PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Charlton Comics Resurrected

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1008862_586582141421487_1877881511_oThe Charlton Arrow #1
Written and drawn by Various
Edited by Fester Faceplant, Roger McKenzie, and Mort Todd
Published by Comicfix
$6.99

“The Charlton Arrow,” a tribute to the beloved and/or ridiculed Charlton Comics Group, may be the first comic book spawned out of a Facebook Group page. Charlton was never the number one comic book publisher. Truth be told, I don’t think they were ever in the top five. They were the comic book arm of Charlton Publications, the folks who published Hit Parader magazine, among other periodicals. Charlton maintains a special place in history as a plucky little company where creativity was allowed to run wild with a very small budget.

Actually, creativity ran wild primarily due to the very small budget. Artists like Steve Ditko would work for a much lower page rate in exchange for being able to work without much interference.

A vintage Charlton ad
A vintage Charlton ad

Charlton Comics looked different than other comic books. They were printed on Charlton’s own printing press, which was reportedly converted from its original purpose of printing cereal boxes, after the company bought it secondhand. Instead of using dots for color separations, they used very tiny x’s and o’s. They also used different paper stock for the covers and interiors than the other comic book companies, which made them seem either exotic or shoddy, depending on the quality of the material contained within.

Steve Ditko's The Question stands as one of the best comic books of the 1960s
Steve Ditko’s The Question stands as one of the best comic books of the 1960s

Charlton did have a few teriffic spurts of creativity and originality. In the late 1960’s under the editorship of Dick Giordano, they briefly dabbled in superhero comics with re-launches of The Blue Beetle and Captain Atom and new characters such as The Peacemaker and The Question. While these characters are not household names, it’s worth pointing out that the Charlton superheroes were purchased by DC Comics in the early 1980’s and that the characters in the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic Watchmen were loosely based on them. After Giordano left, Charlton experienced another surge of creativity with an influx of young talent in the 1970’s when George Wildmon was the editor of the line.

In the 1960’s, Charlton published comcis with art by such legends as Steve Ditko (who created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee), Jim Aparo, Pat Boyette, and Pete Morisi. In the 1970’s, Charlton introduced such artists as Joe Staton, John Byrne, Don Newton, Mike Zeck, and Tom Sutton to the comics industry. In addition to Joe Gill, who may be the most prolific writer in comics history, churning out more scripts than anyone else, Charlton also employed comic book writers like Denny O’Neil, Nicola Cuti, Bill Pearson, and Paul Kupperberg.

Even as Charlton was in its death throes in the 1980’s, they managed one last spurt, offering to publish work by new creators who would retain their copyrights but would only be paid with copies of whatever book their work was published in.

The reason for all this history is to point out that Charlton was never a “championship team.” They were always an also-ran, yet they still entertained millions of kids and sparked countless fond memories.

Which brings us back to the Facebook group which caused fans to get nostalgic enough to inspire a trading card set and “The Charlton Arrow” comic book.

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“The Ghosts of Evils Past”

So the question is, does the book stand on its own as an entertaining comic book? The answer is a resounding yes. Unlike the original Charlton Comics, “The Charlton Arrow” is beautifully printed, with spectacular production throughout. The lead story, “The Ghosts of Evils Past,” is a clever post-Watchmen valentine to the Charlton Action characters that devotes its eight pages to a nice little lesson of redemption. The story is written by Paul Kupperberg, who has been in the news this week as the scripter of the upcoming “death” of Archie for Archie Comics. The artwork by industry pros Rick Stasi and Barbara Kaalberg is a perfect tribute to the work of Ditko, Boyette, and the other classic Charlton artists. It’s a great way to launch the title.

Detail from John Byrne's pin-up
Detail from John Byrne’s pin-up

That story is followed by an illustrated text feature written in the style of one of Charlton’s raciest romance comics, “Career Girl Romances.” All I can say is I can’t wait for chapter two of “Hospital Heat.” The spot illustration is a fake comic book cover by Charlton and DC vet and current Dick Tracy artist, Joe Staton. This is followed by a John Byrne pinup featuring the stars of Doomsday Plus One, a science fiction comic book that featured some of Byrne’s first published work years before he worked on the X-Men, Superman, and the Fantastic Four. The pinup is followed by a six page Johnny Love story, written and drawn by Michael Mitchell, that is as spectacularly twisted and accurate a tribute as any of the finest National Lampoon parodies of the 1970’s.

The Charlton Horror Hosts, drawn by Mort Todd
The Charlton Horror Hosts, drawn by Mort Todd

After that we get a two page center spread featuring the many Charlton horror hosts drawn by Mort Todd. That spread is followed by a five page story, also drawn by Mort Todd, with a story by Lou Mougin that reveals the fate of the Charlton horror hosts who are not quite so horriffic when compared to everyday television of today like “The Walking Dead” and a twerking Miley Cyrus. It’s a fun little romp with great artwork.

The Spookman
The Spookman

Following that we get a three page text feature with a fascinating look at Charlton’s western comics. After a pinup drawing by Javier Hernandez, we are treated to a moody ten page sepia-tone story written by Roger McKenzie and drawn by Sandy Carruthers starring the Spookman, a character created by legendary Charlton artist Pat Boyette. This is particularly striking and almost seems out of place until you realize that this is a tribute to Charlton and the wide variety of comics they published.

The inside back cover is a pinup of Bikini Luv, Charlton’s answer to Josie and The Pussycats.

If you grew up on Charlton Comics, “The Charlton Arrow” is bound to be a nostalgic treat. It’s going to punch all the buttons and bring back lots of great memories with the sense of fun and creativity that Charlton offered.

If, however, you started reading comic books after 1985 when Charlton went out of business and never explored the back issues of this allegedly mob-connected company from Derby, Connecticut, you may not know what the hell to make of this comic book.

Yet you’ll still probably enjoy it. I’m hoping that this turns out to be more than just a one-shot. Although it would be a nice little tribute to Charlton if the second issue were numbered #27. Charlton was notorious for their inconsistent and illogical methods of numbering their titles, something which has confounded comics historians for years.

If you like your comics fun and not too heavy, you should head over to their website now and snap up a copy of the second printing. The first printing has sold out. While you’re there, check out Ace Comics. There’s a link at the bottom of the page, and it looks like their books capture this same sense of flat-out, non-corporate pure comic book fun.