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“Wal, Ah’ll Be Danged.” Comics! Sometimes Creators Are Hurting!

John Kane

I don’t know if you’ve heard but comic book artist Tony DeZuniga is in a really bad way. The details are here.

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So, I thought I’d jaw a little about some of his work.

And then Brian “Call Me Mr.” Hibbs dropped his MASSIVE ANNOUNCEMENT that I’ve just stepped over with my big cow patty boots. Er, sorry, but time seemed an issue here, so REMEMBER below this post Brian “Future Town” Hibbs has a MASSIVE ANNOUNCEMENT. Below the break I just have some words.

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Now, I don’t know about you but I’m pretty tired of reading about all these guys’n’gals who created the magical characters that made my childhood almost pleasant only when their foetally curled carcasses are chipped off the bottom of a skip every winter. (Perhaps even a skip in an alley outside a cinema showing the latest billion dollar grossing motion picture extravaganza featuring their creations. In the foyer – soda pop with ice made from Jack Kirby’s ghostly tears! Or Don Heck’s! Or…etc) So, here’s this guy, Tony DeZuniga, having a bad time medically and financially and, I don’t know, I’m not asking you to give anything except maybe a little attention; a little consideration to his work maybe. It won’t help him any but it might count for something.

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Mr. DeZuniga was born in the Philippines and got his start in American comics working at DC around 1969/70. In 1973 he created Black Orchid with Sheldon Mayer. So I imagine the BLACK ORCHID DELUXE EDITION by Gaiman/McKean which has been released this week, according to “Pappy” Hibbs’ Shipping List, will see DC Comics sending Mr. DeZuniga some money at this most unfortunate time. I’ve never read any of the original Black Orchid but I have read a lot of comics featuring the character Mr. DeZuniga created with the writer John Albano in 1971 – Jonah Woodson Hex. Yeah, me and Mr DeZuniga go way back. Not personally, I’ve never met the man, but in a comic book way. When I was a kid, man, I used to love me some of that DeZuniga Jonah Hex. And, hey now, since Jonah Hex was created by Tony DeZuniga and John Albano what could be more appropriate than to look at some of his work there.

(Okay, I also really liked Mr. DeZuniga’s work on Roy Thomas and Ernie Colon’s creation ARAK but I don’t have any ARAK since the Great Purging my parents conducted while I was off failing to be educated. So that would have been a pretty short post. (Hey, I heard that!))

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I guess somewhere along the way I became a ‘fanboy‘ for the character. Yeah, I’ve got a whole heap of mouldering paper with his image on and I’m always ready to read another issue of Jonah messing up, likkering up, riding about a bit, riding a whore a bit and just generally making everyone around him’s life just that bit more unpleasant even if he  does save their lives. Which he doesn’t always do. But having said that I think this ‘fanboyishness’ is due to the fact that the character has had strong creative teams behind him for the most part. Sure I like the character but I think I like the character due to the many talented people behind his comics. Because, while I do love me some comic characters, I never forget that the folk what made ‘em up are just that wee bit more important. What with them being real live human beings and all. Creators like Tony DeZuniga, who is currently demonstrating just how human he is and without whom I would not have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Jonah Hex.

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So, Jonah Hex then. Now the character design for Jonah is pretty striking, yes? There aren’t a lot of ways to make a cowboy as visually striking as the comic book medium likes. It’s easy to slip over into camp given the sexual connotations of the breed in the popular imagination. John Voight wasn’t in Midnight Accountant was he? No. DeZuniga (and Albano) give Jonah a striking presence on the page with his blue trousers and Confederate grey tunic before you even get to his famous face. And wearing that tunic in post Civil War times pretty much encapsulates the self hating suicidal swagger of the surly sonovagun right there. Clever stuff and then we get to the face. Striking is surely the word there for the flesh fondue frozen mid slide. It’s pretty simple but that’s why it’s so smart. There’s not a lot to get wrong. That’s important in mainstream genre comics where other hands will be at the character more than likely. There are teething troubles as Mr. DeZuniga does initially demonstrate some indecision as to Jonah’s hat, soon ditching the practically ostentatious stripey hat band after a couple of issues and there he is pretty much as he remains to this day: Jonah Hex.

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Even though the art reproduced here is from books created in the ‘7os I hope I’ve succeeded in making it evident that the page by page art is also rewarding and possessed of a surprising sophistication. Mr. DeZuniga’s early training in commercial art and work in advertising is evident in all kinds of pleasing ways. Admittedly this does mean his ladies seem a little too modern for the setting but otherwise all I can see are gains. Look on the bright side, his ladies certainly seem worth the courting. Here, let’s you and me look at the attention paid in this scene to the environment; the fixtures and fittings and particularly the wallpaper:

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While the actions of the people are hardly thrilling the busy pattern keeps the eye occupied and alert as the mind digests the heavy load in the word balloons. Then at the end there’s a DeZuniga scene setting special. It’s a little overloaded with objects and a tad intrusive in the angling but this was still only 1973. He’d get smoother and subtler (but not that subtle; there’ll always be a broken wheel, a cattle skull or a twisted stump not far off.).  When he was professionally active Mr. DeZuniga worked on plenty of books besides Jonah Hex; Romance, Mystery, Barbarian and, yes, super-heroes.  The guy’s work had range but it also had depth.

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I haven’t read every comic Tony DeZuniga ever drew but of the many I have read I can fairly say he always entertained. Even better there was always at least one part of the book where DeZuniga was clearly loving it. He’d crack out the Zip-a-tone or depict an action sequence in time-slices or exaggerate the physicality of violence to dull it with comedy or have Charles Bronson turn up as an Ind..Native American or… You get the drift, for someone working at the unforgiving pace of mainstream genre comics DeZuniga’s work always excelled at melding his disparate influences and approaches into an attractive and  experimental package. Tony DeZuniga did good comics is what I’m saying. And in 2006 Tony DeZuniga returned to JONAH HEX and proved he still did good comics:

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Tony DeZuniga may not be one of The Greats but he was still pretty great. Force my hand and I’ll say Tony Dezuniga was VERY GOOD! because Tony DeZuniga is one of the reasons I never grew out of loving COMICS!!!

All images reproduced from WEIRD WESTERN TALES #16,18 and 20 (1973) and JONAH HEX #5 (2006) published by DC COMICS.

4 Responses to “ “Wal, Ah’ll Be Danged.” Comics! Sometimes Creators Are Hurting! ”

  1. It’s really sad both that Dezuniga is in poor health and that he doesn’t get more recognition.

    That said, I hate hate hate him as an inker.

  2. That inker comment was rather unnecessary, actually. Please forget I typed it.

  3. Nice stuff. That “shaving” page is shot like a film.
    In general, his work here reminds me of early Sienkiewicz, like in Moon Knight.

  4. @DanielT: Hey, sir, that’s okay. He’s a very *strong* inker and that’s a fact. Just because you don’t like his inking doesn’t invalidate your kind words!

    SteveU: I never thought of DeZuniga influencing Billy The Sink but now you mention it! I totally see that! Cheers.

    Thanks to all!

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