Tony DeZuniga was one of the true trailblazers of the comic book world. He wasn’t the first foreign artist to work in the American market, but he became one of the most famous, and by virtue of sheer talent opened the door for an entire generation of Filipino artists to follow. Along the way he co-created one of the more unique Western characters to grace a mainstream comic book – Jonah Hex – and left his mark both as a penciller and inker of repute.
Tony broke into America comics via Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando. Infantino and Orlando, always on the lookout for new talent, had been impressed by the line work that Tony had displayed as a new DC Comics artist, and in doing so both men visited the Philippines to scout for new talent. With Tony serving both as a conduit and introduction man, the pair quickly snapped up artists such as Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Ernie Chan, Romeo Tanghal, and Gerry Talaoc, all of whom would work at DC and Marvel, along with the likes of Alex Niño, who’s stunning art would grace publishers such as Warren and Skywald, where their talents and vision were utilised to great effect. Tony’s opening of the doors has led to an influx that continues to this day, with artists such as Leinil Francis Yu and Whilce Portacio enjoying healthy careers that can be traced back to Tony DeZuniga.
Tony’s skills were never on better display than at DC Comics, which was surprising as DC, at that point in time (the early 1970s) were more of a traditional company, art wise, and Tonys art looked nothing like anyone else at the company. In this aspect Tony was the breath of fresh air that DC sorely needed, his war stories, mystery and especially western and horror, still stand up today, over forty years since they first appeared. Once Tony moved to Marvel he never quite hit the same artistic heights, although his work on Conan, Dracula, and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu were superlative. He was never quite suited for the Marvel super heroes though, his one X-Men job was serviceable, but suffered somewhat from some poor inking.
Tony’s most famous creation, Jonah Hex, first appeared in 1972. On the surface of things Hex appeared to fit into the anti-western hero of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, however that’s where the similarities ended. Unlike Eastwood, Hex would find himself in situations that defied the imagination, dealing with the supernatural and, unlike the ruggedly handsome Eastwood anti-hero, Hex was a scarred, disfigured man. The character has enjoyed a healthy life since it’s creation, culminating in a recent big budget Hollywood movie which brought Hex to a whole new audience. Sadly it would appear that, like most creations, Tony was amongst the few who really understood the character, and although many other talents have worked on various titles since, Hex has never been as good as he was when DeZuniga drew his adventures.
In recent times Tony had been enjoying a healthy retirement and would often split his time between the USA and the Philippines. It was on one of these recent trips where he was cruelly struck down by a stroke, which caused brain damage and left him in a coma from which he never recovered. Tony DeZuniga passed away Thursday, May 10. He leaves behind a legacy that will last for decades to come, and beyond, a legacy of fine art and that of being a true humanitarian who led the way and assisted those who might never have found as avenue into the mainstream comic book world.
Vale Tony DeZuniga.