In today’s edition of the Filipino artist spotlight, we take a look at the American comics contributions of one-and-done artist Nestor DeLeon, long-time Spider-Man comic strip artist Floro Dery, and Jonah Hex co-creator and Filipino Wave pioneer Tony DeZuniga.
Author’s Note: If you have been following me on Tumblr, you’ll know that I’ve recently started a series of weekly posts highlighting the works of the “Filipino Wave” artists who worked on the horror, sci-fi, western, war, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery comics published by DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Warren Publishing, and other outfits in the 1970s and 1980s. Today’s column is a collection of the most recent posts in the series.
As with all the art I post in this blog, the images below are being shared in the spirit of fair use.
A fairly obscure and relatively anonymous artist, there is some debate as to whether or not Nestor De Leon is even Filipino—the Lambiek Comiclopedia actually suggests that he might be Argentinian or Spanish. Comic Book Artist magazine lists him as a Filipino artist, though, and a quick look at his sole American comics work, a 10-page story that appeared in Warren Publishing’s Eerie #107 (December 1979), reveals a style that is very much in line with that of the classic Filipino komiks (think E. R. Cruz).
One of the earliest Filipino Wave artists, Floro Dery (a.k.a. Flor Dery) made his American comics debut with DC Comics, penciling an eight-page story in The Witching Hour #32 (July 1973) that was inked by fellow Filipino artist Romy Gamboa.
It was on next month’s House of Secrets #110 (August 1973) that he would have his first full-spectrum pencil-and-ink job.
Dery would work sporadically for DC over the next few years before eventually landing a gig as an artist on the internationally syndicated Spider-Man newspaper comic strip in 1983. Dery served both as a solo illustrator and a co-illustrator alongside fellow comic strip artists such as Fred Kida and Larry Lieber, His tenure on the strip would last almost ten years.
It was also around this time that Dery started working in animation as a concept artist, character designer, background designer, and storyboard artist. Dery’s film and TV animation credits are many, with perhaps his work as the concept designer for 1986′s The Transformers: The Movie standing out as the most well-known of his animation contributions.
Dery has earned some measure of notoriety in the Transformers fan community (if his TFWiki entry is to be believed) for the exceedingly narcissistic tenor of his interviews and posts on Transformers fan site message boards, as well as allegations of sockpuppetry, although this should not diminish the impact of his contributions to the franchise.
Floro Dery’s American comics bibliography (does not include Spider-Man comic strips that have not been reprinted in paperback):
- The Witching Hour #32 (July 1973, DC Comics): “What Evil Taunts this House,” pencils only; reprinted in Haunted Tales #45 (November 1981, K. G. Murray).
- House of Secrets #110 (August 1973, DC Comics): “Safes Have Secrets, Too,” pencils/inks; reprinted in Showcase Presents: The House of Secrets #2 (October 2009, DC Comics).
- The Unexpected #168 (September 1975, DC Comics): “The Patchwork Pal,” pencils/inks; reprinted in Haunted Tales #42 (February 1981, K. G. Murray).
- House of Mystery #259 (July/August 1978, DC Comics): “Never Steal from a Blind Man,” pencils/inks; reprinted in Weird Mystery Tales #36 (1978, K. G. Murray).
- Comics Review #4 (May 1984, Manuscript Press): “The Amazing Spider-Man,” pencils/inks (with Fred Kida); reprint of Spider-Man newspaper strip 13 February–28 March, 1984.
- The Best of Spider-Man (1986, Marvel Comics): “The Impostor Must Die,” pencils/inks; reprint of Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strip 04 August–19 August, 1984.
- The Amazing Spider-Man: The Wedding (October 1991, Marvel Comics): “The Spider-Man Wedding Chronicle,” pencils/inks (with Larry Lieber); reprint of Spider-Man newspaper strip 24 May–28 June, 1987.
The late Tony DeZuniga is, without question, the most pivotal of the Filipino Wave artists. Comics fans and historians can argue about who they think is the “best” artist among the Filipino Wavers, who was the most influential among his international peers, or who was the most skilled with specific techniques or media, but what is beyond debate is DeZuniga’s role as the catalyst of the whole Filipino Wave movement. DeZuniga was Artist Zero, the first Filipino komiks illustrator to successfully cross over into a career drawing mainstream American comics for a major publisher.
Just as important as DeZuniga’s individual achievements as an artist was his role as the first liaison between American publishers and native Filipino talent. It was at his insistence that DC editor Joe Orlando flew 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, and romance comics throughout the 1970s and 1980s. His studio became the headquarters of the Filipino artist collective known as “The Tribe,” which illustrated a number of comics for Marvel.
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 walked into DC editor Joe Orlando’s office in 1970 with a folder containing his most recent work.
As far as I can ascertain, his first published work for DC Comics was a ten-page story (”For Love or Money”) which appeared in Girls’ Love Stories #153 (August 1970). The short story showcased an already mature artist, confident in his style and the level of his rendering skills:
DeZuniga would work primarily on DC’s romance titles through the end of 1970, although he did draw one ten-page horror story (”Dark City of Doom,” in House of Mystery #188, October 1970) which showed that he was equally capable of handling darker, more fantastical material.
The following year, DeZuniga started a semi-regular stint illustrating DC’s All-Star Western. For All-Star Western #10 (February/March 1972), where he co-created (with writer John Albano) Jonah Hex, one of DC’s most visually distinct characters and perhaps the company’s most enduring “non-superhero” property.
A year later, another DeZuniga co-creation, the female superhero Black Orchid, would star in in Adventure Comics:
Another highlight of DeZuniga’s career at DC include a lengthy stint illustrating Arak, Son of Thunder (both as a solo artist and as an inker over various pencilers).
DeZuniga also worked for DC’s crosstown rival Marvel Comics, compiling runs and fill-in appearances on Thor, Uncanny X-Men, Marvel Preview, Dracula Lives!, and other titles. Among his best contributions for Marvel is a Shanna the She-Devil story (with an accompanying portfolio), which appeared in Rampaging Hulk #9 (June 1978).
Unlike many of his Filipino Wave contemporaries, DeZuniga was able to weather the horror/western/war/romance/adventure comics decline and continued to work regularly for superhero comics publishers into the late 1980s.
A consummate artist driven to constantly improve, DeZuniga never really stopped painting and drawing even as he left the daily grind of comics and commercial art in the 1990s, offering art instruction out of his home in California’s San Joaquin County and briefly coming out of retirement in 2010 to illustrate the graphic novel Jonah Hex: No Way Back. As recalled by artist and Image Comics co-founder Whilce Portacio in a 2012 interview:
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, insightful 2006 interview:
Tony DeZuniga, celebrated illustrator and Filipino comics art pioneer, passed away on 11 May 2012 at the age of 79.
Click here for a partial bibliography of DeZuniga’s American comics.