Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.17: Russ Heath

No.17: Russ Heath

Russ Heath was perhaps the great anomaly in American comics – a virtuoso, craftsman artist beloved by fandom and his peers, but never really mentioned in the same breath as more hallowed names such as Eisner, Fine, Schomburg, Kirby, Frazetta, Adams, Wrightson or Miller. This despite one of the cleanest lines in comics, his versatility and attention to detail. And the fact that his work was, from the mid-1950s onwards, breathtakingly good. Words: Andrew Colman…

photo courtesy of Greg Preston

Raised in New Jersey, Heath, after a brief spell in the army, managed to get a position at Timely Comics (Marvel Comics’ 1940s iteration) at the tail end of the company’s hero – dominated, Golden Age period. It was at this juncture that super-hero titles began their across the board decline, with other genres taking over – initially western and romance comics. Having been influenced by western artists in the first place, Heath was assigned to illustrate stories featuring classic characters like Two Gun Kid and Kid Colt. By the 1950s, other genres started to dominate the marketplace, chiefly horror, crime and science fiction. Heath became far busier during the pre-code era of the medium, with his publisher, now called Atlas, one of the pre-eminent players.

It was here that his style began to evolve in earnest, his work on earlier Atlas books such as Marvel Boy (one of his rare super-hero efforts) and Venus leading to art assignments on anthology horror titles such as Menace, Mystic, Marvel Tales, Spellbound, Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery. Along with Bill Everett and Joe Maneely, Heath’s work bequeathed Atlas’s signature look, his already fine lines taking on a photo real edge – while his equally masterful colleagues verged towards Ingels- esque grotesquery, Heath’s focus remained on clarity, detail and movement. He could provide busy covers but usually opted for simplicity and dynamism, especially in his work for Atlas’s burgeoning war line, the genre for which he is best remembered.

Apart from a few war books for EC, Heath’s association with the genre had begun at Atlas, but became synonymous with the artist when he arrived at DC Comics in the mid-1950s, working on what would later be known as the “Big 5” war books – Our Army at War, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories, Our Fighting Forces and All-American Men of War. Despite working on almost as many DC war stories throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s as Joe Kubert, Heath was generally considered to be the junior partner of the two, his colleague thought of as the visionary who breathed characterisation into DC’s best known war property, Sgt. Rock, along with the almost as significant Enemy Ace. This despite Kubert’s acknowledgment of Heath’s genius and superiority when it came to authenticity in depiction of war. Heath would often purchase military regalia or build scale models to assist his work, becoming the guide for all budding war artists to follow.

Nevertheless, it was his brilliant art that of course stole the show – the cross hatching, duotone, close-ups and hugely influential use of shadows (Neal Adams and Mike Mignola would no doubt consider him an influence) that he perfected during his tenure at Atlas and especially DC – nobody delineated facial expression like Heath, his fluid, painstakingly-rendered work making him as key a war artist as anyone.

And yet his profile as an artist was never as large as it might have been, his efforts infrequently namechecked by later pencillers. His fans of course knew how great and significant an artist he was, his regular presence and accessibility at conventions maintaining his relationship with them. In later years, when the acrimony over Roy Lichtenstein swiping his work for his paintings would boil over (despite the “Whaam” painting borrowing the panel in question from Irv Novick!) Heath was always philosophical and never embittered.

So why isn’t Russ Heath viewed as a superstar artist on a par with those aforementioned legends? To be fair those artists either were more historically pivotal or arrived during a later, more developed era for fandom. Heath was innovative while his style evolved, but the answer to that conundrum is that he never really worked on super-hero comics. His first standout work coincided with the unregulated oddity that was the Atom Age, and although his time at DC encompassed the company’s return to spandex super beings, he was either never offered any projects in that department, (unlike Kubert, who worked on Hawkman) or rejected them. Surprising given the often mediocre work gracing so many of DC’s flagship books in the 1960s. And in the second half of the 60s Heath also got work moonlighting on the satirical comic strip Little Annie Fanny, a marker that saw him gradually move away from the mainstream in his later years.

Either way, he will continue to retain his place in fandom due to the timeless and consistent excellence of his work, his long career as an artist a link to the classic era of comics.

 

Here’s links through to the other entries in our 101 Greatest so far as well

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.18: Bill Sienkiewicz

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.19: Jack Cole

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.20: Bernie Krigstein

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.21: Graham Ingels

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.22: Al Williamson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.23: Barry Windsor-Smith

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.24: Alex Ross

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.25: John Byrne

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.26: Mike Mignola

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.27: Basil Wolverton

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.28: Howard Chaykin

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.29: Moebius

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.30: Dave Gibbons

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.31: Creig Flessel

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.32: Milt Caniff

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.34: Burne Hogarth

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.35: LB Cole

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.37: Bill Everett

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.38: Robert Crumb

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.39: Mac Raboy

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.41: Jim Starlin

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.42: Mike Zeck

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.43: Adam Hughes

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.44: Daniel Clowes

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.45: Gene Colan

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.46: George Perez

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.47: Michael William Kaluta

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.48: Cary Nord

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.49: Frank Quitely

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.50: Mike Ploog

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.51: Johnny Craig

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.52: Darwyn Cooke

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.53: Steve Dillon

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.54: Gil Kane

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.55: Michael Zulli

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.56: John Romita

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.57: Joe Maneely

 

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.58: Marshall Rogers

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.59: John Severin

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.60: Alex Toth

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.61: Brian Bolland

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.62: David Mazzuchelli

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.63 Reed Crandall

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.64 Harry Anderson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.65 Nick Cardy

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.66 Matt Wagner

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.67 Bryan Hitch

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.68 Shawn Martinbrough

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.69 Al Feldstein

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.70 Nestor Redondo

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.71 Tarpe Mills

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.72 Eduardo Risso

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.73 JH Williams III

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.74 Irv Novick

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.75 Dan Zolnerowich

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.76 Gilbert Shelton

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.77 Tommy Lee Edwards

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.78: Sean Phillips

 

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.79: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.80: Dan DeCarlo

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.81: Marie Severin

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.82: John Paul Leon

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.83: Jim Lee

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.84: Denys Cowan

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.85: Ross Andru

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.86: Paul Gustavson

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.87: George Evans

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.88: Michael Golden

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.89: Matt Baker

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.90: Todd McFarlane

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.91: Fiona Staples

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.92: Carl Barks

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.93: Carmine Infantino

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.94: Alan Davis

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.95: CC Beck

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.96: Syd Shores

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.97: Bob Fujitani

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.98: Tim Sale

Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.99: Jim Aparo

https://tripwiremagazine.co.uk/headlines/tripwires-101-greatest-comic-artists-of-all-time-no-100/

https://tripwiremagazine.co.uk/headlines/tripwires-101-greatest-comic-artists-of-all-time-no-101/

 

The post Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.17: Russ Heath appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.

No.17: Russ Heath Russ Heath was perhaps the great anomaly in American comics – a virtuoso, craftsman artist beloved by fandom and his peers, but never really mentioned in the same breath as more hallowed names such as Eisner, Fine, Schomburg, Kirby, Frazetta, Adams, Wrightson or Miller. This despite one of the cleanest lines in
The post Tripwire’s 101 Greatest Comic Artists Of All Time: No.17: Russ Heath appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.Read MoreTRIPWIRE MAGAZINE

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