Saturday, August 11, 2007

Number 174

Ghost Rider Gives 'em Spook Justice!

I haven't posted a story from Ghost Rider #1 since March. This is story three of that issue, first published in 1950. It's written by Gardner Fox in his most melodramatic style, and illustrated by the great Dick Ayers.

This particular story brings in something that was pretty scary, and not just Ghost Rider's tricks to spook the bad guys. It has also the specter of the Ku Klux Klan. The night rider group in this story isn't identified as the KKK, but does an imitation of that terrorist organization in order to scare off a rancher. When this story was written and drawn the Klan was still very active in the South, and I'm sure any African-American Ghost Rider readers instantly recognized it.

The dialogue in this story is pretty funny, especially when written in dialect. I've always wondered where the New York writers got the idea for Western speech patterns. Some of the Western movies of the time used it, but for the most part people in movies spoke like everyday people. I've lived in the West all my life, and met many cowboys, ranchers, farmers, and none of them talk like what I read in these stories. Jeb Cole, the bad guy in this story, says, "…it's downright on-healthy fer anybody tuh compete with Jeb Cole…" C'mon, "On-healthy"?

The Ghost Rider has his own melodramatic manner of speaking. I guess he learned--or would that be "larnt?"--this talk from beyond the grave, because no one on Earth would say things like, "Drop your gun, vile man!" or "Surrender, men of evil hearts, surrender!" Not with a straight face, anyway.

Dick Ayers' artwork is, as always, perfect for the story. It's of its era, leaning toward the cartoony, but the art is as solid as ever, with great composition and dynamic inking.

Ayers' autobiography,* told in three graphic novels, came out in 2005. I've just finished reading the first volume, pictured here.

Even at the advanced age he wrote and drew the book, Ayers' solid drawing comes through. It isn't what it was sixty years before: Ayers' own appearance changes some from panel to panel and some of the lines are a little bit shaky, but it's an amazing accomplishment for an artist of his years. Not only that, it's really entertaining, giving insight into what it was to be a freelance artist during the golden age of comics. Ayers didn't call it the golden age, of course, because to him it was just comic book work. He wanted to draw comic books, set his sights on that career, and he did it as well or better than most.

Besides his drawing skills, that love for the medium of comics really shines through in his Ghost Rider work.

*The Dick Ayers Story, An Illustrated Autobiography, is available from Bud Plant Comic Art.

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