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CSBG Archive

The Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – H

We continue our tour through the alphabet, with a different cool comic book item each day, from A to Z!

Today we look at an unsung Silver Age artist…

Don Heck (1929–1995) was a great comic book artist who committed a terrible, awful sin.

The sin?

He was not Jack Kirby.

Heck had the misfortune of being a major artist at Marvel during a time when Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were the main artists at Marvel, and when you’re being compared to two of the greatest comic book artists Marvel ever had, it’s tough to match up, which is a real shame, because Heck was a really good artist – he had a really nice, sharp art style.

Here is Heck from Tales of Suspense #39, the first appearance of Iron Man (granted, the following page is not that great)…

The rest of these pages are a lot better, though.

From Tales of Suspense #57, the first appearance of Hawkeye!

From Tales of Suspense #51, the first appearance of the Black Widow!

From Journey into Mystery #98, the first appearance of Cobra!

From Journey into Mystery #99, the first appearance of Mr. Hyde!

From Avengers #24, the classic death of Ravonna!

From Avengers #38, Hercules joins the title!

As you can see, the man knew how to tell a story beautifully, and he drew excellent action scenes, as well, all with economical panel usage.

Heck was a great artist, and he deserves more attention than he typically receives!

12 Comments

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 14, 2009 at 3:06 am

Lots of first appearances there.

One “Heck” of an artist, Don is.

;-)

Graham Vingoe

May 14, 2009 at 5:45 am

it took me a long time to appreciate Don Heck’s work, but a long period of immersion in Essential Avengers and Iron Man have convinced me of his abilities. Good choice Brian

If only Don Heck stuck around on Avengers long enough to pencil the world’s greatest Avenger, Quasar.

I wonder if I could start a Marv Wolfman-y rumor that Don hecks’ real name was Don Hell, and the Comcis Code wouldn’t let “hell” be used in print.

For me, as someone who read these comics as a child, Heck was as much a part of the whole Marvel art experience as Kirby and Ditko. I especially liked his work on Iron Man and Thor, and many of the pre-superhero fantasy stories as well. He perhaps wasn’t as idiosyncratic (and thus as immediately impressive) as his peers, but he was solidly in that Kubert/Toth/Caniff school and knew how to tell a story as good as anyone.

Really, it wasn’t until the late 70’s, when he lost some facility, as the greats all tend to do, that his rep began to suffer. I also recall someone, Gary Groth or Harlan Ellison perhaps, referring to him as a “hack” in an article or letter in the Comics Journal, and that unfortunately stuck in the minds of many who are easily led in their opinions.

Good choice, Brian. Heck was an excellent storyteller/layout guy. His work never seemed to be inked very well, though. He’s got to be one of the few guys who was the artist on both Avengers and JLA, right? I can’t think of anyone else besides Perez.

When I was young (years before I started reading in English) Don Heck was always the awful artist, with stiff figures, awful anatomy, sometimes distorted faces. But even then I liked his non-super-heroes stories from the early 60s, I liked his Iron Man (he drew the best Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan ever), I accepted his Avengers. When he took over Flash I thought “He will ruin the character” – but no … Heck became one of the three best Flash artists ever.

It is easy to criticize Don Heck for his shortcomings. But he was a talented storyteller.

His Iron Man, Avengers, Batgirl, Jason Bard and Flash are highlights I cherish as much as the works of Kirby and Ditko, Swan’s Superman, Irv Novick’s Batman and and and …

I also recall not appreciating Don Heck’s art when I first started reading comics, but as I saw the early Avengers reprints, I began to appreciate his work. For one thing, he could make Hawkeye and Captain America look distinct without their masks on, which many artists can’t pull off.

I think it was his work on the original “Steel The Indestructible Man” comic that made me really bump up his status in my eyes, and his later work on JLA was really good, even though he had the tough job of following George Pérez.

LouReedRichards

May 14, 2009 at 11:59 am

Like most people have commented, I didn’t like his work at first. I mostly knew his work through some 70’s 80’s books and just did not like it. After a few years I saw his early 60’s work, I couldn’t believe it was the same guy!

His 60’s work has a lot of charm. I agree, he usually seemed to have uncomplimentary inking, which could sink almost any artist (Kirby inked by Syd Shores for example). It’s a shame, comics could still use people who cared more about telling stories than dazzling us with bogus virtuosity.

I seem to recall that Heck said the Comics Journal called him the worst comic book artist EVER!
Which even when I didn’t like his work seemed uncalled for. Heck’s response was to the effect of “I understand that they may not like my work, but worst artist ever?” The CJ lost a little bit of luster to me after that.

” It is easy to criticize Don Heck for his shortcomings. But he was a talented storyteller. ”

What Heck fans like Kurt Busiek have noted, and what the comics culture has unfortunately ignored, is that Heck was more of a generalized illustrator than a superhero artist. His action sequences were uneventful ( though mostly in contrast with the raw power of Kirby’s stuff ), but he drew really expressive, well-defined characters.

Just look at the way Iron Man and his cast were introduced; Kirby may have designed the Iron Man suit, but Heck gave Tony his iconic facial hair. Pepper was the quintessential mousy secretary who becomes beautiful with her hair down, while Happy Hogan literally looked the part ( in an antonymic sense, which was the joke– his face had all the range of a boxer DOG ). Even the Communist villains had facial flair– who could forget Vanko’s handle-bar mustache, Natasha’s elegant man-eater clothes, or Morgan Stark’s dowdy, sleasy resemblance to Tony?

Unfortunately a lot of these distinct character looks were lost over the years, as the average superhero artist has the characterization range of a line of superhero action figures ( I.e., re-using the same faces and bodies as much as possible ). It’s a shame, because what Heck brought mattered a lot more.

Don Heck’s Flash run ws great and was one of the highlights of my early comics reading – I was disappointed when Infantino returned!!!

I HATED Don Heck as a kid and only mildly dislike him now. I’m still burned by the bait-and-switch Perez covers-and-Don-Heck-interiors on JLA.

WHEN I WAS A KID IREMEMBER READING AVENGERS AND IRON MAN DRAWN BY DON HECK AND THEN LATTER SEEING THAT SAME WORK IN THE MIGHTY MARVEL MARCHING SOCIETY CARTOONS AND HOW WONDERFULLY HIS WORK WOULD CARRY THE STORY.PEOPLE WHO DONT LIKE HIM FAIL TO UNDERSTAND THE NATUE OF HIS GENIUS

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