Don Heck: A Work Of Art

Page 1

A Work Of Art by John Coates

Foreword by STAN LEE

Afterword by BEAU SMITH

A Work Of Art by John Coates


4 - Introduction by John Coates

6 - Foreword by Stan Lee

9 - Chapter One Formative Years

13 - Chapter Two 1949–1954: Early Days in Comics

21 - Chapter Three 1954–1960s: Atlas Comics and the Marvel Age of Comics

65 - Chapter Four Late 1960s–1977: Marvel Comics, Gold Key, and DC Comics

77 - Chapter Five 1970s: Final Days at Marvel—Leaving for DC

87 - Chapter Six 1977–1988: DC Comics

109 - Chapter Seven 1989–1994: Back Home to Marvel, and the Indies

115 - Chapter Eight Don Heck Gallery

127 - Chapter Nine Process, Technique, and Style

139 - Chapter Ten Inking with Don

161 - Chapter Eleven Marvel Merchandise

167 - Chapter Twelve By the Numbers

171 - Chapter Thirteen Jim Fern Remembers His Friend Don

177 - Chapter Fourteen Remembrances

189 - Afterword by Beau Smith



INTRODUCTION Don was working on. In developing this book, I felt a keen sense of The bulk of the interviews with Don contained in responsibility. Don Heck has always been a personal the book are a combination of two—the first being favorite, but is best known as an iconic comic book an extensive, until-now-unpublished interview from artist who was present and heavily involved with— June 9, 1990, conducted by Will Murray and origifrom the pre-conception through birth, and beyond— nally transcribed by Brian K. Morris; and the second what became one of the most important developments being Richard Howell’s interview with Don originally in American comics history, the Marvel Age of published in Comics Feature #21, 1982. Further, I augComics. Not to be neglected, Don also had a very mented these two interviews with segments from long and successful career at DC Comics from the three other shorter interviews, as they contained inmid-1970s through to the late 1980s, totaling over formation or elaborations from Don not found in the forty years in the industry. two previously mentioned interviews. Though Don did some interviews, it was challenging In organizing the book, I combined the interviews to publish a biography of a person who couldn’t provide and sources into a more chronological order-flow to additional insight, clarifications, or hindsight; had no form a single cohesive interview from its collective immediate family; worked alone in his home studio parts. My intent most of his career; was to ensure that and lead a fairly when Don spoke quiet life by his on a specific topic own admission. (e.g., his early days Regardless, at Marvel Comics), given his place in his comments the pantheon of from diverse American comics, sources were cola book treatment lected together for of his career was easier communicalong overdue. tion of the topic I began my being addressed. research by looking Above: Regarding the to the obvious: The Avengers #37, page 2 panel, Marvel Comics, Feb. 1967. art showcased, the Don’s published majority of the images contained in this book repreinterviews, few that they were. Secondly, I contacted sent Don both penciling and inking his work. Don Don’s contemporaries for reflections on Don, and also vocalized that he felt his art was not complete unless reviewed any of their previously published interviews he both penciled and inked. In highlighting Don’s to glean any previous reflections on Don that may “complete” art, readers can see Don’s art as he envihave been forgotten. Thirdly, I researched published sioned it, and any uncredited are is “pure” Don. interviews of Don’s contemporaries who are no longer Nevertheless, there is an entire chapter dedicated with us, hoping that they might have provided some to other professionals inking Don’s work, and he theirs. insight. And finally, I researched published resources In that chapter, I intentionally show examples of the from over the last 40 years that contained firsthand drawn faces, as I think this area typically is the most accounts of working with Don: the various fanzines, distinctive when one artist’s pencils are inked by along with reviewing both Marvel Comics and DC another artist. The intent is to showcase Don’s work Comics in-house articles/columns, such as Marvel’s when combined with another professional’s unique style. “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” “Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins,” In reading this book, you’ll discover that Don was FOOM, and Marvel Age, and DC’s “Daily Planet” and born in a small, ethnic neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. “Meanwhile” columns and DC Direct Currents inon January 2, 1929. His parents—themselves firsthouse fanzine, as well as letters pages in the books generation Americans born of German immigrants— 4

DON HECK: A Work Of Art

were both loving and supportive of Don and his sister, Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates daily newspaper strip. Joan. Don married twice but had no children. In the late 1970s, Don would migrate over to DC Don was in the National Guard prior to joining Comics to begin an eleven-year relationship that Harvey Comics in 1949. In early 1952, he joined included being the regular monthly artist on such Comic Media and became their main artist across titles as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Flash, and Justice their crime-noir, Western, and horror comics. He League of America, as well as contributing to DC’s found his way to then-Atlas Comics in 1954, where anthology titles Adventure Comics and World’s Finest he became one of their main artists along with Jack Comics, and as earlier with Marvel Comics, numerous “King” Kirby, Steve Ditko, Joe Maneely, Gene Colan, other titles across genres. Also, while at DC Comics Joe Sinnott, and Dick Ayers. In 1957, he felt the in the 1970s, he co-created the Steel: The Indestrucsting of Atlas Comics having to cut back on the need tible Man character with Gerry Conway. for new artwork, only to be one of the first artists What I personally discovered was that Don was a called back by Stan Lee once humble man with tremeneconomic factors for the dous talent, who lived small publisher improved. to draw; was admired, The rest, as they say, is respected, and well-liked history. by his peers; was generous Don became an integral with fans; had a sharp sense part of the birth of what is of humor; was a likeable known as “The Marvel but “tell it like it is” kind of Age.” During that period, he guy; liked to tinker with worked on the “Ant-Man” electronics around the strip, co-created Iron Man, house; considered photogco-created two of Iron Man’s raphy a hobby; and was an main villains—The Manavid sports fan. darin and the Titanium The end result of this Man—and co-created book—I hope—has been Hawkeye and Black Widow. to collect together a whole He also maintained a long from the sum of the parts, stint on Marvel Comics’ giving the reader a compremain non-family team book, hensive portrait of Don The Avengers, where he coHeck the artist, peer, created Wonder Man and friend, and person. guided the “de-powered” Most importantly, I Avengers era, including hope, with this book, I’ve some of the best-loved been able to give Don the Avengers stories. recognition and respect he Don would go on to work deserves and earned, and Above: on such Marvel Comics titles that I’ve given his fans addiSICK Magazine #109, page 39, splash, as The X-Men; Amazing tional confirmation of what Charlton Comics, April 1976. Spider-Man; Nick Fury, Agent they’re already well aware. of SHIELD; Daredevil; The Defenders; Ghost Rider; And I hope that possibly, just maybe, this book will and in fact most of the Marvel line of comics across create a few new fans that either previously overgenres, along with co-creating the quirky 1970s looked his work, or as yet haven’t been exposed to it. super-team The Champions. From 1966–1971, Don Enjoy, would alternate as the main artist on Lee Falk’s The Phantom daily newspaper strip as well as freelance for John Coates Dell Comics and Gold Key (a.k.a. Western Publishing). September 10, 2013 He also did a short stint as ghost artist on Milton INTRODUCTION





n January 2, 1929, Don Heck was born to proud parents John and Bertha Heck. Don was born during the final hurrah of America’s “Roaring ’20s,” just ten short months before the start of the Great Depression. Don’s family made its home in the neighborhood of Jamaica, in Queens, N.Y., a working-class neighborhood of German and Italian immigrants. Jamaica lies just north of John F. Kennedy International Airport. It’s bordered by Grand Central Parkway to the north, Van Wyck Expressway (a.k.a. Highway 678) to the west, Francis Lewis Boulevard to the east, and Baisley Pond Park and St. Albans to the south/southeast. Keith Dettwiler, Don’s nephew, elaborated on Don’s parents: “John and Bertha were both born in the United States. Their parents had immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s; ‘Heck’ being a German surname. My mother, Joan, was Don’s only sibling. “My grandparents [Ed.: Don’s parents, John and Bertha] were hard working and supportive. John


worked in Queens, N.Y., for the company Neptune Water Company until his death in 1959. After his death, Bertha went to work for the ANS department store at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. She worked there until her death in 1965.” Regarding Don’s early childhood, Keith said it was a happy one. “My mother and Don talked about their childhood fondly. The neighborhood they lived in was one big happy family. You know, people sitting on their porches, or walking the streets. You knew your neighbors and they knew you. “Don was like a second father to me. I grew up in Illinois until I was around twelve or so, when my mother and I moved to Queens, N.Y. It was funny because I liked comics and could always pick out my uncle’s work. “From a personality [standpoint], Don was always a very humble guy and would only say something if it was a necessity. Now, if you asked for his opinion… he’d give it! [laughs] Very matter of fact. He also had a great sense of humor, always in a good mood. From a work standpoint, he was a workaholic, no question. He loved to draw. He even had three studios set up in his home: his basement for painting and photography, a patio, and a small back room on the main floor. I think Don would have been happy just being alone and drawing or working on his hobbies. He really loved both.”

Opposite: 1930 U.S. Census, lines #18-20. Above Inset: Queens, N.Y. Map, 1930. Right: New York City, 1930.


Left to Right: Danger #11, splash, Comic Media, Aug. 1954. Horrific #5, cover, Comic Media, May 1953. All-True Romance #13, cover, Comic Media, Sept. 1953. War Fury #1, cover, Comic Media, Sept. 1952.



EARLY DAYS IN COMICS 2 MURRAY: Did you ever work in advertising? HECK: I did some when I first started out. I worked in advertising, not that I wanted to. I took Advertising Design and Layouts, I remember that. Up to the first nine months I worked [at an advertising firm], and then I said, “I don’t want this.” Somebody called me up on a Saturday and told me, “Harvey’s got a comic book out, and they’re looking for somebody.” MURRAY: Tell me when you got started in the business. HECK: I first worked for Harvey Publications back in December ’49, when I first started in comics. I stayed there for about 2½ years, and then I started to freelance.

Above: Captain Gallant, page 8 panels, US Pictorial, 1955. Right: Death Valley #6, cover, Charlton Comics, Aug. 1954.


Getting Started At Harvey Comics LOU MOUGIN: Who actually interviewed you [at Harvey]? DON HECK: Leon Harvey interviewed me. It was a Saturday afternoon. I said to the guy, “I have a date tonight, its five o’clock in the evening, are you kidding or what?” I said, “It’s going to take me an hour to get there.” I was in Queens and they were in New York City. He said, “We’ll wait,” so I went anyway.

and asked me, so I started to freelance for him. I even did the logos on the magazines—everything you could think of. [laughs] •••••••••• HOWELL: Did you start drawing for Harvey too? HECK: No, I didn’t. In fact, [Alan Hardy] was there in circulation or something like that, and he was leaving. About that time, [Pete Morisi], another friend of mine, was leaving too, and I thought, well, I was going to get all the garbage stuff to do, so I decided I’d better go out and try to freelance. I made some samples up, but they [Harvey] weren’t interested in my work—which was normal. I was only a beginner. Then I decided I’d call up three different outfits in one day. I decided to go out and try to see if I could sell anything.

David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview #100, Fictioneer, 1991, page 94. Interview conducted by Lou Mougin.

RICHARD HOWELL: What was Harvey publishing at the time? What sort of comics? HECK: Well, they used to put out Terry and the Pirates—they used to put out a lot of reprints. Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, that one that Alfred Andriola did, Kerry Drake…. They were also the ones that put out Boys’ Ranch by Jack Kirby [and Joe Simon].

HOWELL: I guess. So they were involved in quite a lot of different types of comics? HECK: Yeah, quite a bit. They had romance, they had Black Cat done by Lee Elias. They also had Joe Palooka, Little Max…. Now you’re really loggin’ ’em. ••••••••••

MURRAY: What were you doing at Harvey? HOWELL: I know it well. HECK: I was finishing off reprints HECK: Yeah, that was a beaut. I wish I would’a grabbed a bunch. I was and stuff like that, doing ad paste-up, white paint, the usual garbage, you right there in the office. [laughter] know. There was somebody who worked for Harvey named Alan HOWELL: Oh boy. Hardy who decided to start some HECK: But that’s life, y’know. If comics. He started Comic Media you could only go back…. back in 1952, and he called me up 14

DON HECK: A Work Of Art

Above: Danger Comics #7, cover, Comic Media, Jan. 1954. Opposite: Death Valley #5, original art and printed comic, Comic Media, June 1954.





[Earlier Don had mentioned to Richard Howell that he was hired by Stan Lee at Magazine Management, a.k.a. Atlas Comics, on September 1, 1954.] HOWELL: You’ve got a good memory for these dates. HECK: Only because I’ve got the book in front of me. I would have known it was September 1954, but I wouldn’t have known it was September 1st. HOWELL: And what were you working on for Marvel at that point? HECK: “Werewolf Beware.” [laughter] Opposite Top: Rugged Action #3, Atlas Comics, April 1955. Opposite Bottom: Mystery Tales #25, Atlas Comics, Jan. 1955. Don’s first known published work for Atlas. Right: Navy Combat #6, splash, Atlas Comics, April 1956, featuring “Torpedo Taylor.”

HOWELL: Oh boy! HECK: Yes. “The Red Pirate.” I remember that one, that was one of those… [laughter] you know, [it] had the whale crashing into one of those whaling boats, [laughter] you know, the ones they throw the harpoons from? Not the big ship, but the small jobs. And there were Westerns, and then it says here that December was the first time I did a Navy Combat. That’s when I got involved with… HOWELL: War comics? HECK: Yeah. Well, I did a character in there called Torpedo Taylor, who was—obviously—a submarine type. •••••••••• HECK: [Torpedo Taylor] had bright red hair, and [later I gave him] a beard. Stan Lee got one of the

Atlas Comics “By 1955 it looked like Atlas might be nearing the end of the line. Oddly enough, it was a group of recent arrivals at Atlas who eventually turned things around. Artist Don Heck had arrived in 1954 and was soon enhancing war books with his vigorous work on characters like ‘Torpedo’ Taylor.” Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, by Les Daniels, Harry N. Abrams Publishers, 1991, page 80.


guys who was in the Navy—I can’t think of his name, but he used to draw a lot of this stuff too. He was a speed demon up there. But [Stan] asked him if a commander could have a beard, because he hadn’t heard about it. And [the guy] said, “When they’re out like that, they couldn’t have anything.” What was his name? He died in 1956….

a certain line-up. [It was] always Kirby in front with Heck second, Reinman maybe third, and always Ditko in the back, although occasionally you’d be in the back. HECK: Yeah. MURRAY: Occasionally, you’d take the place of the Ditko story. I just thought that was just the way because the Ditko thing was always like a Twilight Zone kind of story. HECK: Yeah, I had no idea why. MURRAY: When you would do those five-page fantasies, did [Lee] always slot them in advance for the magazine, or did he do a whole bunch of them and then throw them in the pot and just put them in whatever issue he wanted to? HECK: No, I’d just get, let’s see— one week, I’d get a script in the mail.

MURRAY: Was Stan a tough guy to work for or an easy guy to work for? HECK: Easy. I never had any problem with him. The only time I had any problem with him was [one time] I’d worked all night, dead tired, and I never did it, page one to 13. I never did it so that the last thing I did was on page 13. I happened to have a couple of panels and I just whipped them out there. I think one was on page 7 and [the other on] some other page, and he spotted those two. Meanwhile, I’d

MURRAY: Yeah, and you didn’t know which issue of what it would go into. HECK: I had no idea where it was going. There were no Bullpen [Bulletins] that we read. [laughs] MURRAY: Joe Maneely. HECK: Maneely, yeah. Stan called Joe in, and Joe said, “Aw, it looks great. Leave it.” [laughs] Like I said, Joe was great as far as drawing, and he was so fast, it was unbelievable. •••••••••• HOWELL: We must be into the middle 1950s by this time. HECK: Yeah, about 1955. •••••••••• MURRAY: Because in the fantasy books, Lee basically got it down to 22

DON HECK: A Work Of Art

MURRAY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s amazing how he was able to create… HECK: That illusion. [laughs] MURRAY: Well, he was a great salesman and he’s a great writer too. He brought an emotional dimension to comics that certainly has transformed the industry. HECK: That is great. Like I say, I would put this whole thing together with all the pictures and stuff like that, and send it in, and when I’d get it back and read it, I’d say, “Gee, that works fine. It works great.”

gone in there, and he gave me a job where he had Dick Ayers knock it out overnight, and so I had to repair that. So there I am, repairing this, and Stan’s already complaining about these two panels that are turkeys. I think they were little panels, nothing, and I Left: Battlefront #29, splash, Atlas Comics, March 1955. Above: Love Tales #62, cover, splash, Atlas Comics, June 1955.



HOWELL: When the Marvel super-hero explosion, such as it was, got going, did you work in the same manner with Stan Lee as did Kirby and Ditko— contributing all the story’s pacing? HECK: You mean when they suddenly threw a synopsis at you? HOWELL: Yes. HECK: Boy, that was a surprise. [laughter] I’d been so used to working from scripts, and then Stan said, “I’m going to give you a synopsis.” Well, Jack Kirby was

Stan on the Success of the Marvel Age… “To start things off, I had the unbelievable good fortune to work with the most incredibly talented artists of our time. There was Jack Kirby with whom I co-created the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield, and the X-Men, to name a few. Then there was Steve Ditko, my collaborator in the creation of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. And lest we not forget Don Heck who toiled with me so mightily to bring forth Iron Man, while Bill Everett was my partner on creating Daredevil.” — Stan Lee Overstreet Price Guide #16, Overstreet Publications, 1986, page A-82.


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

Left Inset: Tales of Suspense #55, Marvel Comics, July 1964. Above: Tales of Suspense #16, Marvel Comics, April 1961.

used to something like that because he was also a writer. I mean, some people might not have liked the stuff he did later, but he did some terrific stuff with all of these different characters, like back when he was doing Fighting American and all the rest of his early stuff, so it was easy for him. For me it was suddenly that someone says, “You’re going to do it!” I said, “I’ll try it, but, I mean, it’s your gamble, not mine. I’m going to get paid for this.” Then we started to work out the system, and then after a while Stan Lee used to, like, give you the first three pages, tell you who the character was you were fighting, and give you the last couple of pages so you’d know how it ended. And in between you’d put about 15 pages of stuff. HOWELL: Sounds pretty loose. HECK: It was. It was. And at the time, I thought, “Oh my God! This’ll never work!” But then I’d sit down and start to figure different things that these types of characters could do. Then when I went back

Above (Left to Right): Strange Tales #80, splash, Marvel Comics, Jan. 1961. Tales of Suspense #13, splash, Marvel Comics, Jan. 1961. Two-Gun Kid #66, cover, Marvel Comics, Nov. 1963.

to working from a script years and years later, sometimes I felt like I was a little closed in. I got used to the synopsis. HOWELL: Do you feel that working from a synopsis opened up the possibilities of what you could do? HECK: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ll tell you why: because you’re not hindered by the amount of copy that’s there, you’re not suddenly stuck with a six-panel or seven-panel page. You can suddenly throw a big panel in there, or a couple of small ones across the bottom, and then catch up with the story later on, or expand it out. You don’t feel, “I must put six panels on here and I’ve got to have so many balloons.” It’s a freer way of working. HOWELL: You prefer doing that, then? HECK: More or less, yeah. But, y’know, I’m at DC now and they work differently. I mean, somebody like [Marv] Wolfman or somebody like that would probably rather work with the synopsis, and I think I did a couple of stories with Gerry…. HOWELL: Conway? Would that be the Steel series? HECK: The Steel one, yeah. He sent synopses in and I worked from them. You can see the differences. There is an openness about some of those pages that



MURRAY: One of my favorite early Marvel super-heroes was Ant-Man. You slid right into that after Kirby set that book up. You took a different approach to that character. HECK: I tried to do it like him, but…. [chuckles] MURRAY: Kirby built him up larger than life. You drew it from the point of view of a normal-sized world with a tiny Ant-Man. HECK: Yeah, well, that’s the way I would see it. I would think of it as he’s so small, and occasionally I would try to draw him [with] something around the character. So it’s sort of like a matchbook, where you’d have the Ant-Man next to a matchbook and then looking up at the [reader]. MURRAY: [laughs] When you got used to that; did you find you liked it? HECK: No, it wasn’t that bad. When it first happened, it was like somebody saying, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to fly that airplane over there.” [laughs] Whoa, wait a minute! Well, I enjoyed doing The Wasp, and stuff like that, because it was a pretty young girl flying around. And like I say, with the small characters who are—Giant Man suddenly turning into Ant-Man, they’d go up and down. After a while, it became fun. In the beginning, like I say, it was tough when I first did “AntMan,” but after I got used to it, then it was something sort of like making the character that suddenly wound up with a whole bunch of little people around him—Gulliver’s Travels. Of course, when I started thinking of it in that respect, then it was easy to do. Above: Tales to Astonish #43, splash, Marvel Comics, May 1963. Right: Tales to Astonish #54, page 6 panel, Marvel Comics, April 1964. Below: Tales to Astonish #43, panel, Marvel Comics, May 1963.


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

MURRAY: I guess you’d done a few “GiantMan” stories as well as “Ant-Man” stories, and you’d inked the first “Giant-Man,” and then Kirby drew that, as I recall. HECK: Yeah. You probably remember more of what he did than I [do]. What happens is you finish something, and you put it in the mail or get rid of it, [and] it’s gone. [laughs] The reason I still have the magazines from that time is because I always kept them. And I’d get an order, turn around and then an Avengers was behind me, or something like that, and Thor was over here or all the issues of Daredevil or whatever I was working on. So in one way, it’s good because I wanted to peek through all those books.

MURRAY: Let’s talk about Iron Man. That’s one of the characters you’re most linked with, and Mark Hannerfeld tells me there’s quite an involved story on how that character came into existence. HECK: There is? [laughs] MURRAY: Well, all right, let me put it this way. As I understand it, you and Stan Lee devised a character or fleshed out the character, but Kirby designed the armor and did the first cover, but that’s all Kirby did. HECK: Yeah. Well, if you look in the thing, it’s listed that Kirby laid out the first story, which was, I think, #39, which is not true. I think he did #40. MURRAY: He did, yeah. HECK: He did the layouts on that, but you’ve got to see some of the layouts to appreciate it, because a lot of times it would be—which was fine because he wasn’t getting paid that much for it—it would be almost like what Ditko did. He did stick figures sometimes. Sometimes Kirby would just put in things and say, “Tie them in.” [laughs] “This is so-and-so and he’s over here. This is a building,” or something like that. But no, #40 was good. He was good on that, I remember. But the reason he did the character was because of the fact, as I said before, he was in the city and the covers were always done first.

Creation of Iron Man “Although he didn’t design the Iron Man armor itself, Don Heck did just about everything else to bring Tony Stark’s adventures to life.” Iron Man: The Ultimate Guide to the Armored Super Hero, by Matthew K. Manning, DK Children, Feb. 2010, page 11.


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

MURRAY: I thought the covers were done last. HECK: No, because they had to print all that stuff up. MURRAY: But it was unusual at that time for Kirby to design a character, but not do the first stories. Tell me how you ended up doing “Iron Man” and what you and Stan Lee did to put a guy inside that armor.

Left Inset: Tales of Suspense #42, page 2 panel, Marvel Comics, June 1963. Above: Tales of Suspense #39, splash, Marvel Comics, March 1963. Opposite Top Left Inset: Tales of Suspense #39, page 11 panel, Marvel Comics, March 1963. Opposite Top Right: Tales of Suspense #45, page 11, Marvel Comics, Sept. 1963. Panel showing Tony Stark as rendered by Don Heck. Opposite Below: Tales of Suspense #46, page 3, Marvel Comics, Oct. 1963. Another panel showing Tony Stark as rendered by Don.

Don on the Creation of Iron Man “Don, who spent the major portion of his career chronicling the adventures of the Armored Avenger, recalled the beginning of his association with Iron Man saying proudly, ‘I did the first one!’ He mentioned that some believe that Jack Kirby did the layouts for that first Iron Man story, but ‘Jack did the cover and I did the inside.’ Kirby did the layouts for the next job, because ‘I probably got behind again, as usual,’ he said, laughing. ‘Jack designed the costume, because he did the cover first... otherwise, I’d have had to go all the way in [to the Marvel offices] just to show sketches.’ ”

[Stan] told the guy, “I need it tomorrow and it’s six pages—gotta have it.” [laughs] MURRAY: Stan gave you a basic verbal plot, but you had to flesh out what Tony Stark looked like. HECK: Yeah. Like I say, I knew what the costume looked like because I got the cover in the mail. MURRAY: So did you have a specific model for Tony Stark and the other characters? HECK: No, I would be thinking more along the lines of some character I liked, which would be the same kind of character that Alex Toth liked, which was an Errol Flynn type.

Marvel Age #119, Marvel Comics, Dec. 1992, page 22.

HECK: We didn’t do anything that I know of. He just called me up and told me he was going to have this character, Iron Man, and he said “Tony Stark,” and the way he wound up where he was over in I guess it would be considered Vietnam. And he’d pitch this synopsis over the phone. We didn’t actually sit down and work out the characters. It’s just sort of like them talking about the Bullpen and the Bullpen wasn’t anything at one point. [laughs] The Bullpen was this small office that Stan Lee had in there, where if you happened to walk in there, you would probably have to repair somebody else’s job because CHAPTER THREE: 1954-1960s ATLAS COMICS and the MARVEL AGE OF COMICS


found a way to use a tape recorder and wound up using—in those days, it was not used that much. I had a Wollensak tape recorder, and I found something that I could hook to the phone and save on tape. So I said, “Okay, now you can talk.” I could play it back. MURRAY: Did you save any of those tapes? I would think they would be—. HECK: I did, but the machine… it was a long time ago, and the new machine doesn’t play it because the old one was a reel-to-reel. I would expect that it would be all right, but it was [a] different [format]. [laughs] Well, it’s just sort of like our work. You never thought about it. MURRAY: Let’s get back to The Avengers. Your first Avengers story was the Wonder Man story. Somewhere I heard or read a story that DC was unhappy with that story because they felt Wonder Man was too close to Superman. HECK: It’s possible. I had heard there was a Wonder Man at DC, a Wonder Man character. In other words, in one of these other stories like Batman or something like that. That’s what I had heard, and they know the character was plagiarized, which it wasn’t.

MURRAY: You did a long run on The Avengers. That must have been a tough book, because team books are so busy. HECK: [laughs] I also did X-Men quite a bit. Issue #9, I think, is the first one I did. Well, I just suddenly got a call and Stan said, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to be doing an Avengers next month.” [laughs] MURRAY: Did Stan ever offer you something you turned down? HECK: No. Like I say, the only one I ever turned down was Kanigher, and he got pissed off at me. [laughs] MURRAY: Tell me about working on The Avengers. You were largely working with Stan Lee, I guess, at first on that book. HECK: Yeah. As I say, it was mostly over the phone, and I was one of the first who’d come up with the idea [of recording the calls]. I said, “Jeez, he’s talking and I can’t do shorthand or anything else like that.” So I

Left: The Avengers #9, splash, Marvel Comics, Oct. 1964. Don’s first issue on Avengers. Don Heck pencils and Dick Ayers inks. Above: The Avengers #9, page 8 panel, Marvel Comics, Oct. 1964. Introduction of Wonder Man. Don Heck pencils and Dick Ayers inks.



Don’s Buick Riviera…

“STRICTLY PERSONAL: By the way, if you see the shiniest, brightest, most-fireengine-red Buick Riviera you’ve ever seen scootin’ down a Long Island highway, wave hello as the dashin’ driver barrels by, because it’ll probably be dazzling DONNIE HECK with his latest pride ‘n’ joy! If we could get him to spend half as much time at the drawing board as he does polishing his flivver, we could publish the AVENGERS every week!” “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins,” Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #29, Marvel Comics, April 1966.


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

MURRAY: I thought it was the strangest decision Stan had ever made, because he brought in really minor, minor characters, and villains for that matter, and tried to build up The Avengers out of them. HECK: It seemed crazy at the time. [chuckles] MURRAY: And then I think the first change he made




Late 1960s–1977 tracing paper with some pen drawings or something like that, then I’d work it from that point.

MURRAY: You did work on Spider-Man at one point. HECK: I did the in-between stuff in a lot of cases. In fact, I think I did [Amazing] Spider-Man Annual #3 or something like that. John Romita roughed it out and then I tight-penciled it, and then he’d send it over to Mike Esposito [to ink it], who was listed as “Mickey Demeo” at the time. MURRAY: Yeah, that’s right. You did a run of Spider-Man as well, where Romita would lay it out, I guess. HECK: Right, right. He’d send it out to me, and probably on Opposite: The Avengers #37, unpublished cover, Marvel Comics, Sept. 1967. Art by Don Heck. Above: Wonder Woman sketch by Don Heck.

MURRAY: The web lines must have driven you crazy. HECK: They did until John told me what they were. The things had to go a certain way around on the page. Once you know what the pattern was, it was easy. MURRAY: Give Ditko credit, he didn’t skimp on his design, even though he knew he had to draw every issue and every webline. HECK: Yeah. [laughs] Well, I think in a lot of cases, it was sort of like stuff that you’d do. You’re only expecting to do a couple of issues, or something like that, and then all of a sudden, it winds up to be an every month thing and, “Oh sh*t. I wished I hadn’t put this on there and that on there.” [laughs] MURRAY: You did a character later on, but there was one book that was always floundering around and that was Daredevil. First it was Bill Everett, and then it was Joe Orlando, then it was Wally Wood, and then it was Bob Powell. And I would think that would have been a perfect book for you to do, and you never did it. HECK: Yeah, well, I did some Daredevil.

Right: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3, splash, Marvel Comics, Nov. 1968. Layout by John Romita, pencils by Don Heck, and inks by Mickey Demeo (Mike Esposito).


that I always get the comment from [people] that say, “Yeah, the first story I ever did when I got in the business was I inked your stuff.” And I thought, “Yeah.” My comment always used to be—not to them—if a cleaning lady walked down the hall with a toothbrush stuck behind her ear, she would have had a Don Heck job by the time she reached the end of the hall.” [Will laughs] She [would say], “Aw, don’t worry. I can ink it.” MURRAY: How do you maintain your sense of proportion and professionalism? HECK: All you can do is the best you know how in the pencils. When they screw it up, there ain’t a damn thing you can do. You know, it’s sort of like if you write a story and they give it to some penciler and he screws up your story, there’s nothing you can do with it. MURRAY: Yeah, they never ask your input, who you’d like to be inked by or anything like that. HECK: Yeah. “Don’t worry, I got just the guy. He’s gonna be good.” “What do you mean he’s ‘going’ to be?” [laughs] “Oh, this guy, he’s going to be good. He’ll be [learning on you], but he’s going to be good.” MURRAY: And how do you find the energy to do your best when you never know—? HECK: I save the Xeroxes so that I know what it looked like when I sent it out. They got it and they did the garbage afterwards; this is what I’d sent. And I Left: Iron Man #35, splash, Marvel Comics, March 1971. Don Heck pencils and Mike Esposito inks. Image scanned from original art. Above: The Man from U.N.C.L.E #2, page 6 panels, Gold Key, Oct. 1965. Don Heck pencils and inks. Don did some freelancing with Western Publishing, the publisher of the Gold Key imprint, during this period. Though the faces of the main characters—in this scene Napoleon Solo—look redrawn, and to this author don’t resemble Don’s work, Don’s style is evident throughout the book. Credits confirmed via the Grand Comic Database at ©NBC Television.



MURRAY: Whom were you working with on X-Men when you took that over? HECK: At one point, I was doing breakdowns, and I think Werner Roth was tight-penciling in some cases. Then they had Vince Colletta inking, and in fact I did some other work one time, and Stan Lee called me in. He was complaining because—it could have been for that series too—I was doing breakdowns on some stuff and pencils on some of it. He was complaining that I wasn’t doing as well as he thought that I should be doing as far as panel construction and stuff like that, because he had this other guy inking me, and it looked like sh*t when he was finished. He was complaining about that, so he was trying to find a scapegoat for the problems, and it had to be me. [chuckles] He had somebody else he said he wanted to do the breakdowns for me, and then I could pencil in tightly so he could let this other guy ink it. I asked him, “What’s wrong with the layouts?” I said, “It’s not the layouts, it’s the inker. But you’re not looking at that, are you?” [chuckles]

MURRAY: Who was that inker? HECK: [laughs] It was [Vince] Colletta. MURRAY: Ah, yeah. I hear terrible things about Colletta. He would erase backgrounds. HECK: He’d leave them out. [chuckles] Well, that way, he could turn out that many more pages. MURRAY: That’s right. But you’re cheating the reader, you’re cheating the editor, and you’re screwing the artist. HECK: Yeah. As I often said, he’s a terrific guy, he’s a wonderful person, but his stuff over mine just didn’t look like anything. It looked like garbage, mostly. I Left: Captain Savage #12, cover, Marvel Comics, March 1969. Above: Captain Savage #13, cover, Marvel Comics, April 1969.



MURRAY: I guess you can’t win in some ways in this business. HECK: Yeah, well, it’s that kind of a business. The only good part about it is you get to draw all sorts of stuff that you like to do. In other words, if you work for an advertising place, you draw a lot of boring stuff, which you hate. But in comics, I mean, you can draw characters, people, scenes, everything you can think of. It can be great. •••••••••• HOWELL: Have you done much work outside the comic book industry? It looked like you were ghosting The Phantom for a while…. HECK: I did some of the pencil work on that, and I was just doing breakdowns at one point. Funny part is, you feel like you don’t have that much of a special style, especially in those jobs where two or three people are going to be going over it, but for some reason or other, your style comes through. Do you know [Mike] Tiefenbacher, the fellow who ran The Menomonee Falls Gazette? HOWELL: Yes. HECK: I was subscribing to that, and all of a sudden they sent me a letter and asked me some questions. They wanted to know how much I was doing on The Phantom, because they could tell I was doing some of it. I was amazed. Because you figure nobody could ever tell. HOWELL: Sorry. It looked pretty distinctively Heck to me, too.

Don on Jack Kirby Leaving Marvel: “I remember going to the office and seeing a cigar stuck to the wall, and a little note under it saying, ‘I quit.’ Jack was living in California by then, so somebody else must have done it, but that’s how I knew he’d left.” — Don Heck Marvel: Five Fabulous Decade of the World’s Greatest Comics, by Les Daniels, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991, page 145.

The “Marvel Bullpen

Bulletins” touts Don’s return to The Avengers: Hey, and let’s welcome home DASHIN’ DONNIE HECK who just couldn’t keep away forever from the AVENGERS strip he used to draw a couple years ago.

Opposite Above: The Phantom newspaper strip, King Features Syndicate, Inc., Jan. 4, 1971. Art by Don Heck. ©1971 King Features Syndicate, World Rights Reserved. Opposite Below: My Love #11, cover, Marvel Comics, May 1971. Art by Don Heck. Above Inset: Tales of Suspense #80, splash, Marvel Comics, Aug. 1966. Jack Kirby pencils and Don Heck inks.



A Rare 1968 Fanzine Interview [This 1968 fanzine interview is the earliest known non-Marvel Comics interview with Don. Conducted in 1968 by Gavin Roth, son of Silver-Age artist Werner Roth, it was originally published in 1968 in Gavin’s fanzine Nine Penny Gnus. In 1969, it was reprinted in Gary Groth’s fanzine, Fantastic Fanzine Special #1, with Gavin’s permission. The length of the original interview was roughly a page-and-a-half, containing 17 questions and Don’s responses. To avoid redundancy, I’ve removed any specific questions/responses that are already covered more fully elsewhere in this book:


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

For example, how Don got started in the business, and comments on the process of creating comics. The remaining interview Q&As are presented as originally published in 1968 and again in 1969.] GAVIN ROTH: When they get fan-letters at the bullpen—do you read any of them? DON HECK: I get some of them through. Generally the ones I get through are asking for original drawings…which is impossible to do. ROTH: What I was getting at was, in general, what is the fan reaction to your inking your own work? HECK: I think sometimes it’s been favorable—the reason I wind up doing mostly pencils is because they feel as though it’s





MURRAY: Did you feel you’d been sort of a second-stringer at Marvel? HECK: I never thought of it one way or another.

MURRAY: Well, when I say “second-stringer,” it seemed to me that Kirby was almost on an equal footing with Stan— HECK: Yeah, yeah.

MURRAY: In the sense that Kirby was sort of a—. HECK: Well, I always figured when Kirby was there, he was a creator. He created most of the characters. And to me, that was wonderful, because the characters that he normally would create were good. They were fun to do.

MURRAY: —and Ditko seems to have gotten a lot of choices and options. And the way you talk is Stan would call and say, “You’re doing this next,” and you’d say, “Okay,” and off you’d go. Yet at the same time, you seem to be willing to have given Stan a little bit of guff when Stan would say or do something that you thought was—. HECK: Well, if I didn’t think it was right, I’d say something. But no, I never considered [myself] to be another—in other words, it’d be sort of like if I were working for you and you said, “How about doing this?” And I’d say, “Sure.” It’s no big deal.

Opposite: Iron Man #26, cover, Marvel Comics, June 1970. Don Heck pencils and Johnny Craig inks. Above: The Champions #1, page 11 panel of Ghost Rider, Marvel Comics, Oct. 1975. Don Heck pencils and Mike Esposito inks. Right: Sub-Mariner #67, page 32 panel, Marvel Comics, Nov. 1973. Introduction of Sub-Mariner’s new costume. Don Heck pencils and Don Perlin inks.


you use Don Heck? He’s one of the best men in the business!” And you know, one of them said, “You know, I love the guy’s stuff, but I never think of calling him.” And that’s murder. [laughs] I said, “The guy’s gotta eat.” What’s the matter with them? Give him some work. They never gave him the work, anyway.

John Buscema on Don’s Situation Prior to Leaving Marvel ROY THOMAS: Don Heck was the Avengers artist before you. You two were friends, weren’t you? JOHN BUSCEMA: Oh yeah. We lived about ten minutes away from each other. One of the things I remember about Don, he was having a lot of trouble with a lot of the editors in later years. I don’t know why. I always thought Don was one of the better men in the business, and for some reason, these young editors wouldn’t give him enough work to survive. I was out to lunch one day with a couple of the editors and some of the writers. And I brought up the subject of Don, and I told the editors, “What the hell’s the matter with you guys? Why don’t


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

THOMAS: If Stan had told someone he was going to keep them busy, even if they were officially freelancers, he got very angry if that person had time on his hands because no one had work ready for him when he needed it! I continued that policy, and so did an editor or two after me. But, over the years, it went by the wayside. And once the company went to having a whole ream of editors a few years later, if one editor dropped you from a book, nobody else at Marvel felt any obligation to find you a replacement. That horrible, inhuman departmentalization was happening there, like it had at DC earlier. Editors would forget about people. BUSCEMA: And that’s a hell of a way to treat a guy after so many years, and he was damn good. THOMAS: Don had been very popular, especially in the ’60s, doing Avengers and “Iron Man.” Of course, he wasn’t really a guy who enjoyed doing superheroes. I remember the back-up story you did for an Avengers Annual, with humorous versions of you and me and Don Heck in it. Do you remember it at all? It had the feel of Mort Drucker in Mad. BUSCEMA: [laughs] I couldn’t believe that I had done that. I didn’t think I could do it. Alter Ego #13, TwoMorrows Publishing, March 2002. Interview conducted by Roy Thomas. Above: The Avengers #121, splash, Marvel Comics, Sept. 1973. John Buscema pencils and Don Heck inks.




1977-1988 As shown in Chapter 4, Don first briefly worked a few assignments for DC Comics’ war books back in the late 1950s. During the early ’70s, Don had a short stint with DC Comics on their horror and romance line of comics, including the popular “Batgirl” back-up feature then appearing in Detective Comics. He would return to Marvel through to the mid-1970s, until leaving Marvel entirely for DC Comics in 1977. Don would stay at DC Comics for eleven years, up to 1988.

Opposite: Teen Titans #52, page 17 pin-up, DC Comics, Dec. 1977. Don Heck pencils and Bob Smith inks. Above Inset: Detective Comics #424, splash, DC Comics, June 1972. Art by Don Heck. Above (Top to Bottom): Young Love #89, cover, DC Comics, Nov. 1971. Don Heck pencils and Dick Giordano inks.

MURRAY: You did a lot of romance work. Was that for Marvel or was that for DC or someone else? HECK: I did DC covers, and I think one of the first things I did for DC in a long—I did something for them, like I said, in the ’50s. I did a lot more [in] 1971 or ’72 or something like that. I think it was Roy Thomas [who] called me [at Marvel], and they were going to have somebody else take something I was doing—I don’t recall, it may have been Daredevil—and they were going to have this other inker on me, and I said, “That’s okay. I’m done.” [laughs] And I said, “Another ‘star’ is going to screw [up] this stuff that I did, working on it.” So I figured maybe I’d have a better chance over at DC. You take a shot. If it doesn’t work, you go back to the other one—the only way you can work at something.

Young Love #91, cover, DC Comics, Jan. 1972. Art by Don Heck. Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #123, “Rose and Thorn” page 7, DC Comics, June 1972. Art by Don Heck.


Kirby Recommends Don to DC Comics “Jack was a huge fan of Don and his work. In fact, Jack was the person who suggested Don for the ‘Batgirl’ series at DC Comics. Carmine [Infantino] was speaking with Jack and mentioned he was having difficulty finding the right artist for the ‘Batgirl’ series. Jack told him, ‘Why not Don Heck? He draws the prettiest girls in comics.’” Mark Evanier, personal friend of Kirby and comics historian, quoting Jack Kirby on how he suggested Don Heck for the “Batgirl” assignment.

Opposite Inset: House of Secrets #85, page 3, DC Comics, Apr.–May 1970.

Above (Left to Right): Detective Comics #421, splash, DC Comics, March 1971. Image scanned from the original art. Detective Comics #421, final page, DC Comics, March 1971. Image scanned from the original art.



Rumor of Don ’ s “Personal Tragedy ” ? One industry rumor regarding Don that had been circulating since the mid1970s is that in the 1970s “something tragic” happed to Don where he basically couldn’t draw, and/or had a nervous breakdown, or the like. As with most rumors, the “something” remains undefined. In my research through Don’s peers and those working in the industry at the time, no one seems to know any details other than they had also heard second-hand that “something tragic” happened where Don could no longer draw for a period of time. Keith Dettwiler, Don’s nephew, debunked this rumor entirely: “Absolutely false! When I read that in the questions you sent over, I thought, ‘What!?’ There was nothing tragic or whatever that happened to my uncle. I do know that during the time you mention he became very discouraged with his inkers. Don was a perfectionist. He started to draw less detail in the work because he felt the inkers would hack it up anyway. But no, there was no tragedy. Nothing.” When I mentioned Don spoke of being divorced twice, and possibly that got people assuming some form of “tragedy,” Keith countered, “Sure, he was divorced twice, but he never, ever went into depression or anything like that. He wasn’t the type to go off the deep end. And didn’t. Again, Don was Don. There was no tragedy or whatever that affected his drawing. I think he was just tired of working hard and turning in exceptional work and getting subpar inkers.” Note: See Chapter 13 where Jim Fern recounts how Don directly addressed this topic.


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

Don began as the monthly penciler on The Flash with issue #280, Dec. 1979, and would continue through #295, March 1981 (16 issues). MURRAY: You did The Flash? HECK: Yeah, I did that. It was about 16 issues on that. I did about three issues of Green Lantern, and I was all over the place. MURRAY: Did you like doing Flash? HECK: Yeah, it was all right after a while, but I was sort of hamstrung. I was told to do multiple-image shots—he’s got this multiple-image shot, and I wanted him done like you didn’t see these little individual figures going, going. A blur [was] what he was supposed to be as far as I was concerned. And then, all of

a sudden, they got ahold of me and said, “By the way, you’re off The Flash because Carmine’s back. So, obviously, it’s his book. We’ll give it to him again.” So what did they do? They allowed him to do the same type of stuff that I wanted to do. [laughs] But one story [Flash #290] was whacko. The girlfriend next door and he were ringing the bell, and he comes to the door as his normal self. But you’re supposed to see The Flash go into the apartment and come back as this guy and meet himself at the door. [laughs] I did this shot, and the writer says to me,

“Gee, I was wondering how you were going to do that.” And I thought, [exasperated] “God.” [laughs] MURRAY: You didn’t read science-fiction. HECK: No, I didn’t. You know who was a sciencefiction addict? When Jack Kirby was working, he had all these science-fiction pocket books. He was a science-fiction addict. MURRAY: Yeah, I can believe it. HECK: And I didn’t know how the hell he did it. I said, “How in the hell can you read all of this stuff and still do five pages a day?” [laughs] MURRAY: You don’t sound like you have that high of an opinion of the business as it is today, or the people in the business as it is today. HECK: Well, [I don’t], particularly. I really miss the ways of the old [days]. It was more fun. When you were told, “I need this next Friday,” you knew the guy wasn’t going to say, “Oh well. I can pull this [other] guy in and take three weeks instead.” Because if you did that, then you were out of the business. That’s the way it should be.

Don’s Back to Inking His Own Pencils “I am glad to be back penciling and inking my own stuff—and I’m sure the inkers are happy to hear that!” — Don Heck, commenting on being able to both pencil and ink his work on the Adventure Comics “Dial ‘H’ For Hero” series. Superman Family #206, “Daily Planet Feature Page: DC Profile #73,” DC Comics, July 1981, inside back cover. CHAPTER SIX: 1977–1988 DC COMICS


Don began as regular monthly artist on the Justice League of America title with issue #201, April 1982. MURRAY: In terms of characters, which is the specific series character you least liked working on? HECK: When I was doing The Justice League of America, I did quite a number—in fact, they wanted me to do it and I said I didn’t want to do it, because I didn’t like the guy that was inking it. I said, “He’s the regular inker on it, and I don’t want you pulling him off the story for me, so I’d rather not do it.” And then all of a sudden, one day, they told me, “You’re doing it, period.” But they got a different inker on it. MURRAY: What didn’t you like about Justice League? HECK: Just [that] it was strange to me. You know, different characters. 96

DON HECK: A Work Of Art

MURRAY: Yet I can’t imagine it would be that different than doing Avengers. HECK: No, after a while, you get used to it. To me, 20 different characters running around—in fact, a couple of the stories was where it had Superman, you’d have Wonder Woman, you’d have somebody

HECK: That’s why I wanted to do something on Wonder Woman; I’d do penciling and inking, because then I didn’t have to tight-pencil it that much. I could spend more time finishing it. In other words, when I got it back, I could see mistakes, make corrections, and then ink it. And to me, that’s where I started making the money for a change, because I wasn’t stuck with this other thing. MURRAY: You could make more money penciling and inking? HECK: And inking, yeah, because in other words, instead of having to tight-pencil every damn thing, [I could tighten it up when I] ink it, [and] there’s nobody who can screw it up. [I would] pencil it, but there were certain areas you didn’t have to tighten every damn thing.

Don Helps Bring Back Wonder Woman “After nearly five years of Diana Prince’s nonpowered super-heroics, writer/editor Robert Kanigher and artist Don Heck restored Wonder Woman’s… well, wonder.” DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle, by Daniel Wallace, Matthew K. Manning, Alexander Irvine, Alan Cowsill, and Michael McAvennie, DK Publishing, 4th edition, Sept. 2010.

MURRAY: Oh, I see, I see. I would have thought that in considering the Kirby way of doing things, which is just pencil and that’s it, I would think that you could make more money just penciling and never inking. HECK: No, to me, it was the other way. In fact, somebody says to me, “Where you’re penciling, it’s not the same as when you ink it.” I said, “Why should it be? I know what I want to do with it; as long as the finished product is there...”. Ross Andru said something to me one time; he says, “Gee, your inks look like your pencils.” And I said to Above: Wonder Woman #329, page 24, DC Comics, Feb. 1986. Art by Don Heck. Stunning Amazon battle scene. Left: Wonder Woman #204, cover, DC Comics, Jan.–Feb. 1973. Don Heck pencils and Dick Giordano inks. Return of Wonder Woman to her costume, death of I-Ching, and introduction of Nubia.







MURRAY: Oh, so you went back to Marvel. HECK: Yeah, that’s why I had to come back. MURRAY: There must have been big changes at Marvel since—. HECK: Oh yeah. Like, my God. [laughs] MURRAY: Yeah, that’s the thing that amazes me about your work is I’d look at either if it’s a story you inked—a Hawkeye story, let’s say—and I’d compare it to a Hawkeye story you did in ’65, ’66—I don’t see a big difference, stylistically. You have maintained the edge, to an amazing degree, that you had then. Whereas Kirby became sort of a caricature of his own style, that Ditko sort of super-simplified his style to the point it lost some of its weight. But you’ve still Opposite: Fantastic Four Board Game illustration, Marvel Comics. Art by Don Heck. Above: Mr. Fixitt #1, cover, Heroic Publishing, June 1993. Art by Don Heck.

got the weight and you’ve still got the line, and I wonder, one: how you maintain that crispness of line, and two: how come you’re not appreciated, because you’re doing the same kind of work you’d done in the ’60s? HECK: I don’t know why I’m not. [chuckles] They sometimes [say], “Oh, I love your stuff.” But then, like I say, you don’t get the calls. I mean, as far as drawing, I always try to keep drawing. I was looking at the guys who are good, guys like Caniff, or stuff like that. I’ve got the files here and I thumb through them. Or Dan Barry, who was doing Flash Gordon. He was doing great work. And I keep [looking] back at what I consider is good artwork and hopefully, I’ll keep drawing it. Sort of like the reason John Buscema is so good; you see all these pages that he’d done for the books. But not only that, he draws all the time. If he’s not working all day, he’ll fill a whole page of different figures. Just practice working, you know? Maybe a certain panel gave him some trouble. He’ll do it four or five different ways, just as practicing stuff. That’s why he’s so damn good. MURRAY: So you maintain your edge by drawing, no matter what. HECK: I draw all the time, yeah. I’ve got a whole bunch of pages where you’re just drawing figures there, [working] with that, trying different methods or trying different things that you’re working with.

Right: Avengers Spotlight #28, cover, Marvel Comics, Jan. 1990. Don Heck pencils and Al Milgrom inks.


whether you want to or not. HECK: If you want to or not, yeah. MURRAY: But you want to. HECK: Yeah. MURRAY: You want to, that’s good. That’s good because you still do good work. HECK: Well, I try to. All I can do is the best I know how at the time. And it also depends on the writing. If you get a decent story, then hell, you’ve got something to grab ahold MURRAY: Do you still like the work? HECK: Yeah, yeah. MURRAY: You still maintain your enthusiasm for it. HECK: Yeah, that’s surprising to me, because I did this for a long time, and after a while in most cases, people would say, [“retire”]. And then if you came in the [office], you [see] you really shouldn’t have thrown in the towel. I guess I’m just stubborn. [chuckles] MURRAY: Well, that’s a good way to be, to be a freelancer, to be stubborn. Do you ever think of retiring? Does it ever enter your head? HECK: I don’t have the money to do that. [laughs] I don’t get these royalties. We don’t get stuff that’s going to do anything for you. MURRAY: So you’ve got to keep working Opposite Inset: Tales of Suspense #50, page 50 panel, Marvel Comics, Feb. 1964. Above: The Destroyer graphic novel, page 143 panel, Marvel Comics, Oct. 1991. Right: Marvel Fanfare #54 (Vol.1), page 4, Marvel Comics, April 1991. A short story where a boy’s Marvel action figures come to life.



Reflecting on His Work PAT CALHOUN: Going back a little, I really like that bullet in the head cover [Horrific #3]. [laughter] I always wonder if artists are annoyed when somebody says their favorite thing is something the artist did at the start of their career, when they’d much rather be appreciated for more recent work. DON HECK: Oh, that’s okay. I mean, if somebody says that was the best thing I ever did, I’d be annoyed… because hopefully your best work is the one you’ve just done. But for somebody to like something you did 40 years ago, that’s all right. If nobody liked it, you wouldn’t be in the business in the first place. In fact, there’s a Horrific cover that I like—the African one, #6 [above]. I enjoyed doing that. There’s all sorts of color, with this big head staring at you. Part of that came from National Geographic, and the research made it even more fun. Gold & Silver: Overstreet’s Comic Book Quarterly #4, Gemstone Publishing, Apr.-June 1994, page 84. Interview conducted by Pat S. Calhoun.

Opposite Inset: NASCAR Adventures #8, page 17 panels, Vortex Comics, 1992. Above Left: Horrific #6, cover, Comic Media, July 1953. Above Right: Short interview with Don by David Watkins for a monthly newsletter published Oct. 1993 by the Minnesota Cartoonists’ League.





8 Left: Gunsmoke Western #63, page 26, Marvel Comics, March 1961. Image scanned from original art.

Opposite: Danger #9, cover, Comic Media, Apr.–May 1954. Art by Don Heck. Image scanned from original art.






Above: Don Heck, pen to paper.

HOWELL: How would you describe a “good script,” something that you feel would bring out the best elements in your storytelling? Does it have to have particular elements in it, like lots of action, or particular types of characters? HECK: A little of each, actually. I mean, obviously there has to be a certain part of a story where you sum up in the end, a good visual beginning, and there has to Opposite Above: Batman Family #20, page 10, DC Comics, Oct.–Nov. 1978. To the right is Don’s rough pencil layout of the page, prior to doing full pencils, while to the left is the published page. Don Heck pencils and John Celardo inks. Opposite Below: Flash #282, splash, DC Comics, Feb. 1980. Don Heck pencils and Frank Chiaramonte inks. To the left are Don’s uninked pencils, while to the right is the published page. Notice the revisions on the published page in the upper-right to add dialogue.

be some action inbetween. Otherwise, if there’s too much talk, it may look good on television, because they can bang one panel after another, or one picture after another, but it won’t work in comics. There has to be some action. Nothing is, to me, worse than where the guys are inside one little room talking to one another for four pages, y’know? HOWELL: So you think comics have their own particular requirements? HECK: Yeah, definitely,

Left: Superman Family #197, page 10, DC Comics, Sept.Oct. 1979. Don Heck pencils and Vince Colletta inks. Above is Don’s rough pencil layout of the page, prior to doing full pencils, while below is the published page.


HOWELL: Figuring out what you meant? HECK: Yeah, well, you put down on the side that such-and-such a thing happened, but he could—the characterization in a person is done with the dialogue. The dialogue has to be written so that it sounds like this is what the guy would be thinking or saying. different types of stories or anything, just with how you feel that day? HECK: Yeah, more or less. And as far as technique goes, it also depends. I might run a stint of six months of doing roughs underneath, and then decide, “Well, I’ve got to get a change away from that and do something different.” HOWELL: Are you at all familiar with On Stage? HECK: Oh, yes, yes. Good stuff. That guy’s super. [Ed.: Leonard Starr.] I got a whole bunch of that too. I used to save all the Sunday pages, and the dailies. That man’s a genius—a super talent, no question about it. 130

DON HECK: A Work Of Art

HOWELL: Were there any favorite writers you liked to work with during the Marvel days? I guess there weren’t as many back then as there are now. HECK: Yeah, there’re so many now, but then there was Roy Thomas, and there was Stan Lee. Those are almost the only ones I worked with. The one nice thing about it, like I said, when they were doing the synopsis, was I had the freedom. You’d send these pages in, and then you’d see Stan put the dialogue to it, and it really worked out nice. It was a good combination, because he was great for looking at things, and being able to put stuff in there.

HOWELL: So you tried to put in attitudes and expressions that Above: Justice League of America #214, splash, DC Comics, May 1983. Don Heck pencils and Romeo Tanghal inks. To the left are Don’s pencils for the page, while to the right is the published page. Opposite Above: Justice League of America #207, page 23, DC Comics, Oct. 1982. Unpublished pencils. The published version has a different layout. Opposite Below: Wonder Woman #315, page 3, DC Comics, May 1984. Art by Don Heck. To the left is Don’s rough pencil layout of the page, prior to doing full pencils, while to the right is the published page.

that, because he could always get an inker to ink your pencils. You have to understand, I’m sure their point of view is if the job doesn’t quite turn out exactly as high as they want it, as long as it’s sort of in-between, and it sells, then they’re happy. HOWELL: Well. That’s not all that encouraging, [Heck laughs] but I guess it makes sense from the publisher’s point of view. HECK: Yeah, yeah, but by the same token, at that point, then you start to get to the point where they all look alike— and that’s no good either, I don’t think, because who cares which book you pick up? They all look like they came out of the same flower pot. HOWELL: You think that that’s happening? You mentioned before that in the 1960s, there were four or five different artists at Marvel who each had very different recognizable styles. HECK: Right. Well, it had to happen, because an inker is going to do whatever amount of pages he can do, and he’s going to start inking over three or four pencilers, and it’s going to start looking very much the same. Because the inker has a certain style, and he’s going to take your stuff, and make it look more like his. And instead of your having, say, myself doing a complete job, and then this inker penciling and

inking another job, and having two century], who used a pen type line. different styles, we have one style, And I just loved that kind of stuff. and two people doing it. Unfortunately I’m in the wrong era, I guess. [laughter] When I say HOWELL: You had mentioned scratchy, I only mean sometimes. It before that the scratchiness of your depends. I like to use a lot of bold inking style was meeting with some blacks if I can. resistance? HECK: Yeah. But I happen to like HOWELL: I’ve heard the term it. That’s why I say I’d be more “scratchy” applied to various inclined to have war stuff or things inkers, including you. HECK: Well, I was told that, and then I was told by an editor— whom I can’t recall now—but he said, “Kubert has the same problem,” and I said, “Well, if you put me in with Kubert, I’ve got no complaint. Thanks for the kind words. If you don’t like his stuff, then I’m not too worried about the fact that you don’t think highly of mine.” [laughter] HOWELL: Kubert has so many artistic drawbacks, really. HECK: Oh, yeah, sure. He’s a fantastic artist. He’s got such a solid drawing style. I mean, it’s threedimensional, but on like that. I think it suits my inking the other hand, there’s very little more. stiffness in it. And he can draw anything, especially those characHOWELL: How would you describe ters from back in One Million B.C. the difference between your own inking style, which you said was HOWELL: Tor? “scratchy,” and…. HECK: Yeah, that’s the book, but I HECK: Well, it’s scratchier than, mean the mammals and dinosaurs. say, some of the new, slicker styles. Fantastic. Because, like I say, I like Caniff. I was also a big fan of Charles Dana Gibson [from the turn of the CHAPTER NINE: PROCESS, TECHNIQUE, and STYLE



INKING WITH DON Over his long career, Don worked with many inkers as well as inked others; all were professionals in their own right, blending their unique style with Don’s.

Don discusses some of his favorite inkers… HECK: I remember I did a couple of jobs for John Romita when he was doing those romance books for DC at a time when I was at Marvel—there was no conflict of interest at the time. I did some roughs, and he tightened them up and inked them. He must have been behind or something. Anyway, you couldn’t tell that that work wasn’t all his. HOWELL: Bet I could. I’ve seen some of those stories. HECK: [chuckles] Well, I thought I was submerged. John Romita submerges everybody, because he has that complete kind of a style. That’s okay. As long as the guy inking over you is a really good artist himself, there’s no complaint from me. When I was on The Avengers, I had Romita, I had Wally Wood. Then around issue #30 or something, I go to [Frank] Giacoia, who is a fantastic inker. He knows anatomy so well, that if you don’t have yours up to par, he just slaps it in automatically. That’s why some people say he’s slower, but he’s putting more into it. You can’t just whip this stuff out all the time. If


you’re going to make it look good, you’ve got to put some time into it. HOWELL: So outside of yourself and Frank Giacoia, who do you like inking your pencils? HECK: Well, Romita did a good job. Wood did a wonderful job. I guess the one who really came closest to me would be Frank Springer. HOWELL: Really? HECK: He did a Dracula Giant [Giant-Size Dracula #3]. HOWELL: Right. I remember those. HECK: I got the stuff back, and I thought, boy, he did a damn good job. And he likes the same type of pen work I do. HOWELL: He probably comes right out of the same school. HECK: Well, if you look at a lot of them, they’re almost all around the same age, us older fellows. [laughter] I mean, you take John Romita, Frank Robbins, who else? HOWELL: Alex Toth? HECK: Yeah. HOWELL: And Mort Meskin, wherever he is. HECK: Yeah, he’s in the same era. You know, you’re talking about guys who did their learning in the late 1940s, early 1950s…. HOWELL: An entire generation of artists? HECK: Well, what had happened is that these guys were the ones working, and then


comics had sort of gone down in the number of books, and there weren’t that many publishers, and so the same artists more or less stayed into it. So for a long time, not that many new artists were coming in, and the predominant style stayed the same. Occasionally you’d get one or two new artists, but not too many. Of course, some of them would be really good, like John Buscema or Neal Adams, and that sparks the whole field. There’s nothing like that. It seems that everything is going along fine, then all of a sudden somebody comes in with a new style that’s terrific. I always like to see it, myself, because I like to see something good. HOWELL: Makes you feel that the field is still progressing? HECK: And not only that, you look and you say, “I better get my act back into gear,” because you start to get a little lazy now and then, and competition helps.

BOB MCLEOD Above: Fear #29, page 11, Marvel Comics, Aug. 1975. Don Heck pencils and Bob McLeod inks.

FRANK SPRINGER Above: Giant-Size Dracula #3, splash, Marvel Comics, Dec. 1974. Don Heck pencils and Frank Springer inks.


DON HECK: A Work Of Art

The “Fire Within” job was my very first inking assignment over another artist, way back in 1974. I was working in the production department at Marvel doing lettering corrections and art corrections, and asking the editors to give me a chance at inking. Tony Isabella graciously gave me this Don Heck inventory job for one of the black-and-white magazines, so I was also able to add ink wash tones to it. I was very excited to do it, but of course I knew almost nothing about inking. That said, I loved inking Don’s pencils, because they were loose enough for me to add as much as I wanted. I liked the way he used a good variety of close-ups, medium shots, and long shots, up shots and down shots. I wasn’t very familiar with his work before that, but became a fan working on that job. I was disappointed when they didn’t print it. I also met Don briefly when he came into the office to drop off the job. He seemed like a good guy, but that’s the only time I ever saw him.

BY THE NUMBERS A myth that has been perpetuated about Don is that while at DC Comics, the circulation of monthly books where he was the regular artist fell sharply during his run—or in some cases it’s also been argued, because of it—specifically The Flash, Justice League of America, and Wonder Woman titles. Obviously, there are numerous factors that contribute to a book’s sales success, though admittedly in a creative industry, the writer and the artist are always integral to a book’s success, either collectively or separately. However, contemporaneous factors such as the state of the comic book industry, changing consumer tastes, creative direction, and the economy should be considered as well. This applies when analyzing both an increase in circulation as well as a reduction. Also, as with any creative industry, sales and popularity do not always equate to quality. And finally, during any period, it’s also important to consider the then latest “hot” creative team being assigned. Opposite: Montage of Heck’s DC work.



The point: Though circulation numbers are absolute, the possible reasons behind them are not as easy to define. That said, some fans might be surprised with the reality of the before, during, and after circulation numbers of the books in question under Don. [Ed.: For the circulation numbers below I used the average total paid circulation as reported by the respective companies in postal records, which are recorded in the back of the respective issues listed: “10C Total Paid Circulation — Avg. no. of copies each issue preceding 12 months.”] In The Flash #285 letters column, a fan writes his disappointment that Alex Saviuk was not assigned the permanent artist on the book, though he points out, “I have nothing personal against Don Heck,” but that he prefers Alex’s interpretation. He concludes his criticism that the overall “constant shifting of artists” on the title is “a little disconcerting and distracts from the continuity of the stories.” Editor Len Wein responds in the “Flash-Grams” letters column of The Flash #285 (May 1980) that Alex was unavailable and that, “The next logical choice for Flash was Don Heck, who had been penciling the Scarlet Speedster’s exploits in the dollar-sized Adventure Comics. And frankly, we’re as happy as can be about the turn of affairs. Don is breathing new life into the Fastest Man Alive, and we think you’ll come to agree with us if you give him half a chance.”


Above: Wonder Woman #319, splash, DC Comics, Sept. 1984. Heck pencils and Rick Magyar inks. Right: “Flash Grams” letters page logo.






show a fr friend the Moon Knight story I was inking. g When I walked in, there was this older gentleman in a Member’s Only jacket, and wearing a ffllap cap or like a cabbie cap, speaking to the cashier, and I heard him introduce himself as “Don Heck.” Evidently he had an upcoming signing at the store and just wanted to visit it in advance. Anyway, the guy behind the counter answered whatever question he was asked and walked away, but JOHN COATES: How my jaw just dropped! I did you meet Don? remembered thinking, “I JIM FERN: First let me just heard about this tell you a quick story. guy, and he’s right here.” Early in my career, I was [laughter] I introduced at the DC Comics offffice myself, and since I had to pick up a job. I resome off the work I was member sitting outside going to ink, I showed some editor’s offffice him the pages and asked waiting for for my appointhim, “What should I ment. I overheard some IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PREVIEW, CLICKdo! THE LINK ?” I expl ained that editors talking about BELOW TO ORDER THIS BOOK! t h i s was m y ffiirst fful ull getting a ffiill-in artist ffor or inking job. I had done an issue off a title, and backgrounds but never Don Heck’s name came DON HECK: full inking. So, Don up. They were like, “Nah, A Work Of Art at it and says do this here, do that there, etc. It he’s not good with deadlines anymore siDON nceHECK his remains ex- one of thelooks legendary names in comics, considered an “artist’s artist,” re- ! was gr eat wife died, and he’s been depressed and suicidal.” I spected by peers, and beloved by fans as the conever really thought off it again. creator of IRON MAN, HAWKEYE, A and day BLACKor so later, out off desperation because I still WIDOW, and key artist on THE AVENGERS. was choking on what to do, I looked him up in the Fast forward a few months later whenAlong I wawith s wSTAN orkLEE, ingJACK KIRBY, and STEVE phon book, and sure enough, “Don Heck” was in the for Marvel. I was visiting my local comicDITKO, shop towas an integral player Heck in e “The Marvel Age of Comics”, and a top-tier 1970s DC phone book! [laughter]] At the time it was surreal ffor or Comics artist. He finally gets his due in this heavily illustrated, full-color hardcover biography, m e t h at t h e ar t i s t I adm i r ed act ual l y l i ved l i ke n or mal Opposite Top: which features meticulously researched and peopl e career, and was in the phone book. Anyway, I called 1970s photo of Don Heck at his drawing table.chronicled information on Don’s 40-year with personal recollections from surviving him, anfamily, d he hesitantly offffered ffor or me to come over to long-time friends, and industry legends, and rare Above Inset: h i s pl ace s o h e coul d gi ve m e s om e pointers. He said interviews with Heck himself. It also features an Jim Fern. unbiased analysis of sales on Don’s DC Comics that he didn’t have much time to spe pen nd ffor o me, or titles, an extensive art gallery (including published, unpublished, and pencil artwork), a Foreword Above: by STAN LEE, and an Afterword BEAU an SMITH. Written by at JOHN COATES. mbyaybe hour . Th hour be becam e twelve years of Don and friends from one of the monthly meetings on Long friendsfull-color hip. p hardcover) $39.95 (192-page Island called the “Berndt T To oast Gang.” This was a group of

One off Don Do ’s closest ffrriends was fellow artist Jim Fern. Jim was more than enthusiastic to discuss Don and their friendship in an interview conducted on May 16, 2012.

comic strip artists, comic book artists, and illustrators who met monthly fo f r lunch, drinks, and an occasional tall tale. From left to right: Don Heck; Al Scaduto, who drew the They ’ll Do It Every Time newspaper strip; Creig Flessel, Golden Age DC Comics artist; and an unidentified artist.

(Digital Edition) $11.95 ISBN: 9781605490588

COATES: What year was this? FERN: 1983.