Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Russ Heath Tribute

I first met Russ Heath in Will Meugniot’s office at DIC, in the summer of 1989. I was there to pick up or drop off a freelance storyboard on “The Real Ghostbusters”. Sitting next to Will was a handsome middle-aged man dressed stylishly in black accenting his thick, gun-metal gray hair. I found myself shaking hands with none other than Russ Heath. Not only was he HOT, but he was (and is) one of my favorite artists.

As I recall, we had 2 interactions that summer while I repeatedly free-lanced for Will.

1): I had Russ sign the page of original art I owned to the recently published graphic novel, “The Shadow; Hitler’s Astrologer: 1941”. While he wrote his signature in red ballpoint pen, I attempted to commiserate with him about the truly wretched coloring and production job with which Marvel Comics had desecrated the artwork. Russ deflected my impassioned indignation nonchalantly, pretending it was just a job like any other; he got paid, who cares? For myself, I was so offended by the coloring that I got rid of the book, even though it was magnificently illustrated by 2 of my favorite artists, Mike Kaluta and Mr. Heath. (I re-purchased the volume, after more than 20 years, on Amazon.com, while writing this essay.)

2) While visiting DIC I observed Russ showing a copy of Blazing Combat, with his artwork to the Archie Goodwin scribed story “Give And Take”, to a young artist with whom he was working. Russ was obviously out to impress; “Give and Take” is one of his stellar accomplishments in a long and stellar career. The kid apparently didn’t know or care who Russ was. I watched Russ point out specific panels he of which he was particularly proud to the blasé tyro. I was jealous that Russ seemed to care what the idiot punk thought but amused by Russ’s rejection by the clueless fool.

The interesting thing about writing this reminiscence is the ambiguous, transitory nature of memory. Was Russ’s hair gray in 1989, or had it already gone white? Was the young artist really unimpressed, or was that just my impression, magnified by jealous memory? (I know he signed my piece of original art; I still have it with his signature thereon.)

The art piece I’ve done for the tribute book is a recreation from “IL SHOWDOWN A RIO JAWBONE”, published in “National Lampoon Presents: The Very Large Book of Comical Funnies”, (1975). This story had a huge impact on me as an aspiring comic book artist in his mid-teens. What I loved (and still love) about his humor work is that it’s played totally straight; with no “wink-wink, nudged-nudge”. Then as now I am in awe of his control of the pen and brush, the hyper-realistic yet exaggerated nature of his posing, composition and lighting, and the skilled and dramatic way he spots blacks, second only to Alex Toth. This acolyte salutes you, Maestro Heath.

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