A quiet titan of comic book art has passed.
Dick Ayers passed away on May 4, 2014, about a week after his 90th birthday. He worked in comic books and cartoons, and is widely regarded for his tenure inking Jack Kirby’s pencils in the 1950s and 1960s.
A World War II veteran himself, he illustrated a 10-year run on Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos and co-created the original Ghost Rider for Magazine Enterprises.
Even recently he had been a fixture at comic book conventions.
According to his website, 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 getting his start in the Golden Age, he worked throughout the 1950s, including launching Ghost Rider. He also drew for Charlton Comics, including for the horror comic The Thing and the satirical series Eh!.
That era also saw his first work inking Jack Kirby.
"The first work I did with Jack was the cover of Wyatt Earp #25 [Oct. 1959]. Stan Lee liked it and sent me another job, 'The Martian Who Stole My Body,' for Journey Into Mystery #57 [Dec. 1959],” Ayers said.
He worked steadily in comics in the 1960s and ‘70s, and continued to work into the 2000s, including illustrating his autobiography.
He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Dick Ayers was one of the last of the greats, that select group of talented individuals whose contributions laid the foundation for the creative enterprise that is today’s comic book industry. Everyone who made his acquaintance knew him to be a gentleman as well as the editor’s best friend at deadline time. While for many he was synonymous with Jack Kirby, whose work he inked so beautifully, he was a superb storyteller in his own rite. My condolences go out to his family, friends and fans,” said Steve Geppi, President and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors.
“Although we have lost Dick Ayers, he leaves us richer by the wonderful memories he brought us. Not only did he entertain generations of readers with the countless gifts of his dynamic art, but he also gave us the delight of meeting him. It's impossible to estimate the number of hours he and Lindy sacrificed in order to make themselves available at comics events. It was always a privilege to be able to thank them for all the joy they brought to us,” said Maggie Thompson, Scoop columnist and former editor of the Comics Buyer’s Guide.
“Dick Ayers was a supreme stylist and an exceptionally good storyteller. His Ghost Rider in the 1950s was and remains a highlight of that period... his early inking of Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four helped solidify the look of Marvel's flagship title... and his work on Sgt. Fury became a standard for "the war comic for people who hate war comics." I enjoyed working with him for that year on Sgt. Fury, because he was always full of ideas and ready to run with them,” said Roy Thomas, editor of Alter Ego and former Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics.
“And he was, from first to last, a valuable team player, ready to hop in where he was needed, be it penciling or inking or both. Along with that, he was a helluva nice guy. As one who came to work in the comics field in the late 1940s, he's been one of our last links to the Golden Age... a chain that inevitably has ever fewer living links. But he was equally important to the Silver Age and beyond. Dick Ayers was one of the giants, and he won't quickly be forgotten by those who love good, basic comic books,” he said.
“Dick was impeccably professional and dependable, wielding his pencil to tell stories clearly and dramatically, week after week for decades. I had the pleasant responsibility of keeping Dick's drawing board filled with assignments for a number of years, and while he never achieved super-star status, literally millions of copies of his work sold solidly, and he saved his editors from shipping late untold times. Thanks again, Dick,” Paul Levitz, former President and Publisher of DC Comics, posted on Facebook.
“Dick Ayers was there at the beginning of the Marvel Age and without his outstanding work, Marvel wouldn’t be what it is today. At early Big Apple Conventions he was a regular guest. Always gracious and kind, he made all the fans feel very welcome. He created one of my all-time favorite characters, the original Ghost Rider. One of my prized possessions is a convention commission he did of Ghost Rider for me. He told me that the headless horseman was his inspiration for the character. We have lost another great one. Rest in peace Mr. Ayers,” said Vincent Zurzolo, Chief Operating Officer of Metropolis Collectibles and ComicConnect.com.
“The entire Heritage comics staff is deeply saddened to learn of Dick Ayers’ passing. His contributions to the comic book field are undeniable. We all owe a part of our careers to his impressive and prodigious contributions to the field,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President of Heritage Auctions.
“A few of us at Heritage have had the privilege of working with Mr. Ayers as a consignor and got to visit him on a few occasions. He was always a humble and gracious host. Though he had ample reasons to boast about his role as seminal contributor to the Marvel superhero phenomenon, he never did. In fact he was grateful that we could help him and his family in our small way. He was a gentleman from the old school. Our sympathies go out to the Ayers family. We have lost a man who influenced generations,” he said.
"Dick Ayers was the unsung pioneer of the Marvel universe. Although he worked in the industry long before and long after Marvel became Marvel, his work inking Jack Kirby and penciling Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos was pivotal. He wasn't as loud as some of the architects, but he was rock-solid steady and left a great legacy behind in his work, his family, and his friends," said Melissa Bowersox, President of Geppi's Entertainment Museum.
Dick Ayers was interviewed on Vincent Zurzolo’s radio show, Comic Zone Radio, which can be listened to online.