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 tale written by Bhob Stewart and illustrated with relish by Steve Ditko. The story revolved around 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 divers 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 at 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 most powerful cover images of the entire run. What kid seeing this comic on a candy store rack could resist purchasing it? 

 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 a slew of publishers, including ACG, Fawcett, Fiction House, National/DC and Timely/Atlas/Marvel, sometimes penciling but primarily inking. His slick, shiny style 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 "Iron-Man "stories in Tales of Suspense stood out as 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 and distinctive results. Pat Boyette produced some outstanding examples in this vein. The above example has Boyette fashioning a strong scene with a simple palette. To complete the picture Boyette also lettered and created a new (and one time only) logo. Ghostly Tales # 104, May 1973. 

Perhaps 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 onWhatever 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 classic Universal monster films. This story includes a Ditko movie producer type and features an actor who plays a Wolf Man, apparently based on Lon Chaney, Jr. who played Lawrence Talbot, the haunted 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 missive 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 columns focused on a discussion of the stories, art and pros and cons of Charlton's line. One could argue, though, that the spooky stories written by the younger set 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 period of 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 Haunts # 33, July 1973.

Wayne Howard's inking adds Wally Wood style luster 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 # 104; 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, 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 examination of 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 the ghost-related 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 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 sailed again! Joe Gill's stories often gave Ditko the opportunity to draw different locales, as this tale which included boats, seagulls and an island  setting. "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, Ray Burzon lettering, 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 crafts 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: mystery, romance, war, western, humor and children's titles. 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. 

Illustrating monsters in the classic style 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 could still pack a punch in 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 pencilled, Vince Alascia inked story. Kupperberg started out in fanzines, working on Etcetera and The Comic Reader. His first published comic book stories appeared in 1975-76 in 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 suitable 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 newcomer who got his first break at Charlton. A comics fan, Zeck 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 even colored his covers). After work dried up at Charlton Zeck made a name for himself at Marvel, drawing Captain America, Spider-Man, the 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 layoff 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 Pharaoh," 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, probably prepared  for the cancelled Ghostly Haunts and published in Ghostly Tales # 135, May 1979.  


The last new artwork to appear 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.