SACRAMENTO, Calif. — DC Comic's anti-hero Jonah Hex made his first appearance in All-Star West #10 in 1972.
His image was drawn from the mind of the late Tony DeZuniga.
“When you're an artist with the comics, if you created a character, you're an icon," said his wife Tina DeZuniga.
With the power of ink, the Filipino-born trailblazer paved the way for generations of Pinoy illustrators to share their talents in the international comics books industry. He was primarily known for his work with DC Comics but had an expansive portfolio working with Marvel and Sega.
DeZuniga spent his retirement years in Stockton, mentoring emerging artists, before returning to the Philippines, where he passed away 10 years ago this month. His wife shared his legacy and gave ABC10 a rare look into his art later in life for AAPI Heritage Month.
DeZuniga said co-creating Jonah Hex was a full-circle moment for the legendary artist, who took an interest in drawing as a little boy in the Philippines.
“He said he was four years old. His father took him to a cowboy movie, and then when they get home, he started drawing the horse and cowboy," she said.
DeZuniga was the first Filipino artist whose pencil and ink work was accepted by US Comic book publishers.
"I'm always so proud of Tony," DeZuniga said. "His passion for this art is always there.”
The late DeZuniga began as a letterer in the Philippines at the age of 16, and studied commercial art before arriving in New York City, self-scouting his work to publishers at DC Comics in the 1970s.
"He encouraged, at the time, Carmine Infantino, who is the editor for DC Comics, to go to the Philippines and see, meet all these artists and look at the job, you know the works, that they have," DeZuniga said. "And sure enough, he was impressed.”
That paved the way for Filipino comic artists to take their talents internationally. DeZuniga is regarded as the “Father of Filipino Invasion in US comics”.
His talent spanned multiple universes.
“Tony did six covers for Star Wars," DeZuniga said of her late husband's work with Marvel comics.
She said he was known to complete his sketches quickly, sometimes just an hour.
“There's so much respect in the comic industry for the Filipino artists because they do their work, they're fast, and they always do quality jobs," she said.
DeZuniga spent his retirement in Stockton, taking emerging artists under his wing and continuing to make art, drawing more on his Filipino heritage.
It was an opportunity to get back to his roots. DeZuniga said she encouraged her husband to enter a painting of a Filipino cockfighter in an art competition.
“Tony said, 'Don't enter it because he's too Filipino. Nobody would like that,'" she recalled. "He was really surprised and not only Best of Show, but we sold the piece.”
Ten years after his death, Tina looks back fondly at DeZuniga’s work at the heights of his career and in retirement.
“Because he feels proud to be Filipino!" she said with a laugh.
To commemorate his contributions, StocktonCon holds a Tony DeZuniga Memorial Art Contest.
Jonah Hex became a movie in 2010, a year before DeZuniga's death. Writer, Jimmy Palmiotti, earlier this year took to Twitter to call for Jonah Hex to become an HBO series.