Credit Where It’s Due Department: Don Heck and the Wondrous Wasp

“Who created the Wasp?” might be less of a settled question than is usually believed.

I’ve been working my way through the Ant-Man/Giant Man era in Tales to Astonish (TtA) and I made it img_4223up to the first appearance of the Wasp a month ago or so.  I was enjoying the story and the art and looking at the picture to the left, it’s obvious that Don Heck is the penciller.  The art looked particularly good, and I wondered who did the inking.  Could Heck be inking himself?  I turned to the credits and to my surprise, I discovered Jack Kirby is credited as the artist while heck is only credited as the inker.  That seemed to contradict everything I see in the book.

img_4224

The Wasp is generally considered a Lee/Kirby creation or a Lee/Hart/Kirby creation.  I probably first read this story when I scored a copy of The Superhero Women (TSW) back in the early 80’s.  Here’s what Stan Lee had to say about the art in this story in TSW.  “As for the artwork – who else but Jack Kirby?  And it was a real treat to have Dashin’ Donnie Heck available to do the inking.”  But he says something else that’s interesting.  “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write the story that introduced Janet Van Dyne.  Luckily, however, after writing the basic plot, I was able to give it to an old friend of mine, Ernest Huntley Hart.”   A bit later we see “Why he signed his name as H. E. Huntley is something the world may never know…” [1]

What do we get from this?  Lee was busy, busy enough to pass off the scripting duties for this issue to Ernie Hart.  Tales to Astonish #44 was published for June 1963.  To  quantify how busy Lee was at that time, we can check his credits at ComicBookDB.com.  He worked on at least 11 comics in May of 1963 as well as 8 comics in June and 11 in July.  Kirby was no less busy; he worked on 10 comics in May, 7 in June and 10 in July.

Let’s look at a few panels from Tales to Astonish #44, from page 12…

TtA 44 pg 12 org

and from page 17.

TtA 44 pg 17

There’s not a lot here that seems reminiscent of Kirby.  You can compare these to any of Heck’s pencils from this time period, this looks like his work.  The faces and figures look like Heck’s; one of the characters on page 12 could be a doppelganger of Happy Hogan.  The hands look like Heck’s work; he tended to draw longer, more slender fingers on the male characters.  The shading also looks like his work; here that tends much more toward hatching (clusters of close parallel lines) than is typical of Kirby’s work.

Compare these to some other panels credited to Kirby published the same month, first from Rawhide Kid #34…

RawhideKid34

and these from Journey into Mystery #93.

Journey93

The art in these issues scream Kirby.  The faces look like Kirby’s and the figures look like Kirby’s.  The shading looks like Kirby; Kirby tended toward more and larger areas of solid black than Heck did.  The hands look like Kirby’s as he tended to draw blockier, squared-off fingers on the men.

So, giving Kirby full credit for the artwork seems dubious.  The credits in the issue certainly make it seem there is some element of truth to it, but the other evidence should at least make us think there’s something worth investigating here.

Who created Iron Man?

ToS 39 Splash

Let’s rewind three months to a comic published in March of 1963.  Tales of Suspense (ToS) #39 introduced the Invincible Iron Man to the world.

The creative process for “Iron Man is Born!” seems very similar to the process for “The Creature from Kosmos!”  Judging from the credits, Lee was responsible for the basic plot, but he handed off scripting duties to his brother, Larry Lieber.  We know Kirby did the early design work for Iron Man and penciled the cover while Heck was responsible for the interior art.

But, actually it’s not that simple.  Kirby claimed to have done full breakdowns for the story and this was reported for years.  Mark Evanier did a careful study of Kirby’s involvement with this story and with Daredevil #1 and concluded that Kirby…

“definitely did not do full breakdowns as has been erroneously reported about … the first ‘Iron Man’. [In the early 1970s], Jack claimed to have laid out those stories, and I repeated his claim in print — though not before checking with Heck who said, in effect, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember that. Jack did the layouts’. We all later realized he was mistaken. … Both also believed that Jack had contributed to the plots of those debut appearances — recollections that do not match those of Stan Lee. (Larry Lieber did the script for the first Iron Man story from a plot that Stan gave him.) Also, in both cases, Jack had already drawn the covers of those issues and done some amount of design work. He came up with the initial look of Iron Man’s armor….” [2]

Is the situation here analogous to TtA #44?  Is it the very same situation with the claim of doing the layouts preceding the writing of the credits box?  Much depends on what is meant by “art” and “inking.”  It’s likely that later credits would delineate the tasks here as “layouts” and “embellishing” which recognizes a much greater contribution on the part of the inker, but comic book credits were still in their infancy.

Introducing Credits

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ff1-credits.png

During the Golden Age, comics tended to credit a single creator if they credited anyone at all.  This practice had not changed much by the time Fantastic Four (FF) #1 was published a mere 17 months earlier, as you can see here it credited only Lee and Kirby.  It was Stan Lee who introduced the “credits box” to the industry, mimicking credits in motion pictures in an attempt to give comics a greater sense of importance.  Eventually the credits would recognize editors, writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers and colorists and some more nuanced roles such as co-plotters, layout artists and embellishers.  At the time I suspect that the lines between these various roles was still being codified.  Is it possible that the only difference in the credits between TtA #44 and ToS #39 is merely different, but not  yet codified meanings of “art” and “inker?”

Don Heck as an Inker

Some inkers are known for being heavy handed, where their personal style overwhelms the style of the penciller.  Could that be the case here?  It’s not likely.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.  Heck inked Amazing Spider-Man #63 over the pencils of John Romita.  Here’s a few panels.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ams-63.jpg

Romita’s style is undiminished while there are very few indicators of Heck’s influence.  We see something similar in ToS #80 where, more on point, we see Heck’s inks over Kirby’s pencils.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tos-80-a.jpg

This is quite clearly Kirby’s work.  The hallmarks are there: the composition, the poses, the black areas in the shading and the look of the hands.  If anything, Heck is responsible for giving the art nice, clean lines that enhance Kirby’s pencils rather than supersede them.  Although this is a small sample, it seems that, if Heck had been given detailed pencils from Kirby, we would have a finished product that reflected Kirby’s style. [3]

If we want to see a contemporary rendering of Ant-Man and the Wasp by Kirby, we need look no further than Janet’s second appearance in Fantastic Four #16, published the following month, July 1963.

Janet only appears in this single panel.  Let’s compare it to this image from TtA #44.

The broad scheme of Janet’s outfit is the same in both books.  However, in TtA #44 the outfit is more formfitting than the version in FF #16 and it drapes a bit better.  Both of these imply Heck’s influence.  The other distinct difference is in the outfit’s shoulders; in the TtA version the shoulders are smaller and up swept, making them more evocative of wings.  If both versions were pencilled in detail by Kirby, it seems as though there would be more similarity in the details.

In FF #16, we see Hank employ his catapult to travel across the city.  Compare the FF version,

to this image from TtA #44.

The final image in the FF version is far more dynamic, one of Kirby’s calling cards.  This second sequence seems much more similar to this sequence from TtA #43, (pencilled by Heck) than it does to the FF version.

This isn’t, by itself definitive, there are less dynamic catapult sequences that were penciled by Kirby.  Here’s another image from FF # 16.

Again, Kirby’s signature dynamism is on full display.  It’s tricky to find a similar scene in an Ant-Man story,  but here is one of the highlights of TtA #44.

The action is depicted competently, but it’s a much more conventional depiction than the fight sequence in FF #16.  In the latter piece, most of the action is parallel to the panel, occurring safely behind it.  In the first, the reader is either drawn directly into the panel or the action is projecting directly out of the panel, moving directly toward the reader.  The action is even more muted in this sequence from TtA #45 by Heck.

The scene from TtA #44 looks qualitatively different both from the panels from FF #16 and from Heck’s artwork in TtA #45.  It’s possible that TtA #44 is a hybrid, using Heck’s more traditional poses with a bit of Kirby’s flair for action.

Original Art Pages

One helpful consequence of the Ant-Man and the Wasp movie having been released so recently is that many pages of the original artwork for TtA #44 have been for sale online.  This makes it easy to find and inspect the artwork to see if anything can be learned from it.  Unfortunately, at least as far as can be seen on-line, most of the pencil work is covered by the ink lines or is not visible for other reasons.  But there are notable exceptions.

In the left-hand panel here, you can see pencil marks probbly meant to depict Janet’s shoulders as she faces the projected image more directly than in the final image.  In the right-hand panel, there is an oval in the approximate position of Janet’s head which might indicate an original sketch where Janet’s head was smaller than Heck drew it in the final version. TtA #44 pg 16 panel 4

There is an image of page 16 on-line where a lot of  the pencil work is visible.  Let’s look at two panels from this page.  The pencils in this image look rough.  You can also see penciled-in placements for the dialogue balloons.  That could be Kirby’s handwriting in the balloons, but there’s not enough visible to be certain.  What this implies about the plotting process is unknown.   TtA #44 pg 16 panel 5

The rough nature of the layouts is particularly evident in this image, where it looks like Heck made a number of changes as he inked the final version, specifically, Hank’s arm is at his side rather than  on Janet’s shoulder, his foot is moved and Janet’s wings are positioned differently.  There’s no reason to necessarily assume that the pencils here aren’t Kirby, but the work is sparse enough that, judging from this alone, they could just as easily be by Heck or any number of other artists.  Other Kirby pencils that can be found online are carefully detailed and definitely display the artist’s distinctive style.

Conclusion

I’m far from the first person to suggest this but it is clear that Kirby (or whoever did the pencils) did only a minimal layout for TtA #44.   Kirby was certainly  involved in the design work and the cover art.  Kirby is credited for the “art” but there are other indications that he is indeed responsible for the layouts.  The technology in the story resembles what we call “Kirby machines”  and the design of the creature appears to be more reminiscent of Kirby’s work than much of the other artwork in the story.  Although not as dynamic as the art in other Kirby publications, the layouts and the action sequences appear different from Heck’s typical work.

But these layouts are sparse enough that to credit Heck only as the inker is an understatement.  His style dominates the art in this story and he must have been responsible for many of the fine details of the issue.  In ToS #39, Kirby designed the Iron Man armor and Heck developed the look of Tony Stark and the supporting cast.  It remains an open question in my mind whether the creation of the Wasp isn’t directly analogous.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, Don Heck is an integral part of the creation of the Wasp and I think he should share credit with Kirby, Lee and Hart.

Footnotes:

[1] I had initially wondered if this name swap was due to some sloppiness in the credits, but it appears that Hart scripted seven stories for Marvel in 1963, two Human Torch stories from Strange Tales (ST) 110 and 111 and the Ant-Man and the Wasp stories in TtA 44 to 48.  All of these are credited to H. E. Huntley except the story in ST #111 which is credited to H. Huntley.  It’s still possible that the the credit for TtA #44 was an error that was then repeated, but that seems far less likely than if it were a single occurrence.

[2] This quote was taken from the Don Heck page at ComicBookDB.com where it is sourced back to Evanier’s “POV Online” column.

[3] Speaking of Credit where it’s due, this post was inspired by a discussion with Jared Aiosa of the Heroes Your Mom Threw Out Comic Shop in Elmira, NY.  The Don Heck angle was self-evident, but Jared pointed me toward a lot of the other things I investigate here.

References:

 

One thought on “Credit Where It’s Due Department: Don Heck and the Wondrous Wasp

  1. Hi Joseph, I’ve been studying art styles for many years and indexing for the GCD, always learning as I pour through the work of so many talented individuals. Looking over the art thoroughly again I still have to conclude that Kirby did indeed produce the pencils on this story. Many of the poses and figures bear his mark. What you may be seeing is Heck re-working the face and costume of The Wasp throughout. Since Heck drew pretty women Stan Lee may have asked him to “soften” her features, and he probably did some extra work on Hank as well, particularly since he was drawing the strip at that time. Heck likely also altered or corrected her costume, either because Kirby was not consistent or because Lee asked for last-minute corrections in the inking stage. Those are my thoughts. I hope you visit my blog and leave any comments there if you’re so inclined.

    Like

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