Richard Bache “Dick” Ayers died May 4, 2014, at his home in White Plains, just six days after passing the nine-decade milestone, reportedly from Parkinson’s disease.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Charlotte Lindy Ayers, and their four children — daughter Elaine and sons Stephen, Richard, and Frederick — as well as his sister Joanne Paustian, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
His career in art spanned nearly 65 years, and he is best remembered for his comic-book work as an inker complementing legendary artist Jack Kirby’s pencils in the 1950s and 1960s, and co-creating the western hero Ghost Rider. He also had a remarkable ten-year run as the primary artist on the successful Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos comic, a series that introduced the character Nick Fury who would later become head of the agency that is the focus of the current TV show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
He won many awards throughout his career, including the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Comic Book award in 1985, and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2007.
He detailed the adventures of many popular superheroes in the Silver Age that are now stars of Marvel Comics’ cinematic empire — Thor, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and The Incredible Hulk.
Dick was born April 28, 1924 in Ossining, New York to John and Gladys Ayers, and raised throughout Westchester County.
He began to draw at a young age, inspired by the newspaper strips his father would read to him — like E C Segar’s Popeye, Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, and Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates — creating three- and four-panel comics for the student paper at Greenburgh High School, which he also edited.
He had early commercial success earlier as well, while attending Glenn Curtiss Memorial School in Hammondsport, when one of the teachers, Stan Smith, got him his first paying commission, doing menu artwork for the Pied Piper Restaurant on Keuka Lake.At 18, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, painting “nose art” on B-26 bombers for the pilots and produced his first comic strip, Radio Ray, that was published in the military newspaper Radio Post.
After the war, he attempted to break into comics by writing and drawing his own adventure strip. Dell Comics had shown interest but eventually passed on the idea.
A poster by Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth advertising the Cartoonists and Illustrators School then caught his eye in late 1947. After enrolling, he met teacher Marvin Stein, who also worked for Superman creator Joe Shuster. That fortuitous meeting landed him a gig on Shuster’s Funnyman syndicated strip, and in the door at Vin Sullivan’s Magazine Enterprises, which was also publishing it.
His first published work in comics was “The Doctor of Death – The True Story of Doc Holliday” in Cowboys and Indians #6, a story he penciled, inked, and lettered.
Dick quickly earned regular assignments at Magazine Enterprises, not only on Funnyman and humor strips like Jimmy Durante, but westerns (Calico Kid, Western Range Book, Straight Arrow, Cowboys and Indians).
In 1949 Ayers co-created, along with writer Raymond Krank, Ghost Rider, the adventures of Rex Fury, formerly the Calico Kid. The character would eventually don a mask and confront a variety of supernatural foes in the Old West.
Ayers’s reliability and talent allowed him to expand into his own studio in 1952, taking on additional clients like Marvel, Stanmor, Ace, ACG, and Charlton.
By 1955, the creation of the Comics Code following the claims of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham that comic books were harmful to children, reduced his client base to just Charlton, so Ayers moved on to Marvel Comics and Stan Lee, though he continued to do brief freelance work with Magazine Enterprises, Archie, St. John, and others.
This was the beginning of a long tenure with Stan Lee that lasted through 1976.
In the late ’50s he worked on virtually every title in the Marvel lineup, including horror [Adventure into Mystery, Astonishing Comics, Journey into Mystery, Journey into Unknown Worlds, Marvel Tales, Mystic, Mystical Tales, Spellbound, Strange Stories of Suspense, Strange Tales of the Unusual, Strange Tales, Strange Worlds, Tales to Astonish, World of Fantasy, World of Mystery, Uncanny Tales], war [Sergeant Barney Barker, Battle Action, Battle, Battlefront, Battleground, Marines in Battle, War Comics, Combat Casey, Navy Action, Navy Combat, Navy Tales], and westerns [Kid Colt Outlaw, Matt Slade Gunfighter, Outlaw Kid, Cowboy Action, Frontier Western, Gunsmoke Western, Quick-Trigger Western, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid, Western Outlaws, Wild Western, Two-Gun Kid, Outlaw Kid, Six-Gun Western, Two-Gun Western, and Wyatt Earp].
His first inks over Kirby pencils came in the cover Strange Tales #70 [August, 1959] and with his full collaborations in the five-page “Face to Face with the Gunfighter!” for Wyatt Earp #25 [October, 1959] and the six-page “The Martian Who Stole My Body” in Journey into Mystery #57 [December, 1959].
His relationship with Marvel continued through the superhero resurgence of the Silver Age to 1976, and Ayers frequently found himself paired with Kirby. His portfolio included inking most of the popular characters — Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Avengers, Captain America, X-Men, Daredevil, and Sub-Mariner — and regular full art credits on Human Torch, Giant-Man, the superhero incarnation of Ghost Rider and his signature Sergeant Fury/Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Somehow in the 1960s he also found time to work on Harvey Comics’ Alarming Adventures, Bee-Man, Jigsaw, and Spyman; and Tower Comics’ Dynamo, Menthor and Noman; and the humor magazine SICK.
With the departure of Kirby to DC, Dick’s pencil work increased, first with Captain Marvel, Gunhawks, It, The Living Colossus, Red Wolf, Dracula, Tales of the Zombie, War Is Hell! and Worlds Unknown.
In 1974, he began a teaching career that would continue through 1983, passing his knowledge and experience on to new students of the craft, including at the prestigious Guggenheim Museum and the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Arts.
In 1976, he began a ten-year career with DC Comics, first on the Kirby created Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth, and further pencils on the superhero books Freedom Fighters, Scalphunter, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Wonder Woman; several war strips (G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories, Unknown Soldier, Army at War, Sergeant Rock, Haunted Tank); and horror (Weird War Tales, Witching Hour, Ghosts, Gravedigger, Jonah Hex, Time Warp, Unexpected, House of Mystery, Secrets of Haunted House and Elvira’s House Of Mystery).
He also re-established a working relationship with Archie Comics, beginning in 1983 and extending through 1988, when he did promotional comics for Radio Shack using iconic Archie superheroes. Along the way, he worked on Original Shield, Steel Sterling, Black Hood, Fly, Fox, Jaguar, Mantech Robot Warriors, and Mighty Crusaders.
In 2004, he published an ambitious and unusual three-volume graphic memoir, The Dick Ayers Story, through Mecca Comics.
Ayers became a popular attendee at comics conventions and continued to acquire freelance assignments through 2013, working for comic publishers Marvel, DC, Modern Publishing, Aida-Zee Comics, Topps, Comico, AC Comics, Revolutionary and Old Town Publishing; magazines like Boys’ Life, Cracked, The Comics Journal, Cartoonist PROfiles, Jack Kirby Quarterly, and prozines like Robin Snyder’s Comics.