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April 08, 2007

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Jeff G

Nearly 30 years ago Art Spiegelman was giving a lecture series on comics somewhere in lower Manhattan-- I'm thinking White Street?-- copiously illustrated by slides. An issue of David Cassidy comics was featured during part of one lecture. I think he had slides of the entire frigging thing. Many, many full page 'drawings' of David's face (obviously traced-- none-too-carefully-- from photographs) and an all-but non-existent story line, some sort of 'missing jewel' mystery with a solution so perfunctory it may have been explained in a dialogue balloon in the final panel. It was really breathtaking in its crass, deliberate, ineptitude. And Spiegelman seemed not so much horrified by it as awestruck. As were we all, I think.

Bartleby

You neglected to mention E-man. When I was the appropriate age to buy comic books I was strictly an E-man and Shazam/Marvel Family man. I graduated then to Mad, Cracked, Sick and Crazy and Peanuts.
After that it's pretty much a blur until someone handed me a Phillip K. Dick novel.
You've done a few pieces along these lines if I remember correctly, all quite good. These blog postings are like a trip down a memory lane of crap. Seems like the central theme is doing a lot with a little. Given the subject matter, you've done the same.

craig

ahhh, charlton - if that was the only comic book line in the doctor's waiting room as a child, i knew i was in for some secondary infections.

i still have a copy of a 'fightin marines' issue that i made tshirts from: 'wake up ya dummies - COMMIES!!!'

every so often i think the graphics department was really inspired by expressionism, or fauvism. then i look closer, and realize they just sucked.

Jim Ludwig

We were all ten once. That was about the age I was when The Charlton Action Heroes came out. To a ten year old they were as facinating or more so than much of what DC or Marvel was putting out. Just read many a Jimmy Olsen from the time or several other DC for stories twice as long and twice as bad as what Charlton was putting out. They were for us ten year olds and we loved them until Marvel changed the industry. I never cared for the cartoon comics from any publisher and Charlton's were some of the worst. When it comes to Charlton war comics I think the covers were what got the kids to part with their coins. Joe Kubert's war covers take second place to Rocke Mastresario with some of the most compelling and tense scenes ever to grace the four color market. While the big guys could not afford to put out much of the less popular genres, with their higher production cost, Charlton could fill a need that never went away. Charlton was also able to get some innovative writing and art by not over editing and allowing more creative freedom. A Charlton artist could not afford to spend much time on background but still turn out great work in the fore. As a proud subscriber to the aforementioned Chartlon Spotlight I freely admit, as do most of us, that most of what they put out was junk but there are some brilliant gems within. But first and formost they are fun and fun to collect.

DefChef

The tidbit about the cereal-box printing press is a huge revelation for me, because the thing I remember most about Charlton comics was the smell - inky, oaty, and totally unlike any other comics. Not that I spent my whole childhood sniffing comic books, but when you had your face pressed into the pages like I did, you couldn't help but notice.

vjb2

It's worth noting that one of the greatest superhero graphic novels, Alan Moore's WATCHMEN, which is next on the agenda of 300's Zach Snyder, originally began life at DC as a vehicle for the newly acquired Charlton heroes. Then DC saw what he had in mind and decided they'd rather not burden the characters with that sort of story. (Of course, most of the Charlton-era incarnations of said characters are dead now in continuity, but I digress.) Moore chose to use analogues of the characters; here's the ones I remember without checking:

Nite Owl: Blue Beetle
Rorscach: The Question
Dr. Manhattan: Captain Atom

There's more, but you get the idea.

Dale Hazelton

In a town where everything is made of wood or stone, how do they explain the metal stovepipe on the trailer of the Flintstone vacation comic? Guess no one cared. I checked out the Top Cat youtube link, I guess I forgot there was a laugh track...Top Cat was primetime originally?

Thank God the barber I was forced to go to for a good 50 cent summer vacation haircut (a brush cut) had the sense to get some Sad Sacks and Sgt. Rocks in the waiting area.

RWB

When I was in junior high, I got a copy of Charlton's Space: 1999. Even then I didn't have high expectations, but I was surprised by the clever story and outstanding art (remember my age, here). It was by John Byrne--before he moved over to Marvel and the X-Men. Perhaps Charlton was a company where new and rising artists could get their feet in the door. Or is Byrne the only one who started out there before moving onto better things?

Todd Mason

The one thing I remember about Charlton's horror titles on the cusp of the 1970s is that they were the first I saw (the first anyone saw?) to import (or perhaps pirate) ghost-story manga...rather short stories, of course, but they were interesting. And the general run of Charlton's publications looked no shoddier than the Gold Key contemporaries I'd pick up, among some others (but I must admit I made no effort whatsoever to purchase Bobby Sherman nor PARTRIDGE FAMILY comics).

woody0023

Wow, this reads like a real hate-on for Charlton. My mother always told me, "If you can't say something nice about someone..."

Yeah, they turned out some real crud. But the fact is, every publisher has, DC & Marvel included (Jimmy Olsen or She-Hulk, anyone?). Even some of the Big Two's highly regarded output was just crappy, if one sits down and actually tries to read them as opposed to just remembering them. Perhaps Charlton's ratio was higher, but I agree with the last poster that Gold Key was no great shakes either. I think it has just become fashionable to bash Charlton in fandom, and this post picks up on that.

It is also a fact that Charlton turned out some real quality material as well, even for lack of trying. Perhaps the most amazing work published by them was done by Tom Sutton. A bit of a madman to begin with, he had no problem with their low page rates, and created what could (should) be considered the best horror stories of the 1970s. No mention of him in this article, though... Other guys like Jim Aparo, Don Newton, Joe Staton, Pete Morisi, Rich Larson, Pat Boyette, John Severin, etc. did some nice work for them too.

Ditko, with free creative reign, turned in many a fantastic job on their horror books, and while not Dr. Strange great, Ditko at his best at the time. It's odd how low pay could encourage passion from their creators. Pound for pound, their horror line was better than any other of the 70s. DC had some wonderful international artists working on their mystery books but just as often came up short in the writing department, and Marvel did some great stuff, but usually padded their horror books with old (and lame/Werthamized) reprints.

Also, Charlton's "cheap" printing quality largely contributes to their bad reputation, but recently I have been shocked to open many DCs and Marvels from the era to discover that their paper and printing isn't holding up (yellowing, bleeding), whereas many of my Charltons of the time are still sound and fresh. Granted, quality could vary widely on any given single issue, but a copy from a good print run could easily outstrip a comic from the Big Two put out at the same time. "Cheap" paper doesn't necessarily equate to bad, 30 years later. Let's face it, there was some really lousy paper stock in the 70s.

Finally, let's all raise a glass for Joe Gill...

Quato

King Features is not the same as Charlton. The Popeye careeer series of comics doesn't really belong in a Charlton article. Cool seeing it though because I own some of them.

Q

Listener Kliph

Quato,

Just as with Hanna-Barbera, The King Features characters were licensed to Charlton for comic book treatment. For this specific Popeye series it was a colaboration between the two companies. According to Scott Shaw! at Oddball Comics, The Popeye Career series was "prepared, packaged and printed by Charlton Comics and published by King Features and sold directly to school systems."

Kip W

A story from Space Western #43, a 1952 Charlton comic showcasing Stan Campbell's not-bad art and the adventures of "Spurs" Jackson and his Space Vigilantes. In this exciting tale, "Spurs" lets some "fen" visit his spread, and wackiness of a sort ensues.

Mike

For some reason this makes me remember my uncle's long lost comic collection. I think he was "Editor-In-Chief" of Charlton for awhile during the time the logo was a circle. When I was a kid I kept away from those long boxes, the titles looked like generic super-hero types. A couple of years ago it all burned up just to add to the sadness of the story. I do want to track down that Bobby Sherman comic though! No mention to Charlton but here's the story about the fire: http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=36&t=002798

Michael Powers

"If they don't git us more ammo, I'm gonna go over and kill me a few japs barefisted!" You've just got to admit that's hellacious writing. While one of the primary tools of persuading people to fight WW2 in the face of frequent wholesale slaughter was the most overt racism imaginable, it seems a little strange to think of a line like that in the mid-70s until you remember the Sgt. Fury comics a few years earlier with the similar anti-Nazi dialogue that probably inspired it. Today, of course, I imagine that remarks that realistic would probably never appear in a mainstream comic (I grew up near a guy who was on the Bataan Death March and the line is actually toned down quite a bit from the kinds of things that were said in the heat of battle or the torturous fear during murderous captivity). The truth is that it would be spurious to depict American soldiers fighting WW2 in the Pacific theatre without verbal bouts of rampant anti-Japanese racism, though, since it was literally government policy at the time. It was as normal-seeming then as restrictive political correctness feels today.

When I think of Charlton, I remember Ditko's fabulous work in the 60s on stuff like "Konga." There were times when Ditko was only available in Charlton and some of their comics were outshining the competition by powers of magnitude for sheer strangeness as a result; take my word for it, long before Spider-Man, Ditko's weird art jumped off the rack at you as something entirely different. (As an aside, I worked with a guy a couple of years ago who looked exactly like he'd been drawn by Ditko--I had a hell of a time telling him that, as I knew I must, but he just looked at me blankly when I did, which was probably just as well.)

Also, someone noted that for some odd reason, Charlton's paper stock sometimes stood up over the decades better than DC or Marvel's, and I've found that to be sometimes true myself, although I probably never would have believed it when the comics were new. That offbeat quasi-paper can look pristine while real paper of the same vintage yellows and crumbles.

Christopher Cook

Gold Key was never accurate with color schemes, either. In the first issue of Wacky Races, Muttley was colored a dark green and his ears were never inked. In issues afterwards, he was a pale yellow (even in the Dastardly & Muttley stories in the Fun-In title). His ears were inked in starting in issue #4. In Scooby-Doo, Gold Key colored the Mystery Machine in shades of pink.

Neal Snow

It may be the "in" thing to bash a company that's been dead for two decades, and hey...more power to you. That's freedom of speech at work. And you opinion, in many cases, is perfectly valid. Yes, Charlton put out some cruddy comics. But they also put out some great work. John Byrne's "Doomsday + 1" series was a high water mark not just for Charlton, but also for comic books from the 1970's. Gill & Staton's "E-Man" is still fondly remembered today, and is occasionaly revived. Steve Ditko's runs on "Captain Aton" and "The Blue Beetle" hold up with any of the rival Marvel or DC comics from that era. By the very nature of Charlton's business practices the creators and artists in their employ had a freedom not available at the other comic book outfits of the day. Speaking as someone who has working in the business for the last sixteen years, in spite of the notoriously low page wages I would love for a modern day equivelant of Charlton to be in existence. Believe me, it's more fulfilling to draw up 30+ pages a month versus 10+ pages for the competitors for the same wages as long as what your working on is fun and unrestrictive. It doesn't surprise me in the least that maverics like Sutton and Ditko prefered working for Charlton. I envy their opportunity. And where can you get your foot in the door today? What about today's future John Byrne's? Where are they getting their opportunities? Sure isn't from Marvel, DC, Image or Dark Horse, and the sad reality is that if you're not working for any of those four companies you have no guarantee that your work will be given a chance for distribution, thanks to Diamond Comics having a virtual monopoly on comic distribution in north America. And Diamond could give shit all if you're not allinged with those four companies. Yeah, I wish Charlton could have survived. It should have survived. Look down your nose all you want at their product (Lord knows I have at times) but at least they were willing to try anything. My late brother bough nothing BUT Charlton Comics. He didn't care for superhero hijinks, so what else was the alternative? Charlton had western, humor, combat comics, horror comics, etc. on their roster when all you could hope for from the majors was some dreadfully boring DC war comics (all done up in the Joe Kubert style...yawn) and Marvel Comics reprint series of those lame Sgt. Fury comics from the 1960's (the only saving grace of that series was John Severin's inkwork). Outside of the so-called shoddy printing of the Charlton's, nothing was predictable about their comic line. No two artists drew alike (good or bad).

And no, I'm not a virgin.

But more power to you and your opinion, as ill informed as it is. It's just a shame that you didn't do a little more research before posting your article. If you were to actually interview some of the guys in the business today, you would probably have a different opinion. Or maybe not.

Regardless, good read! Thanks for the memories.

Mark

I have to agree with those that defend Charlton, as it did offer more than the standard superhero/war comics of DC or Marvel, & it's humorous comics were far beyond Dell or Gold Key or Harvey. I am a bit shocked that nobody has mentioned it great series of auto racing comics, (Hot Rod Racers/Grand Prix & Hot Rods & Racing Cars spring to mind), with the cool storytelling & great art of Jack Keller. As a motorhead growing up in the 60's & 70's, those were my favorite comics, & in nearly everything I read on Charlton, they are usually ignored.

Steve

Charlton exceeded where others failed. We need a company that offers freedom to artists,
colors in four color processes and prints on newprint with a low cover price. Thats charlton...someone owns all these properties and was to relaunch them with AIP comics
like the fat fury but that has not come to pass. I loved Charlton in the 70's and my collections were 85 % Charlton titles. R.I.P Charlton...anyone want to take up the mantle?

Doc Lehman

Neal Snow, I loved those Hot Rod comics too. Had nearly 1,000 Charlton comics of all types by 1975.

Here is an article I did that (Neal) may find interesting about those Charlton racing comics:

http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=309616146&blogID=345965988

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Johnson Glover

As a kid I avoided Charlton comics as much as possible. However I was addicted to comics so sometimes that was all that was available. They pretty much stunk.

Johnson Glover

As a kid I avoided Charlton comics as much as possible. However I was addicted to comics so sometimes that was all that was available. They pretty much stunk.

Irv Haganah

I have many happy memories of Charlton. One of my very first comics was a Charlton "Speed Buggy" comic. Then I discovered their Ghost books. There were plenty of fun Horror anthologies from Charlton that featured great work by Ditko. As a kid I loved Charlton comics! They were weird and wonderful.

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