As noted in part one, the majority of non-signed stories were likely written by staffer Joe Gill. Editorial began adding script and art credits more often beginning in 1973 and when Gill's by-line appears in print it will be noted below.
GHOST MANOR: "The Waiting Noose" (#3, February) is Ditko's first 1972 dated story. While Ditko drew no new western tales for Charlton, this story includes a flashback to a ghost town where justice is meted out. Ditko composed an inventive full page shot of the horrified protagonist; a full figure drawing along with an extreme close-up of his face. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
An exchange with Jim Amash from Charlton Spotlight # 5 (Fall 2006) confirms Gill's feelings on the subject:
Jim: Would Ditko change your scripts?
Joe Gill: All the artists did if they wanted to. I didn't care.
Jim: I knew that Pat Boyette did, but I wondered if Ditko did.
Joe Gill: I can't imagine. I didn't read the comics after they were done (mutual laughter)
Ghost Manor # 5 (June) sports one of Ditko's most impressive covers; a brilliantly composed drawing that has the reader looking outward from the prisoner's perspective. The view through the cell evokes images from a number of classic films, including Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) and Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961).
Ditko's interior art for "The Last Garland" (GM # 5) is truly exceptional; his beautifully detailed inking creates an atmospheric flair. The wormy relative is another classic Ditko caricature. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
GHOSTLY HAUNTS: The first issue of the formerly titled Ghost Manor continues with Winnie the Witch as hostess. "The Night of the Lonely Man" (#22, January) begins in a remote Balkan village, as residents fear walking the streets on the anniversary of a murder that took place years ago. Ditko uses shadows throughout to create a feeling of apprehension. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
"Treasure of the Tomb" (#23, March) is a humorous tale of a dead man who inhabits the body of a grave robber. As he had done earlier with Doctor Graves, Ditko employs the hostess in-between panels and attempting another interesting technique by placing her curvaceous figure in silhouette. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Ditko's second story in Ghostly Haunts # 23, "Return Visit," is as accomplished as his first one. The tale of two death row inmates who escape prison and seek to retrieve their stolen money is filled with creative flourishes (it's very hard to pick out just one page to showcase; Ditko's work is SO good in this period). One highlight is Ditko's depiction of the killers; one a gaunt and grim Boris Karloff type; the other a perennially grinning maniac. Joe Gill story; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Issue #25(June) is worth noting for Ditko's redesign of Winnie the Witch. Alterations included a shorter cape, green hair and dress and a broom (which was soon discarded), perhaps to make her look like a more traditional witch. I much prefer the original look. Joe Gill script.
You never know who'll appear in a Charlton publication! Labeled on the splash page as a "special guest appearance," Dr. Graves makes a house call in Winnie's title. In this panel from "I'll Never Forget What's-His-Name?" (GH # 27, November) Winnie narrates Dr. Graves's adventure. There was no interaction between the two characters though; Winnie remained the unseen and omniscient host.GHOSTLY TALES: Ditko penciled many impressive covers in this period, arguably some of his very best. Issue #94 (April) would be an example, depicting a terrified man running from a ferocious wolf with a demonic figure superimposed over the beast.
"Answer the Phone, Dottie" (#95, June) presents a teenage girl who torments her neighbor with prank phone calls. Ditko delights in portraying a spoiled, nasty, vicious, sloppy teenager, the kind he obviously despises. Aside from the supernatural ending, the reality of the situation makes the story interesting. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
In this period Ditko occasionally drew covers for an interior piece he did not illustrate. In this instance Ghostly Tales # 97 (August) is based on a Don Perlin feature. Ditko's subtle composition includes an almost unnoticeable shadow of Mr. Dedd in the background.
HAUNTED: The expressions Ditko conjures of a ghostly avenger in "Stay of Execution" (# 3, January) run the gamut from grim to despairing, echoing the image of Death portrayed in Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal. The mood is intensified by Ditko's application of continuous lines on the spirit's face and clothing.
"Driven to Destruction" (#4, February) includes another evocative cover scene. Inside, a henpecked husband is driven mad by his wife's incessant nagging. Ditko continues to play with panel sizes, opening with a six panel grid instead of the standard splash, saving it for the last page instead. Ditko does exceptional work on the husband’s hate-filled expressions throughout. Of particular note is his extreme close-up composition on page three, overlapping the previous panel. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
"Stop the Clock" (Haunted #7, August), opens with a couple stranded on the road. They go to an old house for help and encounter an eccentric man apparently living in the past. References to Colliers and Liberty magazine, Benny Goodman and the radio show "Lights Out" add an authentic feeling to the proceedings. Ditko's full-page drawing of the ghoul is inspired by the classic scene of Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES : "A Gift for Gifford" (#30, February) concerns a timid man who acquires an idol that transforms him into an aggressive, violent monster. Ditko's rich shading, panel to panel continuity and expressive faces adds to the drama. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
"The Heart of Jeremy Mirth"(#DG 31, April) is the story of a dying man who will pay any price to gain a new heart. Ditko invents another distinctive page/panel layout, using index cards as a design motif. Ditko clearly learned from earlier creators who tinkered with the comic book format; master storyteller Will Eisner and his Spirit feature being one inspiration. Ditko is not often lauded for such innovations, overshadowed by artists such as Neal Adams, a fan favorite in the 1970s who had a bigger canvas and drew popular characters including Batman. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Quite a few stories in this period were repetitive and at times Ditko struggled to make them interesting. Even when he didn't quite succeed there was almost always a worthwhile page or panel, such as this illustration of a sinister woman from "Bury Him Deep!," Doctor Graves # 23, August.
GHOST MANOR: Issue #9 (January) "Tonight, I'll Dream of You" is a surreal entry. An insect-like creature dreams of a human aboard a ship, who, when he falls asleep, becomes trapped in his dimension. Ditko's art fluctuated wildly in this period, at times consisting of looser pencils and less defined inking; perhaps a sign of boredom with familiar material. There are numerous exceptions to the rule, however, as I believe the examples below illustrate.
A stunning Ditko cover adorns Ghost Manor # 11 (April)
Charlotte Jetter lettering. Ditko's powerful visuals are coupled with a strong Joe Gill script. In a Nazi prison camp during World War II POW's plan to escape their sadistic captors. Ditko's depiction of the brutal Nazi's and their counterpart doberman includes a stunning sequence seen through the killer dog's teeth.
GHOSTLY HAUNTS : "Partners" (#29), Joe Gill script. A tale of two friends who strike gold in Canada and become insane with greed. Ditko's experimentation with panel arrangements rises to a new level as he employs multiple images within panels. While others may have faltered with such an unorthodox presentation, with Ditko as maestro, the reader's attention is unfazed and the story flows gracefully. The man frantically caught in a blizzard is another example of superb storytelling technique.
Any fantasy story where an elderly woman is threatened, has a black cat for a companion and comes face to face with a thief rarely turns out well..for the offender that is! "A Little Witchcraft" (GH # 34, August) has Ditko returning to his fuller, more pronounced use of brushwork. The criminal's masked face is perhaps an amusing nod to Rene Magritte's 1928 painting, The Lovers.* Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. * (observation by my good friend Frank Mastropaolo, whose behind the scenes assistance on this and many other posts over the years has been invaluable).
"Last Laugh" (GT #103, April) begins with another superb Ditko cover; the reader's eye is directed to a skeleton menacingly clutching a gun pointing to a door being opened. Ditko's use of hands and fingers is always expressive. The interior story, centering on a man who is desperate to acquire his step-father's wealth, is not as lush as Ditko's earlier efforts but his pacing and use of overhead shots make this a solid outing.
Criminals sporting a bulging eye were a staple of Joe Gill thrillers! Not only did they show up in a number of Ditko outings (see the previous blog post) they appeared in stories drawn by other Charlton artists. Ditko, however, seemed perfectly suited to portray these proptosis-challenged protagonists. "Triumph of Evil," GT # 105, July, you-know-who script, Charlotte Jetter letters.
In "The Moon Beast" (GT #106, August) a woman is determined to interview a reclusive horror star renowned for his portrayal of a Werewolf (Ditko's character bears a resemblance to Lon Chaney, Jr. who played the Wolfman in a series of 1940s Universal movies). Ditko fires on all cylinders in this outing, from his portrayal of the Werewolf to the attractively drawn, resourceful reporter. Perhaps the story elements were more to Ditko's liking than usual, including the opening pages with the couple watching a movie. Whatever the case Ditko turned in one of his strongest efforts of the year. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Charlotte Jetter lettering.
HAUNTED: "Bride in Darkness" (# 11, February) again navigates the familiar territory of a sexy spirit seeking vengeance for past crimes. Ditko's delicate lines, hair and expressions create a personable figure.
"A Voice in the Fog" (#14, September) continues the artist's manipulation of pen and brush to convey the lack of visibility encountered in a heavy fog, a technique he mastered several times in the past. It is marred only be an uneven coloring job. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
MANY GHOSTS OF DR.GRAVES: "Who's There?" (#38, May) was Ditko's third experiment in telling a story without the use of standard panels, instead employing multiple images in horizontal frames. This interesting tale focuses on a young man alone in his recently deceased parents house. The varied emotions, expressions and body language of the man along with the constantly moving "camera" prove once again that Ditko is a master at creating dramatic tension in everyday surroundings. Joe Gill script.
Joe Gill revisits an often-used plot about a curse handed down through the centuries. A more gruesome outing than usual, since the victims are all decapitated (even if they occur off-panel). Ditko's work is of high-quality, particularly the splash page where the reader's eye "looks" through the guillotine. Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.HAUNTED LOVE : In 1973 Charlton decided to combine two popular genres; ghosts and romance. "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" (#4, October) is the story of an unattractive, envious woman who will do anything in order to win the man she lusts after. Ditko's aptitude for portraying expressions is on full display, as seen by the smiling witch and venal woman. Joe Gill script;Charlotte Jetter lettering.
In "Until we Meet Again" (HL #5, December), a woman mourns for her lover who was lost at sea. Still carrying a glimmer of hope that he survived, she watches the ocean, rescuing a man with no memory of his past. Ditko renders the seashore setting, ocean waves and female protagonist with a distinct charm, making this one of his best "romance" stories. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Killjoy copyright Steve Ditko
E-MAN: Ditko's back-up tale appeared in issue #2 (December) which introduced Killjoy, a costumed hero created, written and drawn by the artist (his first fully scripted tale for the company). Opening with a logo that echoes the famous "comedy and tragedy" masks made famous in theater, Ditko's hero utters no words, wears a mask adorned with a perpetual grin and tangles with an array of comedic villains. In this story Ditko works in a more simplistic, "bigfoot" style that emulates his concurrent independent comics.
Ditko's exclusive commitment to Charlton ended in 1974. In this period he drew fewer stories and only three covers, perhaps due to his impending freelance assignments for DC and Atlas/Seaboard. While his sense of design, layout and composition was solid, the inking had grown much looser. Also lacking was his novel and amusing presentation of Charlton's hosts; the bits between panels declined considerably, with their appearances often relegated to opening and closing scenes. This diminished activity saw its beginnings in the previous year.
GHOSTLY TALES: "The Third Victim" (#109, January) has a distinct Twilight Zone feel, as a second hand entertainer forces a brilliant craftsman of ventriloquist dummies to make one for him. While clearly less detailed, Ditko's pacing and characterizations were still effective. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Even in some of the weaker stories Ditko often finds something interesting to focus on, such as this panel from "Leroy's Dawg!" (# 112, December), with its mirror images of human and animal. Tom Peterson script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
MANY GHOSTS OF DOCTOR GRAVES: # 48 (November) Ditko only drew two stories for this title in 1974, neither of which was top quality. "Death Scene" featuring a Sherlock Holmes styled hero, was a slightly better outing. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
GHOST MANOR : "Self Portrait!" (#20, September) is a stronger Ditko presentation, including depictions of a Gargoyle statue and bizarre characters/ settings. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
An inspired tale, scripted by Assistant Editor and one of Charlton’s better writers, Nick Cuti. "Death in a Darkroom" (#21) concerns a freelance photographer who inadvertently takes a picture of a murder. If you don't blink you'll notice cameo appearances of E-Man (a Nick Cuti-Joe Staton superhero then starring in his own comic) Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle in a parade. I've added a close-up rendered in black and white to make the figures clearer, since the printed comic got the colors wrong. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
GHOSTLY HAUNTS: # 37 (January). No, I didn't photoshop this page! The creature wreaking havoc in "The Ancient Mine" is colored in green and purple hues exactly like The Hulk, a character Ditko had been associated with at Marvel. Coincidence? Or someone at Charlton having a little fun? Whatever the case, Marvel's lawyers probably never even knew about the story. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
While "Room for One More" (Haunted # 16, June) was standard fare about crime, betrayal and ghostly revenge, Ditko was up to form, creating an ominous mood with his attention to settings and investing characters such as the elderly man with distinct personality. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
E-MAN: Killjoy returned for a second outing in # 4, (August), which continued Ditko's bizarre collection of outre criminals and objectivist philosophy in a lighter tone. Worth noting is that years later Ditko bought the rights back to Killjoy from Charlton.
Dan's first drawings of the character were returned with tissue overlays by Wildman with suggested adjustments to Miss Belle. Dan's revisions were made, and he mentioned the work to a number of other professionals, which was not appreciated by the Charlton offices, since they had wanted secrecy on the project until it was ready. Dan left the project and was replaced by Charlton regular Steve Ditko.
While her red-white and blue costume was attractive, and Ditko's art was up to par, the eight page story, which ended on a cliffhanger, informed readers that Liberty Belle might continue in its own book if reader interest warranted. Cries of “Give me Liberty,” however, apparently didn’t ring through the halls of Charlton’s offices.
Announcement of Ditko (and Wally Wood) returning to freelance for DC from The Comic Reader # 114, January 1975
In 1975 Ditko's exclusivity with Charlton came to an end. In the November, 1974 issue of the news related fanzine The Comic Reader (# 112), it was revealed that Ditko would be penciling a new superhero title for the nascent Atlas/Seaboard line, The Destructor, teamed with writer Archie Goodwin and inker Wally Wood. Two issues later the fanzine noted his return to DC, with Wally Wood again inking some of his stories.
As he had done since his earliest years, Ditko continued to work regularly on Charlton's horror-mystery line where it was business as usual, drawing stories for Ghost Manor, Ghostly Haunts, Ghostly Tales, Haunted and The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, and contributing to new titles Beyond the Grave, Creepy Things, Midnight Tales, Monster Hunters and Scary Tales.
In The Comic Reader # 136, October, 1976 the news section included an announcement that Charlton would be closing its comic book line. This turned out to be premature, for the company returned six months later in June 1977, using up inventory until 1978.
With Charlton's decision to cut costs by going all-reprint many artists, including Ditko, were absent an account they had relied on for over two decades. From 1978 to late 1984 the company published their usual array of war, western, soap opera, adventure and humor titles; occasionally new stories by aspiring writers and artists were used. Of course, many Ditko covers and stories were represented in familiar titles, including Ghostly Tales, The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, Ghost Manor, Haunted, Space War and Space Adventures, utilizing material from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Ads for Static (aka Charlton Action) appeared in fanzines such as The Comics Journal.
Charlton again shut down in late 1984, but after an eight month hiatus resurfaced in June, 1985. The Comics Journal # 97, April 1985, related that Ditko would be back with the only all-new material title, Charlton Action featuring Static:
According to Static's editor, Robin Snyder, the first issue of that book will debut in July. Static will be written, drawn and lettered by Ditko, and will be [sic] newly edited versions of the stories that ran in the now-defunct Eclipse Monthly....Furthermore, Charlton is allowing Ditko to own this material, and is only buying one-time publishing rights to the stories.
Letting Ditko retain ownership of his character was a big deal in the mid-1980s; of the big two only Marvel began to offer creators copyright on new characters appearing in their slick magazine Epic Illustrated and its comic book offshoot, Epic Comics. New Ditko art intermingled with his 1950s stories in Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, but after five months the party ended abruptly and Charlton closed its doors in October 1985. As Ditko stated in his essay "First Choice" (Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, 1999) "..Charlton left us, and the comic field."
After over three decades the line has again been resurrected by Mort Todd, the publisher of Charlton-Neo, a lovingly produced assortment of reprints and new material, with some of the original creators involved. You can sample his product and purchase his comics here:
For decades Steve Ditko produced some of his most unusual, inventive and offbeat work at Charlton, unencumbered by editorial edict or restrictions. Like the corner candy stores that sold their product, Charlton existed in an era when comic books were not marginalized fodder for a small segment of fans. In that long-ago time kids picked up, read and traded all types of comics: western, romance, humor, hot rods, war, ghosts. The vast majority of buyers had no idea who Ditko - or any of the other writers and artists - were. It didn't matter. An untold number were consistently entertained by a supremely dedicated and intense craftsman.
In 1998 Ditko and Robin Snyder published a collection of mostly 1970s Charlton mystery tales, quite a few of which I've discussed here, all in glorious black and white. If you want to get an even better idea of what Mr. Ditko crafted, track this one down.
DITKO CHARLTON CHRONOLOGY:1969-1974
GHOSTLY TALES #71-73, 75-77
JUNGLE JIM # 22,27
MANY GHOSTS OF DR.GRAVES # 11-13,15-17
SPACE ADVENTURES # 5,6,8
TIME FOR LOVE # 13
FIGHTIN' ARMY # 89,90,92
GHOST MANOR # 13-15
GHOSTLY TALES # 78-83
JUNGLE JIM # 28
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 18, 20-22
OUTLAWS OF THE WEST # 80-81
THE PHANTOM # 36,39
ROMANTIC STORY # 107
TEXAS RANGERS IN ACTION # 77
GHOST MANOR # 16,18-19
(VOLUME 2) # 1-2
GHOSTLY TALES # 84-89, 90(cover)
HAUNTED # 1-2
I LOVE YOU # 91
JUST MARRIED # 79
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 24, 26, 27, 28(cover), 29
GHOST MANOR # 3-5, 6(cover), 7-8
GHOSTLY HAUNTS # 22-25, 26(cover), 27-28
GHOSTLY TALES # 92, 93-94(covers), 95, 96(cover), 97, 99,100
HAUNTED # 3-5, 6(cover), 7-8
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 30-35
E-MAN # 2
GHOST MANOR # 9-16
GHOSTLY HAUNTS # 29, 30(cover), 31-34, 36
GHOSTLY TALES # 101-108
HAUNTED # 11-15
HAUNTED LOVE # 4-5
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 37-38, 40-43
E-MAN # 4-5
GHOST MANOR # 17-18, 20-21
GHOSTLY HAUNTS # 37-40
GHOSTLY TALES # 109-112
HAUNTED # 16, 18
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 47-48