I began collecting convention sketches and commissions in the mid-1990s, when I was in college. At first, I would get them on loose pieces of paper. But after several years, I had seen a number of other comic book fans who had these really incredible sketchbooks full of artwork that they had obtained over the years. Many of these had the theme of a particular character or group of characters. So in May 2000 I decided that it would be nice to start a theme sketchbook of my own.
Before I began it, though, I wanted to come up with a really unique theme, something that I liked and that artists would also enjoy drawing. While I was a big fan of Captain America, I already had a bunch of loose sketches of the character and his supporting cast. I wanted to start fresh. Also, it occurred to me that if I picked a sexy female character, artists would be more interested in drawing her.
Then, in a bolt of inspiration, it occurred to me. I was a huge fan of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” titles that he had created in the early 1970s for DC Comics. In one of these, Forever People, there was a curvy gal named Beautiful Dreamer, a sort of hippy chick who could cause psychedelic hallucinations. Why not start a theme sketchbook around her? Certainly the odds were exceedingly slim that, unlike a character such as Batman or Wolverine, anyone else would have a book of drawings featuring Beautiful Dreamer.
I wanted to get someone really special to draw an outstanding piece to start off the book. Obviously asking Jack Kirby himself was impossible, as he had sadly passed away in 1994. Then, once again, inspiration struck. Over the last several years, at various New York-area conventions, I had met Silver Age comic book artist Dick Ayers and his lovely, charming wife Lindy. I had struck up an e-mail correspondence with Dick, and obtained a few pieces of artwork by him. At the time, I lived about ten minutes from their house, and they’d invited me over for a visit.
As part of his long, diverse career, Ayers inked / embellished Jack Kirby’s pencils on numerous stories in the 1950s and 60s. Among these were a variety of monster, war, and Western titles published by Marvel Comics, plus early issues of Fantastic Four and Avengers. Ayers had never worked with Kirby at DC. By the time Ayers had moved over to DC in the mid-1970s, Kirby was back at Marvel, so I guess you could say they passed each other by like two ships in the night. But one of Ayers’ assignments at DC was penciling post-Kirby issues of Kamandi.
So, in addition to being a very talented artist in his own right, Dick Ayers had that connection to Kirby. Plus, from his recent work on the Femforce series published by AC Comics, I knew Ayers could definitely draw lovely ladies. Why not ask him to draw the first Beautiful Dreamer piece in my sketchbook? He agreed, and the resulting commission can be seen below.
I must also give credit to Dick & Lindy Ayers for helping me to obtain one of the other early pieces in my sketchbook. They were friends & neighbors with Dan & Josie DeCarlo. Dan was, of course, a long-time artist at Archie Comics. In the early 1960s, he had come up with what is now the “house style” at Archie. In addition to that, he had created both Josie and the Pussycats (inspired by his wife) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Before working for Archie, DeCarlo had done a number of playfully risqué Humorama pin-up illustrations. He definitely knew how to draw cute, sexy gals. I thought it would be great to have a Beautiful Dreamer illustration drawn by DeCarlo. But I doubted that he would want to sketch a character he was totally unfamiliar with.
I ended up mentioning this to Dick Ayers shortly before a Big Apple Comic Con that was going to be held in late 2000. Dick thought my idea was a good one, and he promised me he would put in a good word for me with Dan DeCarlo. Well, about a week later, I’m at the convention. Dick & Lindy had a table right next to Dan & Josie. When I came over to say hello to the Ayers, Dan took me to the DeCarlo’s table, and said something along the lines of “Hi, Dan. This is my friend Ben Herman. He would like to get a sketch done by you.” Yeah, that was seriously cool! So I handed my book over to Dan, showing him the piece that Dick had drawn in it half a year earlier, and I gave him an issue of Forever People as reference, and asked him if he would like to draw the character. DeCarlo seemed a bit bemused by my request, but he agreed. This is the piece that he drew.
Sadly, Dan DeCarlo passed away about a year later, on December 18, 2001. I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to meet him and get a sketch done by him. I am also thankful to Dick Ayers for making that possible by introducing me, as well as for starting off the whole sketchbook with class & style.
Fast forward a dozen years, and I’ve almost completely filled up the Beautiful Dreamer book with sketches and commissions by a diverse selection of artists. I think there are less than 20 blank pages left in the back of the book. You can view scans of them in my gallery on Comic Art Fans. As you will see, the majority of these turned out very well. And the two by Dick Ayers and Dan DeCarlo are, for obvious reasons, among my favorites.
My girlfriend grew up reading Archie Comics, and she thinks it’s amazing that I was able to get a sketch by DeCarlo. She was the one who suggested I do a blog post about it. Michele is also the one who came up with the cool idea that I get a Beautiful Dreamer tattoo… but that is a subject for a future post!