Don Heck .com


Don Heck was born on January 2, 1929 in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York City, New York. He studied art through correspondence courses, as well as at Woodrow Wilson Vocational High School (also in Queens) and soon-after at Brooklyn Community College. He became a comic book artist best known for co-creating the Marvel Comics character Iron Man, and for his long run penciling the Marvel superhero-team series The Avengers, during the 1960s "Marvel age" of comic books.

As a teen he had begun an impromptu education when a college friend recommended him for a job at Harvey Comics in 1949. At that time they were repurposing newspaper comic strip Photostats into comic-book form - including the work of Heck's idol, famed cartoonist Milton Caniff, whose art Heck's would later echo. (A co-worker in that same Harvey production department was future comics art notable Pete Morisi.)

In a year, Heck left Harvey, after taking his art samples to comic book companies chosen at random, and landing freelance assignments for Quality Comics, Hillman Comics, and Toby Press. Heck's first known credited work is on the horror comics Weird Terror, Horrific, Terrific, and Danger, and the violent Western series Death Valley, for publisher Comic Media beginning in 1952.

Publisher Allen Hardy was also a former co-worker at Harvey Comics, and for his publishing company U.S. Pictorial, circa 1955, Heck drew the one-shot Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, a TV tie-in comic (possibly a Heinz giveaway) based on the 1955-57 syndicated live-action kids' show of that name. Through his Harvey colleague Pete Morisi, Heck met Stan Lee, who was then editor-in-chief and art director of Timely Comics (and subsequently Atlas Comics), which were the two forerunners of Marvel Comics.

Heck became an Atlas staff artist on September 1, 1954, his first known work for that company being a six-page Korean War story called "The Commies Attack!" in Battlefront #29 (March 1955). He also drew Westerns, crime fiction, horror, and jungle stories. During a 1957 business retrenchment, when Atlas let go of most of its staff and freelancers, Heck worked for 18 months designing model airplanes.

But it wasn't very long before Atlas began revamping, starting in late 1958 with the arrival of legendary artist Jack Kirby, already a comics giant whose career then could also use a little revamping, and who threw himself into the anthological science fiction, supernatural mystery, and giant-monster stories of what would become known as "pre-superhero Marvel."

Soon Heck returned to the company, alongside other soon-to-be-famous names of Marvel Comics' 1960s emergence as a pop culture phenomenon, making his first splash with the cover of Tales of Suspense #1 (Jan. 1959) - one of the very few of that time not drawn by "King" Kirby.

In the years immediately preceding the arrival of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the other popular heroes of Marvel's ascendancy, Heck gave atmospheric rendering to numerous sci-fi jungle/prison-escape stories and other genres, Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish, to name two of the many pre-superhero comics for which he drew.

Others included Strange Worlds, World of Fantasy, and Journey into Mystery. Many of these stories were reprinted during the 1960s and 1970s. Heck, who was also known for drawing beautiful women, contributed to such Atlas/Marvel romance comics as Love Romances and My Own Romance.

Iron Man premiered in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) as a collaboration among several editor and story-plotters, including Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, story artist Heck, and Kirby, who provided the cover pencils and designed the first Iron Man armor.

"Kirby designed the costume," Heck recalled, "because he was doing the cover. The covers were always done first. But I created the look of the characters, like Tony Stark and his secretary Pepper Potts."

Tales Of Suspense 39.
(Click pic to enlarge.)

Copyright © 1963 Marvel Comics

Comics historian and former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier, investigating claims of Kirby's involvement in the creation of both Iron Man and Daredevil, interviewed Kirby and Heck on the subject, years before their deaths.

He concluded, “Kirby definitely did not do full breakdowns, as has been erroneously reported about ... the first 'Iron Man.' [In the early 1970s], Jack claimed to have laid out those stories, and I repeated his claim in print — though not before checking with Heck, who said, in effect, 'Oh, yeah. I remember that. Jack did the layouts.' We all later realized he was mistaken."

Evanier added, "Both also believed that Jack had contributed to the plots of those debut appearances - recollections that do not match those of Stan Lee. [Lieber did the script for the first Iron Man story from a plot that Lee gave him.] Also, in both cases, Jack had already drawn the covers of those issues and done some amount of design work. He came up with the initial look of Iron Man's armor."

Heck also presided over the first appearance of Hawkeye, Marvel's archer supreme, in Tales of Suspense #57 (Sept. 1964), and femme fatale Communist spy and the Black Widow, a future superheroine and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964).

He drew the feature through issue #46 (Oct. 1963), after which Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko introduced the familiar red-and-gold Iron Man armor and drew the feature for three issues. Heck returned with #50 - which introduced Iron Man's arch-foe, the Mandarin - and continued through #72 (Dec. 1965).

Concurrent with drawing Iron Man, Heck succeeded Kirby as penciler on The Avengers with issue #9 (Oct. 1964), the introduction of Wonder Man. Heck also inked his own pencils for many years.

However, when later adjusting to the assembly line "Marvel method" of doing comics during Marvel's large explosion of super-hero titles, he was finally assigned the help of an inker for the first time. He went on to become one of the most remembered artists of The Avengers in the mid-1960s. (Eventually, when his chores lessoned a bit, he returned to inking his own work in Avengers #32-37.)

Heck continued to be active in comics in later years, drawing DC titles including Justice League of America, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and other series for DC. He also penciled three issues of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu for Millennium Publications.

This great iron man of the comics art world passed away on February 23, 1995.

That's A Heck Of A Quote:

Roy Thomas: "Don was unlucky enough, I think, to be a non-superhero artist who, starting in the sixties, had to find his niche in a world dominated by superheroes. Fortunately, as he proved first with Iron Man and then with the Avengers, Don could rise to the occasion because he had real talent and a good grounding in the fundamentals. He amalgamated into his own style certain aspects of Jack Kirby's style, and carved out a place for himself as one of a handful of artists who were of real importance during the very early days of Marvel."

Jerry Ordway: "Don Heck was a truly under-appreciated artist. His Atlas work (pre-Marvel) was terrific, with a clean sharp style, and an ink line that wouldn't quit."

Stan Lee upon hearing of Heck's death: "Don Heck was more than a splendid artist. He was a gentleman and a friend - and a joy to work with. Is Don remembered? Only the other day, a fan stopped me at a Comic Con and asked, 'Hey, aren't you the guy who used to write Don Heck's Iron Man?'"

Jack C. Harris on the same occasion: "Back when I was a fan, Don Heck - with Wally Wood's inking - was the reason I began buying The Avengers from Marvel. No matter how many characters crowded a scene, Don's masterful layouts depicted power and excitement every time."

Tony Isabella: "If there were a Marvel Universe version of Mount Rushmore, he would be up there with Stan [Lee], Jack [Kirby], Steve [Ditko], and Dick [Ayers]. Yeah, I know, that's five heads, but comics have always been larger than life."


Marvel Comics

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