Comics Lowdown: Russ Heath, Yim Yee-King pass away

Plus: Jerusalem cartoonist fired over drawing of Prime Minister Benjamin Nettanyahu, comics at Walmart, Thi Bui and more!

Passings: Eisner Hall of Fame artist Russ Heath passed away last week after battling cancer, his grandson, Lee Kosa, reported on Twitter. “His mastery of the craft of illustration encouraged me to pursue the arts and it is a joy to see my son now filling his own sketchbooks. Thank you for passing along the joys of drawing and storytelling,” Kosa wrote.

In the late 1940s, Heath began his career at Timely Comics, which eventually became Marvel Comics. While there, he drew many of their Western titles like Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt. Later his work expanded to include their superhero titles, as well as war comics for EC Comics and DC Comics, where he co-created The Haunted Tank and worked on Sea Devils, G.I. Combat and Our Army at War, among other titles. He also worked on the “Little Annie Fanny” strip that appeared in Playboy, even moving into the Playboy Mansion in Chicago for a time while working on it. Later he’d move into animation, where he worked on G.I. Joe, Godzilla and “Pryde of the X-Men.” Heath was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2009 and received the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Award in 2014. He was 91 when he died.

Russ Heath

“Russ Heath was one of the great comic book illustrators of the field,” wrote comics writer and historian Mark Evanier. “Because he veered away from super-heroes and more ‘commercial’ genres, he often did not get the respect he deserved but … boy, when he drew a war comic, no one could draw a tank like Russ Heath. And when he drew beautiful women or cityscapes or just about anything that existed in reality, he was unmatched in his ability to capture reality and put it down on the page.”

Passings: Hong Kong cartoonist Yim Yee-King, who used the pen name Ah Chung, has died at the age of 85. Yim was born in Guangzhou in 1933 and his family moved to Hong Kong after World War II. They could not afford to pay for high school for him, but he taught himself to paint while working odd jobs and became a full-time artist in 1952. He was both a painter and a political cartoonist, and he became well known in 1967 after he illustrated a satire of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Although he enjoyed using his cartoons as a platform at first, he eventually became depressed and stopped drawing. In the 1980s, at his wife’s urging, he moved to Los Angeles and began a career as a fine artist, doing calligraphic watercolor-and-ink drawings.

Political Cartoons: Jerusalem Report cartoonist Avi Katz was fired after his cartoon portraying Prime Minister Benjamin Nettanyahu and Likud supporters as pigs caused a social media backlash.

The Jerusalem Post [owner of the Jerusalem Report] justified Katz’s firing, saying while they support freedom of speech, Katz’s cartoon crossed the line from criticism into “incitement and hatred,” the pig being one of the most unclean and impure animals in Judaism, and long-associated with anti-Semitic memes.

The cartoon references George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and it is also a commentary on a recently passed law that the Post has criticized as discriminatory toward non-Jewish Israeli citizens.

Interviews and Profiles

Interview: Thi Bui discusses The Best We Could Do, which tells the story of her family’s life in Vietnam before and during the Vietnam War, and their move to the U.S. in the late 1970s, when she was a young child.

The Biz

Publishing: Manga industry veteran Ed Chavez talks about his new company, Denpa, which will publish manga that doesn’t fall into the usual categories:

I think Denpa can be a conduit to a lot that may seem new to the English manga scene: new themes, new genres, new authors and new designs. Some of those “new” things may be classics. Some of those “new” things may be Japanese indie manga artists. Some of that could be more josei titles or high-end full color artbooks… The truth is a lot of that has been available in brief bursts from a range of publishers, but part of Denpa’s charter is to look for those works and we hope readers will eventually look to us for content like that.

Retailing: Scouts for The Beat spotted DC and Marvel comics on display at Walmart, and writer Todd Allen has some thoughts about how this whole thing is working.

Retailing: Kurt Bollers went from selling comics outside a record store near Wall Street to a job in a brokerage to opening his own comic shop in the West Village, a bio that itself would be worthy of a comic. He is using his own collection as the inventory for the store, which sounds like it will cater to collectors more than casual fans.

Roundups and Recommendations

Recommended Reading: Rob Salkowitz looks at We Spoke Out, a collection of comics about the Holocaust and its aftermath. The collection includes Bernie Krigstein’s short story “Master Race,” which alone is worth the price.

Think Piece: Michael Dooley reviews Hillary Chute’s Why Comics? and includes some excerpts to whet the appetite.

Roundup: AJ O’Connell rounds up 10 new comics story arcs written by women that will debut in the next few months. The focus is on serial comics rather than graphic novels, and therefore the list is heavily weighted towards superhero titles.

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