I’m sorry to report the passing of Dick Ayers, the Eisner Hall of Fame cartoonist, who is best known as a longtime Marvel artist and prolific Jack Kirby inker but did quite a bit of other work as well—in penciling, inking, lettering, coloring, basically in just about every aspect of comics production. He did all this not just for Marvel, but for many other publishers too. His historic career in comic books and comic strips made him, for fans, a living link to the fondly remembered roots of the business.
Ayers’ full-time comics career spanned from about 1947-48 to the mid-80s, tapering off after that, but he continued to cartoon into the 2000s. From his early work for Magazine Enterprises, for which he co-created the horror-tinged Western character Ghost Rider, to his late-career work for DC, Archie, and Bill Black’s AC, Ayers was a jack-of-all-trades comics artist who put his hand to many different genres and trends. He had a particular yen for Western and war comics.
It is Ayers’ Silver Age work for Marvel that fans are most likely to remember today: he penciled Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (co-created by Kirby) for a heroic ten-year run (1964-1974), and inked Kirby on scads of comics, including Westerns, monster tales, and, most famously, seminal superhero comics such as The Fantastic Four, “The Human Torch” (in Strange Tales), and The Avengers. Whenever I think of Ayers, I see comic books like The Avengers #1 and Fantastic Four Annual #1 (both 1963) in my mind’s eye.
By all accounts, Ayers loved being a comics artist. He was said to be an easygoing and generous man, and took great pride in revisiting his accomplishments and recalling old times (an interview between Ayers and Roy Thomas in Alter Ego #10, from 2001, gives a glimpse into his very early days). In recent years he had been an enthusiastic comics convention-goer as well as commission artist, often recreating iconic covers from his comic book heyday.
My condolences to Mr. Ayers’ family, friends, and fans. I am sorry to know that he is gone.
Links: I recommend my readers visit comics historian Blake Bell’s blog for a touching reminiscence of visiting Ayers at his home back in 2001-2002 (the photo at the bottom of this post comes from there).