Thursday, January 17, 2008

in defence of Don Heck

I was reading the rather excellent website comics comics about the nature of craft and how it's tied to the influences peculiar to the time and place that an artist grew up in. The idea posited was that no modern artist can be , for example, Alex Toth, no matter how hard they try to emulate his style, because they didn't grow up subject to the same environmental influences. They can build on the techniques he used influenced by their own environmental influences. It's an interesting idea, and one with a great deal of validity but not what really got my attention. No what got my attention was this "Don Heck, long reviled as one of the worst hacks in the Marvel Bullpen, was a solid storyteller." The writer, Frank Santoro never commented on the "worst hack" label but offered up Heck as an example of a solid story teller who knew how to structure a page. Most comics fans my age(43) and younger mostly know Heck from his work on books like Wonder Woman back in the mid seventies. To be perfectly frank these books are not his best work and are not helped by the stories he was illustrating. It would probably be fair to say that by the seventies Heck was being sidelined as fill in artist and a man past his prime. A fate that befell many of his colleagues from the fifties and sixties much more quickly and was unfair to Heck as he was only in his 40's at the time. Heck was a strong, fluid artist who had not only a great grasp of storytelling but could produce a powerful cover image as well.
Avengers 36 cover

I had the good fortune to see much of Don Heck's Marvel work in reprint during the seventies thanks to Marvel UK reprint books and his Avengers was probably my first favourite book. His renditions of the Avengers gave a constant sense of the power of them. His Captain America was large and dominating, his Quicksilver all sleek lines and his Scarlet Witch could have bewitched my 9 year old self quite happily.

Heck's misfortune was to be a solid craftsman and storyteller in an age when fans were entering the business as professionals and readers were demanding whistles and bells over quality. It's suprising looking back at the seventies how many of the artists who entered comics then, Brunner, Wrightson, Kaluta, Windsor Smith and Ploog, to name but a few were better known for their illustration work or illustrational style. And if you look at what has reprinted from that time, it's interesting to note how much of it is the solid storytelling work of men like Heck, Kirby, Colan, Swan, Kubert and men of their generation. 30 Years from now will the big companies, if they still exist in the same form they do now, be reprinting people like MacFarlane in the same way?


Malathionman said...

I enjoyed comics back in the late 70's and early 80's. I could still buy an issue for less than a dollar. I didn't get in to The Avengers that much. I didn't care for the mix of heros. Didn't care for the Scarlet Witch/Vision thing.

Anonymous said...

I just want to thank you for coming to my Uncles defence. He was the best artist around. Yes my name is Keith Dettwiler and im Don Hecks me at ( ) .