THE DARING ONE
"Daring" Dick Ayers, born April 28, 1924 in Ossining, New York, is best known as one of Jack Kirby's best inkers at Marvel Comics from the late 1950s to the late 1960s during the Silver Age of comics. His work includes some of the earliest issues of The Fantastic Four, and he was the signature penciler of Marvel's World War II comic Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos.
Ayers published Radio Ray, his first comic strip, in the military newspaper Radio Post in 1942 while serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Afterward, his first attempt to break into the general comics field was a submission to Western Publishing's Dell Comics imprint.
"I approached them," Ayers said in a 1996 interview. "I had a story written and drawn. They wanted to wrap a book around it.... I got into it, but Dell decided to scrap the project. ... It was an adventure thing, boy and girl; the boy wanted to be a trumpet player. The girl kept feeding the jukebox and he'd play along to Harry James or whatever sort of thing. ... It didn't make it, but it got me started where I wanted to be in the business."
After making a few connections during this venture, in 1947 Ayers studied under Burne Hogarth in the first class of Hogarth's new institution, called New York City's Cartoonists and Illustrators School (renamed the School of Visual Arts in 1956). Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman, would visit the class, and Ayers eventually visited his nearby studio. "Next thing I knew," Ayers said, "I was penciling a bit here and there."
In a 2005 interview, Ayers elaborated that, "Joe had me pencil some of his Funnyman stories after seeing my drawings at Hogarth's evening class" and "sent me to Vin Sullivan of Magazine Enterprises." (Sullivan also became an editor at DC Comics.) There, Sullivan "let me try the Jimmy Durante strip. I submitted my work and got the job."
(As an aside for TV trivia buffs, Ayers' hands appear onscreen as those of a cartoonist played by actor Don Briggs in "The Comic Strip Murders," a 1949 episode of the CBS television series Suspense.)
Ayers went on to pencil and ink western stories in the late 1940s for Magazine Enterprises' A-1 Comics and Trail Colt, and for Prize Comics' Prize Comics Western. With writer Ray Krank, Ayers created the horror-themed Western character Ghost Rider in Tim Holt #11 (1949), a comic named after actor Tim Holt of Treasure Of The Seirra Madre and several western films.
The character appeared in stories through the run of Tim Holt, Red Mask, A-1 Comics, Bobby Benson's B-Bar-B Riders, and the 14-issue solo series The Ghost Rider (1950–1954), It continued until the introduction of the Comics Code later that same decade.
(After the trademark to the character's name and motif lapsed due to non-use, Marvel Comics later debuted its own near-identical, horror-free version of the character in Ghost Rider #1 in February 1967, written by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich. And who did the art? Ayers, the original Ghost Rider artist, of course.)
In 1952, while continuing to freelance for Magazine Enterprises, Ayers began a long freelance run at Atlas Comics, the 1950s forerunner of Marvel Comics. He drew horror stories in such titles as Amazing Adventures, Astonishing Worlds, Mystic, and Menace. He also did some "Tales" titles - Mystery Tales, Strange Tales, and Uncanny Tales, as well as some "Into" titles - Adventures Into Terror, Journey Into The Unknown, and of course Journey Into Mystery.
His work also included the brief revival of the 1940s Golden Age of comics superhero the Human Torch, from Marvel's 1940s predecessor Timely Comics, in Young Men # 21-24 (June 1953 - Feb. 1954). An additional, unpublished Human Torch story drawn by Ayers belatedly appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (Sept. 1968).
During the 1950s, Ayers also drew freelance for Charlton Comics, including for the horror comic The Thing and the satirical series Eh!. (And remember, the huge orange worm-like Thing in this comic was done years before the huge rock-like thing in The Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics appeared in the 1960s.)
Speaking of Kirby, Ayers first teamed with him at Atlas shortly before the company became Marvel Comics. As the comic-book legend's second regular Marvel inker, following Christopher Rule, Ayers would ink countless Kirby covers and stories, including such landmark comics as most of the afore-mentioned earliest issues of The Fantastic Four, and a large amount of western and "pre-superhero Marvel" monster stories in the also afore-mentioned "Tales" and "Into" titles.
Because creator credits were not routinely given at the time, a standard database disagrees over the duo's first published collaboration: The Grand Comics Database cites the cover of Wyatt Earp #24 (Aug. 1959), which Atlas Tales lists as inked by George Klein.
But the GCD tentatively lists Ayers as inker of the Kirby cover for that same month's Strange Tales #70, for which Atlas Tales credits Ayers without qualification.
However, Ayers himself revealed in 1996 that "the first work I did with Jack was the cover of Wyatt Earp #25 [Oct. 1959]. Stan Lee [Editor-in-chief] liked it and sent me another job, 'The Martian Who Stole My Body,' for Journey Into Mystery #57 [Dec. 1959].
Dick Ayers at a recent comics convention.
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Journey Into Mystery 87
Copyright © 1962 Marvel Comics
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"I also began Sky Masters, the [syndicated] newspaper strip," Ayers continued, as he addressed another point of debate.
Awards And Honors:
"There is a lot of confusion on this; people think Wally Wood inked them all, because they're signed Kirby/Wood. But that was Dave Wood, the writer [no relation to artist Wally Wood]. I began Sky Masters with the 36th Sunday page; Jack's pencils, my inks, in September of 1959.
"I ended the Sundays in January of 1960. I also did the dailies for a period of [over] two years, from September of '59 to December of '61. These were complete inks; I was the only one doing it at the time. Of course, Wally Wood also worked on that strip, in the beginning, before me."
Ayers went on to ink scores of Kirby Western and monster stories, including such much-reprinted tales as "I Created The Colossus!" (Tales of Suspense #14, Feb. 1961), "Goom! The Thing From Planet X!" (Tales of Suspense #15, March 1961), and "Fin Fang Foom!" (Strange Tales #89, Oct. 1961).
There were also two stories in the first comic book formally published by the newly christened Marvel Comics, Amazing Adventures #3 (Aug. 1961).
As Marvel Comics introduced its the Marvel Age Of Superheroes in the early 1960s, Ayers inked Kirby on the first appearances of Ant-Man (Tales to Astonish #27 and 35, Jan. and Sept. 1962), Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (issues #1-3, May-Sept. 1963), and the revamped Rawhide Kid (beginning with The Rawhide Kid #17, Aug. 1960).
On the second and several subsequent early appearances of Thor (Journey into Mystery #84-89, Sept. 1962 - Feb. 1963), plus others; on Fantastic Four #6-20 (Sept. 1962 - Nov. 1963), and the spin-off Human Torch solo series in Strange Tales (starting with its debut in issue #101); and on some early issues of The Incredible Hulk, among other series.
Additionally, Ayers took over from Kirby as Sgt. Fury penciler with issue #8 (July 1964), beginning a 10-year run that — except for #13 (which he inked over Kirby's pencils), and five issues by other pencilers - continued virtually unbroken through #120 (with the series running Ayers reprints every-other-issue through most but not all from #79 on).
That's right - while Kirby was hands down the busiest artist at Marvel, that guy Ayers was certainly no slouch, either!
During the late 1980s, Ayers drew at least one edition of the promotional comic-book series TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids: Alec and Shanna, alternately titled The Tandy Computer Whiz Kids: Alec and Shanna, published by Archie Comics for Radio Shack. The comics worked in references to a multitude of Radio Shack products.
Ayers, inked by Chic Stone, drew the cover and the 28-page main story, written by Paul Kupperberg, for The Tandy Computer Whiz Kids: The Computers that Said No to Drugs Edition (March 1985). Of course this pioneering genre proved to be a gateway that would greatly help to usher in the era of home computers (and eventually their connection to the internet) that is still thriving today.
Ayers' work amazingly continued into the 2000s, including pencil art on The Song Of Mykal in 2001, and The Uncanny Dave Cockrum... A Tribute in 2004. In 2007 he worked on Doris Danger Seeks Where Urban Creatures Creep and Stomp!, The 3-Minute Sketchbook, and The Invincible Iron Man. He even penciled and lettered Femforce vs The Claw in 2002 and Femforce Features: Giantess in 2004, and penciled, inked and lettered Gunslingers in 2000 and Chips Wilde: The Wild One! in 2005.
His older pencil and ink work has also appeared in archival reprints throughout the 2000s, and naturally in the Marvel Comics reference series All-New Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe A-Z #6 (2006) and its 2007 update. In 2009, his work appeared in the Marvel Mystery Handbook 70th Anniversary Special.
Ayers died at his home in White Plains, New York on May 4, 2014, less than a week after his 90th birthday.
* Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes, drawn by Ayers, won the Alley Award for Best War Title in 1967 and 1968.
* 1985 National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Comic Book
* 2007 inductee, Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame
The Dick Ayers Story
Volume 1 of 2 (1951-1986)
Copyright © 2005 Mecca Comics Group
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