|Dick Ayers was the inker of choice for all those near-legendary Jack Kirby monster tales in the old pre-hero Marvel comics, but the Kirby magic failed to rub off on Ayers when he pencilled superhero series like Giant-Man.|
DICK AYERS (1924 - 2014)Richard Bache Ayers was born in Ossining, New York on 28 April 1924, and could trace his lineage back 13 generations to the original Massachusetts settlers of the early 17th Century. After selling some art to Dell Publishing that was never printed, Ayers began to study under Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth in 1947 at the Cartoonists and Illustrators' School in New York. Superman's Joe Schuster was one of the visiting teachers and eventually Ayers plucked up courage to visit the great man at his nearby studio. "He recommended me to Vince Sullivan, the publisher at ME, who let me try the Jimmy Durante strip," explained Ayers in a 1997 interview. "I submitted my work and got the job."
|Dick Ayers first regular work was for ME in Jimmy Durante 1 (Oct 1948). He was then given The Callico Kid strip in Tim Holt, which later transformed into The Ghost Rider in the summer of 1950.|
Ayers' next regular pencilling job was on the Atlas title Wyatt Earp, beginning with issue 8 (Jan 1957). These early pencilling jobs were often inked by longtime Ayers associate Ernie Bache. The two had met at the Cartoonists and Illustrators' School and had been amused that they shared a name, though they weren't related.
Dick Ayers didn't really become known as an inker until he started working over Jack Kirby's pencils for Marvel at the very beginning of the 1960s. "The first work I did with Jack was inking the cover of Wyatt Earp. This was in October of 1959. Stan Lee liked it and sent me another job, 'The Martian Who Stole My Body', for Journey into Mystery 57 (Mar 1960)."
Around this time, Kirby's preferred inker Christopher Rule left comics. I haven't been able to find out why, just that his last recorded inking jobs were around the end of 1959. So it does look as though Stan deliberately switched Ayers over to inking as a replacement for Rule. Certainly within a month, Ayers was inking many of Kirby's stories and covers for the Marvel Monster books.
"Stan told me he was not hiring me to trace," recalled Ayers. "I was told to add, embellish. I did do one story just as it was in front of me, a Rawhide Kid. He said, 'I didn't ask for a damn love story. This is a Western!' He gave me a long lecture. He told me if there were only two figures in a panel, to add a background."
|Dick Ayers became one of the mainstay inkers on Marvel's western titles, which were as successful as the superhero titles during the early 1960s.|
|After Marvel's first but unsuccessful superhero, Doctor Droom in Amazing Adventures, failed to catch on, Dick Ayers took over inking Fantastic Four with issue 6.|
But where Ayers would really come to shine was when he began pencilling Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos with issue 8 (Jul 1964). He'd inked the first three issues, including covers, over Kirby pencils but was then been displaced by George Roussos (who'd used the pen-name George Bell). Roussos continued as inker for the next few stories, then there began a catalogue of inkers until issue 25 when John Tartaglione became more or less the regular inker. The series really became memorable when John Severin began inking Ayers' pencils, beginning with Sgt Fury 44 (Jul 1967) and running all the way through to issue 81 (Nov 1970).
|Dick Ayers, pictured during the 1950s.|
For almost thirty years, Dick Ayers had been a mainstay at Marvel Comics, mostly due to the influence of Stan Lee. When things were looking tough for Marvel in the late 1950s, after Martin Goodman's less-than-genius decision to shut down his own distribution company, Atlas, work had been hard to find. "It was a real low-point," recalled Ayers. "Stan said, 'This is it, we'd better just abandon ship.' I went home and got a job at the Post Office, this was in late 1958. I called Stan back and told him I'd done as he said, found another job. He told me to wait, he'd find me more work. And he did: even during the toughest times Stan always found something for me. I did the job, mailed it off. He sent me back a little note, which I've kept. It said, 'Dick, I love ya!' He really liked my work."
MORE TALES TO ASTONISHBut after nine issues of Giant-Man art in Tales to Astonish, it must have been plain even to Stan that Dick Ayers wasn't ideally suited to superhero work and issue 60 (Oct 1964) would be Ayers' last work on the strip.
|The Giant-Man story in Tales to Astonish 60 opens with Hank Pym recounting the events that led to the death of his first wife Maria in Hungary years earlier. He goes on to battle gorillas in Soviet-branded romper suits.|
|Dependable Steve Ditko proved much better at drawing superheroics and was able to pitch in a very fast fill-in art job on Giant-Man when two other artists - Joe Orlando and Dick Rockwell - dropped out of contention.|
Rockwell had been an assistant to Milton Caniff on the hugely successful newspaper strip Steve Canyon, and had worked for Stan during the 1950s on several Atlas titles, so wouldn't have been unfamiliar with comic strips and deadlines. But for reasons that aren't clear, Rockwell backed out of the assignment at the last moment, and Stan had to turn to Marvel mainstay Steve Ditko. Even so, it's spectacularly honest of Stan to admit in print that it was a rush job born out of a production crisis, something that I venture no DC Comics editor would ever do. For a rush job, the result is pretty good. Ditko handles superhero action better than Ayers, so it was always going to be an improvement for me.
Stan's script brings back Egghead, not an especially effective villain, but Ditko's android is pretty creepy. Given the way the interior art for this issue was produced, and that Marvel covers were usually drawn after the interior art, it's interesting that Jack Kirby's cover art doesn't depict the face of the Android - probably because he didn't know what it looked like when he pencilled the cover art - he very likely had to draw it before Ditko turned in his eleventh hour art job.
Tales to Astonish 62 (Dec 1964) was one of those Marvel titles to get caught up in the great Thorpe and Porter distribution snafu of 1964. As with the previous issue, The Hulk seemed to take top billing on the cover, though his story was still at 10 pages, while the Giant-Man tale ran to 12. The new penciller on Giant-Man was Carl Burgos, a Golden Age veteran and the creator of the original Human Torch.
Stan's plot has small-time crook Second-Story Sammy accidentally discovering, then assuming, Giant-Man's secret identity and powers by simply putting on his costume. It's a little confusing because as I've already noted, Hank Pym hasn't really gone out of his way to keep either his or Janet van Dyne's activities as superheroes on the QT. Anyhow, it doesn't take The Wasp long to catch up with the bogus Giant-Man and even less time for her to realise this guy's a phoney. Hank sends one of his winged ants after the impostor. With Sammy captured and Hank's costume back with its rightful owner, it only remains for Hank to give the crook some "memory loss serum" he happened to have lying around and everything is back to normal.
Carl Burgos' pencils are a marginal improvement on Ayers' work, though the art does look a little old-fashioned. Here and there the layout is a bit unclear and Stan has to resort to explaining in captions what the readers should have been able to see for themselves in the artwork. And though Dick Ayers is credited as the inker on the splash page, Marvel expert Nick Caputo disputes that and identifies the inking as George Roussos' work.
|Though the plot was recycled from an older Ant-Man story, Stan and Carl manage to include some new wrinkles. But it's still not in the same class as Marvel's A productions of the era.|
The artwork of Carl Burgos does look better this issue, aided no doubt by the always excellent inking of Chic Stone. Burgos manages to include some of those size comparisons that Stan has spoken of in interviews, where Ant-Man is placed next to huge everyday objects and Giant-Man is shown from low angles to emphasise his height. There's also a development at the end of the story, where Giant-Man kisses The Wasp, then, flustered, tries to claim he was only administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But we readers knew what was going on ...
|At the time he scripted this Giant-Man story for Tales to Astonish 64, Leon Lazarus hadn't written comics for almost ten years ... which might account for why the captions and balloons are so text heavy.|
|Leon Lazarus, pictured the year he began at Timely Comics, in 1947. He was 27 years old.|
"Goodman told Stan to, 'Have Leon write stories'," Lazarus continued. "Stan called me and up and asked if I was willing to come in and work there again. I didn't want to say 'no' because I was working for Goodman's men's magazines, and didn't want to lose the account. I only did this one story, because I wasn't comfortable with the way Stan wanted writers to work with the artists, though I see now how right he was."
|The pencils of Marvel newcomer Bob Powell brought a much-needed dynamism to the Giant-Man story in Tales to Astonish 65. By this point Powell had 25 years experience as a penciller, and it showed.|
|Bob Powell was a tremendously experienced comic artist, beginning his career in the late 1930s on Fiction House's Jumbo Comics. He worked for Will Eisner during the 1940s and ME in the 1950s.|
|Bob Powell, pictured during the 1960s.|
Tales to Astonish 66 (Apr 1965) I covered in an earlier post, so I won't repeat myself here.
|In this story, Powell does a good job of conveying Giant-Man's size compared to the world around him. I really liked the four-panel section where Giant-Man is straining to shrink after Supremor has stolen his power.|
|Though I've never really been a fan of Vince Colletta's inking, he does a pretty good job here over Bob Powell's strong pencils. The Human Top's new costume isn't any kind of improvement over his old "Human Turnip" uniform.|
|In "Oh Wasp, Where is Thy Sting" (runner-up for the corniest story title ever conceived by Stan), Giant-Man has problems with his shrinking powers at the beginning of the episode, but has miraculously solved the problem by the end.|
When the police arrive, Giant-Man explains that he was able to survive by shrinking to ant-size. This does seem to be a mistake as it's fairly clearly stated at the beginning of the story that Hank is no longer able to shrink to ant-size. Is this an error by plotter Stan? Did scripter Al Hartley not understand the story correctly? I guess we'll never know ...
So, that was it for old High-Pockets. Stan had done the best he could, but readers just didn't seem to take to Giant-Man. The strip wasn't helped by its revolving door of artists, most of whom weren't best suited to superhero antics. And just when it looked like Stan was beginning to get the character back on track with Giant-Man's best penciller Bob Powell, he pulled the rug from under Giant-Man and canned the series.
Giant Man would appear in two further issues of The Avengers after Tales to Astonish 69, but the writing was on the wall for Hank Pym. It would be a year before Stan brought Hank and Jan back in The Avengers 28 (May 1966), and in the meantime, the front slot in Tales to Astonish was given to Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner ... at which point I lost interest in the title.
Next: War ... what is it good for?