Brand Echh – The Heap #1

There really wasn’t a lousier time to try to start up a new color comic book line than the very early 1970s, but this didn’t stop Skywald. Skywald was a joint venture of Israel Waldman, who had previously been behind the I.W./Super comics line of unauthorized golden age reprint titles distributed directly to department stores and other such venues, and Sol Brodsky, best remembered as Stan Lee’s production man for the early Marvel line. Sol put the books together and Waldman financed the operation.

Skywald produced a bevy of color comic book titles–several westerns, a romance title and some monster-horror books–before swiftly getting out of teh field. They had better luck with their black and white magazines, where they more successfully attempted to compete head-to-head with Jim Warren’s titles. Under editor Al Hewetson, this “Horror-Mood” line was a modest success and ran for about five years. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

The one thing that Skywald stayed away from is super hero titles (apart from the short-lived HELL-RIDER black and white magazine.) And in 1971, that makes sense. The feeling in the industry was that the super hero fad of the 1960s had run its course and the costumed titles were all going to fold up shop soon apart from the very most popular ones. A bit of a gold rush was on to find the next hot genre and stake a claim. That’s pretty much what Skywald did, though they never really hit upon anything that made a great impact.

There must have been something in either the water or the zeitgeist of 1971 that I’m unaware of, because not only did Marvel and DC roll out Man-Thing and Swamp Thing respectively, but Skywald’s one character-led title also featured a shambling muck-monster–this one, in true Israel Waldman tradition, a revival of a popular but abandoned character from the Golden Age–the Heap!

The original Heap had been introduced in the pages of AIR FIGHTERS COMICS as a one-off antagonist for the aviator Skywolf. But the shaggy monster proved popular with fans, and was resurrected again and again, eventually earning his own series within the title (and its successor series, AIRBOY COMICS). Eventually, as horror became the dominant trend in the field, the Heap even eclipsed Airboy, taking over the covers of the magazine. But publisher Hillman left the field in 1953, the year the government started cracking down on comic book content. So the character had been in limbo since then.

I can’t seem to source the quote at the moment, but I have a recollection that Roy Thomas once mentioned that he had suggested the Heap as a character who might be brought back to Sol Brodsky, with whom he was familiar. But whatever the source of the inspiration, Skywald resurrected the concept in the pages of PSYCHO #2, one of their black and white magazines. Like most other Silver Age revivals, this new incarnation of the Heap threw out almost everything except the monster’s soggy, shaggy appearance, supplanting his origin with a new one and making the character a bit more blood-hungry that he had previously been (apart from perhaps right at the start.)

This new version of the Heap was originated by writer Charles McNoughton and artist Ross Andru, who would go on to write the series as well. As Skywald began its expansion into color comic books, somebody thought that the Heap might have potential as a monster hero, and so what would up being a one-shot was released in 1971. DC mainstay Robert Kanigher wrote the Heap story in this issue, and Tom Sutton drew the strip.

It was a relatively by-the-numbers story, one that lurches in the typical Kanigher tradition from incident to incident without any obvious regard for story structure or even common sense. Kanigher reportedly told interviewers that he wouldn’t plan out his stories ahead of time, that he’d compose them on the fly as he typed them, which meant that the audience could never guess the outcome ahead of time, because even he didn’t yet know what it was. This is a strange way to go about writing fiction, but Kanigher was successful at it for decades (albeit in a more forgiving time) so he must have had some idea of what he was doing.

In typical Waldman fashion, Skywald backed up its new lead features in all of its releases with random unauthorized reprints of stories from the Golden Age, reckoning that nobody still had claim to them or would mind. It was a way of keeping costs down. In the case of THE HEAP, those reprints weren’t of earlier Heap stories, as one might imagine, but instead an assortment of random shock-horror stories, none of them especially memorable.

Skywald’s foray into the world of color comic books didn’t last long, only a few months in 1971, and thereafter they hitched their fortunes entirely to black and white magazines. They were able to make a go of things there until 1975, when Marvel’s expansion into that marketplace began to choke off their rack space and the line ultimately ended. This version of the Heap mad his final appearance before that in PSYCHO #13 in 1973.

6 thoughts on “Brand Echh – The Heap #1

  1. The Heap #1 was the only Skywald release I ever owned. I bought it with a stack of other comics just before setting off on a long family road trip to visit Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. I’d mostly forgotten about it until reading this post, but one thing I’ll always remember: my father drove the whole way with the A/C on, smoking one cigarette after another. Ugh—it makes me cough now just thinking about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That issue of SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS sold so well that Marvel wanted to follow up on it somehow.

      Marvel had already introduced their own swamp-monsters, though, the Glob in 1969 and Man-Thing earlier in 1971. So Roy Thomas reasoned that maybe the word IT as a logo had caught readers’ attention, and set in motion a revival of “It the Living Colossus” in ASTONISHING TALES with the same logo.

      Turned out readers were able to resist it.

      Like

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