By Anna Valmero
QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA—For each Pinoy comic book artist and avid comics reader, Tony DeZuniga was a hero—not because he donned a suit and wielded superpowers. He was a hero for inspiring young and even not so young artists to nurture their creative passion and always give their best in what they do.
On Friday morning, a report of him succumbing to death from complications of a stroke and pneumonia was mourned by the international comic book industry.
The 70-year-old comic book legend suffered a stroke last April and has been at the intensive care unit of the Las Piñas Doctors Hospital since.
Sir Tony, as he is fondly called by younger comic book artists, paved the way for Filipinos to break into the international comic book scene, doing illustrations for US comics bigwigs DC Comics and Marvel. With his superb style and good work ethics, representatives from DC and Marvel eventually hired other Filipinos to join their production houses.
During his 18-year stint at both houses, Sir Tony penned illustrations for X-Men and Spider-Man, and co-created Western hero Jonah Hex and bullet-proof Black Orchid.
His passing was dubbed a “big loss” by the international comic book artists including Laguna-based Gerry Alaguilan, a renowned artist who serve as inker for titles such as X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Wolverine.
On his Komikero.com blog, Alanguilan wrote a piece dedicated to the late DeZuniga, whom he said was more than a comic book legend because he was a friend to young and aspiring artist and even to readers.
“Tony DeZuniga mattered a lot to us because he became one of us. He joined us at our conventions, he hung out with us, interacted with us, and by doing so, he showed that he embraced us and accepted our contributions to the comics industry. He was our friend,” Alanguilan wrote.
“He was, and still is a huge inspiration. I’m not exactly a very young man anymore, but whenever I think of Mang Tony, who was still active and still pushing his artistic boundaries well into his 70′s, it was terribly, terribly inspiring. I wish I could be as active and creative when I reach his age,” added Alanguilan.
Alanguilan said: “Now that he’s gone, I have no doubt that he will continue to inspire us. And while our conventions may seem empty now without him, as if something would always be missing, his memory will help keep us going, and keep us making comics.”
I was witness to Sir Tony's passion to help nurture young talents when he held a one-night exhibit at The Collective last year.
Even after retirement, Sir Tony was active in holding art workshops for aspiring comic book artists, even giving them his tips on how to properly pencil or ink an illustration.
He told me that old age is never an excuse not to read or draw comics. At 70, he still read comic books and whenever he is in New York, he rummaged the comic book stalls to look for different comics from UK, Russia and Japan to see the confluence and evolution of styles over time.
His advice to younger artists is to do the same to help develop their own style and maybe, get an inspiration or two.
“Drawing requires daily practice so you can improve your craft. When creating a character, it doesn't have to be muscular, just make sure the figure stands out to make them alive and command attention,” he said during an interview with LOQAL.ph.
During a brief meeting with American actor and producer John Malkovich, he encouraged the latter to keep on practicing, even after he stopped for years.
“Even if you stopped, I advised people like John Malkovich who told me he used to draw, that drawing is just like riding a bicycle. Even after years of not doing it, you can get into the rhythm again if you practice,” said Sir Tony.
For me, comic book writer and artist Jonas Diego made a good parting word to the late Sir Tony with his simple Facebook post: “Today we lost a legend. Godspeed, Sir Tony DeZuniga. Thank you for everything that you've done for the Philippine Artist.”
Meanwhile, the local community of comic book artists and enthusiasts are calling for financial support to help the DeZuniga family defray the costs during Sir Tony's hospitalization.
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