On Strips: The Comic Strip Murder

By | Friday, February 24, 2017 Leave a Comment
The TV show Suspense debuted in early 1949 on CBS on ran for six seasons. It was an anthology series based on a radio show where each episode presented an entirely different story, related only by the broad "suspense" genre. The TV show was sponsored by Auto-Lite, and host Rex Marshall regularly hawked spark plugs, headlights, and other car parts. Several stories (particularly early in the series) were adapted from the radio show, while several others were lifted from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, and Charles Dickens.

Of particular interest here is the September 27, 1949 episode entitled "The Comic Strip Murder." In the story, Julia Stetson's husband, Mark, draws an adventure strip called Buzz O'Keefe, which seems to be something of Dick Tracy knock-off. The female lead in the strip is based off Julia, and after nine years of working on the strip, Mark decides he's going to kill off the character in a particularly gruesome manner. This convinces Julia that Mark is out to kill her as well, so she calls on the police. I'll leave you in "suspense" about what actually happens in the story...

But one of the things I find interesting about these types of works is that they have to show at least some samples of the comic in question. And, more to the point, they have to get someone to draw them. So I watched through the episode to see if I could make out any tell-tale markers of who might have worked on it -- I was skeptical, though, and went in assuming it was whoever was already working on the show and could kind of draw a bit. So imagine my surprise when the end credits actually featured a credit for the cartoonist! And imagine that I was doubled surprised to see a name I recognized: Dick Ayers!

Ayers is probably primarily known as an inker from the early days of Marvel Comics, but he had been in the comics industry for many years as a penciller by then, doing a lot of work on Westerns for Timely/Atlas. Including the creation of the original Ghost Rider. He would later have an extended run on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos beginning in 1963.

But in 1949, at the age of 25, he was only a couple years out of school and had already begun working in comics, getting his start with Dell Comics. In fact, his original Ghost Rider character debuted in Tim Holt #11 (from Magazine Enterprises) shortly before "The Comic Strip Murder" aired. I can't seem to find any information about how he landed the TV gig, but I suspect it was through some connection editor Vin Sullivan had.

There's not much of Ayers' work shown in this episode, but certainly enough to showcase that he was already an extremely talented artist...
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