‘Jonah Hex’ creator is a hero for Filipino comic book artists

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By Anna Valmero

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA – Die-hard comic book fans and even artists themselves know that Tony De Zuniga deserves more acclaim than being known simply as the Filipino illustrator who created Jonah Hex.

The story of Jonah Hex, a character De Zuniga created in the 1970s, has been adapted into a movie, which opened in the US on June 18. (Watch movie trailer here)

As the first Filipino to ever do illustrations for comic book juggernauts Marvel and DC comics, De Zuniga is dubbed the “Father of Filipino Invasion in US Comics.”

Kung babalikan natin ang kasaysayan, siya ang kauna-unahang Pilipino na nakagawa ng komiks sa Amerika, at siya rin ang dahilan kung bakit nakarating doon ang mga trabaho nina Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala at Alex Niño,” says Randy Valiente, who met De Zuniga in an exhibit in 2007.

This “living legend” from Sampaloc, Manila began his career at the age of 16, as a letterer for weekly magazine Liwayway, a weekly magazine. After graduating from the University of Santo Tomas, he moved to New York in 1962 to study industrial design. He later returned to do story board design.

It was his return to New York in 1968 that opened doors for his career as a comic book illustrator when he met DC comics editor Joe Orlando, who hired him right after seeing his portfolio. He made his debut in “Dr. Thirteen” story for Phantom Stranger, published in 1971.

“Tony then paved the way for other Filipino comic artists to enter the US industry when he convinced DC Editor in Chief Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando to visit the Philippines in 1971,” according to Gerry Alanguilan, himself a renowned comic book writer and illustrator.

As a result, artists like Alex Niño, Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Fred Carrillo. Vicatan, Gerry Talaoc and many more who found work on DC’s stable “Mystery and War” series, according to Alanguilan, famous for his work in X-Men, Fantastic Four and Wolverine, among other comic book titles.

So what inspired him to come up with a disfigured character like Jonah Hex for DC?

“When I went to my doctor, I saw this beautiful chart of the human anatomy. And I saw the anatomy of the figure was split in half, straight from head to toe. Half his skeleton was there, half his nerves and muscles. That’s where I got the idea it won’t be too bad if his distortion would be half,” says DeZuniga.

DeZuniga helped publish the 130-page graphic novel “Jonah Hex; No Way Out” in line with movie release. “In a way I think I’m very lucky. There’s hundreds and hundreds of superhero characters, and he (Jonah Hex) was picked,” he says in this Balitang America report.

A true-blue artist by heart, De Zuniga is now into painting, his portraits a favorite among elites in Southern California. (See some of his works here.)

“I think I still carry that Pinoy style of storytelling: [the artwork] should be powerful with a lot of story, even without the dialog. That’s how we were trained to work (in Pinoy komiks),” he says.

Photos taken from Torvald’s webpage and Wikipedia

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