Life and career
Kajo started drawing when he was three years old. He was an avid reader of Filipino komiks from the 80s and 90s and, because of this, pursued making comic books at an early age. In 1992, he started pitching scripts to local publishers as a high schooler, managing to get a few of his stories published. He eventually went to study in the University of the Philippine College of Fine Arts, but left to pursue a career in design instead.
Komiks career (1996-2005)
In 1996, Kajo joined Virtual Media Studios, where he met writers and illustrators from Alamat Comics. The collective, among them Budjette Tan, treated Virtual Media Studios' headquarters as an de facto hang out place. During this time, he worked on a comic book named A.R.C.H.O.N., but his contributions were lost after the computer he was using crashed and his files were corrupted.
Kajo would go on to sporadically work with Budjette in a few ad-related jobs, including a comic about HIV and AIDS as well as posters promoting Globe's text-based games featuring X-Men and Punisher characters.
Kajo worked on NWA, an ashcan komiks that featured a Filipino superhero universe set in Makati and was serialized in MTV Ink. Self-publishing the title from 2004 to 2005, he eventually sidelined the series to focus on Trese. He also asked Budjette to pitch a comic to MTV Ink as a collaborative endeavor for the both of them. Budjette wanted to bring back his old comic Batch 72 through this and revamp them as 8 Hit Combo, but the magazine shut down before it could be published.
Some time later, he sent Budjette 24 pages worth of drawings telling a wordless story about a little girl and a monster. He gave Budjette complete creative control over the written words, pushing for a completely 50-50 collaboration between the two of them. Eventually, the comic got developed into The Last Datu.
Main article: Trese
In June 2005, while working at McCann Erikson, Kajo texted Budjette about wanting to make a monthly 20-page comic book. He would spend a lunch break a day drawing pages, and spend the 10 days refining the letters, lay-out and cover. Budjette obliged and started reworking an old script he had been working on into a one-shot, concerned that their busy schedules wouldn't allow them to write another one. Kajo emailed him Anton Trese's character design early in the process, which had very masculine and tough looking features. In an attempt to distance themselves from the stereotypes that Kolchak, Mulders and John Constantine had, Budjette asked Kajo to draw Trese as a woman instead. Both creators liked the character design and decided to go with it instead, naming her Alexandra Trese.
The comic was eventually picked up and published by Visprint Inc., and expanded into a series of books and spinoffs, earning multiple awards and recognitions.
During Trese's publication, Kajo and Budjette worked on other comics. This included The Last Datu and The Clinic, which were both included in Kwentillion, an anthology Budjette co-edited with Paolo Chikiamko and published by Summit Media in 2011. The latter was also included in Underpass, an earlier graphic anthology edited by Budjette that was published in 2009. While working on Trese 4, The two started another series called Talis, whose first issue was published online on November 2010. They also worked with Alex Arellano to make The Feast, a comic that featured recipes from ingredients made from Philippine mythological creatures that was published in the December 2010 issue of Uno Magazine.
Kajo also illustrated other comics with one of the earliest being Artifact, an ashcan written by Ryan Zamora and Rafael Urbina and released in Komikon 2006. Notably, he has also illustrated several titles from Dark Horse, which includes Who Wants to be a Superhero: The Defuse, published in April 1, 2009 as well as Star Wars: Legacy #41 - Rogue's End, published in October 28, 2009. Kajo also drew the art for The Hunters, a comic written by then-4 year old Zayden Ramos, that was published in 2012.
Kajo continued to work in advertising while working on Trese, notably illustrating the character mascot Chuckie for Nestle in 2011. His other works outside comics include being a background artist for Tuldok Animation Studios' animated short film Libingan as well as a storyboard artist for Sign Seeker, a short film anthology by Nestlé.
Trese hiatus (2014-2018)
The Trese series went into a brief hiatus after Trese: High Tide at Midnight's publication, with Budjette stepping into responsibilities as Executive Creative Director at MRM/McCann in 2014 and moving to Denmark with his family to work at The Lego Company in 2016. During this five year period, Kajo also moved with his family to Davao City.
He started developing a self-published zine called Walong Kwentong Walang Kwenta (Eight Useless Stories), reusing storyboards done six years earlier and recontextualizing them with new dialogue and narration. The first zine of the series, Baby Steps, was uploaded to his Facebook page on February 9, 2015. He and Budjette collaborated with Kajo's then-student Rysa Antonio on Josef Miggy and Yaya Karol, a 32 page ashcan released in May 2, 2015. The Feast was also included in Lorna 6: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction published by Epigram Books in May 2016.
Kajo also illustrated 12:01, a graphic novelette written by Russell Molina released in February 21, 2016. It tackled Philippine martial law under the leadership of Ferdinand Marcos from the perspective of four friends trying to get home before the regime's infamous midnight curfew.
Before Budjette left for Denmark, Kajo and Budjette had a discussion about their plans for Trese and all their other projects. During this, Kajo requested Budjette to write a 20 page story he could work on. Budjette started working on a story that he initially planned to publish in Stories from the Diabolical on Valentine's Day. This eventually developed into Table for Three, an ashcan released in Komikon on November 19, 2016 and was included in Trese: Shadow Witness.
The Crucible, having hosted Kajo's Trese-related works before, showcased more of his non-comic related artworks in a one-man show called Mga Drawings ni Kajo on May 2-14, 2017.
Budjette and Kajo collaborated with fellow comic book authors and illustrators David Hontiveros, Bow Guerrero and Mervin Malonzo on The Lost Journal of Alejandra Pardo and it's sequel/companion book The Black Bestiary, published on March 31, 2016 and April 14, 2018, respectively.
He was also one of the artists featured on Stay: 21 Comic Stories, an anthology of an assortment of stories written by Angelo R. Lacuesta visualized in different ways. The book was released on November 17, 2018.
In late 2018, Budjette and Kajo started an Indiegogo campaign to publish a global edition of Trese Comics #1, featuring updated and stylized artwork, personalized sketch covers, and additional content. Initially having a goal of $4,013 USD, the campaign eventually garnered $9,729 USD from 220 backers. On November 8, 2018, in the middle of the campaign, Netflix announced a animated adaptation of the comic book series in a showcase called See What's Next: Asia held in Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Jay Oliva was announced as the executive director and showrunner with Shanty Harmayn, Tanya Yuson and BASE Entertainment Studios as producers.
Continuing Trese (2019-present)
Kajo eventually developed a small desire to back away from Trese, considering to stop his involvement with the series after the publication of Trese: High Tide at Midnight. This was due to a sense of completeness with his contributions and a finality with the book's story arc. He eventually quit from making comics altogether in 2017, but gradually returned to the craft two years later. After the production of the Netflix TV series adaptation was announced, he was motivated to continue working on the series.
Trese: Shadow Witness, the follow up to the sixth book after five years, was published on September 11, 2019. On November 2019, it was followed by a postcard book made from a selection of Kajo's Trese Lite sketches accompanied by brief messages written by Budjette from the perspective of the characters. Trese: Bloodlines Volume 1, an anthology of stories set in the Trese universe, was published on December 2020. It was contributed to by Brian Balondo, Mervin del Mundo, David Hontiveros, Mark Gatela, JB Tapia and Brandie Tan.
Budjette and Kajo worked on The Siren's Executioner, an 8 page comic set in the Trese universe made to be included in 10 Years to Save the World, an anthology released online on September 25, 2021.
His short one shot comics titled Walong Taong Walang Kwenta at mga Drawing ni Kajo was compiled and published as an issue, which was distributed to buyers on April 9, 2022.
Currently, Kajo and Budjette plan to continue the main Trese series up to the thirteenth book, finishing within the next five years. The eighth book in the main series, Trese: Shadow Agents, is set to release on August 2022.
He currently resides in Davao City with his wife and son, moving cities after spending forty years in Makati. He draws storyboards for a living and is trying to establish an animal shelter together with his family.
- Kajo also makes art under the pseudonym Josef Rootgum.
- In most instances, Kajo is properly capitalized as KaJO.
- One of Kajo's biggest inspirations was Italian illustrator Sergio Toppi, whose influence can be seen in his dynamic composition and lay-out.
- Creator biography of Trese: Mass Murders
- Creator biography of Trese: Unreported Murders
- Afterword of Trese: Murder On Balete Drive
- Afterword of Trese: Shadow Witness
- Afterword of Table for Three zine
- Acknowledgements in Trese: Shadow Witness
- # https://www.facebook.com/groups/TreseComics/posts/10158890170917939/