Russ Heath, a respected artist for Marvel, DC, and Playboy Magazine, has died at the age of 91. According to Newsarama, Heath passed away from cancer Thursday evening in in Long Beach, California.
Heath was most well-known for his artwork that depicted scenes of war as well as his contributions to Playboy's Little Annie Fanny comic in the 1960s. Between the '60s and into the '70s, his illustrations of Roman and Revolutionary battles (meant to sell sets of toy soliders) became an iconic part of American comic books, often gracing the back cover.
Born in September of 1926, Heath was raised as an only child in New Jersey, taking an early liking to drawing, teaching himself the skills that would eventually make him a regular living. During an interview, he once remarked, "My father used to be a cowboy, so as a little kid I was influenced by western artists of the time."
In 1945 (the final year of WWII), he became drafted into the Air Force, but didn't see any action overseas. He served nine months within the United States, drawing the cartoons for his base's newspaper, Heath recounted for Alter Ego. He even got a press pass that allowed him to leave the camp for extended periods of time, taking trips to the beach or to the movies. However, due to an oversight on the part of the military's bureaucracy, he wasn't on the army's payroll for quite some time.
After the war, he started a family and started looking for steady illustration work in New York, where none other than Stan Lee offered him a job at Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel. One of Heath's first projects at Timely was the Two-Gun Kid, a character created by Lee and Jack Kirby. When asked what Stan was like when they first met in 1947, Heath said, "He was exactly like he is now."
Heath's first foray into superhero territory is often considered to be the "Fate Fixed a Fight" storyline in 1949's Captain America Comics #71, which featured the Lee-created Witness.
Throughout the 1950s, he drew art for all kinds of comics for all different publishers. Spanning across a litany of different genres, he created art for Westerns, superhero stories, and even the covers of pulp magazines like Strange Tales. This was also the decade in which he came to work at DC Comics, handling a good chunk of their war-related comics.
By the '60s, Heath was working on G.I. Joe comics, Little Annie Fanny, and the toy soldier ads. Despite becoming so widespread, the Roman and Revolutionary scenes only nabbed the artist $50 in total.
"A lot of people didn't know I did them because they didn't want them signed," Heath told Bryan Stroud in 2007. "I did have a small 'RH' on the lower left hand corner of the Revolutionary soldiers and I don't remember about the Roman soldiers."
In the late '70s, Heath relocated to California, where he took fan commissions and worked as an animator in the cartoon/entertainment industry. He would spend the rest of his life living on the West Coast.
In 1997, Heath won the Comic-Con Inkpot Award, going on to win a number of distinctions in the following years, including becoming an inductee of the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009. That was also the year that he did his final comic superhero illustrations for Marvel's Immortal Iron Fist.