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Introducing Don Heck: Phantom Assistant to Sy Barry

It has always been known that artists have assistants and Sy Barry was no exception and some of his assistants went on to become well known. Sy frequently used pencil artists on the strip, working primarily as an inker (although he often drew entire stories when time permitted).

Some pencillers and assistants included George Olesen, Joe Giella, Bob Forgione, André LeBlanc and Rich Buckler. Sy Barry himself started off as an assistant for his brother Dan Barry on Flash Gordon.

As they are pencillers and assistants no credit is usually given with credit normally only given to the main artist. After some research between Australian Phantom artist Shane Foley and myself we have found out more about another Sy Barry assistant in Don Heck who is credited as a ghost artist / penciller possibly between the years 1966 to 1978 along with some examples of his work coming through the final inked newspaper published versions.

There is a slight confusion with the dates he assisted Sy Barry. In the publication Alter Ego #42, the dates are 1972 to 1978 but on wikipedia and the Lambiek Comiclopedia he is credited as Sy Barry's assistant between 1966 and 1971. The Daily newspaper story we look at below is from 1973.

In a "Friends of the Phantom" newsletter 13 (found in our P3 archives) Joe Giella mentions that he suggested Don Heck to Sy Barry as an assistant. In issue 12 of "Friends of the Phantom" they included a Gallery of Unpublished Phantom Art which included this rare pencil from the Anthony Tolins collection.

Donald L. "Don" Heck (January 2, 1929 – February 23, 1995) was an American comics artist best known for co-creating the Marvel Comics character Iron Man, and for his long run penciling the Marvel superhero-team series The Avengers during the 1960s Silver Age of comic books. Don Heck was considered the best renderer of attractive women in comics by Jack Kirby, who suggested him to DC as an artist for Batgirl. Heck drew this comic for several years, and also did other DC titles like Justice League of America, Steel, The Indestructible Man, Wonder Woman and The Flash.

In a 2014 released book titled "Don Heck: A Work of Art" there is a part of an interview where the interviewer Howell talks to Don about his days working on the Phantom which we have included below.

HOWELL: have you done much work outside the comic book industry? It looked like you were ghosting The Phantom for a while...

HECK: I did some of the pencil work on that, and I was just doing breakdowns at one point. Funny part is, you feel like you don't have that much of a special style, especially in those jobs where two or three people are going to be going over it, but for some reason or other, your style comes through. Do you know Mike Tiefenbacher, the fellow who ran The Menomonee Falls Gazette?


HECK: I was subscribing to that, and all of a sudden they sent me a letter and asked me some questions. They wanted to know how much I was doing on the Phantom, because they could tell I was doing some of it. I was amazed. Because you figure nobody could ever tell.

HOWELL: It looked distinctively Heck to me, too.

In our X-Band podcast episode #113, we asked Sy Barry about Don Heck and he confirmed he assisted on the strip and had the following to say about him. You can listen to it yourself as he talks about Don from 24 minutes in the above podcast.

"Don was a nice, quiet man who was pleasant to work with. He was very fast and his layouts were good and some of the best layouts he had used"

Seeing he and the book doesn't give us specific examples from a Phantom perspective he has always been just one of those names who helped Sy Barry and nothing else. However Australian Phantom phan and creator Shane Foley has now shed some light on some examples of Daily strips compared to his comic book art.

Vandal-Looters originally released in the newspapers in 1973 and was last published in Frew #1746 (2016), Krønikebok #36 (2007), Fantomen 26/2001 and Kızılmaske #6#7 (2013).

Shane Foley has found two near perfect example of Heck traits (or Heck-isms) that have still shown through after the inking stage. Compare the punch of the bad guy to the Jungle Patrolman Sergeant Tamos to the punch of Iron Man (Iron Man issue 26 -1970) with the very distinctive enlarged fist and nice, loose arm action.

(You can click on the below images to open up a larger version of the examples of comparisons)

Then compare Dr Cole's Daughter Madge to Carol Danvers in the Captain Marvel page (Capt Marvel issue 5 - 1968) - You can tell they are from the same artist with the same eyebrows, long blonde hair, lips, nose and check bones.

Shane Foley has found another slight example which is a lot harder to spot but notice Don Heck's frequent use of slightly forward bending profile's.

While historians may have known Don Heck ghosted and penciled for Sy Barry, until now examples of his Phantom Daily Newspaper stories work has been non-existent.

Thanks must go to Shane Foley for his eagle eyes reading and scouring through dozens of Phantom stories for a hint. Also thank you to Howard Gesbeck for a copy of the above Don Heck Phantom image - the only known one Phantom drawing still to exist.

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