The GeeksverseTony DeZuniga, 08 November, 1932–11 May, 2012

Tony DeZuniga, 08 November, 1932–11 May, 2012
Published on Monday, May 14, 2012 by

Comic book artist, painter, and Jonah Hex co-creator Tony DeZuniga died on 11 May, 2012 in the Philippines, from complications arising from a stroke he suffered in April of this year. The celebrated illustrator and transcontinental comics art pioneer was 79 years old.

Below is an excerpt from a 2010 Comixverse article (“Leaving Proof 14: Filipino Art in American comics – From Komiks to Comics (or ‘Mr. DeZuniga Goes to New York'”) detailing an outstanding career in comic books, advertising, and video games that spanned six decades

Tony DeZuniga (originally spelled DeZuñiga) started out in his mid-teens as a freelance letterer and illustrator in the 1950s, working alongside established komiks artists such as Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, while studying commercial art at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

After graduating from UST, he went to New York in 1962 to study advertising and graphic design. He would return to the Philippines to begin his career in advertising. DeZuniga would move to the US in the late 1960s to work as the creative art director for a New York-based ad agency. Bored by ad work, DeZuniga, brimming with what can only be the confidence of youth, walked into DC editor Joe Orlando’s office in 1971 with a folder containing his most recent work. So impressed was Orlando with the quality of DeZuniga’s work that he immediately assigned him to illustrate a story eventually published in Girl’s Love Stories #153, a popular romance title at the time.

He would soon do the pencils and inks for an inventory story featuring minor DC character Dr. Thirteen that would appear as a back-up in Phantom Stranger (an “Egyptian story”, according to DeZuniga in a 2004 interview with Comic Book Artist magazine). DeZuniga was a pioneer, the first komiks artist to have made the successful move to a major American comics publisher. In 1972, he would go on to co-create (with writer John Albano) Jonah Hex, one of DC’s most visually distinct characters and perhaps its most enduring “non-superhero” property.

A year later, another DeZuniga co-creation, the female superhero Black Orchid, would become a recurring character in Phantom Stranger. But perhaps DeZuniga’s greatest contribution to comics is that he made the editors at DC aware of the talent that was in the Philippines. It was at his insistence that Joe Orlando would fly to Manila in 1971 to meet Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, and so many other artists who would soon be wowing readers of DC’s horror, military, romance, and crime comics throughout the 1970s.

DeZuniga would have a long career working for DC and Marvel. Of the “first wave” of Filipino komiks artists that came to America, he was, along with inker Romeo Tanghal, perhaps the most successful in making the transition from horror/romance/crime/military comics to the superhero comics of the 1980s.

He had a detailed rendering style influenced by Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, but he was also quite adept at mimicking the flourishes of other illustrators, a talent that served him well during the times that he would serve as a fill-in artist (note how effectively he is able to mimic regular artist John Byrne’s style in Uncanny X-Men #110).

DeZuniga stopped doing regular comics work in the late 1980s, and would later work for Sega of America as a character designer throughout the 1990s.

DeZuniga never really stopped painting and drawing even as he left the daily grind of comics and commercial art, offering art instruction out of his home in California’s San Joaquin County and briefly coming out of retirement in 2010 to illustrate the excellent Jonah Hex: No Way Back. As recalled by artist Whilce Portacio in a recent interview with the Comixverse

Mang Tony is 80 years old right now. And we go over to his house and he goes, ‘Hey, let’s go paint.’ [Tony DeZuniga and Alex Niño are] just fearless. It’s just what they do, ask them to do it and they’ll do it.

For all his success in comic books and in the larger art world, Tony DeZuniga never stopped trying to learn from other artists and his enthusiasm for drawing comics never wavered, as he stated in this lively 2006 interview

The artist’s family plans to have him interred at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, although no date for the burial has been set.

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