As a teenage comics fan in the 1960s, newly recruited to the Merry Marvel Marching Society, there were five creators who stood out among all others. Naturally, Stan "the Man" Lee was at the top of my list, followed closely by his four main (as I perceived them) collaborators: Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby. They were my first comics heroes.
Not so terribly many years later, I was working in the comics biz myself. I worked with Stan on Marvel's British weeklies and a variety of other publications. I never got to know Steve Ditko at all, but he did draw two short scripts I wrote for the 1990 Spider-Man annuals. I did somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen comics with Don Heck in the 1970s through the 1980s. I got to know Jack and Roz Kirby well enough to be considered their friend, came this close to making what would have been my first professional sale to Jack for a never-published magazine he created for DC in the early 1970s, and had the privilege of developing and writing his SATAN'S SIX series for Topps Comics in the 1990s. In short, I got to work with all my heroes...including my friend Dick Ayers.
Dick's work records, which he has kept meticulously since the start of his long comics career, would doubtless be more accurate than my own recollections, but I know we worked on a lot of comics together. He drew covers for those British weeklies I was editing and maybe even added tones to some of the stories we reprinted in them. He drew various stories written and/or edited by me for the black-and-white monster magazines Marvel was publishing back then. We did "It, the Living Colossus" for four surprisingly memorable issues of ASTONISHING TALES and co-created the "War Is Hell" series for WAR IS HELL. During my mercifully short time as a DC editor, he drew my FREEDOM FIGHTERS book and probably some stories for THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER. I liked Dick. I liked working with him. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
One of my greatest pleasures in attending comics conventions over the past couple decades has been spending time with Dick and his lovely wife Lindy, two of the nicest people I know. I couldn't tell you the year to save my life - I bet Dick could - but one of my most special memories is presenting Dick with a special award at a Kansas City event. Dick was, is, and shall always remain one of my heroes. I just plain love the guy.
Happy birthday, Dick. Thanks for all the great comic books, a paltry few of which are represented by the covers included with this column.
Happy birthday and many more happy years to come.
In chronological order, here's the scoop on today's Dick Ayers covers...
GHOST RIDER #7 (Magazine Enterprise; 1951) is actually A-1 #1. This was akin to Dell's Four-Color series. The title is definitely feeling the influence of the then-current horror trend in comics. The four interior stories, all drawn by Ayers, are: "The Haunted Tomb," "The League of the Living Dead," "The Bloody Fangs of Fear," and "The Murder in Wax."
"Bloody Fangs" is a western horror story narrated by the Ghost Rider. That's right, the ghost was the host.
DURANGO KID #18 (ME; August-September, 1952) doesn't have any interior work by Dick, but I really liked his cover. Inside, there were three Durango stories drawn by Joe Certa - you would know his work from the J'onn J'onzz stories in the back of DETECTIVE COMICS and HOUSE OF MYSTERY - and a "Dan Brand and Tipi" adventure drawn by Fred Meagher.
OVERSTREET says $100 for a near-mint copy of this issue. THE STANDARD has it at $40. No copies of this particular issue were on eBay, but I saw a good-plus copy of issue #28 with a starting big of $6.50 and no takers.
We're getting into my era with TWO-GUN KID #77 (Marvel, 1965) and a favorite Dick Ayers cover. Inside the issue, Dick pencilled "The Panther Will Get You If You Don't Watch Out!" (written by Al Hartley, inked by Carl Hubbell) and inked Jack Kirby on "Return of the Bad Man" (reprinted from KID COLT OUTLAW #96). I'm remembering that Marvel's western books all had this format: a new 17-page lead and a 5-page reprint.
OVERSTREET lists a near-mint copy of this issue at $55. THE STANDARD says $12. When I checked eBay, there was a very good/near mint copy with a current high bid of $19.99.
SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #34 (Marvel; September, 1966) is representative of what remains one of my favorite Marvel title of the 1960s. Though it may not have been the most realistic war comic, it delivered exciting and occasionally poignant stories. John Tartaglione inked Dick on this cover and on "The Origin of the Howlers" (written by Roy Thomas).
OVERSTREET goes with $40 for a near-mint copy of this landmark issue. THE STANDARD also pegs it at $40, one of the few times I've seen the two in agreement. I couldn't find an individual copy of SGT. FURY #34, but there were many other reasonably-priced issues and even relatively inexpensive lots. Example: a mid-hi-grade run of 139 issues from #7-167, including this issue, had a current high big of $174.50. That's a deal.
Here's another of my Marvel favorites: GHOST RIDER #1 (1967). Dick drew the cover and pencilled the 17-page "Origin of the Ghost Rider" (inked by Vince Colletta). The Grand Comics Database also credits him with the script (from a plot by Gary Friedrich and Roy Thomas), but I'm pretty sure that's wrong. The reprint was a Kid Colt story by Stan Lee and Jack Keller.
OVERSTREET thinks a near-mint copy of this comic book should sell for $110. THE STANDARD has it at $28. On eBay, I found this issue in very fine minus to very fine going for $15.50, and as well as a fine to very-good lot (issues #1-5 and #7) with a current high bid of $46.
One more thing before we move on. Anytime Marvel wants to put the ESSENTIAL GHOST RIDER (this western version) and the ESSENTIAL SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES on its publishing schedule, I am so there with my order.
BEST OF THE WEST
Danged if writing about my amigo Dick Ayers didn't get me all nostalgic for western comics. Fortunately, Bill Black's AC Comics was around to feed that need with the latest issues of BEST OF THE WEST, an anthology series which reprints some of the best-written and best-drawn westerns from the comics of the past.
BEST OF THE WEST #39 ($6.95) sports a cool photo cover of the legendary Roy Rogers and his dog Bullet. The back cover is a photo of Roy and wife Dale Evans. The inside front cover is a still from IN OLD AMARILLO, one of Rogers' last movies for Republic Pictures, showing Roy and...Pinky Lee?!
There are five comics stories in this issue. What impressed me about them was that, besides being drawn by some of the greats of the Silver Age of Comics, they were all cleverly written. Nary a clunker in this bunch:
Roy Rogers and Trigger: "The Temptation of Sam McGraw" (art by Alex Toth);
The Durango Kid: "The Battle of the Dams" (pencilled by Joe Certa and inked by John Belfi);
Tim Holt: "The Kiowa Kid" (art by Frank Bolle);
The Haunted Horseman: "The Looking-Glass Killer" (art by Dick Ayers and don't let the name fool you, the Haunter is actually the original ME Ghost Rider); and,
Golden Arrow: "The Great Reward Swindle" (artwork by Ruben Moreira, who drew those great "Roy Raymond, TV Detective" stories which ran in the back of DETECTIVE COMICS).
Toss in two additional interior photos - one of Roy Rogers and Trigger, the other of Monogram Pictures star Whip Wilson - and you have a packed-to-the-covers comic book.
BEST OF THE WEST #39 gets the full five Tonys.
You'll find a passel of good stuff in BEST OF THE WEST #40 as well, starting with a cover by Frank Frazetta! I'm going to guess it's a detail from one of the covers Frazetta drew for ME in the 1950s, secure in the knowledge that one of the loyal legions of TOT readers will correct me if I'm wrong.
The stories aren't quite as good as in the previous issue, but are all very readable. The contents:
Tim Holt: "The Crazy-Quilt Suit" (Bolle);
Calamity Kate: "Readin', Ridin', and Robbin'" (an amusing tale drawn by Bill Everett);
The Haunted Horseman: "The Spectral Witness" (Ayers);
Smiley Burnette: "The River Boat Escapade" (uncredited);
Masked Rider: "Double Ambush" (Pete Morisi); and,
The Durango Kid: "The Showdown" (Fred Guardineer).
The inside front cover has a photo of Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid in Columbia's THE STRANGER FROM PONCA CITY. The back cover repeats the Roy and Dale photo from the previous issue, but it's slightly larger and clearer in this appearance.
BEST OF THE WEST #40 earns four Tonys.
Just a few reminders.
This week's TONY POLLS questions are awaiting your votes and can be seen at:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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