The secret life of Tony de Zuñiga

Jerald Uy

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Mang Tony may have gone, but his legacy will always live on

LIVE ON FOREVER. Mang Tony will live on forever in the hearts of comic book fans. We salute you for raising the flag for Filipino comics artists! Photo from

MANILA, Philippines – A lot of great things have been said about Tony de Zuñiga, the legendary artist who passed away last Friday due to complications brought by a mild stroke.

He was the first Filipino artist who worked for Marvel and DC Comics; he co-created the western anti-hero “Jonah Hex” and the bullet-proof superheroine “Black Orchid”; and in the ’70s, he busted doors for other Filipinos when he scouted talents.

But did you know that he hid his age from public?

Various news sites have initially reported that De Zuñiga, locally known as “Mang Tony,” was 71 years old, probably basing on previous records that he was born in 1941. But his wife, Tina, clarifies that De Zuñiga was actually 79 years old and was born in November 1932.

Nahihiya kasi siya na sabihin ang edad niya (He was shy to admit how old he was),” Tina says. “Kaya sinasabi ko na dapat hindi siya mahiya dahil sa edad niya, nakaka-drawing pa siya (That’s why I always tell him that he should be proud because he can still draw magnificently at his age).”

His daughter, Cheryll Lim, recalls that artists like DC Comics’ Rags Morales (“Identity Crisis”) were in awe of Mang Tony’s detailed line art when they met her dad at the San Diego Comic Convention in the U.S. “Tuwang-tuwa talaga sila sa dad ko (They really liked my dad),” Lim shares. She adds that De Zuñiga was fond of cracking “green” jokes.

Growing up, Lim says she tried drawing, too, but could not match her father’s skill in being able to see “shadows” on people’s faces when he drew portraits. She adds that her father dreamed of opening an art school for kids. “Malapit siya sa mga bata (He was fond of kids),” Lim says.

In fact, Mang Tony’s first students were his grandchildren. “Binigyan niya ng oil pastel, ‘yung mga bata naman, nag-scribble sa sahig, hindi na tuloy matanggal (He gave my kids oil pastel and the children scribbled on the floor. It’s hard to remove the stains.)

Lim says that her father left the U.S. two years ago to stay in the Philippines for good because most of his friends live here. “Plus, he did not like the cold weather (there); he’d always gets sick.” 

Asked if their family would still open an art school, Lim’s only answer was, “Wala na dad ko. Siya ang artist. (My dad is gone. He’s the artist.)”

After De Zuñiga: A call for a creators’ fund 

While De Zuñiga was confined at the Las Piñas Doctors Hospital last month, his wife asked helped from the comics community to help in the medical costs. She said that they were paying Php 40,000 every day and their savings had almost ran out.

Last May 5, a sketch drive and silent auction of artworks were held for Mang Tony, coinciding with “Free Comic Book Day,” an annual event where participating retail stores give out free comics to increase readership.

FREE FOR ALL. Some of the free comics given away at Free Comic Book Day. Photo by Jerald Uy

“It is also a good way to show our brothers (how) to share our blessings,” says Jed Yoingco, a comics fan who brought his younger siblings to the event. “Aside from the free comics, there is a benefit drive to help Mang Tony because he needs all the help he can get right now.”

Comics enthusiast Jiggy Cruz of the prominent Aquino clan believes that what happened to De Zuñiga should be a wake-up call to the comics community. “In the (United) States, there’s a foundation called the Hero Initiative. Hero Initiative  is a non-profit organization helping the American artists,” Cruz says.

HAPPY HERO'S GRANDSON. Jiggy Cruz beams with happiness over his free comics. Photo by Jerald Uy

“I don’t think the support should come from the government. I think it’s the fans, in general; the fans should have a support fund for the heroes they look up to,” Cruz adds.

Renowned comics creator Gerry Alanguilan says they have long thought of putting up a foundation since the Ondoy tragedy. 

SURROUNDED BY FANS. Gerry Alanguilan speaks with enthralled fans. Photo by Jerald Uy

Pinag-aaralan pa namin kasi alam namin malaking pera ang involved doon at maraming tao ang kailangan to work it. (We are still studying it because we know it involves funding and manpower to make it work.) But definitely we have a plan to do something more concrete,” Alanguilan says.

De Zuñiga’s legacy

“It is very rare that things like these happen. It really shows that that comics community is just one big family,” Zsazsa Zaturnnah creator Carlo Vergara says.

Vergara admits that he had not read any Jonah Hex comics illustrated by DeZuñiga until he met the veteran artist in a convention. Vergara says he was astonished by De Zuñiga’s detailed pencils, popularly known as the “Filipino Style.”

COMICS FOREVER! Zsazsa Zaturnnah creator Carlo Vergara. Photo by Jerald Uy

“I was just blown away. It brought me back to the time when I was a kid, admiring the work of Filipino artists,” Vergara says. “You’re peeking at his work  and you’re trying to find what can you pick up from it. In Tagalog, paano ko nanakawin ito? (How will I steal this?)” 

Many creators have already posted online their renditions of Mang Tony’s famous character “Jonah Hex.”

FROM KUYA TO BUNSO. The Yoingco brothers and their free comics. Photo by Jerald Uy

On May 26, participants of Summer Komikon, a comic book convention usually attended by De Zuñiga, will pay tribute to the legendary artist. –

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