Goodbye, Dick Ayers

With the deaths of two comics pros who each passed away in the space of about a week from each other, both living legends, both whom I hold a deep fondness for and got to know just a little, I’ve been feeling compelled to try and say something about Al Feldstein and Dick Ayers.  I met Dick first, so I’ll write about him today and Al tomorrow.

When I decided around 1997 that I wanted to publish comics,  I had no luck with publishers for many years, waiting in portfolio lines, talking to editors, and so on.  So around 2002 I decided that I should self-publish.  At that point, I switched my strategy of talking to companies, and began speaking to artists.  I decided that the book I wanted to publish should include artists who inspired me and shaped my aesthetic and the industry’s, for that matter.  And I went to conventions looking for my favorite artists and approaching them, to see if I could convince them to let me commission them for pieces I could publish in my books.

Comic-Con 2002 was my first real attempt at this endeavor, and I had atrocious luck.  I was an unknown, significantly less talented artist back then, and no one was interested.  Everyone was “too busy.”  At that con, I think I went home with two or three emails tops – but one of them was Dick Ayers.  Dick took the time to look at my art, gave me his contact info, and let my wife and I spend as much time as we wanted at his table, visiting with him and his wife Lindy.  

I had been putting together my first comic, “Tabloia Weekly Magazine,” which was a pseudo-anthology of tabloid tales, and I assumed I would get artists to just draw one of the few characters in it.  But at some point, an idea just struck me like lightning: Wouldn’t that be the coolest thing if I made a Kirby-style giant monster story, in the style of the old Atlas Comics, and if Dick would ink it for me!   I could sign it “Wisnia and Ayers,” the way the old ones used to say “Kirby and Ayers.”  I started fantasizing about this possibility, hopeful but nervous to ask.  I envisioned stories of giant monsters in underpants, exploding volcanoes, UFO’s whizzing through the air, people unmasking to reveal they’re robots.

I sent Dick a long, long letter begging him to ink a story like this, and he responded that he’d be happy to do it.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was flabbergasted.  I rattled out a five page script, then pencilled and lettered it and sent it to Dick, and Dick inked it and returned it, with a note attached that he’d enjoyed inking the pages, that they took him back to the old days, and that he’d love to do more.  Are you kidding?? I immediately sent him two more stories, and soon we’d done five – one for each issue of my Tabloia Weekly Magazine comics (later reprinted in Doris Danger’s adventures).

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Along the way, making these, Dick would continue to send little notes when he returned the artwork:

“Enjoyed inking these!!!…We are a good team on the monster stuff. Looking forward to doing more –Dick”

“Terrific pencilling, Chris! I enjoyed every stroke with my #3 brush! …Darlin’ Dick”

“Hello, Chris! Mighty fine pencilling! I enjoyed every panel — Hope it shows! …Bestest, Dick”

“H’lo, Chris.  Rcvd the pencilled 5 pgr and am enjoying inking it. I will probably have it in the mail Monday. I rank you right up there with the so-called king. Just have to get you to be a little more dramatic. Inking-wise my brush and pen are adapting to your pencils very well. Dick”

I asked him in an email about signing the pages, “Kirby and Ayers.”  He said that in those days, no one signed or got credit for their art, and he never knew who the artists were he was inking.  But if he got a page of Kirby’s, he knew whose it was, and then he’d sign both their names to it.

I didn’ get a photo with Dick until the second time I saw him, at Baltimore Con 2005:

I had wanted to do more monster stories with him, but my comics just weren’t selling, and I couldn’t justify the expense.  However, I did have him do a couple pin-ups (one at the time and the other – still unpublished so far – a few years later):

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I saw Dick a third and final time at Comic-Con 2007, after my first son was born.

After Dick inked those five stories, I began showing them to artists and asking if they would consider drawing a pin-up of a giant monster for my book.   And it was then that artists who didn’t even bother to look at my art before and were “too busy” would kind of do a second take, and then actually get in and look at the art, and talk to me, and discuss drawing a giant monster for me.  And it wasn’t until then that I really started getting pin-ups from so many of my other favorite artists.  It felt like Dick legitimized me, and made it okay for other artists to join in my project.  I credit Dick for that, and will owe him for his willingness to do so for some aspiring kid.

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