When it came to the Old West, expert sharpshooters knew that hitting your mark involved a considerable amount of skill, dedication and just the tiniest bit of luck – the exact same qualities that artist Tony DeZuniga employed when he struck a bullseye as the co-creator of the popular DC Comics Western hero Jonah Hex.
DeZuniga first began working in comics at the young age of 16 as a letterer for a weekly magazine in his native Philippines. The aspiring artist studied commercial art from the University of Santo Tomas and went on to study graphic design in New York. Eventually, DeZuniga broke into American comics as an artist in 1971 with a Doctor Thirteen story for DC’s “Phantom Stranger” #12. From there, DeZuniga became a regular contributor to the DCU under editors Joe Orlando and Carmine Infantino, and in 1972, he and writer John Albano debuted their Western-based anti-hero Jonah Hex in the pages of “All-Star Western” #10. Albano wrote and DeZuniga drew a number of the character’s early adventures in the series, re-titled to “Weird Western Tales” with issue #12, and the hero with the distinctive facial scar quickly rose in popularity with his gritty, but fun, stories of Old West style vigilantism.
Hex eventually gained his own title, which continued until “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was published in the mid-80s. A few limited series starring the hero followed out of the mega-event and subsequent rebirth of the DC Universe, but it wasn’t until 2005 that DC launched another ongoing “Jonah Hex” series. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray penned the monthly, which featured stories ranging from across all genres, from straight adventure to Western horror. Various artists have contributed to the series and it even returned DeZuniga to the character for issues #5 and #9. DeZuniga also penciled the recently published original graphic novel “No Way Back,” which re-established and updated the character’s origin.
The hero heads to the big screen tomorrow in his self-titled feature film starring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and John Malkovich. In preparation for the film’s release, CBR News spoke with DeZuniga about the character, taking a look back at Hex’s inception, how Western films influenced the artist’s career and the artist’s excitement at seeing his character in live action.
Growing up in the Philippines, DeZuniga said he watched countless Western-based films and television shows. The Old West provided action and excitement and detailed imagery for the youngster and inspired him to pick up a pencil and begin doodling. “I first started to draw at the age of 4,” the artist told CBR News. “When my dad brought me to a cowboy movie, after we got back home, I asked for a paper and pencil and started drawing cowboys, and that’s when my dad knew that I was a good artist. I even went to Arizona to learn everything about cowboys.”
Given the chance to not only draw a Western-based comic book series for DC Comics but to design its main character proved an unbelievable opportunity for DeZuniga, especially as a relative newcomer to the field. Albano originally came up with the character, as DeZuniga said spaghetti Westerns were the popular properties at that time. In fact, DeZuniga said they originally wanted him to model the character after Clint Eastwood, a legend in the Western genre of movies – something the artist wasn’t really too keen on.
“I wanted to give the character a different look,” admitted DeZuniga. “So, I decided on this concept, and I think it worked out well.”
What ended up defining the character – and selling him to both editors and comic fans – was Hex’s scarred face. DeZuniga said he thought long and hard about how to make the character unique, and the idea for Hex’s facial features came about in a very serendipitous way. “[John] asked me to draw the concept for the character, and one day I was at the doctor’s office and I saw this chart with a man, showing him half muscle and half skeleton,” remembered DeZuniga. “I thought to myself, ‘This is neat,’ and I got the concept. When John Albano saw it, he was very happy.”
DeZuniga said that he constantly observes the world around him for inspiration in his art and puts a lot of work into making sure his designs and settings are accurate. “As an artist, I read a lot and I’m always aware of what’s going on, what’s new,” he said. “I don’t do a story and invent what they’re wearing and how a person would look in certain [time] period. I research a lot.”
Looking back, the artist easily admitted he very much enjoyed working on the old Jonah Hex series. Of course, he said most of that enjoyment came out of working with fellow comic book posse member Albano. “It was so easy because John Albano is a cartoonist,” said DeZuniga. “He doesn’t write scripts – he draws how he wants the story to go, so it’s so easy for me to do the art.”
The artist also said that he still holds many fond memories from working on those early issues of “Weird Western Tales,” stating that he would love to put those stories into its own book one day. “Even now, I wish I could write because, since I love to read, I love movies, there’s always something in me that wanted this kind of story to get into aÂ book,” he said. “But unfortunately, I’m an artist not a writer.”
As mentioned, the artist returned to the character recently for a few issues of the new series and the graphic novel “No Way Back,” both written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. “Jimmy and Justin are great writers, and it was so much fun working with them,” he said of his experience on the title. “I really enjoyed doing Jonah Hex again.”
However, the artist does admit some disagreement with how other artists have approached the character over the years. “I have seen the new comics, and I am not too happy with some of the artists making him [more like] Clint Eastwood; exaggerating the scars; wrong hats,” he said. “See, small things are important in a character. That’s always a part of making it whole.”
Regardless, the character remains popular among the comic community to this day. Along with the feature film, DC Entertainment plans to include an animated short starring the character as part of its upcoming “Under the Red Hood” DVD film. “I think Jonah Hex is popular because it’s the only Western character who made name in the comic industry,” said DeZuniga. “A lot of publishers tried, but they don’t have the appeal of Jonah Hex. If you will look at the old books I did in the ’70s, you can see the actions are just like watching a [Western] movie.”
As for the aforementioned live-action movie, DeZuniga will not only be watching it, he’ll be walking the red carpet for the premiere. The artist said that the experience of seeing a character he co-created finally starring in his own film makes for an indescribable honor. “We’re excited; it makes me feel so good,” he said. “Imagine, with thousands of characters, they chose my character.”
For more news on the Western anti-hero, visit CBR’s Jonah Hex hub.