Long-time visitors to our site may remember this guy:
He’s Mike Dudley, one of my oldest and closest friends. Lifelong comics student and reader, alumnus of the Joe Kubert school from shortly after its opening, Mike was also best man at my wedding; his speech brought a tear even to those in my wife’s family who didn’t know my pals and me from Adam. We’ve known each other since we were teens, when Mike spotted my name and then-address in a Marvel Comics letters page and realized I lived only two towns away from him. In those pre-convention, pre-Internet, pre-comic-shop days it was mighty tough finding other comics readers, and there weren’t too many “Canwells” in the phone book, so Mike took a flyer, dialed me up — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Like most of us, Mike has a sizable list of favorite comics artists, but for as long as I’ve known him one name stands apart on his list: Russ Heath, the consummate draftsman who built his reputation doing memorable work on the war books at DC Comics, like this double-page spread from Our Army at War # 197:
Mike recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and in preparation for the event his lovely and thoughtful lady, Mary, went to a lot of trouble to arrange a surprise party for him. She said presents were not necessary, but when you’ve known someone for as long as I’ve known Mike, there was no way I was showing up without a gift for him. But what, What, WHAT could I get for him that would properly mark such a momentous occasion?
The answer dropped in my lap when I discovered that Russ Heath, now age ninety years young, was accepting commissions. A personalized Heath original! Could there be a better gift? Of course there couldn’t …
I contacted Mr. Heath to inquire about his prices. He was prompt in calling me to follow up, and I agreed to purchase a full-size Sgt. Rock piece, which would be signed, “To Mike Dudley — Happy Birthday from Easy Co. & Russ Heath.” Time quickly ticked by; Mr. Heath again called me with plenty of time before the party’s scheduled date, telling me the piece was finished and would be coming my way via FedEx. He even deadpanned a joke, asking me, “Did you hear FedEx and UPS are going to merge?” He then chortled, “They’ll call the new company FedUp!”
The box arrived days before the party. I opened it, and — all my expectations were not just met, but were far, far surpassed. What an Absolutely Phenomenal job Mr. Heath had done! My wife knows nothing about comics, but she said, “That is amazing!” With enough days before Mike’s birthday party, I had the opportunity to show the work to a few other folks whom I knew could keep a secret.
“The Heath art is absolutely incredible,” Dean said. “I mean…REALLY! At ninety years old, it’s unbelievable. At THIRTY years old, it’d be unbelievable!” … Gene Colan biographer and mutual Mike Dudley friend Tom Field commented, “The Heath commish is gorgeous!” … DC and Marvel Comics artist Lee Weeks (also a mutual Dudley friend) called it “A great gift,” even as he said Mr. Heath is an inspiration to every artist in the business for doing such excellent work at age ninety. Judge for yourselves — here is just a portion of the finished piece Mr. Heath delivered:
Of course, you know there is much more to the finished work than this excerpt!
The day of the party arrived, I showed up as part of a guest list numbering thirty. One of the persons I quoted above speculated that tears would be shed when Mike opened his gift. I’m proud to say we were manly men and there was no crying … but when Mike realized what he was holding his eyes did noticeably widen as he breathed a heartfelt, “WOW!”
We’re now a few weeks beyond the birthday bash. I’m pleased I bought an original piece from Mr. Heath and was able to make a connection between The Best Man with His Favorite Artist. Mike is already getting the artwork framed, to hang in his home. If this account has you interested in commissioning artwork from Russ Heath, you’ll find his advertisement, and his contact information, in this July article from Bleeding Cool News: Bleeding Cool Heath Article. If you’re interested in seeing more Heath published work — along with stories from the likes of Jack Kirby, John Severin, Joe Kubert, and The Genius himself, Alex Toth — you can hunt up a copy of IDW’s Best of DC War Artist’s Edition, the cover of which looks like this:
Thanks for indulging me in this personal account. Back soon with more LOAC-centric fun and games!