Friday, August 24, 2018

The Late Great Russ Heath

Russ Heath, the legendary comic book artist know for his work on Western and war titles, died yesterday at the age of 91. The cause was cancer.

Russ Heath was born in New York City on September 29 1926. He developed an interest in art at an early age. His father having once been a cowboy, Mr. Heath was influenced by such Western artists as Will James and Charlie Russell. It was while he was still in high school that he began freelancing for the comic book industry during summers off from school. In his senior year of high school he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He served stateside for nine months. Afterwards he worked as a "gofer" at the advertising agency Benton & Bowles. Eventually he found a job as an artist at what would become Marvel Comics in 1947.

Russ Heath's first work for the company that would become Marvel appears to have been the Two-Gun Kid story "Gun-Smoke Over Vulture Valley" in Wild Western #4 November 1948. Russ Heath would spend the next several years at the company that would become Marvel, illustrating the adventures of such Western characters as Kid Colt, Rex Hart, and Reno Browne. In the late Forties he illustrated a story in Venus #11 November 1950 and stories in Marvel Boy #1 December 1950. In the early Fifties he did some work on Marvel's sci-fi/horror titles as well, including Suspense, Adventures into Terror, and Journey into Unknown Worlds. In 1951 he illustrated one story in Frontline Combat #1, July/August 1951 for E.C. Comics. He did his first work for DC Comics in 1954. It was in Our Army at War #23 June 1954.

For a time in the Fifties, Russ Heath's was divided between Marvel and DC, working on war titles at both companies. By 1955 he was working almost exclusively for DC Comics, working on such titles as Star Spangled War Stories, Our Army at War, All-American Men of War, and G.I. Combat. He continued to work on DC Comics' war titles into the Sixties. Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein used (some would say "ripped off") some of Russ Heath's panels from All-American Men of War #89, February 1962, for his paintings "Whaam!", "Bratatta", and "Blam". It was also during the Sixties that he illustrated two advertisements that would appear in comic books for years, both for toy soldier sets. One was for Roman soldiers and the other for Revolutionary War soldiers. He later served as one of Harvey Kurtzman's assistants on the Playboy comic strip "Little Annie Fanny".

Russ Heath continued to work on DC Comics' war titles throughout the Seventies. From the late Seventies to the Eighties he worked as a layout artist on such animated television series as Godzilla, The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour, and Blackstar. He worked as a model designer, character design supervisor, and character designer on such animated TV shows as G. I. Joe  and The Karate Kid. In the Eighties he worked at Marvel on such titles as The Punisher and G.I. Joe a Real American Hero. He also worked with writer Cary Bates on a short-lived Lone Ranger comic strip in the Eighties. The Nineties saw Russ Heath doing work for both Marvel and DC. He continued to do occasional work into the Naughts and Teens. His last work was on Marvel's The Immortal Iron First in 2008.

Russ Heath was an incredibly talented artist and his work on various Western and war titles is matched by only a few. He paid meticulous attention to details, so that when he drew anything from a six gun to a fighter jet it looked more realistic than it would coming from most artists. Adding to the realism of any panels drawn by Russ Heath was that he was a master of lighting. I don't think it is far-fetched to say that if Mr. Heath not become an artist, he could have been a successful photographer or cinematographer. He truly was one of the greatest comic book artists of his time.

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