Archive for April 2012

Comic Art Friday: Tony DeZuniga needs your help!

April 27, 2012

I was deeply saddened recently to hear of the dire health circumstances faced by one of my favorite comics artists of all time: the legendary Tony DeZuniga, co-creator of the DC Comics characters Jonah Hex (don’t blame Tony for the abominable movie) and Black Orchid.

Black Orchid and Poison Ivy, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

Tony suffered a stroke earlier this month in his native Philippines, since which time he has been hospitalized and breathing via a ventilator. He has at least partial paralysis, as well as other complications that frequently accompany a major stroke. Fortunately, the latest report from Tony’s wife Tina indicates that he is starting to show improvement, and may be disconnected from the ventilator with the next few days.

Zorro and Vixen, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

It’s hard to overstate the impact that Tony had on the comics industry, despite not being a household name on the level of Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. Tony was the first artist from the Philippines to be hired by either of the Big Two comics publishers. Rather than simply being satisfied with his own success, Tony facilitated the debut of numerous other Filipino artists into the American comics mainstream by persuading DC’s then-editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino to undertake a recruiting trip to the Philippines. As a result of Tony’s efforts, American comics readers enjoyed the work of such talents as Ernie Chan, Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Gerry Talaoc, Romeo Tanghal, and many others.

Taarna, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

Having had the chance to get to know Tony and Tina DeZuniga at comics conventions over the past several years, I can attest to their generosity and kindness firsthand. You’re looking at a few of the amazing artworks that I’ve commissioned from Tony, demonstrating the level of creative brilliance he maintained before his recent setbacks. The greatest testimony to Tony’s genius is the fact that it’s his pieces other artists always admire when I break out my portfolio at a con. Hardly a con weekend goes by that another artist doesn’t ask to “see what Tony drew.”

Black Panther, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

Like most freelance artists, Tony doesn’t have health insurance to offset his medical expenses. Superstar artist Neal Adams and others are spearheading a fundraising drive for Tony and Tina. I understand that the DeZunigas are also receiving assistance from the Hero Initiative, the nonprofit charitable organization that helps comics creators in need. (I’ve been a proud member of the Hero Initiative since I first learned about it. Anyone who grew up loving comics, as I did, should consider supporting this group that does so much good for the folks whose talents enlightened our childhoods.)

Arak and Valda, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

Like dozens of other comics fans and industry insiders, I’ve contributed what I could share. If you’d like to chip in, you can direct funds to Tony’s PayPal account: tonydezuniga@yahoo.com. The account is managed by Tony’s daughter, Cheryll Lim. Whatever amount you can offer will help, and will be sincerely appreciated by the DeZuniga family. (I received two lovely notes from Tina thanking me for my gift.) I know that times are tough for a lot of folks these days, but if you have a few uncommitted simoleons that you can donate, please be assured that Tony is well deserving of whatever help you can give.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Skulduggery

April 20, 2012

I know we just did a riff on Cloak and Dagger not too long ago, but you know how it is in comics — the same tropes keep popping up again and again.

Spy Smasher and Cloak and Dagger, pencils by comics artist Eric Koda

In this Common Elements tableau drawn by the talented Eric Koda, our hero and heroine find themselves confronted by Spy Smasher, a classic stalwart from that thrilling Golden Age of yesteryear. (For those of you who are new here, Common Elements is my series of original commissioned artworks, bringing together unrelated comics characters who share some feature in, well, common.)

Although he’s fallen into relative obscurity now, Spy Smasher was quite a popular hero back in the day — popular enough that Republic Pictures produced a well-received film serial featuring the character. Spy Smasher made his debut in Fawcett Publications’ Whiz Comics #2, the very same issue which presented the premiere of an even more popular hero: the original Captain Marvel.

Like the good Captain, Spy Smasher sprang from the collective imaginations of writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck. Unlike the Captain, Spy Smasher possessed no superhuman or magical abilities. He was simply a skilled investigator named Alan Armstrong, who employed a variety of high-tech tools to track down and thwart covert enemies of the United States of America. (His trademark weapon was a fantastical vehicle called the Gyrosub, which combined the features of a submarine, an airplane, and a car.) You might think of Spy Smasher as a less-bizarre Batman, with a slightly narrower career focus. During the post-World War II years, Spy Smasher changed his code name to Crime Smasher, and broadened his attack to include nefarious ne’er-do-wells of every stripe, not just spies.

When DC Comics bought the rights to the former Fawcett characters in the early 1970s, Spy Smasher began popping up occasionally in stories featuring Earth-S, the alternate Earth where the Fawcett heroes resided before the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxiseries merged all of the Multiverse worlds into one. His most prominent appearances came in the Captain Marvel series, The Power of Shazam. This series depicted Alan Armstrong as a retired hero who befriended Billy and Mary Batson, the alter egos of Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel, respectively.

Because modern comics publishers can never leave well enough alone, there’s now a modernized version of Spy Smasher running around in the DC Universe. The latest edition is a young woman named Katarina Armstrong — I’m not certain, but I’m guessing that she’s Alan’s granddaughter — whose creator, writer Gail Simone, describes her as a sort of female Jack Bauer, the antiterrorist operative portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland in the late, great TV series 24. Katarina mostly hangs out with the distaff crimefighting team Birds of Prey.

Back at last to our featured artwork. It’s easy to understand how a guy who’s looking for spies everywhere might be thrown off by the nomenclature of a team calling themselves Cloak and Dagger. He may, however, be in over his head in this instance. I love Eric Koda’s figure work in this drawing, as well as the personalities with which he imbues his characters.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.