Under Appreciated Comic Book Artists

What if I told you the artist that co-created the following characters:

Black Widow
Hawkeye
Mantis
Wonder Man
Sunfire
The Swordsman
The Mandarin
Crimson Dynamo
Titanium Man
Immortus
The Collector
Count Neferia
Mr. Hyde
Cobra
Power Man (would later become Goliath, then Atlas)
Living Laser
The Porcupine
Firebrand
The Living Pharaoh/The Living Monolith
The Rainbow Raider
Nubia
Happy Hogan
Pepper Potts
Alex Summers (would become Havok)
Lorna Dane (would become Polaris)
Dr. Bill Foster (would become Black Goliath)
Captain George Stacy

…is perpetually viewed as a lesser creator?

Don HeckDon Heck doesn’t get the respect he deserves. People often compare Heck to Kirby, Ditko and other creators that were working at Marvel during the 1960s and I think that’s really unfair. I get people look at their respective art/storytelling and prefer Kirby, Ditko, etc.. to Heck and find him the lesser of the bunch.

My argument is regarding his ability to co-create popular, long lasting characters. Many creators have tried to do this, be it for Marvel, DC, or somewhere else. Most attempts fail at reaching the level of success that any of the above list of characters. It’s really, really hard to come up with a character that other writers want to use in shared universe, that in the hands of other creators are entertaining enough that readers will be satisfied enough with the comic they purchased and buy the next one. It’s not like you can tick off a series of boxes in a ‘create a popular character’ manual and get guaranteed success. Don Heck came up with a bunch of those characters, collaborating with a variety of writers and did it for damn near 20 years.

I think if you were to look at his accomplishments and instead of comparing him against Kirby and Ditko, and instead compare them against everybody else who worked in the comic industry from the late 1930s to today, you’ll find that there are only a tiny handful of creators that have done more in that regard than Don Heck has. Many who’ve done less get a more respect than Don Heck does and I’m not saying they don’t deserve their respect, I’m just saying Don Heck gets a lot less than he deserves. Heck gets compared to Kirby and Ditko and he is the only artist that gets compared that way. Nobody looks at say, Jim Starlin or Walt Simonson and decides they are lesser creators because they weren’t Jack Kirby. Nor should anybody do that and they shouldn’t also do that to Don Heck.

Iron CrossAlso, please note that list above is only a partial list of characters Don Heck created. Earlier today I was researching who created a character named Iron Cross. The character made its debut in Invaders #35, but wikipedia said he appeared in issue #36. Checking on Grand Comics Database and reading the actual comic made it clear the character first appeared in #35. Wikipedia also says Frank Robbins was his co-creator despite not having drawn either comic. Don Heck was the artist who drew the first appearance of Iron Cross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I reached out the writer/editor of the comic and co-creator of Iron Cross, Roy Thomas and asked him who co-created Iron Cross with him. Below is his response to my e-mail (reprinted with permission):

Hi Jamie —

The artist who designed and first drew Iron Cross was Don Heck, fitting since he was also the first story-drawing Iron Man artist. Much of THE INVADERS #35 is taken from the abortive LIBERTY LEGION #1 that was prepared but then never published as a stand-alone comic; I had Alan Kupperberg add the sequence at the start of the issue, which of course doesn’t feature Iron Cross.

Thanks for the kind words,
Roy

So add Iron Cross to that list of characters that Don Heck co-created. I recognize that the character is not very well known or popular compared to the list of characters above, but he has very occasionally been used by other creators since his creation. The last appearance (outside of reprints) that I could find was a 2011 mini series called Invaders Now! done by Alex Ross, Christos Gage, Caio Reis, Vinicius Andrade and Simon Bowland. A new version of the character was created by James Robinson and Steve Pugh for a 2014 New Invaders series.

Something that’s a part of the Eisner Awards that I really like is the Bill Finger Award. It’s for comic book writers who were under appreciated and is given to a deceased and living creator every year. I wish there was a similar award for under appreciated artists. Personally I think it ought to be named after Harry G. Peter, who we have proof co-created Wonder Woman but is not officially recognized as such. All American editors at that time really didn’t like Harry’s work and didn’t want him drawing the title and only got the job at the insistence of Wonder Woman’s co-creator William Moulton Marston. Among the artists I think should be considered for such an award is Bob Brown, Dick Ayers, Paul Ryan, Alan Kupperberg and Don Heck.

* Image of Don Heck comes from League of Comic Geeks.

San Diego Comic Con 2016

Joker Trump

I went to San Diego Comic Con again and this year things went a little differently for me.

First, I got a direct non-stop flight from Toronto to San Diego, which was nice because normally I have at least 1 layover ever when I fly there. On the flight back I saw quite a few comic peeps I recognized. The flight was also significantly cheaper than what I normally pay.

I landed in San Diego on Tuesday and got around to do some things in San Diego before the con, like go to the Coronado Beach. The sand looked like gold and I saw small crabs in the barnacles. I also saw the hotel that was in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. I’m told it’s been used in a lot of TV shows and movies.

Normally I land in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, go straight to my hotel, check and get lunch, unpack, relax for a bit, then head down to the convention to get my badge. All of this makes for a really long day, so coming in Tuesday made it much easier on me. The only problem is needing to find a Hotel for Tuesday only and having to pack up and leave on Wednesday to your comic con hotel. As I’ve learned a couple of years ago, even if you get the same hotel the staff will have a different room for you for the convention days and you’ll have to move to that room.

For the con itself what was different was that I didn’t spend that much time on the exhibit floor. There were days where I didn’t hit the exhibit floor at all. I didn’t go there on Thursday or Saturday. I was only on there for a bit on Friday and Sunday towards the very end. Normally I make it a point to walk every isle and see everything. This year I felt fine skipping about a 3rd of the exhibit floor.

In previous years in the non comic area’s you’d sometimes find booths with a couple long boxes of comics or trades. Often it would be a mix of odd stuff that they’re just trying to get rid of and you’d get a decent deal. The last couple of years I haven’t seen any comics at all in that area, so I skipped it. The publishers (big and small) and back issue dealers are primarily in Hall B & C then you find artists alley, some artists collective booths and original art dealers in Hall’s F.

I discovered some booths I normally shop at either had smaller spaces or reduced/changed what they had brought. Bud Plants booth was half of what it normally is. There were a couple of underground dealers that didn’t have much in the way of old underground collections like they normally did. I also noticed Mile High didn’t bring any GNs and was only selling back issues, which was a switch. As a result I bought less than I normally do there.

I don’t know how the publishers are doing when it comes to selling their books but I haven’t heard any complaints. When I typically walk by their booths I see lots of people in them. I did find it a little odd that the Image Comics booth didn’t have any Savage Dragon trades there. Considering Erik Larsen was an Image founder you’d think they’d bring something. It’s pretty sad when the publisher you help create decides to abandon you at the biggest show of the year.

The moment the con announced the show was closing in a half hour all the dealers started taking down their “wall” comics and packing up. I didn’t talk to many dealers about how the show went, but when dealers start packing up early (or at least as early as they’re allowed), that’s almost always a sign it was a bad show and they just want to cut their losses and get out of there ASAP.

I know dealers are increasingly unhappy with the con because they feel back issue buyers can’t get into the con because tickets sell out so quickly. I have no doubt that’s true, but I think there’s more to it. I think there are less people buying back issues than before. Those that do want a good deal (EG: below guide) and normally dealers that exhibit at San Diego can’t give them that deal due to the high costs of being there. Discounts don’t always pay for themselves with volume sadly.

I also suspect a lot back issue buyers are older and they don’t like the difficulty of getting tickets, a hotel room and the large crowds. Plus all that is really expensive. It’s much cheaper and more convenient for them to buy online and/or go to a closer, quieter convention. I’m wondering what a traditional comic convention might look like without any back issue dealers and I might actually see that within my lifetime.

The slower sales may also have something to do with the smaller crowds this year. It’s been said that San Diego’s switch to using badges with RFID chips made it harder for people to pass (or counterfeit) badges and get in. The less crowded exhibit floor was nicer for the attendee’s that were there. I suspect another reason the floor was less crowded was due to people playing Pokemon Go around the con. Even on Wednesday night I saw numerous people walking around in circles looking at their phones. One professional I talked during the day to told me his daughter was out playing Pokemon Go at that moment.

During my TCAF post I mentioned I was unhappy with my camera and was getting a new one. I got a Canon Powershot SX710 HS and am quite happy with it. There camera does not get the best rating on the various review websites, but it worked well for my purposes. I’m learning to not just blindly follow reviews & ratings and instead focus on what the pro’s and cons of the camera and applying that to what I’m using it for. I don’t think those reviewers have taking pictures at comic conventions and darkly lit award ceremonies in mind when doing their reviews.

I am especially happy with how using the sport scene worked on the Eisner Award pictures. I took a whole bunch of pictures in that mode (over 2,000 of them) but that allowed me to get better pics than usual. I’m typically in the pro seats behind the tables, which is quite a ways away from the stage. My camera ‘s 30X zoom was used to the fullest to get pics of people on stage and less than that was used on the big screens showing what’s happening on the stage.

Surprisingly I did not see any celebrities outside of the Eisner Awards. Normally San Diego is crawling with so many celebrities I end up seeing somebody somewhere even though I only focus on comics programming. For example, one year during a Ted Naifeh panel the back door opens up and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, etc..) walks out. He apparently just wanted to go outside for a smoke. He came back in after the panel was done and was giving an interview to a camera crew as the audience was leaving the room. Of course it’s entirely possible I did see one, but didn’t know it was a celebrity.

I was quite happy to be able to audio record some panels with creators whom I’ve never met in real life before like Christopher J Priest, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron. I was only turned down by one creator but I knew in advance that was a strong possibility. I’m not bothered by it as I was able to record him at at another convention recently. The only disappointing situation I had was a creator who wouldn’t let you take a picture of him unless you bought a $15 print/sketch.

The panels I recorded can be found on the audio page of my other website. Also at that link is the Will Eisner Awards recording and pictures to both the convention and Eisner Awards. I should warn you that there is a bit of swearing of almost every panel. Off the top of my head the YA? Why Not? panel does not have swearing, but the rest I can’t vouch for. The saddest panel was the Darywn Cooke tribute, while you won’t hear this on audio I can tell you from being there that several panelists were in tears at the end. What’s also sad was that there was no tribute panel for Paul Ryan, who worked in the comics industry since the 1980s. I’m hoping a convention that’s local to where he used to live puts something on for him.

As always with San Diego there usually multiple panels I wanted to be at and record happening at the same time. I shockingly did not record a single panel that Mark Evanier was on.  The same goes for Paul Levitz except for a surprise appearance at the Fan vs Pro Comic Trivia challenge. I sometimes question the choices that I’ve made when it comes to which panels to cover, but in the end I’m very happy with all the panels I got. I just wish I had a 2nd person who could go to the panels I can’t be at and record them, despite the extra work that would bring.

The only panel I did not like that much was one about goal setting for creative people. I only came in part way through but it was clear to me that this was a rewording of a standard SMART goals course/lecture that almost everybody in business has to take at least once. The main difference was the presenter telling people to draw their goals instead of writing them down and an artist was demonstrating how to do so with large paper flip chart and markers.

There are official video recording of panels going on now. It’s something called Comic Con HQ but they are understandably only recording the panels with the widest commercial appeal thus far. Outside of the Will Eisner Awards which was live streamed online there is no overlapping between us that I know of. If they do decide to record everything I’ll have to decide if I want to keep recording or even if I can. Chances are they’ll want exclusive rights to the panels.

I also got to see and hang out with some friends which is always great, but there were many people whom I usually see that I missed this year or only saw very briefly / in passing. While that happens every year, it seemed more pronounced this year. I think I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to find and say Hi to people next year.

Of those that I did talk to Donald Trump’s name came up a lot when the conversion drifted outside of comics. Everybody was speaking about him in an “OMG how can anybody vote for this freaking lunatic?!?” type way. He was also the butt of many jokes when people were in front of a microphone.

I am very much looking forward to going back next year, where it’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. I learned that there are supposed to be extra panels on the two creators next year and that sounds great.