues.

J: G.I. Joe is a well-known IP. Did IDW give you free reins in doing the covers?

R: What’s so awesome working with Tom and the IDW team is that they gave me enough creative freedom designing and conceptualizing the covers. When working with the IDW covers, I was required to give three initial layouts at the least; which is SOP for any comic gig. The team will then choose the appropriate cover and have it approved by (toy and media assets company) Hasbro.

J: Looking back, was there someone who inspired you to fully trust in your abilities as a comic book artist?

R: In college, I considered producing comics as a feasibility study. My professor at that time asked “Do you know how to write? How are you planning to raise funds for the printing? And where are you planning to sell them?” 

Obviously, that made me realize I have absolutely no idea what I am getting myself into. 

“I just wanted to draw,” I told him. 

“Then, go ahead and do it,” he said.

I did not pursue the idea because I had no experience, no resources, and no network. After a few years of working, this idea of making comics never left me. Drawing for myself seemed pointless if I weren’t planning to be a comic book artist in the future. 

I remembered my professor. He taught us to not be afraid of making mistakes, meeting new people, or trying out new things; diving headfirst into something that you really wanted and figure it out later.

J: He must be really proud of you right now. So after G.I. Joe, what is keeping you busy right now?

R: I am currently working with friends in setting up a studio where we are cooking something special for my comic OPHIR. Our goal is not just to represent Pinoy Komiks to a wider audience but also to eventually help fellow local creators.

Roi’s hard-to-find Multo cover was released exclusively during the Comic-Con@Home event. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Yearbook #3, meanwhile, comes out next month. Roi’s Heavy Metal gig which features his first interior work for a major publisher will be released in three installments in October, November, and December this year.

This story was first published on TrueID on Aug. 17, 2021.