War, What’s It Good For: Artists Joe Kubert and Dick Ayers

by Patrick Bain

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Legendary War Artists Joe Kubert and Dick Ayers make you rethink the old song lyric, “War, What’s It Good For?”  While no one should glamorize the horrors of war, Joe Kubert and Dick Ayers told hundreds of stories with their art on that subject.  Countless stories illustrated both the drama of war and the humor of humans.  In life as in comic books, few situations bring out the best and worst of humanity like war.

An Incomplete War Bibliography for Artists Kubert and Ayers

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While their two most famous battlefield heroes are Sergeants, would it be safe to call our feature artists General Kubert and Admiral Ayers?  Joe Kubert and Dick Ayers both made considerable contributions in the war comic genre.  Certainly, their production and prominence earned them a high rank among their peers.  As far as those two Sergeants go, Kubert co-created Sgt. Rock with Robert Kanigher in 1959.  And though he did not create Sgt. Fury, Dick Ayers inked the first issue for Jack Kirby in 1963.  Ayers went on to pencil most issues of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos from issue 8 on.

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Just in case you’re wondering, DC introduced Sgt. Rock in Our Army At War #83.  And you probably know, Marvel introduced Sgt. Fury in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1.  However, Kubert and Ayers lent their artistic talents to many war stories beyond these.

Kubert Goes on the Offensive

Starting with Kubert, the Golden Age veteran is well-known for Hawkman and the rest of the Justice Society of America.  Certainly, Tarzan is a signature character for Kubert as well.   But, his credits in the war genre roll on an on like a Sherman tank!  Many of DC’s most successful war titles debuted in the early to mid-fifties and continued on into the sixties, seventies, and beyond.  Titles like All-American Men of War, G.I. Combat, Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, and Star-Spangled War Stories all saw a lot of Kubert art during about a two decade period.

Kubert frequently contributed to Our Army At War starting in issue 32 and running to the final issue 300.  Besides Sgt. Rock, a hero for the other side, Enemy Ace, also appeared first in that title.  DC introduced Enemy Ace in Our Army At War 151 and later featured him in Showcase 57.

Dick Ayers Didn’t Hide in a Foxhole

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Ayers also has an impressive resume of war illustrations.  First and foremost, Dick Ayers must be described as the pre-eminent Sgt. Fury artist.  As mentioned, he became the primary pencil artist in issue 8 and missed very few tours of duty all the way through issue 120.  That’s ten years of service.

Ayers worked on two lesser known Marvel war titles: Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders and Combat Kelly and his Deadly Dozen.  Seems to be a pattern with those Marvel titles.  Neither of those titles had the success of Sgt. Fury.  Perhaps the taste for war stories was lacking in the late sixties, early seventies.

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Interestingly, Ayers had a run on DC’s war titles in the late seventies, early eighties.  Those titles included G.I. Combat and the Unknown Soldier, among others.

Further, Ayers is well-known for his westerns including Ghost Rider.  All of those war and western genre stores were accomplished while inking countless iconic pieces of art for Jack Kirby and company.

The Irony of War Art

Ironically, many Golden Age comics were lost to the war effort during WWII paper recycling drives.  However, much of the war art by legends Kubert and Ayers is fortunately still available.  Kubert’s Our Army At War covers can be found in the 10K to 20K range at auction depending on factors like age.  For example, four covers featuring Sgt. Rock sold for:

  • Our Army At War 165 (1966) sold in 2017 for $21,510
  • Our Army At War 174 (1966) sold in 2019 for $20,400
  • Our Army At War 189 (1968) sold in 2018 for $12,000
  • Our Army At War 221 (1970) sold in 2020 for $11,400

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Now considering Ayers art, interior pages featuring Sgt. Fury are abundant and reasonably priced. For example, let’s look at some big group sales:

  • Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos 84 (1971) Complete 20 page story $9,600 in 2019 ($480 per page average)
  • Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos 25 (1965) First 13 pages $13,200 in 2019 (a little more than $1,000 per page)

Individual Sgt. Fury sales for interior pages ran from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on age and significance.  The prominence of Nick Fury weighed heavily on the demand as well.

When buying war art, I would recommend sticking with known characters, or prestigious pages by well-known artists.  The Comic Art Trends Price Guide generally grades war pages featuring unknown characters as C1, S1, and R1 (lowest on the scale for each category).  Finally, check out my blog Grading Original Comic Art: There’s No CGC for more info.

 

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