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June 7, 2011


Lee J. Ames, 1921-2011

imageThe early comic book artist turned illustrator and "Draw 50" book series creator Lee Judah Ames died the week of May 30 in the Long Island community of Huntington. He was 90 years old. Ames suffered congestive heart failure in the nursing home where he made his residence. He had previously lived in Southern California after several decades in New York; it's unknown when he returned.

Like many of that first generation of comic book illustrators, Ames was as a kid local to the industry (he was born in Manhattan as opposed to one of the outlying boroughs) and showed some measure of ability while still a high school student. His initial desire was to work for the then-surging Disney animation empire, and he found work for a time in Los Angeles doing what he calls minor work on the films Fantasia and Pinocchio. It was on the homesick cartoonist's return to New York City that he began working in comic books, including a stint in the Eisner-Iger shop. His clients during the war included Fiction House, Holyoke and Quality Comics. After the war -- one mini-biography has Ames serving for a couple of years during World War II and reaching lieutenant status -- that client list expanded to Dell, Avon, Lev Gleason and the early EC Comics.

Comics historian Mark Evanier includes Archie, Timely, Harvey and Hillman among Ames' various publishers, and says he worked a long stint on the Classics Illustrated series in the 1950s.

As the 1960s unfolded, Ames began to emphasize the illustration and advertising avenues for his art work. For a time he held a staff position at Doubleday. Ames started the part of his career for which he became best known with the "Draw 50" series at Doubleday, which began with Draw 50 Animals in 1974 and grew to more than 25 books total. These were breezy, practical, exercise-driven art instruction books that seemed particularly adept at channeling the energy and shaping the skill set of self-starting illustrators and cartoonists. Ames developed a third career doing lectures and presentations based on that instructional series and others. A complete list of the Draw 50 books can be found here.

A well-liked member of the illustration and cartooning communities on Long Island, Ames was a founder of the Berndt Toast Gang that met on Thursdays; other members included Creig Flessel and Frank Springer. A post by Mike Lynch on Ames' passing includes photos of the artist at Berndt Toast functions.

Ames was married to his wife, Jocelyn, for more than 50 years. They had a son and a daughter.

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