A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tony DeZuniga's Agency Fee

Finally it's on record. Some of us had heard rumors, read veiled accounts, of how the great Filipino comics artists of the 1970s were being ripped-off by an unknown "representative" or "agent" of their dollar earnings for comics work done for National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics, Inc.) in the U.S.

Just who was this representative or agent? How was the matter settled? What happened to this agent? What was the motive? Were the victimized Filipino comics artists given proper restitution?

The legendary Carmine Infantino, former publisher of NPP/DC Comics in the early 1970s and definitive 1960s artist of BATMAN, FLASH and ADAM STRANGE, recounts the incident in his autobiography, "The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino".

It appears that during the late 1960s, Carmine had heard of an impending comics writers strike where comics artists would soon join in. In order to pre-empt this from developing, Carmine decided to "outsource" DC's comics artwork to the Philippines. The suggestion of hiring out Filipino comics artists came from Filipino comics artist and eminent illustrator of DC Western bounty hunter JONAH HEX, TONY DEZUNIGA, who at the time was working at NPP/DC. DeZuniga assured Carmine, and Carmine's then assistant, JOE ORLANDO, that the Philippines had a professional and well-organized comics industry and that the Filipino comics artists then were excellent professionals and well-trained draftsmen. Carmine's recollection of the matter are as follows:

"So, Joe Orlando, Tony DeZuniga and I all went to the Philippines. DeZuniga was the brother-in-law of somebody connected with Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator in power, which helped us cut a little red tape. We went to Manila and met all these wonderful artists. Some of them came shoeless to show their work. It was a remarkable scene! I selected a dozen or so and said, "These are the artists we'll work with." And then Tony DeZuniga said he would stay there and set up shop. Now, we had heard that these guys out in the Philippines worked for $2 or $3 a page. But I said, "No. We have to pay fair wage." So I think we paid something like $45 or $50 a page, plus 20% for the DeZunigas who were running the shop in the Philippines.

We would send them scripts and they would get the artwork done and send it to the States. Things were running very smoothly for a while, but then every once in a while I'd ask for the top talents like Alex Nino and Nestor Redondo. (I love everything Alex Nino does; his work is genius! He's one of the guys that I brought over from the Philippines). Those two were the best. But I wouldn't get any work from them. I'm wondering, "What the hell is going on over there?"

A young Filipino came up to me at a convention in San Diego and said, "We are very upset with you in the Philippines. You're paying us $5 a page." I had no idea what he was talking about. I told him we had a contract and were paying $50 a page.

What happened was, the people running the shop were keeping almost all the money. They were ripping their own people off and living like kings! As soon as I got back to the office, I wrote them a letter and told them I could not tolerate this and it's got to change. They responded with a scathing letter saying, "How dare you!" They wrote that I couldn't tell them what to do, and why don't I mind my own business! They were ripping each other off terribly.

So I contacted Nestor Redondo and I said, "Nestor, can you organize getting scripts and art back and forth with the artists there? Because I won't deal with these crooks anymore." He agreed and handled the thing for a while. But gradually it was phased out." (Emphasis Mine) (Source: "The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino" (An Autobiography) by Carmine Infantino and J. David Spurlock, Vanguard Productions, 2001 ed.)

All this occurred from the early to mid-1970s. It will also be noted that from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, Tony De Zuniga, had practically little or no work from NPP/DC and in fact, was now doing work for Marvel mostly as inker in most of the latter's black and white magazines and superhero titles (The Mighty Thor) at the time. Carmine meanwhile, was booted out as publisher of NPP/DC in 1974 when his performance as such was severely chastised by NPP/DC's parent company, WARNER COMMUNICATIONS, INC. What followed was a severe downsizing in order to cut on losses and waning newstand circulation. This was known as the infamous "DC Implosion". Many DC Comics titles were cancelled while some were merged with others. In short, there was little work for comics creators at DC in those days now presided by Jeanette Kahn as publisher.

But despite the loss of the DC connection, the Filipino comics artists' quality work were now publicly exposed and they were fortunately picked up by other comics publishers such as Marvel, Gold Key, Charlton, and the legendary WARREN PUBLICATIONS, INC. of Jim Warren, publisher of the great black and white horror and sci-fi comics magazines: Vampirella, Creepy, Eerie, and The Spirit (reprints). Jim Warren's long-time editor at the time and protege', BILL DUBAY, recounts how the Filipinos came to work mostly for Warren magazines in his interview by JON B. COOKE, editor of COMIC BOOK ARTIST MAGAZINE:

"DUBAY: Around '76 or so, I picked up a few Filipino comics at this wonderful international book store down on 42nd Street and noticed this astoundingly innovative artist named Alex Nino. I called the Philippines and spoke with the publisher of those comics who told me that Alex was unavailable. He was working in America for a "comics industry giant". I was given a friend's number, who in turn gave me Alex' Detroit address. A week or so later, we spoke and Alex was elated by the possibility of joining us at Warren. When I asked if we could get his best art for $125-135 a page, he laughed and said, 'DC's been paying me $7 a page for 2 years now."

So to me, the rumor that Jim (Warren) was exploiting off-shore artists with slave wages was just some more of the bad press others were spreading to cover their sins.

JON: I'd heard that a prominent Filipino artist and his wife brokered the Filipinos' services, billing DC for $35 a page and giving the artists $7--keeping $28 a page as brokerage fee.

DUBAY: Once word reached other Filipino artists about our rates, I was inundated by art samples from the Philippines. Suddenly, I was their best friend--and all I was looking for was to be fair. If their work was good enough for our magazines, we wanted them. We never paid anyone less just because they came from a Third World country. Jim was good that way. He paid Jose Gonzales, Jose Ortiz, Esteban Maroto, Luis Bermejo, Alex Nino, Paul Neary, Alex Toth, all of our top artists top dollar. We had guys out of England, France, Spain, The Philippines, Korea. The policy was firm: If an artist was good enough to work for Warren, he deserved top dollar." (Emphasis Mine) (Source: "The Big Push and Other Tales: the William Dubay Interview, from THE WARREN COMPANION, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001 ed.)

From then on, the Filipino invasion continued, almost derailed by the sad, yet all too common trait of Filipinos ripping-off fellow Filipinos; an edema still with us to this day when we look at our present political and economic crisis. As a postcript, Tony DeZuniga returned to DC in the mid to late 1980s mostly as inker and then left. Apparently, the "old problem" forgotten. For the Filipino comics artists who were gyped and still with us to this day however, one can only wonder if they too have long forgotten this ugly episode in Filipino comics history.


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Blogger Ilyn said...

"...however, one can only wonder if they too have long forgotten this ugly episode in Filipino comics history."

No. They weren't forgotten. My father, Rudy Florese (Tarzan/Korak artist), never forgot it until he passed away. My family and I still clearly remember.

11:19 AM

Blogger Gerry Alanguilan said...

This kind of thing isn't history believe it or not, and was still happening during my time. Same SOP, different people.

11:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Tony de Zuniga and I would like to clear all of these allegations. Me and my wife just wanted to help Filipino artists that time because I believe that it would be good to help my fellow filipinos snd that time DC was reprinting the comics and I asked them how much would it cost for the reprints and I told them that I can get it done with snew artworks for $15.00 a page and they were so happy that's why Carmine even went with me to the Phils. I have proof that we were only getting $15 from DC and $12.00 goes to the artists and the $3.00 is for cleaning,shipping and handling of the artwork.
Carmine Infantino was fired by DC and I don't know why he was saying all these lies. And for you guys to put this on your site without consulting me, I think this is very unfair.

2:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if you have solid proof for these allegations... this is a very serious thing you guys...

1:42 AM


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