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Sep 25, 2014

In the history of comic book art, Don Heck was one of the... most ordinary artists there ever was. That’s not me being disrespectful, just honest. He was a craftsman, but in an era when his counterparts were Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and Steranko—to name a few—Don Heck was pretty average.

JOHN COATES podcast excerpt: "Don Heck seemed to not know how much he was liked or maybe he just didn't care. That surprised me."

And for a guy present at the super-heated epicenter that was the founding of the Marvel Comics universe in the 1960s, one gets the distinct sense from John Coates’ new biography, Don Heck: A Work of Art, that the late Mr. Heck would have been just as happy—maybe even happier—drawing commercial illustrations rather than superheroes. I think it’s a credit to Coates, in fact, that we get so much evidence through actual Heck interviews during his career that could sum up the artist’s opinion of being present at Creation the way my grandmother often reacted to a variety of issues: Feh! Not Brand Feh! You say?


JOHN COATES podcast excerpt: "Don was someone who loved to draw. But I don't think he was into the Stan Lee hyperbole that made Marvel Comics in the 1960s. Flo Steinberg said he would come in, say, 'Here's my work,' ask for another script and leave. But I do think that he was passionate."

There is a certain measure of enthusiasm and color missing from Heck’s multiple career-spanning interviews that Coates reproduces here. It becomes all the more apparent when compared against commentary from his industry counterparts—who held Heck in far higher regard than he held the industry itself. Drawing the earliest comic books featuring such Marvel icons as Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, and my personal favorite, the original green and white Captain Marvel, was a job for him, nothing more. That said, Coates has done an admirable job of matching together Heck’s life in words and pictures and adding another crucial puzzle piece to the all-important history of Marvel Comics.

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