Comic Legends: When Russ Heath Was Held Captive to Finish a Comic

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Russ Heath was held captive to get him to do an assignment in time


True Enough for a True

Recently, for the 700th edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed, I featured a story of how Russ Heath and a few other artists went to the Playboy Mansion (back when it was in Chicago) to get a late edition of Little Annie Fanny finished in time for publication.

Well, as it turns out, there is a somewhat similar story involving Russ Heath and a late comic book job, but it had a whole other crazy story attached to it.

Now, in case you are unfamiliar with the work of Russ Heath, he was famous in how meticulous he was in his artwork. He once told Ken Jones in The Comics Journal, "Over the years, I never made the money that some of the others did. A lot of people in the industry knock the work out with the dollar as their only goal. You know, “It’s only comics.” I thought, “If I become a hack, will I still be able to do anything good?” So I always tried to improve my technique. It cost me a lot of money because that attitude slowed me down, but that’s my temperament."

That meticulous approach was a problem for the folks behind National Lampoon's Encyclopedia of Humor, a classic tome that came out in 1973, before Michael O'Donoghue was hired as the original head writer of Saturday Night Live...

Heath did a story for the book. Dave Sim recalled in Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing a story involving Heath and the National Lampoon project...

I did an interview with Russ Heath back in the mid-70s for a fanzine and had several chances to talk with him over the course of a month or two. One story stuck with me a long time and contributed a great deal to my attitude toward doing comics. Reader's Digest version: Russ Heath's comics strip was the last thing needed for a National Lampoon project that was going to press on Tuesday, and he had barely gotten into it by the previous Friday. So they locked him up in P.J. O'Rourke's apartment over the weekend, and they weren't going to let him out until the story was done. Now, if you know Russ Heath's work at all, you know that it is meticulous and painstaking - from the Hal Foster school where you don't "fake" anything: you work at it until it looks and is right. Well, he worked all weekend, and he got the job done; compared to his preferred method of working, it was an impossibly rushed job. I asked him what the job was (figuring I'd go look up this atrocity in my spare time). He told me it was Cowgirls At War. That confused me. "I thought that was really good," I said. "It was," he said. "One of the best jobs I've ever done. I was really happy with it." That confused me. "Would you ever do something like that again?" I asked. "Never in a million years," And that confused me.

If you can be that good going fast, why go slow?

Here's Cowgirls at War, edited so that we could post it here...

Since I couldn't very well use that for the featured image, I instead used this cute self-portrait that Heath supplied to Frank Miller's Sin City, for a bit where Miho is about to kill him...

Thanks to Dave Sim for the information!

Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - What famous horror film disgusted Walt Disney so much that he wouldn't allow the director of the film to film at Disneyland?

Check back later for the final part of this week's Comic Book Legends Revealed!

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