By Beau Smith
This episode of Busted Knuckles is dedicated to the undying memory of Don Heck.
A time machine. Don’t ya wish ya had one? Well, in some ways ya do, ya just don’t know it.
Granted, the time machine I’m talkin’ about won’t help ya go back in time and get ya lucky with that pretty cheerleader in high school. The time machine I’m talkin’ about will make ya feel good. It’ll make ya feel like a carefree kid on a sunny summer afternoon.
That time machine is simply this – comic books from your childhood.
The other day I was at a local comic book shop checkin’ stuff out. As I was I was lookin’ over all the new releases I started thinkin’ about when I was in grade school and how I used to really look forward to huntin’ down comics that I hadn’t read yet. I’d go to the corner drug store, the supermarket and sometimes me and my best buddy, Randy Watts, would walk a couple of miles to Nick’s News, a newsstand that was all way uptown. Most of those trips were saved for Saturdays or summer vacation days. The long walk was always worth it because Nick’s News always had a wide selection of comics, DC Comics, Dell, Archie and my big favorite of the time – Marvel Comics.
I was one of those kids that felt Marvel Comics of the mid to late 60s were for cooler kids. They spoke to me of things that I felt and were more in touch with the pop culture that I was so apart of. To read Marvel Comics and “get em” was the cool thing to be. I felt I was the coolest kid on the block because I knew that Stan Lee was writin’ comics for me.
Stan had a great way of makin’ ya feel like you were a part of something that was hip and on the edge of all that was cool. Hell, college kids read Marvel Comics. I just had to be a part of that kinda crowd. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just read Marvel Comics and shun the rest. I had a peckin’ order. I’d buy any Marvel Comic first. Then if there were no Marvel, then DC Comics were next. After that Charlton, Gold Key, Archie and all the rest. Now and then I’d really strike gold and find some Tower Comics. Those were ultra finds for me. They were as good as Marvel Comics and had some of the best art in all comics doin’ em’. Wally Wood, Gil Kane and Steve Ditko? guys that also drew Marvel Comics!
Getting’ back to me in the comic shop.
As I reflected to days of my youth I came across Marvel Comics’ Essential Avengers Volume 2. The phone book sized volume collected Avengers #25 through Avengers #46, plus Avengers Annual #1. Best part was that most of these issues had art by my favorite artist of all time – Don Heck.
Every time I see Don Heck’s art I am transformed into a skinny 10-year-old kid on a warm summer day. I see Don Heck art and once again I’m drinkin’ a big bottle of RC Cola and eatin’ a moon pie. Once again I’ve got a head full of hair and a big ol’ smile on my face.
I smiled and snatched that book from the rack and bought it. Yes it’s true? I still have every comic I’ve ever bought, including all the issues that this book contained, but this way I could read em’ again without diggin’ into the vault at the ranch.
It’s so hard to detail the rush I get when I look over the adventures captured in this book. Even though the color ain’t there it still gives me chills to see that great brush stroke of Don Heck drawin’ Hawkeye, The Wasp and Captain America. With or without their masks, Heck made every character look like a movie star. Don was a master at story telling and drawin’ fast paced action. He filled every panel with amazing detail and spotted his blacks in the same vein as such greats as Alex Toth and Milton Caniff.
That night I read through this book as I lay in bed. I was so stoked I found it hard to sleep. THIS was what lovin’ comics was all about. Here it was some 40 years later and I still got a huge kick out of these stories, as much if not more than I did when I was 10 years old. Readin’ these stories always puts me in an instant good mood.
I was lucky enough to get to be friends with Don Heck in the 1980s. We would always talk on the phone a couple of times a month right up until his death. I loved hearin’ Don’s stories about workin’ for Marvel in the 60s. I always hung on his every word. He gave me such a great insight to how the stories I loved so much came to be. Don was always generous with his friendship and his time. Every Christmas card would come with a sketch on it. Don was even kind enough to give me some of his original art and his layouts for some of the comics that he had done. A finer gentleman I’ll never know.
I wish that Don got the credit that he deserved. His name should be added as one of the foundation fathers of Marvel Comics. When folks sing songs of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko they should also add Don Heck to the list of greats automatically touted as legends and icons.
To this day, Avengers #32 and Avengers #33 stand as two of the greatest comic book stories ever written and drawn. It was story line that dealt with racism, and it still stands tall today. Some of Stan and Don’s finest work. These issues are always two that I suggest to folks when they ask what are good comics to read. I think if you hunt these issues down you’ll feel the same.
I hope that there are comics from your childhood that you can re-read and go back in time. I’d love to think that you share some of these feelings and memories that I do when it comes to comics. I hope that right now there are kids reading an issue of Spider-Man, Avengers, Superman? whatever? and will have to same warm feelings that I do when they’re as long in the tooth as me.
I hope that you have a time machine in your collection of comics that you can read and fly to a time when things were sunny, when the RC Cola was cold and still in a 16 ounce bottle, when the moon pies tasted sweeter and when you still had a full head of hair.
I wish the best comic book memories for you, amigo.
I wish the best to Stan Lee.
I wish the very best to Don Heck as he now draws comics in heaven. I miss you, Don and still think of you every time I open a comic book.
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