As noted in part one, the majority of non-signed stories are attributed to Joe Gill. Writer and artist credits became more prominent at Charlton in 1973 onward and when known i will add Gill's credit.
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.
"Come Back...to Tlakluk" (#4, April), Charlotte Jetter lettering. I believe this is Ditko's only double page montage at Charlton, likely accomplished by rearranging Joe Gill's script, which often followed a five or six panel per page grid. A clue to Ditko's juggling of panels is evident on the splash, which usually consisted of one large panel. Here three smaller panels are added. Ditko's only restrictions appear to have been page count; editors had pre-determined production and advertising considerations which, as Ditko knew, could not be altered.
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.
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, such as issue #94's (April) 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, with an extreme close-up composition on page three, overlapping the previous panel, being particularly innovative. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
Perhaps in a playful mood Ditko draws two characters who resemble Peter Parker and Harry (or Norman) Osborn in "This is How it Is" (Haunted #5, April).
A spirit in despair over his son's tyrannical behavior. Ditko conveys the father's pain in a long shot as he sits on a gravestone framed by tree branches. From "This is How it Is".
"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.
GHOST MANOR: Issue #9 (January) "Tonight, I'll Dream of You" is a surreal entry. A Caterpillar-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, often consisting of looser, less defined inking. Whether this was a deliberate move or a sign of boredom with the material, the finished product often lacked the punch of his earlier efforts.
Ditko employed an effective montage consisting of three scenes for the cover of Ghost Manor # 10 (March).
"Reconciliation" is an amusing story about a married couple who move into an old house occupied by the ghost of a woman who accidentally killed her husband. A typical Joe Gill plot is enlivened by Ditko's solid storytelling, whose wispy lines bring dimension to the ghosts.
A stunning Ditko cover adorns Ghost Manor # 11 (April).
This never happened on Gunsmoke! Ditko returns for another foray into the wild west, and I do mean wild! In "Theft of Evil"(GM # 11), an old man guards a gold mine which houses a gigantic worm like monstrosity. This story is similar to another Ditko drawn thriller, "The Worm Turns", which appeared in The Thing # 15, July-August 1954. It's likely that Joe Gill authored both stories.
Escape" (#15, October), Joe Gill script, 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, the story flows gracefully with Ditko as maestro and the reader experiences no lack of comprehension. The protagonist caught in a blizzard is another example of superb storytelling technique.
Although "Web of Evil" was published in Ghostly Haunts # 31 (April) the job number (D-3407) indicates that it was drawn before "Partners" in issue # 29. This means that Ditko's first attempt at the multiple image technique began with this story, which, while very good for a first attempt, proves how quickly the artist improved.
Once again the elements play an important part in a story. "The Shetabi Legend", Joe Gill script, (GH #32, May) has two Canadian scientists and their American Indian guide investigating the sighting of a fur-covered creature. This is another rare tale without any real threat. Ditko again employs silent panels to great effect.
Any fantasy story where an elderly woman is the protagonist, 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), includes Ditko returning to his thicker inking style.Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
GHOSTLY TALES : "Ghost Artist"(#101), scripted by Bhob Stewart and Russ Jones, has a decidedly EC-ish flavor. A comic book artist hires an assistant who grows increasingly envious and resentful of his mentor. While the older cartoonist (who Ditko drew to resemble co-author Russ Jones) is calm and helpful the young hack is portrayed with a simmering hatred. Authors Stewart and Jones took some of their own experiences working with Leonard Starr and Wally Wood to fashion the story and Ditko was up to the challenge. You can read more about this and other Bhob Stewart and Russ Jones experiences working in the industry here: http://potrzebie.blogspot.com/2010/02/
"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 lusts for 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 appeared often in Joe Gill thrillers! Not only did they show up in a number of Ditko outings (see the previous blog post) they showed up 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 and resourceful female protagonist. 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.
"Happy Ending" (#108, November) also has a movie motif, this time concerning an eternally youthful actress, although its not plastic surgery that maintains her beauty! Another finely rendered tale with good use of horizontal panels on three pages. Joe Gill script;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.
"Crash Pad" (DG # 40, July) concerns a trio of squatters who encounter supernatural justice. Ditko portrays the young hooligans in the least flattering light, sporting unkempt hair, wearing filthy clothing and looking cartoonishly unattractive.
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.
Beginning in late 1973 Charlton included images of their characters on the top left corner of each cover, similar to Marvel's character box. Ditko drew five of the mystery hosts animatedly posing in his signature style.
This was the last year Ditko freelanced solely for Charlton. While his sense of design, layout and composition was solid, his inking had grown much looser. There was a lack of innovation and even the hosts interactions declined considerably, their presence often relegated to opening and closing bits (this diminished activity saw its beginnings in the previous year). Ditko also drew fewer stories and only three covers for Charlton in 1974 dated titles, perhaps due to his starting other freelance assignments.
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 layouts, pacing and characters were still an effective mix. Charlotte Jetter lettering,
"Make my Dreams Come True" (#111, September), is an interesting tale of infidelity, voodoo and a woman whose wishes come true with tragic results. Ditko's use of locale and a diverse cast adds intrigue to one of the more interesting Joe Gill stories of the period. 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" which featured a Sherlock Holmes styled protagonist, was a slightly better outing. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
GHOST MANOR : "Self Portrait!" (#20, September) is a stronger Ditko presentation, with depictions of a Gargoyle statue and interesting characters and 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 and rendered in black and white to make the figures clearer, since the printed comic got the colors wrong. Charlotte Jetter lettering.
The process of photography was played up and a wonderful infinity panel has the protagonist staring at a man who is staring at his photograph of a murder. A very inventive tale in which Ditko's art complimented the narrative.
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.
"Moon of Vengeance" (GH # 39, July) is an uneven story credited to Jane Giddens; her only known script for Charlton (or elsewhere). The premise is unusual, though, focusing on an American Indian woman who is haunted by a river spirit seeking to possess her body. At the least it was not a typical Charlton mystery tale; the evil spirit is more akin to Indian folklore and a female protagonist (and her lady friend) was a novelty as well. Ditko did the best he could with the script, although an abundance of dialogue and scenes of talking heads were challenging even with his great facility. Ditko was successful in depicting the woman's physical and emotional turmoil and some panels stood out, such as her expressive features in the last panel (above),
Haunted # 16, June. One of only three covers Ditko drew for Charlton in comics cover-dated 1974.
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.
Issue # 5 (November) introduced an attempt at a patriotic female superhero in the Wonder Woman mold. Created by Joe Gill, the character was designed by Dan Adkins after editor George Wildman and Gill rejected Mike Vosburg's concept. As related in The Comic Reader # 106, May 1974:
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.
Inventory stories continued to appear amidst reprints all through 1977 and into 1978. As ascertained by job numbers (which usually were lettered on the splash page) "Crazy Jack" (D-8392; Ghost Manor # 37, May, 1978) was the last story Ditko drew for Charlton in the 1970s, although "Dead Fire" was the last story to be PUBLISHED in Scary Tales # 15, July 1978 (job number D-8326).
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 wil debut in July. Static will be written, drawn and lettered by Ditko, and will be 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; one that the big two did not consider in this period. 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