This post was inspired by a wonderful new Facebook site dedicated to Don Heck.
Here is an interview that Don Heck did for Comics Interview. At the end of the interview I also put up the bio that was published in Avengers Annual #1. It is referred to in this article. Surrounded by artists including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Don Heck often did not get the recognition and appreciation that he deserved. There is a scene in the Avengers movie when the group is standing together in a circle. Half the characters had their initial appearances drawn by Don Heck. Heck did the first Iron Man stories (Jack Kirby did the first cover) and he drew the first appearances of the Black Widow and Hawkeye.
Before you read the article, just look at the work he did as a penciller for Marvel. (I left out the inking.)
Adventure into Mystery 4
Amazing Adventures (I) 5
Amazing Adventures (II) 6 - 8
Amazing Fantasy Omnibus (HC) 1
The Amazing Spider-Man (I) 57 - 64, 66
The Amazing Spider-Man (II) 20
The Amazing Spider-Man Annual (I) 3
Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (HC) 2
Ant-Man and Wasp TPB: Small World 1
Astonishing 46, 50
Avengers 9 - 15, 17 - 40, 45, 108 - 112, 145 - 146, 157
Avengers Annual 1 - 2, 5
Battle 66, 68, 70
Battle Action 21, 24 - 25, 28
Black Goliath 4
Captain America Annual 10
Captain Marvel (I) 5 - 10, 16
Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders • 12 - 16
Chamber of Chills 3, 13, 17, 25
Chamber of Darkness 1 - 2
The Champions 1 - 2, 5
Creatures on the Loose 14 - 15, 17, 20, 23
Crypt of Shadows 12, 15, 17 - 18
Daredevil (I) 103 - 106, 118
Fantastic Firsts TPB 1
Fantasy Masterpieces (I) 1 - 8
Frontier Western 3
Ghost Rider (I) 22 - 25
The Ghost Rider (Western Hero) 2
Giant-Size Avengers (I) 4 - 5
Giant-Size Chillers (II) 2
Giant-Size Defenders 4 - 5
Giant-Size Dracula 2 - 4
Giant-Size Iron Man 1
Giant-Size Man-Thing 2 - 3
Giant-Size Spider-Man 2
Heroic Age Magazine 1
Invaders (I) 35, 38 1
Iron Man (I) 26 - 31, 33 - 37
Iron Man Annual (I) 1, 12
Jann of the Jungle 11
Journey into Mystery (I) 50, 53, 55 - 65, 67 - 68, 73 - 74, 76 - 77, 79 - 80, 82 - 86, 88, 98 - 100
Journey into Mystery (II) 14, 17 - 18
Journey into Unknown Worlds 55
Ka-Zar (I) 3
Ka-Zar (II) • Ka-Zar: Lord of the Hidden Jungle 2 - 5, 11
Kid Colt • Kid Colt Outlaw 91, 99 - 100, 103 - 105, 127 - 128, 135
The Kid from Dodge City 1 - 2
Love Romances 84 - 85, 93 - 95, 102 - 103
Marvel Feature (I) 1
Marvel Premiere 29 - 30
My Love (II) 4
My Own Romance 73
Mystery Tales 25, 30
Mystic 46, 55
Navy Combat 1 - 16, 19
Not Brand Echh 2
Our Love Story 25
Police Badge #479 issue #5
Rawhide Kid (I) 17, 27, 31, 54 - 55, 57, 68
Secret Warriors Special: Who's Your Daddy? 1
Spider-Man Comics Magazine 3 - 5
Spider-Man Magazine 2 - 3, 8 - 9
Spider-Man Magazine Winter 1994 1
Spidey Super Stories (TV) 2
Strange Tales (I) 67, 69, 71 - 83, 87 - 88, 90 - 92, 95 - 96, 98 - 101, 103, 105, 140, 145 - 148
Strange Tales Annual 1 - 2
Strange Worlds 2
Sub-Mariner (I) 64 - 68
Tales to Astonish (I) 2, 4 - 5, 7 - 17, 19, 21 - 25, 27, 30, 32 - 35, 37 - 43, 45 - 48, 54
Tales of Suspense (I) 1, 3, 6 - 13, 15 - 19, 22, 24, 26, 29 - 36, 38 - 39, 42, 44 - 46, 50 - 72
Tales of the Zombie • Zombie (I) 11
Teen-Age Romance 81 - 84
Thunderbolts (I) 39
Thunderbolts TPB: Marvel's Most Wanted 1
Tomb of Darkness 15 - 16, 19, 22
Tower of Shadows 2, 4, 8 - 9
Two-Gun Kid 45, 56, 58, 60, 81, 103
Two-Gun Western (II) • 2-Gun Western 10
X-Men (I) 38 - 42, 44 - 49, 52, 54 - 55, 64,
Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction 4
Western Kid (I) 3
Western Trails • Ringo Kid starring in Western Trails 2
World of Fantasy 17 - 19
World of Suspense 5
Wyatt Earp 29
The Comic Interview:
LOU MOUGIN: Let’s start out with the origin of Don Heck. In your bio piece in AVENGERS ANNUAL #1 you say that you became an artist when you first tried to draw Donald Duck.
DON HECK: Yes, when I was a kid that was the first one I started with. At least my aunt tells me that -- I must have been five or six or something like that.
LOU: I guess that’s when all of us start getting involved with cartoons and comics and all of that good stuff.
DON: Right, in other words, you’re quiet, your mother and father take you out somewhere and you grab a piece of paper and start scribbling.
LOU: Tell me a lithe something about yourself, who you ate, and what got you onto the road of becoming a comic-book artist.
DON: I always like strips. I used to go over to my grandfather’s on Sunday and they had the JOURNAL AMERICAN there. And all of a sudden, wow, you know, everybody’s in the kitchen back in those days -- and you’re in the other room and you have this whole thing of drawings in front of you. I guess I liked Milton Caitiff quit° a bit.
LOU: TERRY And THE PIRATES was quite a strip.
DON: Oh, it was fantastic!
LOU: The thing is!, people growing up right now, even people like me who started reading comics in the late 50s, early’ 60s, didn’t realize how good those things were back then. Not to mention being printed in larger sizes.
DON: Much more subtle colors. You would have to back to PRINCE VALIANT and that stuff. You had all these muted colors, which were beautiful. I have a collection of PRINCE VALIANT and STEVE CANYON from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
LOU: And of course back then they could afford to print them better, because it didn’t cost so much.
DON: It’s funny because they didn’t charge that much, either.
LOU: I guess that was a long time before inflation.
DON: And before everybody decided the super pay they were going to get and they were only going to give half the amount of effort.
LOU: Unfortunately, that’s the story from the ‘60s onwards. You say that a college friend, in the early 50s, got you into the business when he turned down an interview with a comics publisher because it wasn’t in his line of work?
DON: We had graduated school together, from what is now New York State Tech, I think. It is similar to a community college nowadays. It was the first one which was opened up in Brooklyn. We were the first class, we were the guinea pigs. Actually, Tom Dewey came to our graduation. He was actually still governor at the time. I guess he had lost the presidential election to ‘Duman so he went back to being governor. So I graduated with this guy and the first year I was out there wasn’t a lot of stuff available. I got a call from someone, I can’t remember who, but he knew I wanted to be a cartoonist, so I went for the interview.
LOU: Who was the interview with?
DON: Harvey Publications. I worked paste-up and that sort of stuff, you know.
LOU: Who actually; interviewed you?
DON: Leon Harvey interviewed me. It was a Saturday afternoon. I said to the guy, “I have a date tonight, it’s five o’clock in the evening, are you kidding or what?” I said, “It’s going to take me an hour to get there.” I was in Queens and they were in New York City. He said, “We’ll wait,” so I went in anyway.
LOU: You eventually ended up doing artwork for them?
DON: Yeah, I worked inside for two years. Then I decided that I was going to try and go freelance. I did all paste-up and stuff on the reprints at Harvey. I did work on TERRY AND THE PIRATES up until the end.
LOU: In 1952 or so, you started at . . .
DON: March 21 to be exact.
LOU: I guess that is a thing you tend to remember! You started at Comic Media, right?
DON:’ First, I worked two other places. In fact, the first day I went to go out, I called up and got three places to show my stuff. The first two places, I got jobs. I didn’t go to the third place, because I was afraid they’d give me a job, and then I’d have to have them all done at the same time. I did wind up with Comic Media and Allen Hardy. Allen had worked for Harvey also in circulation and then he left and decided to open up his own place. He called me up and I ended up doing covers and inside stuff. I even ended up doing the lettering on a couple of the first few books.
LOU: I remember your cover from HORRIFIC, which has a guy’s head with a bullet hole through it.
DON: Yeah, well, the was no real gore and stuff like that like it was at EC. In those cases, the writer writes it out and the artist tries to fulfill what the writer writes.
LOU: You did a character called Johnny Danger, a detective series.
DON: Something like that; it was so long ago. I think it was in DANGER COMICS or something like that. I did the lead character — you’re talking about something I did forty years ago. I could draw him, I remember what he looked like, but don’t ask me his name.
LOU: Who else did you freelance for?
DON: I worked for Toby, Quality, a few others.
LOU: What were working conditions like then, back in the 50s?
DON: Nothing spectacular. You went in, picked up your job, and then went home and worked on it. I did a job for Quality and the guy gave me the job and asked me what other stuff 1 had worked on. I told him, “This was my first job.” I looked at him and said, “Hello!” He gave me a decent price to do the work. (Laughter.)I didn’t hear from them again for about a year and he wanted me to work on BLACKHAWK. He called me and I said I was going to take a chance because, after all, it was a whole year before I got the second job. You can’t blame them, I was just a beginner.
LOU: Of course, the Wertham thing and the Senate investigations put a lot of companies out of business around 1955. In the industry, as it was back then, was there a lot of paranoia about what Wertham was doing, that you might lose your jobs?
DON: The outfit I was working for at the time was Comics Media, around 1954 they went out of business. There were other things happening at that time. A lot of companies were going into the 3-D comics and things like that. They eventually lost a lot of money. In those days, they had to have a very high percentage of sales in order to break even. Generally in the 60% range to break even, even though they weren’t paying all that great — but somebody was getting the money. You know, I don’t know who, I don’t know what the deal was back in those days.
LOU: You feel that the 3-D craze put a lot of them under?
DON: I think it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because so many other things were happening at the same time. As you say, they were blaming juvenile delinquency on comics, that sort of thing. Things haven’t changed much in forty years, now somebody else is doing it and blaming TV.
LOU: Maybe they could tell us what people like Ivan Boeskey were reading . . .
DON: I’d like to know because he made a lot of money. (Laughter.)
LOU: Marvel, or Atlas as it was known back then, was one of the companies that was still alive and kicking?
DON: Yeah, right, they were called Timely.
LOU: Why don’t you tell me about your early days at Marvel?
DON: Pete Morisi had gone up there to see Stan Lee and Pete had brought a book with him, on which he had done some work for Media. And Stan kept pointing at my stories, and he finally said„ “If you want Don Heck to come up here, why the hell don’t you tell me —he’s looking for work, too.” (Laughter.) Pete called me but I was gone for a few days. I finally went up to see Stan Lee and he went outside to look at my work and looked at two pages and he said, “1 know what the hell you can do for me, I’ve got a job for you.” And that was September 1, 1954.
LOU: Was it the same way for Marvel, pick up the job and then bring it back in the morning, that sort of thing?
DON: In most cases, yes, you would pick it up, take it home, work it up, and then take it in for Stan to look over and take another one home with you. Very casual, this was in the ‘50s. In April of 1957, that was when Marvel stopped giving out work. They were called Magazine Management at the time. They were cutting back and just going to use inventory, and almost all of the artists were let go, at that point.
LOU: Were you also let go?
DON: Yes, everyone - all of us were let go. I got a call a year later from Stan and he asked if I would be interested in doing more work. I called DC but couldn’t get any work and there weren’t many companies left. I went to a friend who kept saying, “Look if you ever have any time let me know and maybe I’ll have some work.” I called him and said, “Look, I have all the time in the world.” And I wound up doing model airplane plans and that sort of thing.
LOU: So you went back to work in 1958, which would have been after they got the thing straight with their distributors?
DON: When you vent in, then, Stan was in one little room back in the corner. It’s amazing when you go in there now, and see what they have against what they had, way back then. I went in to the Christmas party a few years back and I looked around and I said, “I don’t know anybody.” Back in those days there were only four or five guys, Kirby, Dick Ayers, Ditko and myself.
LOU: What type of memories do you have of working with those guys?
DON: Well, Jack ‘,was always in there, because he lived near there. Jack was so proficient it was incredible. In fact, I went in there a couple of times, and went to the same place to pick up the same paper he was using, because it wound up being good paper and it was reasonable. I’d go in there and he’d be sitting there, with his little drawing table and the cigar smoke. The room was filled with pocket books, all science-fiction stuff. He was a very avid reader. He was unbelievable, he would turn out five, six pages a day. I was struggling and he was knocking this stuff out like it was going out of style. He was a very nice guy, very pleasant.
LOU: What about Steve Ditko, did you ever get to know him?
DON: I know of him, we met a few times, but not like I got to know Kirby. Dick Ayers I got to know a little bit better.
LOU: After you got back on track you did a zillion fantasy and western stories.
DON: That was what was available.
LOU: I remember one story about dogs taking over the world. (Laughter.)
DON: One time, I was looking at a job that was upside-down on a desk and I thought, “Gee, that doesn’t look too bad.” When I turned around to get a better look at it, I realized it was one of mine. In those days, you’d do one job, forget about it, and move on to the next one. It wasn’t a standard character. When you did a regular character then you were aware of who was doing it.
LOU: You did a character for one of the jungle books and, when I saw it, he looked an awful lot like Tony Stark, all the way down to the moustache.
DON: Well, that was normal. When you’re drawing out of your head like that, it’s almost natural that they’re all going to look pretty much the same. It’s a lot like handwriting, that sort of thing.
LOU: You were also working for companies like Dell and Gold Key doing stuff like ON STAGE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. What was that like?
DON: Doing the adaptations was a little bit rougher, because you really don’t have the time to get the character down right. You’re trying to draw portraits and some people are a little more gifted at it than others. You really had to do a caricature of the person, in order to be able to draw them, panel after panel. I was having trouble with Napoleon Solo. That’s why I was glad when I was given a regular character like Iron Man.
LOU: Iron Man was your first superhero and he was a relative newcomer; TALES OF SUSPENSE was more a monster book with a superhero in it. Tell me something about Iron Man and what it was like to do that title.
DON: It was fun to do, especially in the beginning. There were two characters, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, that I enjoyed doing. To me, Happy was a pug, so it was great.
LOU: Happy was always one of my favorite characters.
DON: 1 had fun with them. And Tony Stark was the man-about-town type of thing, so that worked out fine. There was more characterization at the time and I had more fun with it. That was the first time that I started to work with getting a synopsis. The synopsis usually wasn’t even that much, at times it was just discussed over the phone.
LOU: One of the things I noticed about your IRON MAN work was Tony Starks look and all of the beautiful people, the movie-star look you set up. I recall when IRON MAN always had a great deal of tragedy, and pathos.
DON: That was Stan Lee thing, he was thinking of HAMLET and stuff like that. You knew that at any time he could die, his heart could go out on him, stuff like that. That to me is a hell of a lot better than, say, the TERMINATOR in movies, that no matter what you did to him, you couldn’t kill him. Movies like FRIDAY THE 13TH — you hit him with an axe and nothing stops him. I much more like the fact that you can have a character die; that’s the type of character that I like.
LOU: I know Tony Stark was about to die from a heart attack about every fifth issue or so. In the ‘60s it seemed like every issue of IRON MAN he would clobber a Commie supervillain. How did you like beating up on the Commies?
DON: That didn’t bother me, they were just villains. Back in the ‘40s it was the Japs or something like that. Today, I guess it’s Saddam Hussein. There’s always going to be a villain somewhere. That’s why I always remember Jack Kirby, talking about the Sandman. It was like people going to the beach and all of a sudden there’s a wind storm, and a guy gets up and walks away and it’s the Sandman. He walks away and under the beach is a garbage dump. That’s the way Kirby used to think. He really did a terrific job on creating most of those characters.
LOU: One of my favorites from the ‘60s, which you did, was Ant Man. I remember the scripts which were done by Ernie Hartz, he did the first Porcupine story and the origin of the Wasp. I remember those stories as being really well written. They were like THE THIN MAN but with superheroes. What can you tell me about that work and about mystery man Ernie Hartz?
DON: Actually, I don’t remember Ernie -- it may have been a pseudonym for someone else. I know you’re expecting me to say some spectacular thing about Ernie but the truth is that, in those days, the script would come in the mail. Most of the times you wouldn’t know who the writer was.. Even today I sometimes will get something from Marvel and it won’t even have the writer’s name on it. You get it in the synopsis form and then send it back to somebody; you don’t even see it in the final stage until is sees print.
LOU: What was it like working on Ant Man?
DON: It was fun because it was completely different. All of a sudden you’re wondering how you are going to draw this thing, where, you can see the things that he sees. It always had to be something where you looked up at the people, past Ant Man, and towards the other guy. You had to get a relationship between something small and large and you also had to put something close by to give a gauge, like a matchbook or something, so that when you looked down all of a sudden the other character took most of the panel and Ant Man was small. Jack Kirby had already started it,
so I had stuff to work from.
LOU: You did a good job with it, especially drawing the Wasp.
DON: When I first started drawing girls I couldn’t draw them worth a damn. I always liked the Caniff stuff, you know, Burma, the Dragon Lady, and stuff like that. !always ended up keeping that right next to me at the drawing board. I didn’t copy it, but when I would see something that was really pretty, that was what I would try to do. I tried to model from movie stars like Ava Gardner, who had a pretty good-looking face.
LOU: Another series that comes to mind, THE AVENGERS?
DON: That same type of thing, I got a phone call that says, “Guess what, you’re going to be doing THE AVENGERS next month.” I guess they already had eight issues done by Kirby so I had something to work from. I guess the first issue I did was #9.
LOU: Did you have to ask who was in THE AVENGERS?
DON: No, they would just send you the stuff and you would start working on it. I had done a few of the characters before. At that point, for me, superheroes were no big deal anymore. I had been working from a synopsis for a few years, so 1 had it down pretty good.
LOU: AVENGERS was one of the first strips that Roy Thomas made a name for himself with — what was it like working with Roy?
DON: Same thing, I never saw the guy. 1 really didn’t have any problems with anybody. Just send me a script or a synopsis and I would work from there. Later on, when they became a little more well-known with the fans, then they would start to say, “This or that isn’t right.”
LOU: Yes, right, continuity.
DON: As they became bigger, it became an entirely different situation. But that’s normal. You can start to go crazy with that stuff. Anyone can sit down afterwards and say what you could have done with it.
LOU: John Buscema replaced you on AVENGERS and you ended up doing a plethora of strips like CAPTAIN MARVEL and IRON MAN again.
DON: Basically, whatever they sent me I wound up doing. 1 never knew what the hell 1 was going to do or who was going to ink it. That was the fun part of it. Guys would come up to me and say, “When I first started, I got to ink you,” and I would say, “Yeah, I remember that one.” (Laughter.) I’d get stuff back years later, when they started sending the art back, and I didn’t: even recognize some of the stuff. What I used to do was make Xeroxes of my stuff before sending all of it off.
LOU: Around 1970 you went over to DC and did some nice stuff on DETECTIVE COMICS with Batgirl?
DON: Yes. Actually, that was 1972, I think.
LOU: Also some work for LOIS LANE, I remember. What got you back to DC and what was it like working there?
DON: I don’t know for sure — I guess I just wanted a change. You start to feel stale after a while. It was a different scene at Marvel at that point. There were a bunch of new guys and I felt like I was getting a little short-changed. I decided to see if I could get any work over at DC. Someone said they might be interested, so I went there. I remember that at Marvel I was going to do some book, and they were going to put an inker on me that I wasn’t thrilled about, so I said, “No, forget it.” I went over to DC for a couple of years.
LOU: In the mid-70s you came back to Marvel, at least partially.
DON: It was one of those things, it wasn’t working as well at DC as I wanted, so I went back to Marvel. I had seen Marvel’s production manager, John Verpoorten, a few times at these meetings they used to have, when they were trying to start artist groups .. .
DON: Yeah, so I went to a few of those, and they asked me to come back to Marvel.
LOU: In the late 70s you gravitated back to DC again . . .
DON: I wasn’t happy with some of the stuff I was getting at Marvel. I felt like I was getting short-changed again, so I talked with Vinnie Colletta and he said they were willing to give me a contract at DC. I didn’t have a contract with Marvel at the time.
LOU: You were still freelancing?
DON: Right, and I never knew when the next job was coming. 1 went back to DC in 1977; I stayed with them until a couple of years ago.
LOU: I remember a lot of the features you worked on at DC — TEEN TITANS, FLASH, JUSTICE LEAGUE BATGIRL, and SUPERGIRL .. .
DON: And WONDER WOMAN, for about three years.
LOU: You inherited JUSTICE LEAGUE from George Perez and Carmine Infantino, just in time to do that last super complicated crossover among the Justice League, the Justice Society and the All-Star Squadron.
DON: I remember one job when that was just crazy -- you had Superman, Wonder Woman and two or three other superheroes. I said, “Come on, one guy opens the door, the other goes through it, the next one opens the screen door, and someone does something else.” I mean, it was damn stupid; one character alone could have whipped the villain, himself. You had Superman, what the hell did you need all of the rest of them for? It ended up that each one had to do something. To me it became foolish and silly. Plus the fact that if you’re working late at night and you wake up early in the morning, you find out you put the wrong stars on this guy, that sort of thing. (Laughter.)
LOU: You once again ended up at Marvel. Was that about the time your contract ran out at DC or what?
DON: Yes, and all of a sudden they didn’t have any more work for me. It was just one of those things. I asked for more work and they would say, “We’ll see,” and I said, “Uh oh.” The funny part is that, the year before, an editor at Marvel called me and wanted me to do some work and I refused because I didn’t want to push off from DC. I had been getting steady work out of them. I said, “Gee, if I go and do the other work they may get mad and then I’ll get nothing.” It happened that way anyway, so I called up to see if I could get back at Marvel; I had no choice at that point. The guy from Marvel who had called me originally was Mike Higgins, and at about the point I had wanted to go back to Marvel he had left. I sort of felt like a black cloud was settling over me.
DON: That was one of two jobs I did right after I went back there, I did the Hawkeye and the Swordsman story. I had to do both of them at once and I was surprised, myself, when I saw the story a year later — some of the stuff looked pretty good — because I had to rush that one and yet it worked out fine.
LOU: What gives you the most pleasure out of your career as a comic-book artist?
DON: I most enjoyed working on IRON MAN and TORPEDO TALES, it was fun to suddenly be doing these underwater adventures. It all depends on whether or not they had some character to it.
LOU: Now don’t forget to send your photo to David Hamilton, who’s doing the layout on this interview.
DON: Where is he from?
LOU: Before COMICS INTERVIEW I think he used to work for Fantagraphics .. .
DON: You mean Hambone?
LOU: Yeah, that’s right — you know him then?
DON: I think I Sent him a sketch once, and not because he was working for THE COMICS JOURNAL. (Laughter.) I don’t have any great love for THE COMICS JOURNAL, not when the big cheese up there calls me the worst cartoonist in the world.
LOU: ‘thought that was Harlan Ellison.
DON: It was in that interview, but Gary Groth put the words in his mouth. The funny part was that the guy they were actually talking about was not me. In other words, the story they were referring to was something I hadn’t even drawn.
LOU: I don’t believe in the character assassination interview anyway
DON: It’s stupid; if you say you don’t like my stuff, that’s perfectly all right. But to call me the worst?
Don Heck in Avengers Annual #1
My comics career can probably be dated from that most-forgotten day when I first grabbed a pencil and proceeded to try to draw my favorite character of the another guy named Donald—Duck, that is! Seeing this, my father thought that my interests might be guided to other things, and he decided that drafting might make a good profession for his son. It scarcely occurred to him that I could really be interested in the make-believe world of cartoon characters.
But, when I reached the age of fourteen and asked to take a correspondence course in cartooning, he got his first inkling that maybe his pride and joy might not turn out to be a draftsman after all!
After four years at Woodrow Wilson Vocational High School in Jamaica, New York, and two years at Community College in Brooklyn, I was all set to go into the advertising field—hoping all the time, of course, for a chance to break into the comic art field. Then, one Saturday afternoon, a college friend of mine called to say that he had had an interview with a publisher, but that the job was not in his line. It was more the type of thing 1 was after, he said—in other words, comics! Needless to say, I hustled to see that same publisher —and got the job. I was in!
And so it started—but not quite in the grand style that I had imagined! I wound up doing mostly paste‑ups and corrections, at first. There were too many good, experienced artists around at the time, I thought, so I'd just have to wait my turn to really get off the ground.
Years later, looking over some of my samples of that era, I. realize why it took so long—in fact, sometimes I am amazed that I got started at all! In 1952, after my stint with Harvey, I free-lanced for a budding young outfit called Media Comics, where I did mostly mystery stories and a feature called Duke Douglas. That lasted a couple of years. In 1954, however, when Media (along with quite a few, other outfits) went out of business, another friend told me of a comics editor who might toss some work my way.
Now, as it turned out, the very worst day and time to bring samples to that editor was on Wednesday afternoon---so, naturally, that was the precise day and time
that I showed up! (I could have sworn that was when my friend told me to go! ) I suppose the editor was so amazed that anyone would dare show up then, that he actually came out to look at the samples I'd brought. He proceeded to turn a couple of pages, then said, already know what you can do. Come on in and I'll give you a script."
It was the first of many that I was to receive from Stan Lee—and I've been working for Marvel ever since. In the years since then, I've worked on just about every type of comic around: super-hero strips like Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and Shield; countless war, mystery, and western tales; and a couple of characters called Torpedo Taylor
and Cliff Mason! (Anybody here still remember them?) And, of course, the Avengers which is something like working on half a dozen strips at once! But, there
are consolations—not the least of which is that I'm the only Marvel Bullpener who gets to draw three beautiful super-heroines in the same story!
And to think that it all started on January 2, 1929— just before the crash!
From comics fan to comics pro in only two short decades—this is your life, Rascally Roy Thomas!
I was just 41/2 years old when I first discovered those strange, colorful picture-books called comics in a local drugstore in Jackson, Missouri. Something clicked, and I was never the same again! (Actually, some skeptics claim that I was never the same before, but who can remember that far back?)
One of my earliest favorites, whom I used to sneak-read between swimming lessons, was the Sub-Mariner! I've been told by psychology majors, who should know, that there is a profound psychological explanation for my hero-worship of nautical. Namor—that, secretly and in the dead of night, I envied him! And, I readily admit it—they're right! All my life, my Great Dream has been to grow a triangular head.
By the time I entered grade school, I was writing and drawing my own comics, which were eagerly read by indulgent parents, thrill-starved friends, and occasional waylaid strangers. The name of my first venture into the field was ALL-GIANT COMICS, which contained such immortal, unforgettable characters as Elephant Giant and others whom I forget.
But, alas, though I. remained steadfastly devoted to my childhood heroes, the super-hero comics began dropping by the wayside in the late '40s. When the last issue of THE HUMAN TORCH was published, 1 burned my library card in a silent but eloquent protest.
And so, in the fabulous Fifties, I was forced to satisfy myself with other intellectual activities. I read some Burroughs (Edgar Rice, not William), a smattering of science-fiction, and several works on the territorial instincts of the duck-billed platypus. I'm not certain, however, just which of these three fields contributed most to my development as a potential Marvel maniac.
In 1961, after graduating from college magma com laude (which is Latin for -Now what am I gonna do?"), I spent four years as a high school English teacher—which was logical, since my majors had been history and social science. But, in the teachers' lounge, I read avidly about the ever-multiplying creations of Stan and Jack: the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the Amazing Spider-Man, and the Vanishing Ant-Man ( He didn't really vanish, of course, he just became ten feet tall, which isn't quite the same thing.)
Also during this pedagogical period, I took my most important step towards becoming a comics pro. Jerry Bails, a Detroit college prof, and I started the first super-hero comic-book fanzine, which we christened ALTER EGO. I still publish it in what I laughingly refer to as my Spare Time. The current quarterly issue is about two years late, but I'm zeroing in on the deadline fast, by editing articles while I shower.
Naturally, though, my major activity is working for Marvel Comics. Just two years ago, I wandered into the Bullpen, my Smith-Corona under my arm, and casually mentioned that I was looking for a job. Merry Marvel has kept me busy ever since. And, I've got no regrets—except, perhaps, that every once in a while silly chains get in the way of my typing finger,
In closing, may I state that I'm a simple guy with but three goals in life: to write the longest story in the Marvel Age of Comics; to marry Brigitte Bardot and/or the Black Widow; and to star in a film biography of Woody Allen.
With this AVENGERS SPECIAL, I'm one third of the way home!