This western cover (along with the image directly below) is indicative of the more lurid graphic scenes comic books offered during the pre-Code era. Death Valley # 2, December 1953.
Heck didn't get the opportunity to pencil Atlas' ongoing westerns (Kid Colt Outlaw, Two Gun Kid, Outlaw Kid, Rawhide Kid, Wyatt Earp, etc.) since Lee already had a stable of regulars assigned to those titles. However, his talents were regularly employed to great effect on the back-up tales scattered throughout the line. One exception was The Kid from Dodge City, which was unfortunately cancelled after only two issues, a victim of company wide cutbacks. While Heck's art was not as detailed or authentic as contemporary John Severin's, his cowboy tales showcased an obvious enthusiasm for period pieces, as exemplified by the Gary Cooper-styled protagonists and the diverse supporting characters he depicted.
Heck's sketchy line was perfectly suited to the gritty atmosphere that exemplified western fare. His characters, clothing and settings echoed (and were no doubt inspired by) the movies he watched as a child and adult. "The Day of the Gun Duel!," Gunsmoke Western # 41, June 1957.
Heck excelled on the one-shot title Police Badge # 479 (September 1955). He drew two stories starring a rookie cop, sinking his teeth into an exciting strip that featured dynamic layouts, attractive pencils and atmospheric inks. I have no doubt that Heck would have produced an excellent ongoing feature had this comic continued.
Heck gives the protagonist a mixture of beauty and vulnerability. "Incident in the Rain!," Love Romances # 102, November 1962. Heck: "I couldn't draw girls at all in the beginning - that was my worst feature, and me a fan of Caniff's! I decided I'd better start learning."
Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts from their introduction in Tales of Suspense # 45, September 1963. Stan Lee plot; Robert Bernstein script; Heck art; Sam Rosen lettering.
A special feature page from Tales of Suspense # 55, July 1964. Lee script; Heck art; Sam Rosen lettering.
Upon his return to Marvel, John Romita's first job was inking Heck's pencils on The Avengers. Heck had assisted Romita on a few romance jobs at DC, and both were noted for drawing attractive women. Stan Lee script; Morrie Kuramoto lettering, The Avengers # 23, December 1965.
While Heck didn't particularly enjoy working on a team book (or superheroes, for that matter), many of the early Avengers stories focused on a core group consisting of Captain
Concurrent with his mid-1960s Marvel work Heck freelanced for Western Publishing/Gold Key on an array of popular TV adaptations: The Man from Uncle, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. "The Ten Little UNCLE's Affair," Dick Wood script, Mike Esposito inks, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. # 5, March 1966.
In the mid-to-late 1960s Heck was rarely given the opportunity to ink his own pencils and his work suffered accordingly. On occasion he was paired with a compatible inker, such as veteran artist Syd Shores. "The Junk-Heap Juggernauts!," Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders # 13, April 1969.
Master draftsman John Buscema was both a friend and an admirer of Heck's art. They only collaborated on a handful of stories, but Heck's delineation on this page suggests (at least to me!) that they should have been paired together more often. "A Time to Die!,"; Stan Lee script; Sam Rosen lettering, Tower of Shadows # 1, September 1969.
With the superhero line showing signs of weakness publisher Martin Goodman decided to revisit several once-popular genres, including romance (Love Romances was cancelled in 1963). My Love and Our Love Story debuted on alternate months and it was only natural for Heck, often praised by fans and professionals for depicting stunning women, to contribute his artistic skills to both titles. The above splash teams him with another noted romance artist, John Romita. "Why Did I Lose You, My Love?," Stan Lee story; Heck pencils; Romita inks, Sam Rosen letters, Our Love Story # 1, October 1969.
Marvel also initiated two mystery-oriented comics in the spring/summer of 1969, Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness, where Heck was again put to good use. The above page underscores the artists instinctive understanding of where the "camera" should be placed. This story also profits from Heck inking his pencils, an occurrence that was rare in this period. "Evil is A Baaaad Scene!!," Allyn Brodsky script; Sam Rosen lettering, Tower of Shadows # 4, March 1970.
When given the opportunity to draw more realistic scenes and settings Heck stretched his muscles. This atmospheric page includes an impressive point of view shot in panel five. "Kiss of Death," The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love # 3, February 1972, Heck pencils and inks; Jack Oleck script; Ben Oda lettering.
Heck's sharp storytelling and fluid inks enliven this "Batgirl" page. "The Deadly Go-Between!," Detective Comics # 416, October 1971. Heck pencils and inks. Frank Robbins script; John Costanza lettering.
Back at Marvel in the mid-1970s Heck penciled a few superior jobs, including stories for Giant-Size Dracula and Giant-Size Defenders. As the decade wore on, though, both Heck's assignments and inkers were wanting and his work fell out of favor. Heck was often the guy editors summoned when deadlines loomed; assured that he would get the work done on time. Being a professional he always came through, but the finished product was usually not on the level fans expected, and he - not the editors - would get the blame.
Author Steve Gerber praised Heck for his storytelling on "Too Cold A Night for Dying!" in Giant-Size Defenders # 4, April 1975. Vince Colletta inks; Dave Hunt lettering.
Disappointed with the treatment he received at Marvel Heck returned to DC in 1977, remaining with the company until 1988. There he had runs on Wonder Woman, The Flash, Steel, the Indestructible Man and Justice League of America. Some of the DC editors were more accommodating to Heck, either providing sympathetic inkers or granting him the chance to do the complete job. The results were often superior.
Murray: So you maintain your edge by drawing, no matter what.
Don Heck; A Work of Art by John Coates is an essential look at the artist's work and was an invaluable resource tool in reworking this article. It can be purchased from TwoMorrows or at Amazon:
To see a fine selection of Heck's Comic Media work (and view full issues of comic books in the public domain) go here:
To share your thoughts and art on Don Heck join the Don Heck Appreciation Page