Monday, May 5, 2014

Dick Ayers: Two Interviews

Dick Ayers passed on May 4, 2014 at the age of 90.  I am proud to say that I considered him, and his lovely wife Lindy, friends.  Dick did so much in his industry, and was very proud, of course, of his work on Sgt. Fury.  You see Dick served in the Armed Forces during World War II and was proud of that. He told me he never spoke about that time in his life because he drew it in Sgt. Fury.

Please check out Nick Caputo’s blog on Dick Ayers, at

I do have some wonderful and interesting tales to tell, I did so in an Alter Ego issue, but I am really too sad tonight to wrote them.  Instead here are TWO Interviews with Dick Ayers

1991- Comics Interview: Of you’re a fan of the Silver Age, you probably remember Dick Ayers as the definitive artist on Marvel’s SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS. Dick’s place in comics history would be secure if only for that, and for being a mainstay of the ‘60s Marvel Bullpen, along with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (whom he inked extensively on early FANTASTIC FOUR), Steve Ditko, and Don Heck.
But Dick has done a lot more than that, and has made a name for himself as one of the best western and war artists in the business. His magnum opus was probably THE GHOST RIDER for Magazine Enterprises in the early ‘50s, which he reprised in altered form for Marvel in the mid-’60s. Besides that, he was the main artist on Marvel’s revived original HUMAN TORCH in 53-54, on ME’s THE AVENGER, and on a torrent of western and war tales for Marvel, as well as inking a slew of Kirby fantasy stories in the pre-hero days at Marvel. In the ‘60s, besides SGT FURY, Dick was the artist of the Human Torch strip in STRANGE TALES and of the TWO-GUN KID. In the 70s he began working for DC, on JONAH HEX and the war line. Later on, his art appeared on Red Circle’s SHIELD and, most recently, in AIDA-Zee, a Christian comic attracting many mainstream contributors. In the midst of all that he found time to work for Charlton, Prize, St. John, and Skywald, as well.
Thus, Dick Ayers is living comics history. And to learn some of that history, we gave him a call one day and caught it all on tape. Roll it, gang .. .
LOU MOUGIN: How did you get inspired to become a comic-book artist?
DICK AYERS: When I was about ten years old, I guess, I started seeing FLASH GORDON and TERRY AND THE PIRATES.

LOU: Yeah, those seem to be the ones that inspired —
DICK: Most of us young guys at the time. Before that my father had started me out with reading the comics in the early ‘30s, BRINGING UP FATHER and POPEYE and WASH TUBBS -WASH TUBBS was a favorite.
LOU: Not too many people these days realize what good adventure strips those old humor strips were.
DICK: Yeah. Then DICK TRACY came along.
LOU: And after that you decided you wanted to become a comic-strip artist?
DICK: Mostly, yeah. Comic books weren’t around, and then when they did come out they were reprints of what I had been reading. I had good luck. My grandfather was a railroad conductor. He went away for three days and when he came back there was a pile of newspapers with all the comics in them, so I saw just about everything!
LOU: This is going sketchy over the biography: I’ve got that you served with the Army Air Corps in World War II, and one of the credits I have for you — your first comic-book credit, I guess — is a 1942 strip for the Army Air Corps newspaper, RADIO RAY.
DICK: How’d you find that out? (Laughter.) There was only one collector I told about that years back and he sought out to find a copy of RADIO RAY.
LOU: Did he ever find it?
DICK: I don’t know, I suppose he did. It was in a newspaper called RADIO POST in Wisconsin.
LOU: Exactly what kind of a strip was it?
DICK: It was a pantomime. This was a school for radio mechanics and radio operators, so it was just the life-on-the base type of thing.
LOU: Kind of like JOE DOPE or something like that?
DICK: Well, it was a little smarter than that. (Laughter.) It was like SAD SACK.
LOU: Were you a radio operator?
DICK: I started out being a radio mechanic, then I was assigned to a squadron and was going overseas and they needed a draftsman. I went to Tampa University for 30 days and got my spec number changed and became a draftsman. And that’s about it, I was a squadron draftsman. I went to Britain and then over to Normandy, up into Holland, then Germany.
LOU: You saw some action?
DICK: Yeah, we had six campaigns; I served under Colonel Silk in the 586th Bomb Squadron, which was the 394th Bomb Group. There was an article in AIR AND SPACE that Smithsonian puts out called `Risque Business;” it’s on painting nose art, and I did a lot of that. LOU: One of the things that comes to mind, when I hear your name. is SGT FURY and the other war maps, and I guess you must have had a lot of experience in the Big One to draw upon?
DICK:1 helped plot a lot of the stories, in fact most of them. I’d have 23 pages and a little synopsis to work from, so there was plenty of room to slip some stuff in.
LOU: Especially with Marvel style.
DICK: Yeah.
LOU: I’m really getting the cart ahead of the horse here. (Laughter.) When you got out of the Army you attended the Cartoonists and Illustrators School for a couple of years, is that right?
DICK: No, that’• a little bit off. I studied first at the Art Career School for about a year, then I went to try to make it in comics. That fell apart. (Laughter.)Then I noticed there was a school which Burne Hogarth was part of called Cartoonists and Illustrators, so I got into that. That was like in September, then the following April I got the Jimmy Durante book with Magazine Enterprises.
LOU: I’ve got down your first job in comic books, and this may be wrong, was pencilling FUNNY MAN for Siegel and Shuster.
DICK: Yeah, while I was going to school I did that.
LOU: What was it like working with those guys?
DICK: Oh, it was great! Also in the office there was Marvin Stein, the main one that did the pencilling and all that.
LOU: Who was the editor at M. E. at that ,time, Vince Sullivan?
DICK: Ray Krank.
LOU: Okay. And you stayed with
Magazine Enterprises for about ten years, I guess.
DICK: Off and on, yeah, I did. It was freelance, so at the same time I was working for them I was working for Timely.
LOU: I guess M.E. went under about the time you stopped working for them.
DICK: M.E. lasted until ‘56 or ‘57; 1955 was the last time 1 worked for them.
LOU: Well, the most famous strip you did for them, or the one I always recall, was the original GHOST RIDER. He was a pretty scary dude, and you co-created him as I hear it.
DICK: I kind of helped design the costume but I wouldn’t claim much of the creation; that was Vince Sullivan and Ray Krank. I don’t remember who was the first writer was on it. I was in the office when they were kicking back and
forth what he would be like, what he would do, all that kind of stuff.
LOU: Was the impetus just to combine the horror and western things?
DICK: I think the horror came later, the kind of horror that you’re talking about. At first he was just a ghostly character that scared the bejesus out of everybody. (Laughter.) The big influence at that time was THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN that Disney put out.
LOU: The strips I’ve seen of the old GHOST RIDER are really top-notch. What was it like working on that? DICK: Oh, I enjoyed working on GHOST RIDER. I’d do it again if I could.
LOU: Only they’d call it NIGHT RIDER now.
DICK: Yeah, they’re reprinting some of the stuff under that name.
LOU: Another strip you did for ME., a really short-lived one, was THE AVENGER.
DICK: I did one issue andt:hen they switched it over to Bob Powell. It was BOBBY BENSON that I did . . . I don’t know, issues #13 to #20.
LOU: Yeah, I’ve got you down for a whole bunch of westerns. You were saddled, if you will excuse the pun, with so many westerns, I guess this was when the western was the most popular genre in comics.
DICK: For a long time, yeah, and then the other westerns that I did over at Marvel, and then at the end there was JONAH HEX and SCALPHUNTER over at DC.
LOU: Yeah, you were like the western artist through all that.
DICK: I used to call myself at the end the John Wayne of comic books. (Laughter.)
LOU: On the case of JIMMY DURANTE, one of the things I always wanted to ask somebody who worked on one of the old adaptations was how did you adapt this guy to comics?
DICK: Well, Vince Sullivan in the ‘30s, I think it was, did a strip called SCHNOZOLA, and so it was through him that was the contact with Jimmy Durante. They supplied me with photographs, and also my Jimmy Durante kind of looked like what Vince Sullivan drew. And then to get tihe feel I played his
records all the time while I was working.
LOU: Did you write it as well?
DICK: No, Ray Krank wrote it. It was three issues, but I don’t think the third one came out.
LOU: Around ‘51 I’ve got you starting to work at Marvel, which was Timely back then. That was when Stan Lee was coming back to the company, right? DICK: I think so, yeah. Actually, because I’ve typed up a bibliography of every story I ever did, and the  first story I did for Marvel was about 1948: It was in the summer, I was looking for work, and I think Stan was on vacation and somebody assigned me a detective story.

LOU: For one of their crime books?
DICK: Yeah.
LOU: In the early ‘50s you did THE HUMAN TORCH in that really brief revival. How did you get handed that?
DICK: 1 don’t know, Stan just assigned it. It went along good, I adapted to it — I wasn’t too keen on it at the time, a guy flaming up and flying around, burning like that. Then the censorship came along from that Wertham hook and just
the title alone killed the series.
LOU: They were afraid kids would set themselves on fire to be like the Human Torch.
DICK: They thought like that, yeah.
LOU: Okay. You ended up working for a lot of other outfits, Charlton, Prize and so on, but Marvel was like your home base from the early ‘50s on.
DICK: Yeah.
LOU: Was this because of the big comics crunch about that time?
DICK: Well, no; Stan kept supplying me the work as fast as I was getting it done, so I kept being faithful to him. And every once in awhile Ray Krank would start up with a GHOST RIDER again or something. Charlton just came along because it was at one of those inventory periods.
LOU: Marvel managed to survive, of course, through the “mire period -which was a nice thing for them to do.
Besides the war books, which we’ll get to in due time, can you tell me something about working on the Marvel westerns? I think you started with WATT EA RP.
DICK: Did WYATT EARP come first, or was it THE RAWHIDE KID?
LOU: The early original RAWHIDE KID, it might have been.
DICE: I remember doing that before I did WYATT EARP. Because of the censorship thing they had to give up the Rawhide Kid with the whip, so the only thing 1 could think of to call him the Rawhide Kid was to put chaps on him, and he became just an ordinary cowpuncher.
LOU: That’s a new one on me. I didn’t know that his name was the Rawhide Kid because of the whip.
DICK: Yeah, and that was the fun part to draw. I’d have him snapping out the cigarettes and the cigars in the villains’ mouths, tearing off the gunbelts, having them fall down.
LOU: Right. Then TWO-GUN KID, that was the original 7ivo-Gun Kid without the mask.
DICK: I don’t remember doing THE TWO-GUN KID, but I probably did.
LOU: How did Marvel decide to bring back a refurbished GHOST RIDER back in 1967?
DICK: Well, Thomas was working with Stan at the time and he was a fan of the Ghost Rider before he got into comics so it just came about.
Lou: Nobody had a copyright on it?
Dick: No, that’s another story. They printed that they had the copyright, I was told and they had the copyright, and I wanted to draw it just like I did before. But Roy Thomas changed it and you have to read the original Ghost Rider where Rex Fury was a federal Marshall.
Lou: Right.
Dick: He could show up anywhere in the west. Roy Thomas came along and made up a new name and made him a school teacher, which kept him in the same place in the same local. And the Marvel Ghost Rider got supernatural powers from some Indian or something. I helped in that department where he went down in a whirlpool and the he saw in a delirium the ghost of Wild Bill Hickok and he came our more or less like the Shadow with trickery, ventriloquism and tricks. And that’s where the Chinese fellow came from.
LOU: Which ended up being the kid in the 1967 version.
DICK: Yeah.
LOU: I enjoyed both incarnations of  THE GHOST RIDER, and I guess everybody else did.
DICK: Yeah, I guess they did. Then they did just like they did with THE HULK, they put it away for awhile — I don’t know why — to try again later. In the meantime, while it was put away, somebody came up with the idea of putting a character on a motorcycle and calling him the Ghost Rider, so when they went back to put him out again they were stuck, so they called him the Night Rider. Down at Magazine Enterprises we tried to think Op a new title for him when that censorship thing came - but no way, it was THE GHOST RIDER and that was it!
LOU: That was a pretty rocky time, to say the least, and anything the least bit smacking of supernaturalism was taboo.
DICK: Oh, the censorship was rough. You can’t imagine what it was like drawing SGT. FURY where they had to sneak up behind some German sentry and clobber him; you’d have to show them creeping up behind him and then have the helmet fly through the air with a few exclamation marks, then show this guy unconscious. (Laughter.)
LOU: That sounds really weird, to say the least.
DICK: Yeah.
LOU: The last one before we get into the war books, you also took over THE HUMAN TORCH and GIANT-MAN at Marvel in the early ‘60s, working with Stan.
DICK: Yeah the new Human Torch was a lot more fun in that he had that limitation, seven minutes into the air and then he had to recharge or something, and he was a teenager.

LOU: Yeah, I remember those. They were pretty fun, and plus you had a chance to work with the Thing, who was in those stories a pretty comical character himself.
DICK: Yeah.
LOU: Okay. I guess the major strip most of us remember you working on was SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, and I want to know a lot about that one. How was it that Stan tapped you to work on it following Jack Kirby?
DICK: Well, I’d done a lot of war stories and Jack was starting to get too busy with a whatever,  so he just starting assigning me Sgt. Fury. Also, I dependable on being on deadlines all the time. I never missed one.
LOU: In fact you were inking Jack on that title as well as a ton of other things before you took over the pencilling.
DICK: Yeah, I did SGT. FURY as an inker for awhile.
LOU: What was it like inking Jack? You two seemed to really mesh well there for many years.
DICK: Oh, yeah, I kept very busy.
LOU: What was it like Stan handing you a short plot, maybe a couple of lines, and then you building it into a story?
DICK: Like you were saying,  the synopsis that I would get a few short lines, that’s all, or a conversation on the telephone like we’re talking, and don’t take shorthand. I could just keep tabs on what I could and then right away after I hung up to go write out my plot.
LOU:     were the restrictions of the censorship at that time?
DICK: No mugging, really no violence like that.
LOU: Couldn’t show somebody getting bayonetted.
DICK: No, or bullets going through their body.
LOU: You could do damage to these big war machines and such like that, right? DICK: Well, you could show them getting shot or something but you couldn’t show the gory part. There must have been some block on mugging, like they didn’t want to convey that idea across to the little juveniles. (Laughter.) You know, they blamed us for all the
 Juvenile delinquency, as they phrased it in those days. Now they blame it on dope or something.
LOU: So, the writer I remember most on SGT FURY after Stan is Gary Friedrich. You and and John Severin turned in a whole batch of try memorable stories.
DICK: I liked Gary as a writer, very good. At the end, though, it was rough, he would only turn in a half of synopsis. It was the same way, he’d hand in a synopsis then I would draw it then he would write the words to fit the picture. Sometimes I would get a synopsis that only gave me part of the story and then I have to go scratching to find the rest of it.  That would upset me because I am very methodical, so if you could supply me the synopsis for 20 pages I could have the whole story done in a week.
LOU: Was it pretty weird working with this wild young guy on a World War II comic?
DICK: (Laughter.) I never got to see him really that often; I met him only a handful of times. He was very different. But his stories always were good. I liked his plots.
LOU: And working with John Severin, what was that like?
DICK: That was great, it was a good team. He was the type of inker that if I drew a tank he added to it. Whatever equipment was thrown in, medals on uniforms or whatever, he would improve upon it.
LOU: The plug kind of got pulled on SGT FURY and of course CAPTAIN SAVAGE and COMBAT KELLY which you were also doing, in the early 70s. Was this due to the disenchantment in the late Vietnam era or what?
DICK: No, I think it was just the assignment of whoever was inking it. John left and then I was frustrated because I was having all these different inkers; trying to get control of how it
would come out. It never seemed to satisfy me when I saw what was published. Then Gary left and I would never know who the writer was the teamwork just disappeared.
LOU: COMBAT KELLY, that’s one I remember; it was a weird book in that you started out with a DIRTY DOZEN concept and then in the last issue you killed off darn near everybody. How did that one come about?
DICK: I don’t remember, just that’s the way they planned it.
LOU: After FURY died in 73 you gravitated to DC where you co created SCALPHUNTER.

DICK: Yes. Joe Orlando was the editor and . . . I forget who the writer was.
LOU: Michael Fleisher.
DICK: Michael Fleisher was the writer. Whether it was Michael’s idea or an idea from Sergio Aragones I don’t remember. Joe Orlando gave me the task of designing the costume, what he looked like.
LOU: And that ended up being your “white Indian” kind of gut:
DICK: Yeah. It was Michael writing it in the beginning, and while he was doing it we concentrated on the Indian factor. Then when Gerry Conway came along it became the white man end of it. George Evans was inking it while he was the Indian. I liked him.
LOU: And you also got into JONAH
HEX around the late 70s, I think. What was it like working with Fleisher on that one?
DICK: It was good. Joe Orlando told me when he assigned me that book, “Now, Dick, things have changed a little bit, it’s not always the good guy wears the white hat and the bad guy wears the black hat.”
LOU: Clint Eastwood stuff
DICK: Yeah. They started to do away with the censorship thing and I could get a little bit more gory.
LOU: You had people putting out
people’s eyes with pitchforks and all that
kind of good stuff Was it kind of weird working on something like that?
DICK: At first, yeah.
LOU: Did you get used to it?
DICK: Well ... I forget who the editor was, but they waited me to work on one of those black-arld-white things with the horror, and 1 was’ rebelling, I didn’t want to do it. So the publisher said, “Before you say no I want you to see a movie called THE WIt..13 BUNCH and then come back and tell me you wouldn’t do it.” So I saw the movie, which was just out, with all that Shooting and stuff, and then I said okay. After that session of doing those, with eyeballs flying through the air and stuff, doing JONAH HEX was tame. (Laughter.)
LOU: Somewhere in there you were out of comics and working as a night watchman and then Neal Adams came to your aid. Can you tell me something about that episode?
DICK: Oh, yeah. Just about that time when I was working for General Foods in security there was an item in the paper one morning, THE DAILY NEWS, with a picture of Neal Adams in it, and JoeShuster and Jerry Siegel. Warner Communications had just awarded them you know that story —
LOU: Yeah, the pension for SUPERMAN.
DICK: So then I called up Neal because I wanted to call up Joe Shuster — I didn’t know where he was or anything — and congratulate him. So Neal asked me what I was doing and I told him, and he said, “Gee, that’s not right. Come in and see me.” So I went in and he saw me and he sent me up to see Joe Orlando.
 LOU: That’s great. Any thoughts on your long career in comics, like what gave you the most pleasure, what was the least pleasurable, all that kind of good stuff?
DICK: Oh, I liked just about everything I ever did.
LOU: Who was the most fun editor to work with?
DICK: Stan. I really got along very well with whoever I worked with.
LOU: Which strip did you enjoy working on the most?
LOU: Frazetta did a lot of GHOST RIDER covers. Did you ever have a chance to speak with him?
DICK: I met him once in Ray Kranks office, a very young fellow then. This was 1948 and he had two beautiful girls with him; he was on a date or something. (Laughter.)I liked his covers very much.

An interview with Bill Black:

DICK AYERS is a legendary comic book artist. He is co-creator of one of the most exciting Western characters in comics’ history--- THE GHOST RIDER. This character was the most unusual of them all because his adventures were horror stories set in the West. The publisher was ME (Magazine Enterprises) under the leadership of publisher Vin Sullivan and editor Ray Krank.

At ME artists were permitted to sign their stories... not a common practice of the late 1940’s- early 50s. Dick Ayers always signed his work as did Frank Bolle, Fred Guardineer, Bob Powell, Frank Frazetta and other ME artists. Therefore I was able to attach a particular name to a particular art style. At a very early age I could identify various artists without benefit of signature. Dick Ayers had a very unique style. Whereas many artists aped other artists... there where many Caniff,Raymond and Kirby clones...
Dick’s work was 100% Ayers. His action was very exaggerated in an era when most of his contemporaries used a far more restrained approach. Dick’s figures were stretched and contorted beyond human ability but that’s the way we liked them! He was applying super hero dynamism to genre stories. It’s no wonder, then, that when he began working for Atlas Comics (Marvel) in the early 1950’s, editor Stan Lee assigned Dick to draw the Human Torch.

Interestingly enough, Dick was still with Marvel when Stan revived the Human Torch as a member of the FANTASTIC FOUR in the 1960’s. Ayers inked many of the early FF adventures over Jack Kirby’s pencils and went on to illustrate the Human Torch adventures in another Marvel title, STRANGE TALES.
Dick excelled at drawing Westerns which he did for many, many years at Atlas/ Marvel. He also had a very long stint on SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS. In the 1970’s Dick worked at DC Comics drawing KAMANDI, JONAH HEX, SCALPHUNTER and many super hero features such as FREEDOM FIGHTERS.

In the 1980’s he drew THE SHIELD and other super heroes for Archie Comics. In the 1990’s, he penciled a long run on FEMFORCE for AC Comics. In this magazine we will discuss with Dick Ayers his participation in the 1950’s HUMAN TORCH revival at Atlas.

Bill Black- In 1950-51, you were working comfortably at ME doing GHOST RIDER and BOBill Black:Y BENSON. What circumstances came about to cause you to look for additional work elsewhere?
Dick Ayers- Economics and survival. In April, ‘51 I was married and in September the bride, Lindy, and I were to be parents and also Magazine Enterprises, with inventoryon hand, they suspended production on Ghost Rider. I didn’t know for how long. Vin Sullivan’s secretary had advised me once that, to maintain a steady income, I should have three accounts. I began searching and remembered I had pencilled an 8 page detective story for Timely in August of 1949. I had not met Stan Lee yet as he was on vacation when I got that assignment.
Bill Black- In the early 1950’s there were dozens of comics publishers around. What made you decide to go to Atlas?
Dick Ayers- I had tried to connect with Atlas, or Timely, before. Even once in 1947 with
an idea for a comic book.
Bill Black- What where the circumstances concerning your very first Atlas assignment? What was it?
Dick Ayers- I delivered my first lettered, penciled and inked story to Stan on October 12th, 1951. It was a 4 page story called “Ghouls Rush In.”
Bill Black- What was the Atlas (Marvel) Bull Pen like in the early 1950’s? They were publishing a zillion books... was there an art director when you worked there? Or did you work directly with Stan?
Dick Ayers- I never saw Timely’s bullpen. I dealt directly with Stan.
Bill Black- Joe Sinnott, a contemporary of yours, said of this time that Stan would be constantly banging away at the typewriter writing many short scripts each day... all variety of subject matter. They piled up on his desk as they were completed. When Joe went in for an assignment, Stan would just hand him whatever script was on top! It might be Western, war, horror... whatever. Was this your experience as well?
Dick Ayers- Stan reached in to a file drawer to get the script he would assign me. He’d have one set aside for me.
Bill Black- What•were some of the features you worked on at Atlas?
Dick Ayers- The assignments throughout ‘51 and ‘52 were surprise-ending mystery stories ( called “horror” stories) and in January of ‘53 I got my first feature, Buzz Brand. There were only four of those. There was a Black Rider, a Two Gun Kid, a Kid Colt and then, in November, 1953 I was assigned The Human Torch. Plus war stories and whatever. I had quite a run of Rawhide Kids and a long run with Wyatt Earp that lasted until December, 1959.
Bill Black- Hey, I never heard of Buzz Brand. I’ll have to hunt that one out. I know you did the original version of RAWHIDE KID which was very different from the later Kirby version. You also did a CLIFF MASON, WHITE HUNTER for JUNGLE TALES. In late 1953, Atlas decided to try to revive the super hero trend that had dominated the newsstands of the 1940’s. Were you around to hear any of the plans for this?

Dick Ayers- No, I communicated by phone and wasn’t privy to any office gossip. Buzz Brand was in YOUNG MEN.
Bill Black- That’s a shame. I’d have liked to have heard what prompted the revival. The three super characters they brought back were HUMAN TORCH, CAPTAIN AMERICA and SUB MARINER. Initially they were featured in an existing title that heretofore consisted of war stories... YOUNG MEN. This would imply certain caution on the publisher’s part, converting a book rather than starting a new title. The HUMAN TORCH, drawn by his creator, Carl Burgos, was on the cover of YOUNG MEN No. 24, Dec, 1953 (first number of the revival) with small illos of SUB MARINER and CAP boxed at the bottom. It was obvious that the HUMAN TORCH was meant to be the big star of this revival.
You probably have no idea but could you guess why RUSS HEATH drew the first TORCH story instead of BURGOS?
Dick Ayers- I have no idea, only that Stan sent me a set of photostats of Russ’s story as a guide to how he wanted the Torch rendered.
Bill Black- In YOUNG MEN No. 25 (Feb, 1954), Burgos did draw the TORCH and it was some of his best work ever (his early 1940’s Torch stories being very crude). His art was even better in YM No. 26 (Mar, 54). Burgos did all the YM covers and stories in YM No. 25-28, but when it came time to launch the TORCH in his own title, YOU got the assignment! How did this come about?
Dick Ayers- Again I have no idea. The scripts were mailed to me and I wouldn’t know what my assignment was until I opened the package.
Bill Black- You did a horror story for MEN’S ADVENTURES No. 26. Maybe you were just assigned to that title and drew the Torch when it went super hero? In HUMAN TORCH No. 36. Burgos drew the cover as he did on all subsequent TORCH books. You drew the inside stories... but all the figures of the Torch and Toro with their “flame on were re-drawn by Carl Burgos. You also drew the solo adventures of the HUMAN TORCH in STRANGE TALES in the 2nd revival for Marvel in the 1960’s. Can you compare the two features? Which did you like better?
Dick Ayers- As I read the collection of ‘53 Torches you sent me recently, I honestly say I liked the ‘53 stories and art better. There was more action and inventiveness with the Torch and Toro. The ‘60’s Torch was weak in comparison.
Bill Black- You accomplished something that your fellow artists find amazing. In all your early work you pencil, ink and LETTER the stories. This complete art job makes each assignment an all -Ayers package thus eliminating any sort of “house style”, even down to the lettering. The stories you did for ME, Atlas and Charlton are virtually identical and aside from the characters depicted. Obviously, you make more money by also doing the lettering. How did you manage to get the “complete gig” when so many of your fellow artists who could also letter, rarely did?
Dick Ayers- I didn’t realize that I
had a rarity in doing my own lettering. It was just that I enjoy doing my own lettering and get a “feel” for what I’m going to draw while I do it... before I start drawing and interpreting the script and always asked the editors to let me do it. Production-wise, it saved them time.
Bill Black- I have a page of original art from the dinosaur story (HUMAN TORCH No. 36) and it is drawn on ILLUSTRATION BOARD. Did you supply your own paper? Was this the practice at the time? What tools did you use to ink the TORCH? What pen nib did you use to letter?
Dick Ayers- Yes, artists bought their own paper. I used a #6 Windsor Newton series 7 brush, Speedball FB5 and FB6 pens for lettering and a croquill pen on backgrounds sometimes.
Bill Black- Both at ME and Atlas, you worked on an “inventory system” since each story (5 to 8 pages in length) was complete in itself and there was little continuity from story to story. Can you tell us how the inventory system worked? What was the ad. vantage to the publisher or to the artist? How does it differ from the way things are done today? Which do you prefer?
Dick Ayers- The system benefited the publisher in that a more beneficial marketable time for publication could be chosen. Also, having that inventory could be, and sometimes was, a loss. For the artist and writer it would mean steady work while building up. It also meant an undetermined period of work when not only publishers went out of business but many artists and writers had to leave the business. I prefer the steady monthly book assignment.
Bill Black:.. While you were illustrating the TORCH, ERNIE BACHE was your assistant. Can you tell us how the two of you constructed a page? How fast could you work... say, how long did it take to pencil, ink & letter a typical 6 page TORCH strip?
Dick Ayers- Ernie Bache came to work with me in my studio in Bronxville, N.Y. in January of 1952. Our first story together was “The Knave Of Diamonds” for Stan. The first Ghost Rider was “The Claws Of Horror.”
We worked side by side. I lettered, pencilled and outlined the work in ink. Ernie then erased the work clean and finished the art, putting in blacks, halftone and weighting lines and putting in the borders.
We calculated it to take 1 hour to letter, 3 hours to pencil and 3 hours to ink. That’s one artist. The two of us would do a 6 page Torch story in 2 days. One if need be.

Bill Black- Wow! If artists still worked like that, the comic book industry today wouldn’t be in such a mess!
Books were on a bimonthly schedule back then. What was your schedule like in 1953? A GHOST RIDER, then a TORCH, then a KID COLT? Or did you work on several different strips simultaneously? I know we get into situations here at AC where we are working on 4 or 5 different features simultaneously!
Dick Ayers- ‘53 was a very productive year, I had 3 accounts... ME, Timely and Charlton. We worked 6 and 7 days a week and met every one of our deadlines.
Bill Black- As an editor, how was Stan Lee to work for? Did you two have a good rapport?
Dick Ayers- Stan Lee is the greatest and wonderful to work with. I wish Marvel would assign us one more Sgt. Fury book to do. I already submitted a synopsis which has been approved for the ‘98 schedule.
Bill Black- You said you started at Atlas in 1951 and you continued steadily until when... 1970?
Dick Ayers- I still do work occasionally for Marvel. I have 12 pages in HEROES AND LEGENDS No.1, November ‘97.
Bill Black- In HUMAN TORCH No. 37 (June, 1954) you drew all 3 stories but BURGOS drew all three splash panels? Marvel did a lot of this in the late 1940’s having someone else, usually art director Syd Shores do the splash panels only. Reason?
Dick Ayers- The splash panel was like a cover and the dramatic interpretation was an important lead-in to the story which began in the bottom two panels. Stan probably visualized a different scene than mine and I’d already be busy doing something else. In those days the splash was not the beginning of the story. It was a dramatic hook to get the reader’s attention and get him to read the story.
Bill Black- Many of the Torch stories dealt with horror and science fiction themes, some (like “Vampire Tale” in HT 37) combined the two elements. At both, you excelled. I didn’t go in for horror comics at the time so most of my memories of comic book horror stories stem from Dick Ayers’ GHOST RIDER and HUMAN TORCH. As example, in “Menace of the Unhuman” (HT 37) you created horrific images that have stuck in my mind for over 40 years! Any memory of working on it?
Dick Ayers- Sorry... I don’t have a recollection of working on that story.
Bill Black- You also drew TORCH stories in MEN’S ADVENTURES, CAPTAIN AMERICA and SUB-MARINER. By HUMAN TORCH No. 38 (Aug., 54), there seems to have been an editorial shift in Torch story lines away from the horrific and into war adventures. Was this a sign that the super hero revival was failing and that stories were switching to more popular and realistic themes like the Korean war?
Dick Ayers- Maybe also it was due the Seduction Of The Innocent furor of that time and sales of the horror bookswere dropping. (“SEDUCTION” was a book written by psychologist Dr. Fredrick Wertham that really lambasted comic books.)
Bill Black- Do you know who wrote the 1950’s HT scripts? You didn’t bring Carl Memling in on this, too, did you?
Dick Ayers- No recollection. I only brought Carl Memling in to Magazine Enterprises. He accomplished the rest on his own, writing many stories for Timely and DC. I did quite a few of his Timely stories.
Bill Black- Were there any `50’s TORCH stories that you drew that were never published? (I ask this because stories were pulled from inventory and I know you kept meticulous records.)
Dick Ayers- I don’t know if any weren’t published. The only way I’d get a copy of a book I drew was to buy it myself. I may have missed some.
Bill Black- Roy Thomas, former Editor-In-Chief at Marvel helped me with this article. He determined that there was one inventory story that you drew that did not get published in the 1950’s. So this was one time where you came out ahead on the inventory. system! — —
You were working at Marvel when the early `60’s when Stan relaunched the TORCH for- the 3rd time. What did you think of Jack Kirby’s approach to drawing the TORCH? I didn’t like it nearly as well as the 50’s version.
Dick Ayers- I agree with you, Bill.
Bill Black- Have you seen the latest 1998 version of the TORCH? If so, what do you think of that?
Dick Ayers- I haven’t taken notice of the ‘98 version of the Torch yet.
Bill Black- Do you have any special memories or anecdotes concerning the 1950’s HUMAN TORCH or working at Marvel in the early 1950’s?
Dick Ayers- I have my brain perking on that, Bill, and hope to get into the fourth draft of my autobiography .

Bill Black- So! You have a book in the works! That’s great. I guess if we’re to learn anything more about your career in those halcyon days, we’ll have to buy your book! Thanks, Dick. Talk to you soon on the Net.


  1. Another legend gone, alas. The ranks are sadly dwindling.

  2. Thanks for sharing this and thanks to the Yancy Street Gang for always treating Mr. Ayers like the Living Legend that he was.