A division of Charlton Publications, which published magazines (most notably song-lyric magazines), puzzle books and, briefly, books (under the Monarch and Gold Star imprints), and had its own distribution company (Capital Distribution), Charlton Comics published a wide variety of genres including crime, science fiction, Western, horror, war, and romance comics, as well as funny animal, and superhero series. The company was known for its low-budget practices, often using unpublished material acquired from defunct companies and paying comics creators among the lowest rates in the industry. Charlton Comics were also the last of the American comics to raise their price from ten cents to twelve cents in mid 1962.
It was also unique among comic book companies in that it controlled all areas of its company, from editorial to printing to distribution, rather than partnering with any outside entities as most other publishers did, and that it did so all under one roof, at its headquarters in Derby.
The company was formed by John Santangelo, Sr. and Ed Levy in 1940 as T.W.O. Charles Company, named after the two publishers’ sons, both named Charles, and became Charlton Publications in 1945. The name Charlton Comics first appeared on Marvels of Science #1 (March 1946).
Charlton Publications' first comic books were published under other imprints. Its first title was Yellowjacket, an anthology of superhero and horror stories published beginning September 1944 under the imprint Frank Comunale Publications, with Ed Levy listed as publisher. Next was Zoo Funnies, under the imprint Children Comics Publishing; Jack in the Box, under Frank Comunale; and TNT Comics, under Charles Publishing Co.. Another imprint, Frank Publications, was also used.
Following the adoption of the Charlton Comics name in 1946, the company over the next five years acquired material from freelance editor and comics packager Al Fago (brother of former Timely Comics editor Vincent Fago). Charlton additionally published Merry Comics, Cowboy Western, the Western title Tim McCoy, and Pictorial Love Stories. In 1951, Al Fago was brought in as in-house editor, and Charlton hired a staff of artists including its future managing editor, Dick Giordano. Others, either on staff or freelance, would eventually include Vince Alascia, Jon D'Agostino, Sam Glanzman, Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio, Bill Molno, Charles Nicholas, and Sal Trapani. The primary writer was the remarkably prolific Joe Gill.
The company began a wide expansion of its comics line, which would include notoriously gory horror comics - the principal title being Steve Ditko's The Thing - and from 1954-55 acquired a stable of comic book properties from the defunct Superior Comics, Mainline Publications, St. John Publications, and most significantly, Fawcett Publications, which was shutting down its Fawcett Comics division. (The superhero Captain Marvel, at the time the subject of a legal battle between Fawcett and DC Comics, was not part of that deal.)
Charlton continued publishing two of Fawcett's horror books — This Magazine Is Haunted and Strange Suspense Stories — under their original numbering, initially using unpublished material from Fawcett's inventory. Artistic chores were then handed to Ditko, whose moody, individualistic touch came to dominate Charlton's supernatural line. Beset by the circulation slump that swept the industry towards the end of the 1950s, Haunted struggled for another two years, published bi-monthly until May 1958. Strange Suspense Stories ran longer, lasting well into the 1960s before giving up the ghost in 1965. It was briefly revived as vol. 2, #1-9 (Oct. 1967 - Sept. 1969).
Al Fago left in the mid-1950s, and was succeeded by his assistant, Pat Masulli, who remained in the position for 10 years. Superheroes were a minor part of the company. At the beginning, Charlton's main characters were Yellowjacket, not to be confused with the later Marvel character, and Diana the Huntress. In the mid-1950s, Charlton briefly published a Blue Beetle title with new and reprinted stories, and in 1956, several short-lived titles written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, such as Mr. Muscles and Nature Boy (the latter with artist Mastroserio), and the Joe Gill-created Zaza the Mystic.
Silver Age and the '70s
The company's most noteworthy period was the Silver Age of comic books, which had begun with DC Comics' successful revival of superheroes in 1956. In 1960, Charlton's science fiction anthology title Space Adventures introduced Captain Atom by Gill and the soon-to-be-legendary co-creator of Marvel Comics' Spider-Man, Steve Ditko. Captain Atom would eventually become a stalwart of the DC stable, as would Blue Beetle, the old Fox Comics superhero revived by Gill and artists Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico as a campy, comedic character in Blue Beetle #1 (June 1964).
Charlton also had middling success with Son of Vulcan, its answer to Marvel's Thor, in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #46 (May 1965). Much less successful was another Space Adventures superhero, Mercury Man, star of two stories in 1962.
In 1966, prodigal son Ditko returned after his celebrated stint at Marvel, having grown disenchanted with that company and his Spider-Man collaborator, writer-editor Stan Lee. Having the hugely popular Ditko back helped prompt Charlton editor Giordano to introduce the company's "Action Hero" superhero line the following year, with characters including Captain Atom; Ditko's The Question; Gill and artist Pat Boyette's The Peacemaker; Gill and company art director Frank McLaughlin's Judomaster; Pete Morisi's Peter Cannon ... Thunderbolt; and Ditko's new "Ted Kord" version of the Blue Beetle. The company also developed a reputation as a place for new talent to break into comics; examples include Jim Aparo, John Byrne, Dennis O'Neil and Sam Grainger. As well, Charlton in the early 1970s reprinted some of the first manga in America, in Ghost Manor and other titles, and artist Wayne Howard became the industry's first known cover-credited series creator, with the horror-anthology Midnight Tales blurbing "Created by Wayne Howard" on each issue — "a declaration perhaps unique in the industry at the time".
Yet by the end of 1967, Charlton's superhero titles had been cancelled, and licensed properties had become the company's staples, particularly cartoon characters from Hanna-Barbera (The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat, others) and King Features Syndicate (Flash Gordon), the company luring several such titles away from Gold Key Comics. Charlton also published Bullwinkle and Rocky, based on Jay Ward Productions' The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. During the mid-1970s the company produced comic books based upon the television series Emergency!, The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff The Bionic Woman, and Space: 1999, as well as a comic based on teen heartthrob David Cassidy, then starring in the musical sitcom The Partridge Family.
Charlton also threw itself into the resurgent horror comics genre, with such titles as Ghostly Tales (1966–1984), The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves (1967–1986), Ghost Manor (1968–1984), Ghostly Haunts (1971–1977), Haunted (1971–1984), Midnight Tales (1972–1976), Haunted Love (1973–1975), and Scary Tales (1975–1984).
Charlton in the 1970s also published three black-and-white comics magazines aimed at older readers. One of these was The Six Million Dollar Man #1-7 (July 1976 - Aug. 1977). Retailing for $1, it featured art by Neal Adams' studio, Continuity Associates, as well as some stories by veteran illustrators Jack Sparling and Win Mortimer. Also published in magazine form were publications based upon Space: 1999 and Emergency!.
In the mid-'70s, there was a brief resurgence of talent, under the editorship of George Wildman, energized by writer and later editor Nicola Cuti, artist Joe Staton, and the "CPL Gang" — a group of writer/artist comics fans including Byrne, Roger Stern, Bob Layton, and Roger Slifer, who had all worked on the fanzine CPL (Contemporary Pictorial Literature). Charlton began publishing such new titles as E-Man, Midnight Tales, and Doomsday + 1. The CPL Gang also produced an in-house fanzine called Charlton Bullseye which published, among other things, such commissioned but previously unpublished material as the company's last Captain Atom story. Also during this period, most of Charlton's titles began sporting painted covers. By 1976, however, most of these titles had been canceled, and the new talent had moved on to Marvel and DC.
During the Silver Age, Charlton, like Marvel and DC, published war comics even as the Vietnam War served as the focal point for the burgeoning anti-war movement. Many titles lasted into the 1980s. Notable titles include Attack!, as well as such similarly titled comics Army Attack, Attack at Sea, and Submarine Attack; Battlefield Action; Fightin' Air Force (and otherwise identical titles for the Army, Marines, and Navy), D-Day, War Heroes (with identicals titles for each of the branches of the service) and World at War.
Though primarily anthologies of stories about 20th-century warfare, they included a small number of recurring characters and features, including "Shotgun Harker and the Chicken", "The Devil's Brigade", "The Iron Corporal" and "The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz".
By the 1980s, Charlton was in decline. The comic book industry was in a sales slump, struggling to reinvent a profitable distribution and retail system. Charlton's licensed titles lapsed, its aging presses were deteriorating towards uselessness, and the company did not have the resources to replace them. In 1981, there was yet another attempt at new material, with a comic book version of Charlton Bullseye serving as a new-talent showcase that actively solicited submissions by comic book fans, and an attempt at new Ditko-produced titles. A number of 1970s-era titles were also reprinted under the Modern Comics imprint and sold in bagged sets in department stores (in much the same way Gold Key Comics were published under the Whitman Comics branding around the same time). None of these measures worked however, and in 1984 Charlton Comics suspended publication.
In 1985, a final attempt at a revival was spearheaded by new editor T.C. Ford with a direct-market Charlton Bullseye Special. But later that same year, Charlton Comics went out of business; Charlton Publications followed suit in 1991, and its building and press were demolished in 1999.
Editor Robin Snyder oversaw the sale of some properties to their creators, though the bulk of the rights was purchased by Canadian entrepreneur Roger Broughton. He would produce several reprint titles under the company name of Avalon Communications and its imprint America's Comics Group (ACG for short, Broughton having also purchased the rights to the defunct American Comics Group properties), and announced plans to restart Charlton Comics. This had yet to occur as of the mid-2000s, beyond publishing a large number of reprints and changing his company name to "Charlton Media".
Charlton's most enduring legacy is its superhero characters, most of which were acquired in 1983 by DC Comics, where Giordano was then managing editor. These "Action Hero" characters were originally going to be used in the landmark Watchmen limited series written by Alan Moore, but DC then chose to save the characters for other uses; Moore instead developed new characters loosely based on them. The Charlton characters were incorporated into DC's main superhero line, starting in the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series of 1985. In the years to follow, some of them enjoyed renewed popularity at DC, most notably Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question, of which the latter had languished in obscurity for years before reintroduction. In 1987, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom joined a version of the Justice League of America with Blue Beetle playing a major role in the events leading up to 2005-2006's Infinite Crisis; The Question played a key role in the subsequent year-long series 52; and Captain Atom (in the guise of Monarch) played a key role in Countdown. The team of Charlton characters first planned for Moore's Watchmen became reality in 1999 with the DC limited series L.A.W.
In 2000 Charlton Spotlight, a fanzine devoted to Charlton, began publication.
- ↑ Don Markstein notes in Toonopedia that Charlton's acquisition included unused artwork from a number of Fawcett titles.
- ↑ Cooke, Jon B., "Lest We Forget: Celebrating Four that Got Away": Comic Book Artist #12 (March 2001), p. 112
- ↑ "Charlton" [Newswatch): Charlton has suspended publication indefinitely], The Nostalgia Journal #29 (October 1976), p. 14.
- ↑ "Charlton to Publish Aspiring Pro's Work for Free," The Comics Journal #59 (Oct. 1980), p. 14.
- ↑ "Charlton Comics Suspends Publication," The Comics Journal #94 (Oct. 1984), p. 18.
- ↑ "From the Ashes: Charlton and Harvey to Resume Publishing This Spring," The Comics Journal #97 (Apr. 1985), pp. 15-16.
- ↑ "Charlton Back from the Dead," The Comics Journal #101 (Sept. 1985), pp. 22-23.
- ↑ "Charlton Goes Down for the Count," The Comics Journal #103 (Sept. 1985), pp. 10-11.
- ↑ "Charlton Rights Sold," The Comics Journal #122 (June 1988), p. 26.
- Comic Book Artist #9 (Aug. 2000): "The Charlton Comics Story: 1945-1968". Online portions:
- Comic Book Artist #12 (March 2001): "The Charlton Comics Story: 1972-1983"
- International Catalogue of Superheroes: Charlton
- The Big DataBase of Comic Books: Charlton
- The Connecticut Historical Society: "Charlton Comics: A Brief History"
- The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History: Charlton's Space: 1999 magazines and comic books
- Nesteroff, Kliph. "In Celebration of Crud: The Charlton Comics Story" Kliph Nesteroff's WFMU (radio station): Beware of the Blog (column of April 8, 2007)
- Secret Origins!, Fairfield County Weekly, March 5, 2009
- Modern Comics guide and tribute page
- Charlton Spotlight (fanzine)it:Charlton Comics