All contents ©2012 Mike Pascale. Visual content ©2012 and trademarked their respective owner(s).
Regrettably, “Avengers month” here on “A Picture’s Worth” will have to wait a week so we can pay tribute to yet another artistic great who recently joined his creative brethren in Heaven’s bullpen.
I’m talking about the massively skilled, talented and underrated Tony DeZuniga. Tony and his wonderful wife Tina had recently moved back to their home in the Philippines to enjoy semi-retirement. (I say “semi-retirement” because I’ve yet to see an artist stop drawing period just because they stop drawing a paycheck.) This is after moving to southern California in the late aughts to further Tony’s amazing portrait work.
That’s right, portraiture! If you were one of the many fortunate folk who saw Mr. DeZuniga at Comic-Con: San Diego or other shows and took a few minutes to peruse his impressive portfolio, you would have seen some amazing likenesses of real people you’d never seen. After more or less retiring from comics in the late 90s, Tony drew and painted private portraits for some very lucky and well-heeled folks. It’s very hard to find examples of these online, unfortunately, but a few are there for those dedicated enough to search.
To be honest, I’m not sorry for Tony, who had sadly suffered a stroke and was not the same; we should all have such a full career and bountiful life, full of love and admiration of many, and be at peace when our time comes. My heart and prayers go out to his wonderful family and friends, and fans like me who will no longer be able to enjoy the man’s company or stories or watch him create magic with a pencil, pen or brush. He, like so many of late, has left a massive hole in the fabric of imagination and aesthetics.
Everyone knows Tony was the co-creator of DC’s supernatural Western hero, Jonah Hex. Many know he was the first Penoy (Filipino) artist to work in major US comics, being hired by Joe Orlando in 1971, and paved the way for fellow Filipino fantasists like Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Nino and others. But how many know how? He noticed DC was publishing a lot of reprints to save money. The comics biz was going through one of its many down cycles they just didn’t have as much dough to hire professionals to make new comics. So Tony, always proud of his homeland and wanting to help his countrymen, suggested that hiring other Penoy pencillers and inkers would cost the same yet yield wonderful new work. And due to the common work ethic there, they’d be good AND fast.
Every Marvel reader of my generation knows that Mr. DeZ was also one of the top few Conan artists for Marvel, with his unique, realistic take on the classic Robert E. Howard character. That in addition to drawing or inking most of Marvel’s major heroes and books (along with working with some of the legends like Gene Colan, Carmine Infantino and John Buscema).
Some remember that he also co-created the Black Orchid, an obscure but visually arresting DC female costumed hero of the 70s. Others know he was the first inker on Marvel’s Spider-Woman, including the version used on a recent US Postal stamp.
A few know he was originally from Manilla, where he began as a letterer for a popular weekly magazine. Fewer know he finished the Commercial Arts program at the University of Santo Tomas and then studied Industrial Design at the prestigious New York School of Design the year I was born. Upon returning to the Philippines, Tony went into commercial art and advertising (including doing storyboards for BBDO—the same ad agency where I began my ad career out of college and later freelanced as a storyboardist, albeit at an office a few thousand miles away from Tony’s.) But fewer know he went back to New York to study sales motivation before meeting DC editor Joe Orlando, who hired Mr. DeZuniga on the spot after pouring through his portfolio. (So, major thanks to Mr. Orlando, with whom Tony is reunited.)
(For more on Tony, check out this nice, recent interview with the man: http://www.optimumwound.com/a-quick-talk-with-comics-legend-tony-dezuniga.htm
And of course, his friends and family know how wonderful a person he was, devoted, passionate and generous to a fault. I was fortunate enough to meet Tony more than once and thank him in person for all his wonderful work and imaginative inspiration at a formative time in my life. Though I couldn’t afford an original piece at the time, I’m grateful to have at least walked away with a couple signed comics from that precious childhood era.
One last thing that very few may have realized: Tony died on the same day that Michelangelo began work on the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, one of the greatest artistic achievements in history. Coincidence? We won’t know till we meet up with both of them. But it makes sense to me.
Tony DeZuniga will live forever, not only online and in print through his incredible legacy of published comics, illustration and fantasy creations, but also in the homes and hearts of everyone who owns a piece of his art—and creative soul—and enjoys that personal connection every time they see it.
Thanks, Tony. And please give my best to Gene and Adrienne when you see them.