‘Jonah Hex’ creator urges libraries to carry comic books

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MAKATI CITY, METRO MANILA— Renowned Filipino comic book illustrator Tony De Zuñiga said the National Library and even provincial libraries should carry comic books to introduce Filipinos to the medium and help develop local artists.

“Our libraries should recommend comics to more readers…even in provinces to help local artists develop their talent and introduce more readers to it,” said De Zuñiga during his art exhibit at “Vinyl on Vinyl”.

“Nobody can teach style because you have to develop that yourself. How to do that would depend on you reading and studying a lot of styles of other comic book artists.”

De Zuñiga created Jonah Hex, a tale about a disfigured man who can talk to dead people, which  was adapted into a movie. He has also illustrated dozens of  characters for DC Comics and Marvel Studios, including Thor, Black Orchid, Red Sonja and X-Men, to name a few.

The man himself is regarded a ‘walking legend” by local comic book artists, said Gerry Alanguilan, also a renowned artist and inker for X-Men, Superman, Wolverine and Fantastic Four.

De Zuñiga convinced DC Comics editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando to visit the Philippines in 1971 and from there, signed local talents like Alex Nino, Fred Carillo, Gerry Talaoc.

“Filipino (comic) readers should patronize works of local local artists and those that have good drawing of the human anatomy, and shy away from Japanese manga as they are for kids,” said De  Zuñiga, who said he was an avid reader of the late  Filipino illustrator Francisco Coching.

Even now, he says he reads comic books and he advises younger artists to do the same to develop their own style. When he is in New York, he often goes to local bookstores that sells different comics from UK, Russia and Japan to see the confluence of styles.

He confessed that his love for drawing is his inspiration to illustrate iconic comic book characters.

“Drawing requires daily practice so you can improve your craft. And 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.”

During art exhibits, De Zuñiga readily accommodates questions from budding artists and give out tips to help them polish their craft. He said he sees himself in budding talents, who then had nowhere to formally study their craft.

For example, when drawing a hero, he says it’s good make him look like he is 250 pounds by stretching the figure in the right way and adding shadows at the right places.

“It doesn’t have to be a muscular character, just make sure the figure stands out and weighs like it is 250 pounds to make them alive and command attention. Don’t draw balloons or characters that seem to lack life in them,” said De Zuñiga, adding he was delighted by the number of students in digital media arts who attended his local workshops to learn manual drawing.

As for the lack of local comic publishing houses, this was both a boon and bane for the industry because there would be more works if there is support in the publishing side. Otherwise, self-publishing is key to the continued influx of new local materials.

“Given three years more, I think the local self-published comic artists could polish a little more their work so that they are at par in quality with those published by big houses abroad,” said  De Zuñiga, who also praised Hollywood for fueling the interest for comic books by adapting characters like Jonah Hex into a movie..

“They were doing this before but there was no box office then. Today is the right time that they are doing this because movies like Thor, Spiderman or Iron Man… they become hits and then you get movie goers to see the original comic series.”

Asked if there is a local comic character that can become famous internationally, De Zuñiga said it would have to be Darna (created by Mars Ravelo) because of the heroine’s unique name, character design and story.

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