Saturday, March 28, 2015

John Romita's first fanzine interview ?

The Web-Spinner was an early fanzine primarily devoted to the output of Marvel comics, a company which brought a new sense of energy to the field. While many young buyers were satisfied with reading the adventures of their favorite heroes, another segment took that enthusiasm to a higher level. Those fans decided to write, draw and produce their own publications, mailing them out to other like minded individuals. There is a raw quality to many of these fanzines, but also, quite often, a degree of intelligence, creativity and pure fun that shines through. Edited by Mike Appel, The Web-Spinner was noticed by the Marvel staff and included letters of approval from corresponding secretary Flo Steinberg and new editorial assistant Roy Thomas. Their fifth issue (undated; likely spring 1966) featured an interesting article on John Romita, perhaps the first time any of his thoughts were recorded in the fan press.

Romita first worked for Marvel from 1951 to 1957, drawing war, western, crime and horror genre stories, along with features Captain America, Western Kid, "Greg Knight" and "Jungle Boy". He was laid off in 1957 when publisher Martin Goodman drastically cut his comic book division - a result of his distributor going out of business (known by comic book aficionados as "The Atlas Implosion"). Romita found work at National/DC, drawing stories exclusively for the romance line. In 1965 Romita returned to Marvel, at first inking but soon taking over the art on Daredevil from the departing Wally Wood. At the time of this article Romita was working at Marvel for less than a year and was recently assigned the reigns of Amazing Spider-Man when Steve Ditko quit (judging by Romita's comments he was likely working on Amazing Spider-Man # 41 at the time). While hardly an in-depth discussion, this peek into a specific point in Romita's career by a teenage fan reveals a few surprises, which I'll discuss in greater depth below.

On page one of Bob Sheridan's article, "Rambling with Romita" the artist makes a revelation that I believe has heretofore been unknown. Bill Ward apparently pencilled a few pages of Amazing Spider-Man to help Romita out on a deadline. This was not an unusual occurrence in comics; assistants (or ghost artists) often did uncredited work in both comic books and comic strips.

Bill Ward was a comic book artist dating back to the early 1940s, working for Fawcett, ACG, Feature Comics and Quality, notably on Blackhawk. Ward is also noted for creating Torchy, a comic strip featuring a sexy blonde, produced while he served in the Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn, New York during World War II. The strip was soon syndicated to Army papers throughout the world. Torchy later became a feature at Quality comics and received her own title for a period in the late 1940s. In the 1950s and beyond Ward began working for Abe Goodman at Magazine Management (the parent company of Timely/Atlas/Marvel) on digest mags such as Humorama, where he illustrated one panel gag cartoons focusing on his specialty, sexy women. His other major account was for Cracked magazine, where he drew humor features for many years.

Bill Ward's statuesque Torchy blended sex and humor, as seen on this splash page from Torchy # 4, May 1950. Image from 

Since Ward continued to work on Goodman's digest mags in the 1960s (including an episode of Pussycat, a Little Annie Fannie styled strip that appeared in Male Annual and Stag Annual and later reprinted in a one shot magazine in 1968), it's logical that he was available to assist Romita. From what I gather by Romita's comments Ward worked on Amazing Spider-Man # 41, dated October 1966. After closely examining the art I suspect Ward contributed to the five page fight sequence with the Rhino (pages 13-17). As Romita noted, he touched up some of Ward's art (and may have provided breakdowns). Below are examples of a few pages from that sequence, all with inking by Mike Esposito.

Page 13 is the beginning of the Rhino sequence, and may be where Ward  started assisting Romita. Panels 1 and 6 look awkward by Romita's standards, although the other panels may have been revised by Romita.  

Page 15 opens with a large panel that captures a sense of Jack Kirby inspired dynamics that Romita excelled in. The figures of the Rhino in panels 2-3 and Spider-Man in panel 3 are stiff and lack the smooth line that typified Romita's style.

The last three panels on page 16 employ cartoony figures, ala the "Jack Davis style" Romita refers to in the article. 

In my estimation page 17 is a clear indication of another hand involved in the art. The awkward position of the figures (particularly panels one and two); the characters appearance and the linework differ from Romita's clean and stylish pencils. Again, Romita may have provided Ward with a rough pencil breakdown to work from, but the overall art is choppier than usual.

Page two of the article is worth a close examination, as Romita speaks of his predecessor on Spider-Man, Steve Ditko. It's important to note that his observations on Ditko are second-hand, likely based on conversations with either office staff (Sol Brodsky; Marie Severin; Roy Thomas) or directly from Stan Lee, who, like many that collaborate in creative fields, often view their situations through entirely different prisms. What is most revealing is Romita's statement that it was Ditko's idea to make Norman Osborn the Green Goblin, explaining that he "drew the mags so that Osborn HAD to be the Goblin". This corresponds with Ditko's later accounts that appeared in issues of Robin Snyder's newsletter:

 “I even used an earlier, planted character associated with J. Jonah Jameson, he became the Green Goblin.” Steve Ditko, the Green Goblin, Robin Snyder’s the Comics, July 2001

Stan Lee's account differed greatly: 

 “The ultimate bone of contention was a recurring villain called the Green Goblin, whose identity had always been hidden. When it became time for the long awaited unmasking Lee recalls that Ditko said ‘it should be somebody they’ve never seen before, just some person’. Lee, on the other hand, felt that a startling revelation had been promised. ‘Every reader in america is going to think we’re crazy. They’ll be angry. It’s got to be somebody, Lee said. Ditko left without drawing the story.” Les Daniels, Marvel, Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, Abrams, 1991.    

In numerous interviews over the years Lee's declaration about an "argument" with Ditko over the Goblin prevailed, but its possible his memory scrambled together other disagreements with Ditko (the artist had earlier villains such as Electro turn out to be "somebody they've never seen before") or he may have made up a colorful, melodramatic story that was often reported as official comic book history.


                                           Amazing Spider-Man # 37, June 1966

Ditko's penultimate issue of Amazing Spider-Man pointed suspicion directly to a man who had been appearing as a background character in Jameson's men's club for many issues, often in stories that also featured the Goblin,who Lee named Norman Osborn. His son Harry, a fellow student at Peter Parker's college, is seen in panel two.    

"I planted the GG’s son (same distinctive hair) in the college issues for more dramatic involvement and story line consequences" Steve Ditko, The Ever Unwilling, Robin Snyder’s the Comics, Mar 2009.

The importance of Romita's quote from 1966 is that it corresponds with Ditko's later pronouncement that he had plotted the stories from the beginning with a specific character in mind, using the ongoing mystery as a motif that would eventually come to a crescendo. Ditko left before he completed those plans, leaving Lee to unmask the Goblin and devise a backstory in Romita's first two issues (Amazing Spider-Man #'s 39-40). While the characters identity would have been the same under Ditko, the plotline would undoubtedly have differed dramatically.

In later years Romita often parroted Lee’s statements; understandable given that he was not directly involved in the situation and had likely long forgotten the original circumstances. But in the pages of an obscure fanzine produced by young, enthusiastic fans we are privy to an off the cuff, unassuming and revealing conversation at a time when creators were still taken aback that anyone cared. As comic book conventions grew in the mid-1960s and beyond that all changed; by 1975 Marvel ran their own convention and interviews may have been more reserved and tempered by company policies. Whatever the case the Web Spinner article is a look into an unpretentious, charming and historically important period of comic book history.     

For a more detailed account read my article "The Urban Myth of Lee, Ditko and the Green Goblin" in Ditkomania # 82, Oct 2010 (a fine fanzine which you can purchase through publisher Rob Imes)  


On the last two pages Romita discusses many topics, including the upcoming Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon, the Batman TV show (which he could finally watch in color - a big event in that period - note the new set that the author helped him carry in), his former employers, National/DC and Jack Kirby. His admiration for Kirby is obvious, as is his disgust for editors who didn't appreciate his monumental talent.

 The Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon Romita discusses arrived on television screens in September of 1966. The animation was crude and barely animated, but it did utilize the art and (truncated) stories from Marvel comics. I still have a soft spot for the series, perhaps because I was at just the right age to be enthralled by these characters coming to life in my living room each night. Ad from Amazing Spider-Man # 43, December 1966. Art by Jack Kirby, Gene Colan and Marie Severin; inks by Chic Stone, Vince Colletta, Jack Abel and Don Heck.      

As a boy John Romita was inspired by Jack Kirby's artistry. In the 1950s he drew Kirby's co-creation, Captain America, molding together two of his greatest influences; the lush brushwork of master cartoonist Milton Caniff with Kirby's powerful imagery. In 1965 Romita had the opportunity to work with the master on a number of occasions. Here Romita provides finished art over Kirby layouts on a Hulk story. The work speaks for itself. Tales To Astonish # 77, March 1966. 

John Romita worked at Marvel for decades, as artist, art director and "go-to" guy. His clean, distinctive line, superb sense of storytelling and exceptional, poster like cover art drew readers in and sold comics month after month. On a personal level Mr. Romita is a true gentleman who loves talking about the business and celebrating the work of his peers. Now retired, Romita's work continues to be studied, respected and, most importantly - enjoyed.     

Special thanks to Fearless Frank Mastropaolo for his insight - and for keeping me on my toes!      

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Unknown Herb Trimpe Art

In 1970 Herb Trimpe was artist/co-plotter on The Incredible Hulk, a title he had taken over two years earlier, following in the footsteps of many exceptional talents including Marie Severin, Gil Kane, Bill Everett, Steve Ditko and, of course, co creator Jack Kirby. Trimpe had a coarse, gritty style perfectly suited for the exploits of a rampaging monster; he continues to be associated with the character decades after his tenure on the title ceased. In addition to his duties on The Hulk, Trimpe also worked in the production department at Marvel, assisting John Romita and Marie Severin on various chores; drawing covers, primarily for the western titles, (Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid, Mighty Marvel Western, Rawhide Kid and Western Gunfighters) and making corrections on interior panels and pages. I'll point out a few I've recently discovered.

 Herb Trimpe's uncredited splash page art to "The Beast from the Bog!", Chamber of Darkness # 5, June 1970. 

  While the splash page to "The Beast in the Bog!" is credited to Paul Reinman, a careful examination reveals that it is actually the work of Herb Trimpe. To the best of my knowledge Reinman's original page has never turned up, so I can only speculate as to why it was replaced. One possibility is that Reinman drew the creature on the splash and Stan Lee wanted his image to be a surprise to the reader. 

Editor Stan Lee had a history of being picky about splash pages dating back to the Timely/Atlas era. There are numerous instances of Lee using a different artist to redraw a splash page, usually because he felt a more powerful image was needed to pull the reader in. When there was time and the original artist was available they produced the new art (examples include Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers) but when deadlines were pressing he usually had a staff artist handle the re-do. In the 1950s it was often Joe Maneely, his talented and versatile right hand man, who made the alterations; later Lee usually turned to Jack Kirby, John Romita, Marie Severin or Herb Trimpe. 

Another clue that this is an alternative splash is by observing the lettering. While Jean Izzo was credited, and her style is evident by its stylistic resemblance to her father, Artie Simek, the splash (and any corrections in the story) was lettered by staffer Morrie Kuramoto, who tended to be far less precise and attractive than Marvel's main calligraphers, Sam Rosen and Artie Simek.   

For comparison here is page two of the story, drawn by Paul Reinman. Note the difference in the way Reinman draws trees, using a scratchier line than Trimpe, and how the hand in panel 6 echoes the splash page.

Seven months earlier Herb Trimpe drew his own swamp related monster in the pages of The Incredible Hulk # 121, November 1969. Notice Trimpe's depiction of foliage, overhanging trees and the swamp, particularly the final panel which has a hand rising from the bog. Both pages point to Trimpe's distinctive style.   

 Uncredited Trimpe splash to the Gunhawk feature, from Western Gunfighters # 1, August 1970. Note that Jerry Siegel, the co creator of Superman, was the author of this tale.  

Two months after providing the new splash in Chamber of Darkness # 5, Trimpe again does the honors, as seen by the pose and facial expression on Gunhawk, and the wispy, almost coloring book style backgrounds. Western Gunfighters was a 25 cent title that featured mostly new material. The interior story is penciled by Werner Roth and inked by Sal Buscema. Roth's experience on westerns dated back to the 1950s, on the Apache Kid and Matt Slade. Trimpe drew (and apparently lettered the title) to Gunhawk's introductory page, a new character who was prominently featured on the cover.

                            Gunhawk Pin-Up from Kid Colt Outlaw # 227, December 1978

In this instance I believe I've discovered the original splash page, which found its way into print 8 years later in the back of a western reprint title. While the pencils are incorrectly credited to Al Hartley, they are actually the work of Werner Roth, who drew the original story. Aside from the faces, figures and poses that point to Roth's involvement, other factors are evident. Sal Buscema is the inker of this drawing:he inked the original story. Werner Roth had passed on in 1973, so this was not new art, as was the case with other pin-ups in this period. Finally, the open space above Gunhawk would have been where the copy and story title appeared. In both splashes Gunhawk is posed center stage, holding his guns, but Trimpe's version has Gunhawk as the central figure, eliminating the fleeing townsfolk and buildings that appear in Roth's version. The addition of the Hawk in the foreground and the mountains in the background direct the readers eye directly to Gunhawk.    

                      Herb Trimpe at work. Photograph from the 1970 Marvelmania Portfolio.   

 In a case of serendipity I wound up discovering this photo of Herb Trimpe making art corrections AFTER I noticed his splash in Chamber of Darkness # 5. Since I had been researching Marvel's late 1960s/early 1970s mystery-anthology titles (Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows) I looked closely at the page Trimpe was working on and realized it was one of Barry Smith's stories. Smith was relatively new to comics, his earliest work consisted of pin-ups for the British based company Odhams Press in the mid-1960s, which reprinted Marvel's superheroes on a weekly schedule. You can view some of these on Kid Robson's highly entertaining blog:

A short time later Smith was given the opportunity to contribute to Marvel directly, drawing X-Men # 53 (January, 1969) followed by fill-ins on Daredevil, The Avengers and a host of mystery shorts. His early efforts, which combined Jack Kirby's dynamism with Jim Steranko's contemporary look, had an almost unprofessional appearance but his enthusiasm and sense of pacing showed real confidence. Smith's first ongoing title was Conan the Barbarian, teamed with writer Roy Thomas, where he had the opportunity to expand his abilities, adding meticulous detail and becoming a recognized fan favorite.

Zooming in on the page I noticed the panel Trimpe was working on and checked through my issues of Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness. I could tell that this story was inked by Vince Colletta, and if I recalled correctly he only inked one of Smith's mystery tales.

 I found the story, "The Scream of Things", scripted by Allyn Brodsky, which appeared in Tower of Shadows # 7, September 1970. Looking closely I observed a few lettering corrections (which were likely rendered by Morrie Kuramoto, not Trimpe) and also noticed the figure of the woman in panel four was reversed in the published version, presumably because the powers that be thought the panel to panel progression flowed more smoothly. 

Here is a close-up of the final panel.Trimpe's alterations include the addition of a statue on the upper left side, a more decorative style to replace the traditional brick work Smith drew on the terrace and "faces" on the trees, which were originally normal looking. I assume the trees were changed to make the scene look eerie (it only looks silly to me!). What I find fascinating is the production process, and how each comic was closely looked at before final publication. It's also wonderful to have evidence of Trimpe working on an actual page of original art.

While the work Herb Trimpe did in a production capacity for Marvel may not be as noteworthy as some of his better stories or covers, I believe the "little" details give us a better understanding of what it takes to put a comic book together.

I wanted to briefly make note of my 100th post and express my gratitude, not only to family, friends and my online colleagues, but in particular those strangers who shared information, corrected an error or took the time to write a comment. I've piqued the interest of more people than I ever expected in my exploration through comics esoterica, and the response has been rewarding. My goal has been to explore the back alleys and side streets of the industry, even when discussing the work of giants like Kirby and Ditko.Think of this as the equivalent of an old bookstore that offers a surprise or two on its shelves. I don't know what my next 100 posts will be about, but I'll do my best to keep the wheels rolling and hope you come along for the ride.        

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fade Out:Ghostly Tales 1973-1986

Ghostly Tales entered its eight year of publication in 1973, obviously a healthy selling title, one which spawned a slew of similar Charlton fare over the years.

Charlton's 1973 ghost line-up included the above titles, most of which had long runs. One exception was Haunted Love, a comic that combined romance stories with mystery/horror. Although this genre reached a primarily female audience, particularly in paperbacks, it failed when applied to comics, both at Charlton and DC. Ad from Ghostly Tales # 105, July, 1973  

Nick Cuti was editorial assistant for Charlton's line in this period. In an interview with Jon B. Cooke (Comic Book Artist # 12, March 2001) Cuti had this observation: 

"...instead of combining our two audiences, we wound up alienating both audiences. So the boys wouldn't touch it because of the romance aspect and the girls wouldn't touch it because of the horror aspect." 

Managing editor George Wildman gave his artists the opportunity to experiment with novel ideas and formats. Unlike Marvel, DC or even the well-respected EC line of the 1950s, stories did not always have to fit into a regimented seven or eight page format. Sanho Kim took advantage of this freedom to write, draw and letter a 16 page story, "The Promise" cover-billed as "A Korean Folk Tale told in English and Korean". Creating a story in two languages was an unusual and possibly unprecedented idea and Kim's expressive storytelling predated the Manga (or in Korea, Manhwa) explosion that invaded the states a decade later and continues to be a huge seller in both comics shops and bookstores. Ghostly Tales # 101, January 1973.  

The letters section was replaced for this issue with an editorial by Kim which included a photo of the artist. Kim provided background on the genesis of his story and a request for feedback from the readers. 

Ghostly Tales # 101 concluded with a delightful 8 pager written by Bhob Stewart and illustrated with relish by Steve Ditko. The story dealt with a famous cartoonist and his envious assistant. You can read about the background to this story from the author, who sadly passed away in 2014:

Warren Sattler had a varied career in the comic art field. He assisted on comic strips, including Barnaby, and produced two of his own strips (Grubby and Swamp Brats). Sattler's art and illustrations also appeared in Harvey Kurtzman's humor magazine Help!, National Lampoon and Playboy. Most of his comic book assignments were for Charlton on Billy the Kid, Fightin' Marines, Ghost Manor and Yang. While Sattler's neat, cartoony style may not have been a perfect fit for the mystery/horror genre, the man's face in panel two and Mr. Dedd in panel three have a Ditkoesque influence. "The Condemned", Ghostly Tales # 102, February 1974. 

Note: Scripts not specifically credited may be the work of Joe Gill.

As seen in my previous post, "the evil eye" was a recurring theme in numerous Gill scripted tales. Pete Morisi does his take on this "sub-genre" entitled (what else?) "The Eye of Evil", Ghostly Tales # 102, February 1973.

 Steve Ditko's entry in issue # 102, "Who is Next?" was a weaker effort than some of his earlier stories. At this point Ditko departed from his elaborate inking, employing a sketchier technique. Nevertheless his work shines in places, as exemplified by his effective use of lighting in panel 5.

In the post 1972 era Ditko produced less cover art for Ghostly Tales, with Tom Sutton and Pat Boyette taking up the slack, but this effort is a stunner. The staging is brilliant, directing the reader's eye to the skeleton, his gun and the hand opening the door. With the effortless simplicity of a master craftsman Ditko creates one of the greatest cover images of the entire run. What kid seeing this on the candy store rack could resist buying the comic? 

 Ghostly Tales cover design began to be tinkered with a month earlier. The sub-title "From the Haunted House" was enlarged and turned into an attractive icon as seen above, although it only lasted four issues. With issue # 112 the surname was completely eliminated,becoming simply Ghostly Tales. Other cosmetic changes included a new corner trademark (which occurred throughout the line); a circular "bullseye" replacing the square corner red "C" (Ghostly Tales # 109) and a Steve Ditko drawn Mr. Dedd figure appearing on the upper left side (Ghostly Tales # 110).   

The "new look" design debuted on Charlton covers gradually over a four month period, starting with October 1973 cover dated titles and on all covers by February 1974. Ditko, who drew the corner image figure of Mr. Dedd, did similar duties on all the ghost titles. It's worth noting that Ditko came up with the idea for the Marvel Comics Group corner box and character image years earlier and may have had a hand in suggesting the idea at Charlton (editor George Wildman designed the Charlton circular "bullet").  

Jack Abel contributed to many Charlton comics dating back to the late 1950s. His earliest recorded work appears in 1950. Abel' worked for many publishers including ACG, Fawcett, Fiction House, National/DC and Timely/Atlas/Marvel, sometimes penciling but primarily inking. His slick, shiny inking was compatible with some artists more than others, including Bill Benulis, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Herb Trimpe and Gene Colan; his delineation on Colan's early "Iron-Man "stories in Tales of Suspense was a noteworthy combination.  "The Non-Believer", Abel pencils, inks and probably letters, Ghostly Tales # 103, April 1973.

In 1973 Charlton began commissioning painted covers from many of their artists, often with strong results. Pat Boyette produced some outstanding covers in this vein. This cover has Boyette fashioning a strong scene with a simple palette. To complete the picture Boyette also does the lettering and creates a new Ghostly Tales logo that only appears in this issue. Ghostly Tales # 104, May 1973. 

Maybe Joe Gill was a fan of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" or had read of the superstitions that pervaded Italian folklore with the "Malocchio" (Mal:Bad; Occhio:Eye), the look one gave to someone they wished harm on.Whatever the case, here is yet another story centering on a twisted man with a deformed eyeball. Ditko's art continues to be sparser than his earlier efforts but is a solid effort nonetheless. Note that a credit box including the editor, writer and artist has been instituted. Making its first appearance in the previous issue, it would remain (fairly) consistent in the years ahead. Ghostly Tales # 105, July 1973.       

"The Moon Beast" opens with a couple watching a movie inspired by the Universal classic monster films. This story includes a classic Ditko movie producer type and features an actor who plays a Wolf Man, apparently based on Lon Chaney, Jr, who played Lawrence Talbot, the hunted protagonist who turned into a Werewolf in a series of 1940's thrillers. Joe Gill script; Steve Ditko art; Charlotte Jetter, lettering, Ghostly Tales # 106, August 1973.

 Ditko continues the action with a suspenseful chase scene. I won't give anything away, but for a change the woman is not a helpless victim.

In "Love Thy Neighbor!" Pat Boyette decided to illustrate the Joe Gill script horizontally instead of with traditional vertical panels. Editor Wildman was open to just about anything the artists fancied, and we'll see more examples forthcoming. Ghostly Tales # 106, August 1973.

Issue # 106's letters page includes a long, thoughtful letter by Brad Cunningham commenting on the entire Charlton ghost line, praising many of their artists and criticizing the letters from kids recounting ghost stories. Cunningham got his wish, as most future letter columns focused on a discussion of the stories, art and pros and cons of Charlton's line. Still, the spooky stories written by the younger set did have a charm of their own.

The Warren Sattler illustrated story includes a protagonist likely based on actor William Conrad, then starring in the popular TV series Cannon. Ghostly Tales # 107, October 1973.

    Tom Sutton puts the finishing touches on Wally Wood layouts in "The Anywhere Machine!" written by Nick Cuti. Sutton was a big Wood fan, as was Cuti, who worked as his assistant for a time. In an interview with Mark Burbey (Rocket's Blast-Comicollector # 135, April 1977) Sutton recounted how he became involved with the assignment: 

"..he [Wood] got a friend of his from the old days to ink the thing and it was a mess, probably because the guy, who shall remain nameless, had spent such a long time out of comics, he'd just lost his bag of comic tricks. Nick sent me the pages and asked me to do it over. You could see Woody's strong neat figures and compositions through the mish-mash of inept inking, so I simply reworked Woody's drawings, penciling them all over again onto new page-paper and inking the stuff in as clean a line as I could manage, though my way of inking is really not suitable for Wood either."     

In addition to his chores as assistant editor, Nick Cuti wrote many stories throughout Charlton's line. He also created and drew The Weirdlings, a humorous feature which appeared as one page  fillers in Charton's ghost line. Ghostly Tales # 107, October 1973.

Wayne Howard's inking adds Wally Wood style lustre to Charles Nicholas' pencils in "Dearly Departed" Ghostly Tales # 108, November 1973.

Letter writer Brad Cunningham returns with another articulate missive, commenting on GT # 104. Unlike other companies Charlton had no problem with fans mentioning the competition. Cunningham gives a critical accounting of issue # 10; from the new look painted covers and editorial content to a focus on writers and artists, particularly the work of Steve Ditko.

Bill Molno was a Charlton regular whose artwork appeared throughout the line for decades. His later period 1970s art has a looser look but the same quirky figures and storytelling that I've grown to appreciate."One Night in the Bayou.." Joe Gill story, Bill Molno art, Charlotte Jetter, letters, Ghostly Tales # 110, February 1974.

Lee Hartsfeld is the premiere Bill Molno fan/expert and his blog is worth seeking out for a thorough look at Molno and other comics related esoterica:  

"El Tigre Lives" Joe Gill script, Murray Postell art, Charlotte Jetter letters, Ghostly Tales # 110, February 1974. Murray Postell worked at Timely/Atlas from 1945-49 and drew stories for Charlton beginning in 1966, mainly on ghost titles. Postell employed a highly distinctive woodcut style as seen on the above page. By the mid-1970s Postell left comics and became a portrait artist. In 1978 his drawing of the president of RCA was the first to be transmitted between nations via high-speed Facsimile machine. Some of the many celebrity portraits Postell worked on include James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix and the Three Stooges. You can see his portrait of Sylvester Stallone here: 

From information I was able to gather Postell passed away in 2011. 

Ditko drew frightening rats in this story, which somehow escaped the scrutiny of the Comics Code Authority. The Code was often squeamish about depicting the ugly critters and often demanded alterations to make them less frightening. "The Man Who Hated Cats" Joe Gill script, Steve Ditko art, Charlotte Jetter letters, Ghostly Tales # 110, February 1974.

A paper shortage affected the comic book industry in 1973, creating delays in publication for many companies. Charlton's line was strongly affected, with no new titles appearing for many months. There was a seven month hiatus between Ghostly Tales #'s 110 and 111, and a price increase from twenty to twenty five cents. This news item was detailed in The Comic Reader # 102, December 1973:

After seven months Ghostly Tales sails again! Joe Gill's stories often gave Ditko the opportunity to draw different situations and locales. Boats, Seagulls and an island  setting highlight "Make My Dreams Come True", Ghostly Tales # 111, September 1974.

Tom Sutton illustrated a rare two-part, fifteen page story which included pirates, voodoo and underwater intrigue: "The Treasure", Joe Gill script, Ghostly Tales # 112, December 1974. 

Tom Sutton's delightfully bizarre painting graces the cover to Ghostly Tales # 113, February 1975. 

Tom Sutton wrote and drew the cover featured story,"Curiosity Shop", an offbeat tale fueled by the artists fevered imagination and printed in black and white. Some confused fans later wrote in asking if this was a printing error. 

 "Despite the reputation Charlton earned, I liked some of my stuff done for them better than anything; I guess it must have been the freedom. There was a time when you could do a six or seven or even ten pager off the top of your head, just do it and send it in and get the check. That was fun and usually allowed for a freedom of working, an attitude quite different from other jobs." 

Tom Sutton interview, The Rocket's-Blast Comicollector # 135, April 1977.    

Sanho Kim creates an atmospheric scene in this tale of vampires. "The House Guest", Joe Gill script, Kim art and lettering, Ghostly Tales # 113, February 1975.

The letters pages often provided information and discussion on the merits of Charlton's line and replies were often frank, such as the reasons why they chose not to concentrate on superheroes. In 1975 Gold Key and Charlton continued to publish a line of  comics that traversed many genres and tastes: animated, mystery, romance, war, western, humor. As the years passed and both companies closed shop, only Archie thrived with their teen-humor line, while DC and Marvel catered almost exclusively to a smaller fan base that immersed themselves in superhero fantasies. Diversity in mainstream comics is virtually nonexistent in the present day. 

Classic monsters was something Ditko could do quite well, as evidenced on this page featuring a menacing Mummy. "Night of the Mummy" Joe Molloy script, Ghostly Tales # 114, April 1975.

Tom Sutton brings a decorative line to this story."There's Life in the Old Girl Yet!" Joe Gill script, Ghostly Tales # 114, April 1975.

Like Sutton, Pat Boyette would sometimes write, pencil, ink and letter an entire story. Many artists were pleased to turn in a complete job for publication, with little or no interference. Ghostly Tales # 114, April 1975.

Created by Nick Cuti and designed by Don Newton, Baron Weirwulf  was featured in one page vignettes in Ghostly Tales before graduating to his own title. On this promo page he is greeted by  fellow Charlton hosts. Nick Cuti likely wrote the copy (his name appears on the book spines) . Ghostly Tales # 114, April 1975.

While his inking lacks the sharp line of previous years, Ditko can still pack a punch with both visuals and pacing. Each panel tells a story and moves the reader's eye with precision. "Wings of Death" Ghostly Tales # 115, May 1975.

Winnie the Witch was the voluptuous hostess for this story, replacing Mr. L. Dedd. The character narrated Ghostly Haunts, where this story was likely scheduled to appear, but was mistakenly published in Ghostly Tales instead.

Ditko opens this story with a four panel sequence. A sinister character walks the streets, with his satanic visage revealed in the final panel. Ghostly Tales # 116, July 1975.

Rich Larson was a young artist breaking into comics; his earliest work appeared in various Charlton ghost titles. Larson's humorous style was reminiscent of Joe Staton's work and displays a strong sense of storytelling. "Timely Conclusion", Charles T. Smith story, Larsen art and lettering, Ghostly Tales # 117, September 1975.    

Interesting stylized art from the usually pedestrian team of  Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico. Could they perhaps have been inspired by the earlier work of Murray Postell? "Solemn Oath", Joe Gill script, Ghostly Tales # 118, November 1975.

Larry Englehart's comic book credits are minimal; they include stints at Gilberton and Warren in the 1960s and romance work for Charlton. While his figures are rigid, his characters faces are interesting. Ghostly Tales # 120, March 1976.

Paul Kupperberg wrote the script for this Charles Nicholas/Vince Alascia drawn story. Kupperberg started out in fanzines, working on Etcetera and The Comic Reader. His first published comic book stories appeared in 1975-76 on Charlton's ghost line. Kupperberg moved to DC comics, where he wrote and edited many features over the years, including Flash, Green Lantern, Batman, Doom Patrol, Firestorm, Superman, Wonder Woman and Star Trek. Kupperberg has also written comic strips and Young Adult books. "That Personal Touch", Ghostly Tales # 120, March 1976.



Even in some of Ditko's weaker efforts (and Gill's weaker scripts) the artist often finds something in the story that inspires him. While the Mardi Gras setting and plot featuring the Devil was standard fare, Ditko's facial expressions on the obsessed murderer heightens the drama. "Satan's Night Out" Joe Gill script, Ghostly Tales # 120, March 1976.   

Frank Bolle did a fine job on this period piece, even though his prettier style is more suited to less lurid fare. While writer/artist/editor credits appeared consistently for months, they suddenly vanished without explanation."Eternal Honeymoon", Joe Gill script, Ghostly Tales # 121, June 1976.

Don Perlin's tale of witchcraft is an effective one page filler appearing in Ghostly Tales # 121, June 1976. Unfortunately "Letters to the Haunted House" was apparently put to rest after this issue, replaced with text stories. The Charlton letters pages provided a distinct personality and were greatly missed. 

Enrique Nieto drew a variety of stories for Charlton in the 1970s, including romance and war. His stylized art , scratchy inking and intense faces were a good fit with horror related themes, including killer bees! "The Stinger", Ghostly Tales # 122, August, 1976.   

Mike Zeck was another new talent who got his first break at Charlton. Zeck was a comics fan who drew spot illustrations for animated titles, but was soon given the chance to work on the ghost line. His dynamic style is evident on this cover. Zeck penciled, inked and lettered his stories (and colored his covers). After work dried up at Charlton Zeck made a name for himself at Marvel, drawing Captain America, Spider-Man, Punisher and a critically acclaimed run with writer Doug Moench on Master of Kung Fu. Ghostly Tales # 123, October 1976. 

Bad news for Charlton was reported in the news section of The Comic Reader # 136, October 1976. Although the announcement of Charlton abandoning their comics line was premature, the account of the staff lay off was, unfortunately, accurate. 

In an interview with Jim Amash in Charlton Spotlight # 5, Fall 2006, Joe Gill recounted:

"I wrote comics until 1976. I was doing a full schedule, and I was making seven or eight hundred bucks a week, and that was good at the time. All of us went out to lunch, and when we came back from lunch, Greta, George Wildman's secretary, was at her desk. I said, Hi Greata, blah, blah, blah,  and she says, 'you're fired'. No warning, no inkling, not a hint...everybody in the place was fired." 

The word was given by publisher John Santangelo, Jr. to eliminate new material, thus saving on costs, although Gill continued to work in the magazine division until 1990.    

In the following issue of The Comic Reader there was further clarification by editor George Wildman on Charlton's future plans; some of their titles returned after a few months, using up inventory material before going all-reprint. After a nine month break Ghostly Tales returned on a bi-monthly schedule with # 125.

Steve Ditko drew his final new cover for Ghostly Tales, featuring an image based on an interior story. Ditko takes the main elements of artist Salvador Martinez's splash page, including the look of the characters, clothing and the totem, creating a dramatic cover scene. Nick Cuti story, Ghostly Tales # 125, September 1977.   

Ghostly Tales # 126 (October, 1977) was the final issue to include all-new stories, consisting of inventory purchased before Charlton dismissed their freelancers. Executive editor George Wildman and assistant Bill Pearson stayed on to package the comics line, using material culled from Charlton's archives. Steve Ditko's last new Ghostly Tales art appears, "Forever Pharoah", written by Edward Webber; regulars Charles Nicholas, Vince Alascia and Joe Gill contribute, as do Nick Cuti and Enrique Nieto. Issues # 127-130 include a single unpublished story in each issue. Research indicates that "Throne of Power" was the last inventory story used, probably prepared  for the cancelled Ghostly Haunts, published in Ghostly Tales # 135, May 1979.  


The last new artwork appearing in Ghostly Tales after 1977 were two fan commissioned covers: # 152, December 1981, drawn by Wes Crumm and # 158, December 1982, with art by Mitch O'Connell. O'Connell went on to a successful career, working for DC, Marvel and First Comics. His illustrations have appeared in Time, Playboy and the New Yorker. In addition O'Connell has had several books published and is a tattoo designer. Both images from the Grand Comic Book Database.

After sixteen years and one hundred fourteen issues Ghostly Tales faded into obscurity. Issue # 169, dated October 1984 was the final issue, but the talent who toiled away month after month will not be forgotten. In 1985 Charlton made a last attempt to revive their comics line, including some new material by Steve Ditko (a revival of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and Charlton Action starring Static, which was copyrighted in Ditko's name) but they soon closed their doors for good. While some of the creators may not light up the firmament of comics fandom, they too deserve a moment of appreciation, as does the little comic book company that couldn't run as fast as the big guys, but stood in the race for a hell of a long time.