Monday, October 31, 2016

Dr. Strange: The Beginning

This is an expansion and revision of an article that originally appeared in Ditkomania # 73, June 2009.  

Just four months after Spider-Man’s debut Steve Ditko created a new hero, who, in many respects, was more offbeat than his teenage adventurer. Nestled in the back pages of Strange Tales, which headlined the "Human Torch” feature, Dr. Strange made his debut. Under the supervision of editor Stan Lee and artist/collaborator Jack Kirby (with assistance from Larry Lieber, who scripted many early stories) the Marvel Comics Group published a steady stream of superheroes in the early 1960s. In that period Steve Ditko continued to draw five page fantasy fillers in the back of the anthology titles. After four years of working on these stories perhaps it was time for a change* . In his essay “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” (The Avenging Mind, Robin Snyder, 2007) Ditko stated:

"On my own, I brought in to Lee a five page, penciled story with a panel/page script of my idea of a new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel comics.”

Stan Lee made his own statement two months before the feature began. His letter appeared in The Comic Reader # 16 (February 1963), a popular early fanzine, and is in line with Ditko’s later recollections.

"Well, we have a new character in the works for STRANGE TALES. Just a 5 page filler named Dr. Strange. Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him. ‘Twas Steve’s idea, I figured we’d give the new feature a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one out too much. Little sidelight. Originally, we decided to call him Mr. Strange, but thought the “Mr.” was a bit too similar to Mr. Fantastic—now, however, I remember a villain called Dr. Strange just recently in one of our mags. I hope it won’t be too confusing! Oh, well…”

For those unearthing the history of comics this is an important document; one of the earliest records of Lee discussing a specific series and the first known example of Lee describing the gestation of a strip and crediting Ditko with the initial concept.

Ditko takes exception to Lee’s categorizing the story as “nothing great” and the comment “we can make something of him." Does Ditko have a legitimate complaint? An examination of the first story might be revealing.

Strange Tales # 110 (July 1963), introduces “Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!” (the sub-title only appeared on the splash page of the first four stories before it vanished; replaced by the phrase "Master of the Mystic Arts" in Strange Tales # 120, perhaps due to Comics Code Authority concerns). Ditko opens with an image of the title character; dark haired, Asian in appearance and garbed in a tunic bearing a symbol. He completes the outfit with an amulet, high collar, gloves and sash. Lee's copy is properly somber, informing the reader that Dr. Strange is a new series and different from others of its kind. The three panels that begin the story exemplify Ditko's storytelling acumen; the point of view has the reader peering inside a window, observing a restless and disturbed man in his bedroom. The use of rain creates an appropriately gloomy and tense mood. 

Ditko's rendition of Dr. Strange was unlike any other Marvel superhero; there were no bulging muscles or brightly colored costumes. Instead Ditko created a more natural and mysterious figure. Strange Tales # 110, July 1963. Stan Lee dialogue, Terry Szenics lettering, Stan Goldberg colors.  

Page two opens with the man entering the abode of Dr. Strange, requesting his help. The caption tells us we are in Greenwich Village, a specific area in New York City notorious for bohemian lifestyles. This was likely Stan Lee's addition, based on his earlier use of real locations in Marvel’s stories (The Fantastic Four resided in New York City; Peter Parker in Forest Hills, Queens). The man describes his recurring nightmare to Dr. Strange, who matter-of-factly states he will enter his dream. We next see Strange going into a trance as his astral form leaves his body and takes off into the night. 

Ditko establishes both the oddness of the character and his unique powers in this four panel sequence. Clearly a more cerebral hero than Thor or The Hulk!  

On page three Dr. Strange, in his spirit form, travels to Asia, seeking advice from an aged mentor who he calls “the Master” (in his third appearance he would be rechristened "The Ancient One"). 

Dr. Strange's mentor represents wisdom and knowledge, passing on his abilities to the next generation. 

Dr. Strange returns to the troubled man and, leaving his physical body once again, enters his dream. There he encounters a cloaked and chained figure floating in the void. 

  From the very beginning Ditko began to establish visual signatures in Dr. Strange. 

On the fourth page Dr. Strange confronts a shadowy figure on a horse who he recognizes as Nightmare, “my ancient foe." This creates a sense of history and background for the character.  

Nightmare would be Dr. Strange's first recurring foe under Ditko's reign. Others included Baron Mordo and Dormammu.   

As if the good doctor didn't have enough problems, his vulnerable physical form is threatened in the real world. As Nightmare gloats, Dr. Strange contacts his mentor. 

On the final page, Dr. Strange is protected by his amulet, which opens into a mystic eye, mesmerizing the attacker. Dr. Strange escapes the Dream Dimension and returns to his corporeal form. There he discovers the truth about the man he was attempting to aid. 

Dr. Strange's amulet, opening into a mystical "all-seeing" eye. It was an eerie visual; a symbolic light shining upon darkness and evil, one that Ditko would play with throughout his career.   

Ditko introduces many elements that will be expanded upon on in the months ahead. While the splash employs four panels for a more dramatic opening, Ditko used space economically on pages 2-5; aware of page restrictions he filled each page with nine or ten panel grids. Ditko introduces the hero, his mentor, a protagonist and gives the readers a taste of the hero’s powers: astral projection and the use of a mystic amulet. 

What are Stan Lee’s contributions? Lee provided strong, dramatic dialogue, adding atmosphere to the characters and situations. In his capacity as editor, Lee wisely gave Ditko the freedom to experiment; in an unyielding corporate environment he would undoubtedly have faced stronger opposition. Lee had a keen sense of how best to utilize talent and he did not hold Ditko back. Perhaps Lee felt the conclusion was weak and Dr. Strange needed a more dramatic springboard to showcase his abilities.

Ditko manages to pack more into five pages than many of his peers with four times that length at their disposal. Lee may have wanted more action but Ditko’s introductory tale sets the stage for future developments. 

The story ends with Dr. Strange beckoning the reader to join him in future adventures. I hope you join me next time as I continue to explore the early Dr. Strange stories. 

For those of you who would like to read these stories in unexpurgated form (and aren't independently wealthy) Marvel has recently collected every Ditko Dr. Strange story in hardcover. It's well worth investing in: 

* Ditko’s last back up stories appeared in Oct 1963 dated comics, around the time of Strange Tales # 115. As enthusiasm for superhero material increased, Lee expanded the page count on all his anthology headliners, with only a single five page thriller (written and drawn by Larry Lieber) tenaciously holding on to the closing pages.    

Friday, October 21, 2016

Charlton Press

Charlton's comics line was always on the fringes - never to be confused with any other company, with a look, feel and smell all their own. Despite the indifference of management, their low budget fare had a distinctive charm and, from time to time, they took a swing at bat and hit it out of the park. 

If DC, Dell, Harvey and Archie were the Saks or Macy's of their period, Charlton was akin to Woolworth's or John's Bargain Store (those of you of a more tender age won't get the reference, but they were precursors of modern day 99 cent stores). Finding a Charlton comic book could be a chore - at least for this kid from Brooklyn - even though candy stores could be found on every other block in the mid-1960s. My brother John managed to wrangle a few, usually hero types like Thunderbolt, Capt. Atom and Blue Beetle. They were often stacked on a shelf in a far off corner of those aforementioned stores, or sometimes found in one of the local used bookstores. In a few years, though, Charlton managed to improve their distribution. I can pinpoint the exact month, thanks to Mike's Amazing Word of Comics site:

In April, 1971 I bought The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 26 and Ghostly Tales # 86 at my local candy store. From that point on the mystery titles, especially those adorned with Ditko covers, became a regular part of our comic book purchases.  


I came across the above comic in a barbershop circa 1969. When I peered inside I was reintroduced to a familiar, idiosyncratic and appealing style of art that drew me in completely from day one. Although there was no signature on either "The Eternal Oak" or "Phantom Surfer" I had no doubt the artist was Steve Ditko. Ghostly Tales # 71, January 1969. Jim Aparo cover art.     

 Charlton occasionally tried to jump on the superhero bandwagon, as it did in the mid-1960s, inspired by both Marvel comics' success and the popularity of the Batman TV show, but their Action-Hero line had its own personality. Charlton had a tangible charm, and the editors, including  Pat Masulli, Sal Gentile, Dick Giordano, George Wildman, Bill Pearson and Robin Snyder, came off as unpretentious men who were very much aware that they weren't competing with The New Yorker or Esquire. Their letters pages were unique in comics. They often praised (and were not afraid to name) their competition, always made note of their artists accomplishments and, refreshingly, admitted that some of their stories and art didn't always make the grade. 

It has often been noted that Charlton’s page rates were low, but editors gave artists the freedom to experiment and often fashion a script to suit their own preferences. Joe Gill was their primary writer, and while no one (including Gill) would categorize him as a great literary talent, he could at times turn in a solid story that displayed skill and humor. While there were a few notable writers at Charlton including Steve Skeates, Denny O’Neil and Nick Cuti, Gill remained a Charlton perennial until its demise.
One of Charlton’s high points was its array of diverse artists, some of whom remained with them for decades. Many were both proficient and versatile; drawing stories in every genre, from romance to war. While it's beyond the scope of this essay to highlight every cartoonist who worked for Charlton (over thirty years worth!) I'd like to pay tribute to a selection of grizzled veterans (and some rookies) who worked in the trenches and got little respect or attention, but deserve their moment in the sun.             

When one thinks of Charlton, the team of penciller Charles Nicholas and inker Vince Alascia (often credited as "Nicholas Alascia") come to mind. Their efforts were simple, clean and competent, and rose above that level when sparked by inspiration. I've grown to appreciate the good work they produced throughout Charlton's line.  Both men were veterans of the field, having worked for Fox, Fiction House, Ace and Avon, among others. Alascia, in particular, had a long run inking Timley's Captain America over Syd Shores' pencils.  

An attractively designed and offbeat romance cover by the team of Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia. Brides in Love # 8, June 1958. Image from Comic Book Plus:

Nicholas's off-kilter layout adds a sense of mood to this page. "Let The Buyer Beware!", Vince Alascia inks, Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 20, June 1970.

Charles Nicholas was occasionally rendered by other inkers, one of the most distinctive being Wayne Howard, who added a Wally Wood inspired gloss. "Who'll Die Tomorrow?", Haunted # 12, May 1973.  

Nicholas' art was prominent in practically every genre at Charlton. He drew countless war, romance, crime and western stories for over two decades. Jon D'Agostino's slick inking adds texture to his pencil's on this exciting splash. Billy the Kid # 51, August 1965. Image from Comic Book Plus:    

Maurice Whitman produced fine work beginning in the 1940s, notably at Fiction House. He toiled at Charlton extensively in the 1950s and 1960s, drawing everything from Atomic Mouse to Fightin' Marines, and was particularly impressive on covers. Often neglected in the pages of comics history, Whitman was a very talented artist who later went on to work for Warren and DC.

An inventive Maurice Whitman cover from Strange Suspense Stories # 36, March 1958.

There was a time when dogs and horses headlined their own comic books - and artists like Maurice Whitman could draw then with great craft! Rocky Lane's Black Jack # 21, January 1958.    

Dick Giordano’s accomplishments have been well documented, but his importance as both an artist and editor at Charlton is worth noting. Giordano began drawing for Charlton in the 1950s on many genre stories. He also produced an enormous amount of attractive covers throughout the line, both as penciller and inking over other artists such as Rocco Mastroserio and Pat Masulli. As editor he instituted the "action hero" line in 1966, competing against Marvel and DC with new characters including Thunderbolt, Sarge Steel, Peacemaker, Judo Master and revivals of Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle.   Under his tenure letters pages became a staple (with personal replies by Giordano) and, inspired by Marvel, he began to add credits to the stories. Giordano was instrumental in creating a personality for Charlton, elevating it in the eyes of fandom.

An impressive early effort by Dick Giordano. "Shakedown!", Carl Memling script, Charlotte Jetter lettering, Racket Squad in Action # 14, January 1955. 

Dick Giordano cover art, Konga # 12, May 1963.

Giordano drew countless romance covers for Charlton. I Love You # 59, August 1967.

For a period of time Joe Sinnott worked for Vince Colletta's shop, penciling countless stories for Charlton's romance line. In addition, he filled in for Steve Ditko on a run of Gorgo stories. Although Sinnott is recognized as an exceptional inker, enhancing the pencils of John Buscema, Gene Colan and Jack Kirby, he has also penciled many stories over the decades for outfits including Dell, Archie and Treasure Chest, where he illustrated biographies of Pope John XXIII, General Douglas MacArthur, Patton, Eisenhower and Babe Ruth.           

"The Venusian Terror", Joe Gill script, Joe Sinnott pencils, Vince Colletta inks, Gorgo # 10, December 1962. 

Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio is another artist who deserves greater recognition. While indexing  stories and covers for the GCD I’ve observed how prolific and talented Mastroserio was. Mastroserio had a strong line and his inking was solidly detailed. His covers, stories and introductory pages were scattered throughout Charlton’s line for some 14 years. Mastroserio also produced excellent work for Warren in the late 1960s for their black and white line of horror magazines. Had he lived he would undoubtedly have branched out to work for other companies (as many of his peers did), but in 1968 Mastroserio died at the all too young age of 44.  

Rocco Mastroserio cover art to Ghostly Tales # 59, Jan 1967. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the lettering skills of Jon D'Agostino, who worked for many years at Charlton. In addition to his solid calligraphy, D'Agostino was also a skilled artist, inker and colorist. D'Agostino continued to work in the industry for many years, often drawing stories for Archie comics.    

Mastroserio cover to Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 4, Nov 1967, Giordano layout and/or inks. In an interview in Whizzard # 14 (Winter 1981), Dick Giordano spoke about Mastroserio: "He was living and working in Derby at the time and if you look at those books you'll see that he used to do about 70 per cent of the covers, which were generally laid out by me but penciled and inked by Rocke." 

Mastroserio was also an attractive inker over many of Charlton's mainstays, adding a level of John Severin style detail to the pencils of Bill Molno. "Sgt. Yellabelly", Joe Gill probable script, Battlefield Action # 28, January 1960. Image from Comic Book Plus:

Jim Aparo began his career at Charlton in the 1960s, and although he is recognized for his work at DC on characters such as AquamanBatman and the Phantom Stranger, his Charlton output was equally impressive. Aparo had a clean, attractive style and he always produced a complete job (pencils, inks and lettering). Perhaps his finest accomplishment at Charlton was his excellent run on the Phantom.      

                             Jim Aparo cover art, The Phantom # 38, June 1970. 
                          Jim Aparo's effectively moody cover to Ghostly Tales # 79, April 1970.
Wayne Howard was a Wally Wood inspired artist (and one time assistant) who often wrote, drew and lettered his own stories. He began working for Charlton in the early 1970s, and was credited on covers as the creator of the mystery-anthology Midnight Tales, where he also created the hosts Arachne and Professor Coffin. Howard also inked other artists work to good effect. Although Howard occasionally worked for DC and Marvel, mostly as an inker, it was at Charlton that he had the freedom to experiment. Howard died in 2007.   

A Wayne Howard Wally Wood inspired page, likely written, drawn, lettered and colored by Howard. "The Voyage", Ghost Manor # 8, Nov 1972.  

Wayne Howard cover (and lettering), Ghost Manor # 13, July 1973.

Pat Boyette was hired by Dick Giordano in the 1960s and became a prolific artist well suited to the mystery line. His faces and figures might not be attractive, but he brought mood, experimentation and an expressive quality to his stories. Boyette often wrote, drew and lettered stories, giving him an opportunity to play with the form. Because Boyette's style was so unorthodox he was not always welcome at other companies, but at Charlton he fit in perfectly.

Pat Boyette excelled in portraying bizarre creatures, as seen on this painted cover. Ghostly Haunts # 52, Oct 1976.

Boyette's sense of mood and panel movement is showcased on this page, from "The Things Some Kids Dream Up!", page 6, Joe Gill script; pencils, inks and letters by Boyette, Haunted # 14, Sept 1973.   

Sanho Kim was a Korean artist who started working in 1957, drawing fantasy and science fiction related comics. In the late 1960's Kim moved to the United States and began working for Charlton on many of the ghost titles, but also contributed to war, western and romance stories and covers. Kim had the unusual habit of including the day, month and year the work was completed in the final panel. Kim inked and lettered all his stories, occasionally writing them as well. Kim also produced some work for Warren and Marvel. In 1973 Kim produced an early Graphic Novel for Iron Horse Press, Sword's Edge, in collaboration with Michael Juliar. Kim returned to Korea in 1996, continuing to create comics, and In 2008 was honored with an Order of Cultural Merits award by the Korean Government. He continues to be involved in fine art centering on Korean culture. 

Sanho Kim wrote, drew and lettered, "The Promise", cover billed on Ghostly Tales # 101, Jan 1973, as "A Korean Folk Tale told in English and Korean". The rigid formats of DC or Marvel in that period would not have found room for a story like this, but Charlton allowed such experimentation. Kim also wrote an editorial message at the end of the story. 

Pete Morisi, better known under the pseudonym "PAM", created Thunderbolt for Charlton and worked on war, western, romance and mystery stories. A police officer by day, he freelanced anonymously in his off-hours for Charlton since the force frowned on outside work. Morisi's style was greatly inspired by veteran George Tuska, along with artists like Jack Kirby. While Morisi's figures had a stiff quality, his sense of pacing and storytelling made up for it.

An effective Morisi page from "Wrong Turn", Haunted # 13, July 1973. Nick Cuti script, PAM letters.  In this period Morisi used photo references (not for the aliens, I assume!) 

Thunderbolt was the creation of Pete Morisi. This page highlights a good sense of design. From issue # 51, April 1966.

Tom Sutton would have been a perfect fit for EC comics 1950s horror line (indeed, he was inspired by the work of Wally Wood and Graham Ingles) but he was instead destined to bring a sense of the macabre to Charlton's 1970s thrillers. Another triple threat (writer, artist, letterer) Sutton loved the ability to experiment with styles and techniques and - like Boyette - painted many stunning covers for the company. Although Sutton worked for other companies, including Marvel and DC, his quirky, offbeat renderings were most at home in the backwoods of Charlton. 

Tom Sutton's bizarre imagery was showcased on Charlton's mystery line. Painted cover from Haunted # 17, July 1974. 

Don Perlin had been drawing comics since the 1950s, although he received greater recognition in the 1970s at Marvel on horror series such as Werewolf by Night and Ghost Rider. Perlin produced a great amount of stories for Charlton in the 1960's and 1970s, both in the mystery and war genre.   

A Don Perlin splash page showcases his skill at composition. Joe Gill script, likely lettered by Perlin. "The Night of the Poltergeists", Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 18, Feb 1970.

 Fred Himes became a Charlton mainstay in the 1970s. His style was clean and simple, with an emphasis on attractive women. He worked on war, western, romance, mystery and television related titles such as Valley of the Dinosaurs and the Six Million Dollar Man, with covers often inked by Pat Boyette.  

Fred Himes' attractive page from "The Devil's Bride", Ghostly Tales # 96, July 1972. Possible Gill script, likely Himes lettering. 

Joe Staton was part of the “70’s wave” of young artists who started at Charlton. Staton had a charming, cartoony style, with a mix of inspirations, including Steve Ditko. The versatile artist produced a plethora of mystery, romance and adventure stories. Staton is most noted for his collaboration, with co-creator-author Nick Cuti, on the humorous super hero strip E-Man. Staton has had an impressive career working for companies such as DC and Marvel, and currently draws the Dick Tracy comic strip, but his early work at Charlton is fondly remembered and worth seeking out.

Staton's sense of pacing, design and Ditko influence is evident on this page. "No Way Out", from Ghostly Haunts # 28, Dec 1972. Nick Cuti script, Charlotte Jetter letters. Jetter's distinctive  lettering enhanced many Charlton stories from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Jetter began working in the 1950s alongside her husband, artist/editor Al Jetter at Fawcett; in later years she  worked for Marvel. Charlton's colorists remain a mystery, although artist/letterer Jon D'Agostino is a prime contender when he worked there in the 1950s and 1960s; he is said to have begun as a colorist for Timely/Atlas' production department (per Stan Goldberg) and has been mentioned from time to time as working in that capacity for Charlton. Wendy Fiore was the only known colorist who was occasionally credited in the 1970s and 1980s.      

Staton art and storytelling enlivens this page from "Reunion", Haunted Love # 4, Oct 1973. Joe Gill script, Joe Staton letters. This was a extra-length 16 page story, and Staton created a moody and effective tale.

Mike Zeck showed great ability in his fanzine art for titles such as RBCC. His first professional sale was at Charlton, where he drew stories and painted and colored covers. In a short period of time he moved to Marvel, gracing titles such as Master of Kung Fu, Captain America, Spider-Man and the Punisher.

Mike Zeck pencilled, inked and colored this dynamic cover for Ghostly Tales # 123, Oct 1976

John Byrne also began his career at Charlton. His enthusiasm and talent was apparent from the start, working on such diverse strips as Speed Buggy and Doomsday + 1. Byrne soon found employment at Marvel, first penciling, and later often writing strips such as Captain America, Fantastic Four and a little known comic titled X-Men.

John Byrne's skill is apparent in this splash to Rog-2000, "Withering Heights". Nick Cuti script, Byrne art and lettering. From E-Man # 7, March 1975.

Don Newton had been known as a talented artist in fanzine circles for years, drawing impressive covers for RBCC and many other fanzines. Newton broke into the business in the 1970's at Charlton, working on mystery stories and creating hosts such as Baron Weirwolf. His work on The Phantom is on a par with Jim Aparo's. Newton later followed Aparo on another famous character: BatmanNewton died in 1984.    

Impressive Don Newton splash page to "Death in the Storm!", with inks by Dan Adkins. Written by Joe Molloy, likely lettered by Newton. From Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 49, Jan 1975.

The Phantom visits Casablanca, with some familiar faces in the background. Don Newton pencils, inks and letters, Bill Pearson script, from The Phantom # 70, April 1976

    And, of course, there was Steve Ditko.

Ditko worked for Charlton early in his career drawing horror, science fiction, crime and westerns. He never really left the company, as he explained in First Choice, an essay published in Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, 1999:  "..Charlton left us and the comics field"

Ditko always had a strong sense of pacing and choreography, as this page illustrates. "The Forbidden Room", possible Joe Gill script, Jon D'Agostino letters, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds # 4, July 1957. 

Even when Ditko was busy working for Stan Lee on mystery and superhero stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s he continued to produce art for Charlton, notably the monster titles based on movies Gorgo and Konga. There was only a short gap in the 1964/65 period when Ditko only had one story appear each year. Ditko returned to pencil a revived Capt. Atom in late 1965. The title appeared on newsstands the same month as Amazing Spider-Man # 32 (comics were usually dated two to three months ahead of "real time"; Capt. Atom had a December cover date; Amazing Spider-Man # 32, January - both apparently were on sale in early October). After creating "the Question" and a revised Blue Beetle, Ditko settled in for a long period drawing primarily for Charlton's mystery line.  

Ditko's page design and atmospheric inks were exceptional in the late 1960's-early 1970's period, one of the most expressive of his long career. "Return to Trilby Shoals" Ditko art, Possible Joe Gill script, Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 16, Oct 1969.  

Ditko drew many finely detailed and experimental stories for Charlton in the 1970's, some of his finest work ever. While his art became less detailed by the mid 1970s he still produced for Charlton while working at DC and Atlas-Seaboard. In the mid-1970s Charlton went all reprint, but Ditko returned for their last revival attempt in 1985. Along with drawing a few new stories for the revived Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, Ditko brought his creator-owned character Static to the company. Ditko and Charlton were a good fit and he remained loyal to them until they closed their doors for the final time.

It doesn't get much better than this. Ditko's line absolutely flows on this page. His design sense, characterization, layout and backgrounds are expert. "An Ancient Wrong", Ditko art, Joe Gill script, Charlotte Jetter letters, Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves # 20, June 1970.  

Charlton’s  line of romance, war, western, mystery and humor had a place on the newsstands from the mid 1940s to the mid-1970s. Increasingly, with the loss of mom and pop stores and the proliferation of comics shops their product became marginalized. Fans in the 1970s almost exclusively sought out superheroes, or monsters with a continuing back story, such as Tomb of Dracula and Swamp Thing. Their line-up continued to cater to a younger crowd, but the audience for hot rods and westerns appeared to be diminishing. Although they tried to make another run in the mid 1980's, it was not to be.

Alex Nino cover art to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler # 15, December 1985. 

Steve Ditko's final new story for Charlton appeared alongside reprints of his 1950s Mysterious Traveler stories. Story, art and lettering by Ditko. Tales of the Mysterious Traveler # 15, December 1985. Story copyright 2016 Steve Ditko.  

For many years Charlton was a familiar product on the comics racks, alongside Archie, Harvey, Western, DC, Marvel and others. Their diverse titles sold well to a general audience.  Although often maligned, they had a solid group of diverse and dependable creators. While Charlton never rose to the top ranks of comics publishers, perhaps that was a good thing. Nestled in their own little corner Charlton thrived for decades; an offbeat company that received little notice or acclaim, they chugged along at their own pace. I'm glad they were around to entertain me when I was growing up and appreciate them even more in today's often predictable and antiseptic environment.  

Top image, Tom Christopher art; bottom image, Steve Ditko art. Ads such as these appeared in fanzines such as Amazing Heroes and The Comics Journal to promote Charlton's revived line in 1985. The company was one of the few still attempting to cater to a variety of tastes, but sales were not strong enough and Charlton called it quits late in the year.  

Mort Todd continues the Charlton tradition with a mix of new material and classic reprints. I've had the pleasure of assisting him on his Comic Book Cover Series, which is highly recommended. Read more about his publications here: 

With thanks to Robin Snyder for his knowledge, input and encouragement and Darci for her grammatical corrections.