13 Perfectly Hembeckian Pieces in Celebration of FRED HEMBECK’s BIRTHDAY

The beloved satirist was born 71 years ago, on Jan. 30, 1953…


Fred Hembeck has always occupied a quirky little corner of Marvel’s history. Which feels perfectly fitting, since Fred’s best contributions have been on the odder and more playful side. Fred Hembeck is an artist who’s never drawn a sustained run on any Marvel series… other than its monthly promo comic, Marvel Age. When you see Fred’s work, it’s pretty much an immediate indicator that the story you’re about to read is going to light and humorous, and it will most likely co-star cartoon Fred himself.

Which isn’t to imply that Fred’s time at Marvel, or in other parts of the comic-book world like DC, aren’t important because I think they are—vital, even. Fred’s work has always been a gentle reminder that superhero characters and their worlds are inherently silly, and even more so when those titles are treated with utmost gravitas.

I recently saw a discussion of Fred’s work in an online Marvel Comics group and some fans were grousing that Fred’s art, with his characters full of loose proportions and squiggle knees and elbows, didn’t treat the characters with the importance they deserved. Which was amusing because A) I can’t imagine anyone reacting to Fred’s work with anything but a smile, and B) yes, exactly—Fred has always existed to help deflate balloons filled with too much of an air of self-seriousness.

Also, for all of Fred’s work largely existing outside any comic’s primary storyline — his work usually consisted of single- or double-page strips that commented on a character, a storyline, or a Marvel company development — I always found it among the most fun and memorable part of any issue in which his work appeared.

And amid everything else he’s done — great gag strips that manage to poke often hilarious fun at characters and storylines without being mean or biting, a rare skill — Fred is also responsible for one of the best, and certainly among the funniest, single issues Marvel has ever produced: the 1982 Fantastic Four Roast. Written by Fred and drawn by pretty much every Marvel artist of note at the time, the book is a feat just for the artist-wrangling, but it’s also filled with more jokes per page than a year’s worth of Ambush Bug comics. It’s truly a marvel.

So this is a celebration of all Fred has done and continues to do, largely at Marvel but with some DC and IDW thrown in too. (NOTE From Dan: I love Fred’s DC work as much as Chris loves his Marvel work.) I strived to keep the focus primarily on published covers but some of Fred’s interior work, filled as it always is with sight gags, amazing amounts of text that always complements the art, never detracts from it, also deserved some focus here.

I mostly left off the wide array of cover re-creations that Fred has done, where he draws a famous comic-book cover in both reverential and very Hembeckian ways, although I did feel the need to include a couple of those, too — the ones I commissioned Fred to do over the years (two of which I managed to get “upgraded” to official cover status, too). But I encourage you to hit Google and seek out more of those, since they’re always so fun.

Fred and his work remains one of my favorite parts of the business, and while I’ve always wished Marvel or others found even more ways to keep Fred’s work steadily flowing, the amazing work he has done so far has been a joy and a wonder. Happy birthday to ya, Fred! Long may the squiggly elbow of your drawin’ hand keep moving for our benefit!


Fantastic Four Roast. This was always going to be my top pick – it’s a perfect cover for an issue I adore. The body language and characters’ expressions are wonderful, and just the choice of characters – including cartoon-Fred’s longtime foil Brother Voodoo, are a great summation of early 1980s Marvel.

House of Hem #1. This comic’s inclusion here might be a bit of a cheat—this is a reprint of a couple of Marvel’s one-shots, including the FF Roast – but the new cover deserves it. I once picked up a copy directly from Fred, who was kind enough to add a Magneto to this lineup, too. And again, the facial expressions are perfect (Brother Voodoo’s says it all, and Galactus’ is maybe a bit worrying).

DC Sampler #3. I love that this scene inside a comic store includes both stats of existing DC covers as well as a few Fred-style recreations.

Marvel Age Annual #3. Fred maintained a 2-page strip inside Marvel Age for quite a while, and his take on whatever notable event was happening on any given month was a highlight of every mag. He rarely got to provide the cover for this series, though, so this Annual was a welcome event.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #86. Marvel’s 1983 stunt, Assistant Editor’s Month, mostly meant that any participating issue that month was treated with some form of irreverence and frivolity. And whenever you need those elements on a comic’s cover or in its interiors, well, you call Fred Hembeck. It may have been implied that Assistant Editors didn’t really fully know how to do their job but for this issue, the AE knew enough to bring in a talent like Fred, for whom this kind of event seemed perfect.

Dial H for Hembeck. Fred’s work has appeared in lots of industry publications. As a big fan of the Wolfman/Perez-era Titans, this one always stood out to me.

Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe #1. Beyond the FF Roast, Fred was given a couple other one-shot presentations of his work: this one and Fred Hembeck $ells the Marvel Universe. Both are fun but this one got the inclusion here largely on the strength of the corner box art alone.

Secret Wars #9. This cover, a parody of 2015’s Star Wars #1 variant cover featuring Jaxxon the rabbit, is a perfect thing to hand to Fred since Deadpool also never takes the Marvel Universe seriously; but even more so for the fact that the Earth-bound Beyonder from Secret Wars II seems like such a Fred creation.

Marvels: Epilogue. I loved that even a serious, realistically minded series like Marvels saw the benefit in including Fred’s work on a variant cover.

Marvel Age #93’s Li’l Avengers. Not a cover but a good example of the kind of work Fred offered readers on the pages of his Marvel Age strip. For all the seeming cartooniness and lack of seriousness that his work often presented at a first glance, Fred’s work always did nail a character’s personality through their pose and facial expressions. Although even he couldn’t make the Forgotten One an interesting character here—that was too great a task for any creator.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2. I commissioned Fred to do two TMNT covers as re-creations of Frank Miller’s Daredevil work, and then ended up liking them so much, I worked out with Fred the idea of using them as actual variant covers for the series. This one is an homage to DD #189.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3. And the second TMNT cover was a note-perfect Fredcreation of DD #181.

Marvel Age #23. No way was I going to miss the chance to include Fred’s only strip focusing on Rom the Spaceknight here. And, as the possessor of a working Rom helmet but no other parts of the silver suit, it occurs to me that Rom’s appearance here would be the way to pull off a Rom Halloween costume, too. If only they made blue suits with squiggly knees.

And that’s it for my requisite 13 images, but I couldn’t quite stop there — (Chris never can. — Dan) — not without also finding a way to showcase a recent Where’s Waldo-like piece:

And finally, one last commission that Fred did for me. I’d been mulling over what FF cover to have Fred tackle, and I wanted to avoid the covers he’d been asked to draw seemingly thousands of times already (#1, #48-50, #100, Annual #3…) so I went with a Jack Kirby cover from my earliest days as a collector, an issue I always loved:

And once again, Fred nailed it, at least until he credited the cover to George Perez and Joe Sinnott (the interior artists on the issue). In fairness, the credits on this one do seem to be mis-reported at various sites—sometimes Jack Kirby, the penciler of the cover, is credited, and others times, they do give George credit for the piece. Fred did cite that confusion in his note to me, but no matter either way – the piece itself is typically great. A bonus is the addition of cartoon Fred as one of the people watching from within the St. Louis arch upon which our heroes are battling.

Many happy returns to you, Fred!


— HEMBECK Posts His Own Tribute to the Classic BATMAN AND ROBIN Rooftop Pin-Up. Click here.

— 13 JOYFUL HEMBECK Cartoons — in Widescreen! Click here.

Chris Ryall is the co-owner/publisher of Image Comics imprint Syzygy Publishing. His latest series is Tales of Syzpense, out now. Subscribe to his Substack of the same name!

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Love it! Always happy to see a roundup of Fred’s work 🙂

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  2. Fred’s work has delighted me since the mid 1970s, when I discovered it in the Buyer’s Guide to Comic Fandom. Thanks for spotlighting him.

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  3. Hembeck’s cartoon strip in the Daily Planet Feature was always a favorite of mine.

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  4. Wonderful! I absolutely love the sweet moment between Reed and Sue on “House of Hem.” And “Fred…Destroys…” had a nice and poignant touch to it! An underrated writer and artist!

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