Super Blog Team-Up 6: Top Ten Avengers Sketches

Welcome to Super Blog Team-Up 6!  Has it really been three months since the last SBTU?  I guess time flies while life’s kicking you in the gut!  Seriously, lately things have been insane.  I’m grateful that I have this blog as a creative outlet to help me unwind.

The theme of SBTU 6 is “Top Ten.”  All the contributors have come up with cool comic-related Top Ten lists.  I must thank Karen Williams of Between the Pages for suggesting that I do a list involving my hobby of collecting comic book convention sketches.  Since a number of SBTU 6 bloggers are doing Avengers-related lists to tie in with the release of the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, I decided to assemble my top ten Avengers sketches.

Avengers Assemble title page by Richard Howell I’m a long-time fan of the Avengers comic book series published by Marvel Comics, and I started an “Avengers Assemble” themed sketchbook in 2007.  Okay, I’m not too enthusiastic about some of the stories from the last ten years or so.  But there are many classic stories that have been published in the decades before, and numerous amazing characters have been members of the various Avengers teams.  The Avengers are the perfect subject for a convention sketchbook.

Narrowing it down to ten picks was difficult.  I’ve gotten over fifty sketches in this book so far.  There are a few that just missed the cut.  If you asked me again next month I might come up with a different list.  I also didn’t include a couple of pieces that were commissions, where the artists has the sketchbook for a few days and created detailed illustrations.  I will probably spotlight those in some other post in the future.  If you are an artist who contributed to this book and did not make the list, please don’t be offended!  I also posted these in chronological order because I couldn’t make up my mind which one was the best. Without further ado, here is my list of top ten Avengers sketches:

1) Scarlet Witch by Richard Howell Scarlet Witch sketch by Richard Howell Once I decided to start an Avengers sketchbook, I knew that I wanted Richard Howell to start it off with a drawing of the Scarlet Witch.  As a teenager who saw Wanda drawn by Howell in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents #60-63, I thought it was the sexiest version of the character I had ever seen. Of course, Howell had also penciled the twelve part Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries a few years before which I later read via back issues. To this day, I still consider Richard’s depiction of Wanda to be one of the most beautiful in the character’s history.

I was thrilled that I was able to kick off the sketchbook with this lovely portrait by Howell.  He also drew / lettered the “Avengers Assemble” title page for the book that appears at the top of this post.

2) Black Widow by Hannibal King Black Widow sketch by Hannibal King Hannibal King is good at illustrating tough, sexy women.  When I asked him if he’d draw the Black Widow, he smiled and said “You just made my day.” Obviously he’s fond of the character, which was good news for me. King proceeded to create this stunning pencil illustration. While King was drawing this, I looked through his portfolio. He had done some incredible pieces featuring Captain America, Nick Fury, Val Fontaine, and Hydra. Someone at Marvel ought to give him a S.H.I.E.L.D. story to illustrate ASAP!

This sketch was later printed in Back Issue #26.  Head over to the TwoMorrows Publishing website for information on that magazine, as well as other quality comic book-related publications.

3) Wasp by Brian Kong Wasp sketch by Brian Kong Brian Kong drew a whole heap of very cool Avengers sketch cards, including several of the Wasp.  When I asked Kong if he’d do a drawing of the Wasp, he asked “Which costume?”  Because, oh lordy, Janet Van Dyne had had soooooo many different costumes over the years!  One of my favorites was the one George Perez drew her in during the early 80s, and again in the late 90s. I asked Kong if he could draw the Wasp in that, and he grinned, responding “I was just about to suggest that one.”

I’ve seen Kong at a number of NY area conventions over the years, and obtained several sketches from him.  This one of the Wasp is probably my favorite.  He did an amazing job on it.

4) Warbird / Ms. Marvel by Taki Soma Ms Marvel Warbird sketch by Taki Soma Back in 2008 Taki Soma was also drawing Avengers sketch cards, and so she had a book full of Marvel reference on hand. I flipped through the Avengers chapter, saw there was a profile on Ms. Marvel, and asked Soma if she would be able to do a sketch using that. I was very happy with her depiction of Carol Danvers. Soma is definitely a talented artist.  In the last few years she’s collaborated with her husband Michael Avon Oeming on several projects.

5) Jocasta by Andy MacDonald Jocasta sketch by Andy MacDonald It was his excellent work on NYC Mech that caused me to ask Andy MacDonald to sketch Jocasta.  He draws incredible robots and sci-fi tech.  I just knew he’d do a great job rendering “the bride of Ultron.”  I always liked the character, and in the past wished she’d been an Avengers member for longer (I was thrilled when Dan Slott featured her in the Mighty Avengers series).  Jocasta has such a distinctive visual, as well as an unusual backstory (inspired by Oedipus Rex, naturally).

MacDonald really captured the character of Jocasta, both in terms of her look and her personality.  It’s a very expressive piece.  This is another sketch that was published in Back Issue, appearing in Jarrod Buttery’s article on Jocasta in the robot-themed issue #72.

6) Black Panther by Sal Abbinanti Black Panther sketch by Sal Abbinanti Atomika creator Sal Abbinanti was drawing some amazing, rather surreal color sketches at the 2008 MoCCA Art Festival. He certainly did a great job on this one. Not even having a fire alarm going off and he building getting evacuated by the FDNY when he was halfway done with it threw him off his game. I suppose you could say Abbinanti was “on fire” with this one!  He really went all out, and it shows.

7) Patriot by Ben Granoff Patriot sketch by Ben Granoff I really did enjoy the various Young Avengers miniseries, even if they did come out infrequently.  The team had some cool characters, including the current Patriot, Eli Bradley.  I saw independent artist Ben Granoff‘s work on the small press series We Were The… Freedom Federation published by Bag & Board Studios, and I was impressed.  Indeed, he drew an amazing illustration of Patriot.  This one totally surpassed my expectations.

8) Hercules by Chris Giarusso Hercules sketch by Chris GiarrussoI’m a fan of Chris Giarrusso, creator of Mini Marvels and G-Man.  He seemed like the perfect choice to draw Hercules, the mythical and mirthful Avenger who is never more happy than when he’s busting heads together, or knocking back a large flagon of mead, often doing both at the same time!  The reference I had for Hercules had the character grimacing, but I asked Chris to draw a smiling Hercules, adding “Pretend he’s just left the bar or something.”  Chris literally ran with my suggestion, and here we see Herc with a frosty mug of beer in hand, having a grand old night on the town!

9) Hawkeye / Kate Bishop by Ed Coutts Hawkeye Kate Bishop sketch by Ed Coutts Here’s a great sketch of Kate Bishop, another member of the Young Avengers, and co-star of the Hawkeye ongoing series featuring her teamed up with the original avenging archer Clint Barton.  This was drawn by Ed Coutts, a very talented artist.  His work has appeared in a number of issues of Femforce from AC Comics.  He renders very beautiful women.  I’ve met Coutts at a number of conventions and acquired several nice sketches from him.

10) Ant-Man / Scott Lang by Jacob Chabot Ant-Man Scott Lang sketch by Jacob Chabot Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, is drawn by Jacob Chabot. This is the costume & helmet Scott wore when he was a member of Heroes for Hire, and when he first officially joined the Avengers (I wasn’t a fan of his “gas mask” helmet that briefly followed). Chabot he drew a very cool sketch of the character. I love the inking on this piece.

Scott Lang has a new solo comic book currently running, and he’s scheduled to make his cinematic debut in the upcoming Ant-Man movie.  That gave me yet another good reason to include this great sketch in this top ten list.

11) Ultron by Chris Duckett Ultron sketch by Chris Duckett Ultron, that murderous mechanical menace, arch adversary of the Avengers, and current star of the silver screen is superbly rendered in this pencil illustration by the talented Chris Duckett from the Bronx Heroes team of creators.  If you ever meet Duckett at a convention, I recommend getting a sketch from him. He does fantastic work.

What’s that, you say?  This was supposed to be a top ten and not a top eleven?!?  Bah!!!  Ultron laughs at you humans and your silly rules!  And soon Ultron will rule the world, humanity will be destroyed, and every single entry on this list will be a different incarnation of his mechanical brilliance!  Until that day inevitably comes, weak creatures of the flesh, you will have to learn to accept that there is an extra entry to spotlight the supreme genius of Ultron 🙂

Super Blog Team-Up 6 continues below I hope everyone enjoyed this top ten (um, top eleven) countdown of Avengers convention sketches.  You can see scans of the entire sketchbook at Comic Art Fans… http://www.comicartfans.com/galleryroom.asp?gsub=43066

Be sure to also visit the other fantastic blogs participating in Super Blog Team-Up 6…

  1. Longbox Graveyard: Top 10 Super-Dogs
  2. The Unspoken Decade: Top 10 Avengers Moments of the 1990s
  3. Legion Of Super-Bloggers: Top 10 Who’s Who Legion Entries
  4. The SuperHero Satellite: Top 10 DC Comics Titles That Ended Before Their Time
  5. Flodo’s Page: Top 10 Green Lantern Ring-Slings …That Don’t Appear In Modern Continuity
  6. Fantastiverse: Top 10 Avengers Greatest Super Battles
  7. Mystery V-Log: Top 10 Avengers Covers
  8. Idol Head Of Diablou: Top 10 Most Important Martian Manhunter Villains
  9. Marvel Superheroes Podcast: Top 10 Avengers Age Of Ultron Tie-In
  10. Chasing Amazing: Top 10 Favorite Moments Of The “Chase”
  11. Between The Pages: Top 10 Wackiest DC Comics Covers
  12. Bronze Age Babies: The Top 10 Bronze Age Characters (x2!)
  13. Too Dangerous For A Girl!: Top Ten Worst Heroic Haircuts
  14. Vic Sage Via The Retroist: Top Ten Comic Character Deaths
  15. I’m The Gun: The 10 Best All-Star Squadron Covers

Two thumbs up to Charlton Hero for organizing this whole shebang.  As always, it’s been a blast!

Dick Ayers: 1924 to 2014

This is one blog post that I really wish I did not have to write.  I just found out that longtime comic book artist Dick Ayers passed away on May 4th at the age of 90.

Ayers was born on April 28, 1924 in Ossining, NY.  He spent the first twelve years of his childhood in White Plains.  At age 13, his family moved to a farming community in Upstate New York.  He returned to Westchester in his late teens, just in time to graduate from high school.  Years later, Ayers would say that his teenage years spent living in that rural area, with its lack of electricity & plumbing and multitude of horses, was the perfect training to become an artist who specialized in drawing Westerns.

Serving in World War II, Ayers was stationed in England & France.  Shortly after returning home, he attempted to pitch a comic book series he had devised, Chic ‘N’ Chu.  Although unsuccessful, in the process Ayers met Tarzan newspaper strip artist Burne Hogarth and studied under him.  In the late 1940s, Ayers began drawing comic books for Vin Sullivan’s Magazine Enterprises, and in 1950 created the Western masked vigilante known as the Ghost Rider for them.  Around this time he also began dating Lindy Walter.  They soon fell in love, and married in 1951.

In the 1950s, Ayers began working for writer / editor Stan Lee at Atlas Comics, the 1950s incarnation of Marvel.  He illustrated a significant number of Western, war, and horror stories, as well as drawing several stories for the short-lived revival of the original Human Torch and Toro in 1954.  One of his Human Torch stories was left unseen for 14 years, until editor Roy Thomas had “The Un-Human!” published in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968).  I’ve always enjoyed the crazy splash page for that tale, with its titanic eight-headed, six-limbed monster parachuting down from the sky!

Marvel Super-Heroes 16 Human Torch splash

In the late 1950s Ayers first began inking Jack Kirby, an association that continued into the 1960s, as Atlas officially became Marvel Comics.  I have always felt that Ayers was a really good match to ink Kirby on Western, war, and monster stories.  Among those was Strange Tales #89 (cover dated October 1961) which featured the debut of the now-iconic Chinese dragon Fin Fang Foom.  Ayers was also a good choice to ink Kirby on the early Fantastic Four issues, which still had one foot firmly in the territory of the recent Atlas monster & sci-fi tales.

Ayers had this sort of “earthy” quality that really suited the war and Western genres both as a penciler, and as an inker to Kirby.  In contrast, you had the slick, polished embellishments of Joe Sinnott, which were a much better fit for the high-tech science fiction adventures that Kirby was penciling in his later Fantastic Four stories.  That just goes to show the importance not just of finding the right pairing of penciler & inker, but also making sure that their finished work fits the atmosphere of the stories they are illustrating.

One of the best fits at Marvel for Ayers, first as an inker and then a penciler, was the retro World War II series Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, which began publication in 1963.  After inking Kirby on the first few issues (plus the Captain America team-up in #13) Ayers took over as the regular penciler with #8, staying on the series for the next decade.  Ayers collaborated with writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich on Sgt. Fury.  He was paired with such embellishers as John Severin, John Tartaglione, and Frank Giacoia, the latter of whom Ayers stated was his favorite inker to work with.

Sgt Fury 23 pg 4

Ayers was the un-credited co-plotter on a number of these stories.  In his Introduction to the Sgt. Fury Marvel Masterworks Volume 2, Ayers detailed the genesis of one of his favorites, issue #23, “The Man Who Failed,” which was based on a suggestion from his wife Lindy: “Have the Howlers assigned to rescue a nun who was trying to save children from behind Japanese lines.”  The adventures of Nick Fury during World War II were always more slapstick than Saving Private Ryan, and there is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor to the scripting of the series.  Ayers explained that he regarded the Howlers’ exploits as “Baron Munchausen” stories, the types of colorful exaggerations that he and his fellow soldiers might indulge in after returning from the battlefield.

That said, Sgt. Fury could occasionally be gritty or poignant.  “The Man Who Failed” had Stan Lee showing British Howler Percy Pinkerton making peace with his youthful indiscretions & mend fences with his older brother.  “Killed In Action” in issue #18 ended with the tragic death of Pamela Hawley, Nick Fury’s first true love.  And issue #s 28-29 had Stan Lee & Roy Thomas scripting an apocalyptic confrontation between Fury and his arch-foe Baron Strucker.  Ayers did superb work penciling all of these dramatic stories.

Capt Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders 2 cover

With writer Gary Friedrich, Ayers also worked on the Sgt. Fury spin-off title Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders.  That short-lived series’ most memorable story arc is probably the one that ran in issue #s 2-4, wherein Friedrich & Ayers revealed the super-secret origin of Baron Strucker and the terrorist organization Hydra.

In the early 1970s, Ayers was receiving less work from Marvel.  They also began reprinting his earlier stories without paying him.  For a time Ayers had to work as a security guard to make ends meet.  Eventually Ayers had the opportunity to explain his situation to Neal Adams.  An early, forceful advocate of creators’ rights, Adams got in touch with DC Comics editor Joe Orlando on Ayers’ behalf.  Orlando assigned Ayers to a number of titles including Kamandi, Jonah Hex, Freedom Fighters, Scalphunter in Weird Western Tales, G.I. Combat, and The Unknown Soldier.  On that last title Ayers’ pencils were embellished by talented Filipino artist Gerry Talaoc.  As I’ve written before, I very much enjoyed their collaboration.

Unknown Soldier 255 pg 1

Ayers worked at DC through the mid-1980s.  He also did work for the Archie Comics / Red Circle line of books, drawing a revival of The Original Shield.  Starting in 1991, Ayers began working on Femforce, the fun superhero title published by Bill Black’s AC Comics.  Ayers demonstrated a real mastery of the female form in those comics, illustrating some playfully sexy good girl art.

AC has also brought back into print a variety of public domain Golden Age comic book stories.  Ayers’ classic Ghost Rider stories were among the material reprinted in AC’s Best of the West, with the character re-named the Haunted Horseman.  Ayers would occasionally contribute new artwork to the book, such as Best of the West #43, which had Ayers collaborating with artist Ed Coutts on a beautiful cover spotlighting the Haunted Horseman and the time-traveling Femforce gunslinger Buckaroo Betty.

Best of the West 43 cover

In 2005 Mecca Comics Group published Ayers’ three volume graphic novel autobiography The Dick Ayers Story, which was in-depth look at both his personal life and long career as an artist.  This was a project that Ayers had spent several years working on, a labor of love on his part.

Dick and Lindy Ayers lived in White Plains for several decades, and so would often make appearances at NY-area comic book conventions.  The first time I met them was at a show held at the Westchester County Center in the mid-1990s.  I remember asking Dick what he thought about current comic book artists.  He told me that he felt many of the more recent artists in the biz were not good storytellers.  He explained that a good comic book artist is someone who, if you removed all of the dialogue and narration, a reader would still be able to tell what the story was about just by looking at the artwork, how the action moves from one panel to the next.  That was probably the first time I ever heard comic book artwork explained to me in that way, and it helped me to develop an appreciation for the importance of layouts & storytelling.

Dick and Lindy Ayers at the All Time Classic New York Comic Book Convention in June 2000
Dick and Lindy Ayers at the All Time Classic New York Comic Book Convention in June 2000

I would often see Dick and Lindy at comic shows.  They were always such friendly people.  When I still lived near White Plains, they invited me over to their house on a few occasions.  It was a really enjoyable to see Dick’s studio, and to take a look at his original artwork that he had framed.  Another time, on a pleasant spring afternoon, we were in their back yard having lemonade & cookies.  I also saw them when Dick gave a lecture at the White Plains Public Library.

The last time I saw Dick and Lindy was at a small NYC comic show around 2011.  I recall that Dick was walking with a cane, and looking a bit unwell.  It seemed like age was finally starting to catch up to him.  However, I was recently happy to learn that he was scheduled to be a guest at the New York Comic Fest which is going to be held on June 14th at the Westchester County Center.  I was really looking forward to seeing Dick and Lindy again.  Unfortunately, that is now not to be.

I’m sad that Dick Ayers is no longer with us.  However, I am happy he lived a good, long life.  He leaves behind both a large family and an impressive body of work.