Dick Ayers, R.I.P.


A photo I took at the 2002 Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus, Ohio.

Dick Ayers, one of the last of the major artists of the early "Marvel Age of Comics," has died. It happened yesterday, only days following his 90th birthday. The cause is being reported as complications from Parkinson's Disease, a condition he had battled for some time.

Ayers was born April 28, 1924 in Ossining, New York. He did his first comic art while in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After his discharge, he sought work from comic book publishers but was told his work wasn't quite good enough. He studied with Burne Hogarth at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York, later known as the School of Visual Arts. The co-creator of Superman, Joe Shuster, visited the class and this led to Ayers assisting Shuster, who by then needed a lot of help due to failing eyesight. Ayers then worked for any number of publishers throughout the fifties but he was best known for a western hero he designed named The Ghost Rider.

Eventually, he did most of this work for Stan Lee at the company now known as Marvel. When the company had to downsize, Ayers found himself out of work and wound up getting a job, which he hated, at the post office. He continuously pestered Stan Lee to help him out of that situation and eventually, Stan brought him back to ink much of what Jack Kirby was doing for the firm and also to pencil some comics.

He was pretty good at inking Kirby's work and not bad at taking over the penciling of a strip that Kirby had launched. He drew Giant-Man, The Human Torch and others but super-heroes were not his strength. He did better at westerns and war books including a long run on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. At one point, Marvel even decided to revive The Ghost Rider, reportedly without permission, and Ayers wound up drawing a new version of that old character.

In the seventies, Dick had some trouble giving editors at Marvel what they wanted and he eventually found himself without sufficient work. Neal Adams intervened at DC to get them to take him on and for years, Dick worked mainly as a layout artist for them. He did many issues of Kamandi, The Unknown Soldier, Jonah Hex and other DC titles. Fans began to approach him about doing re-creations of his past work, particularly covers he'd done with Kirby, and he did a lot of that. That put him on the convention circuit where I got to spend a lot of time interviewing him on panels and talking with him when we weren't on stage. He was a charming gent with an amazing lifetime output of popular comics. They don't make 'em like that anymore.