Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flips And Encounters!


With the seventh anniversary of the Dojo, let me take a moment and talk about the comic book which in many ways inspired this blog -- Judomaster. This site makes it most plain that I have a great affection for that little concoction of Dick Giordano's he dubbed the "Action-Heroes", of which Judomaster is a part despite being set during World War II. The comic produced by Frank McLaughlin under the editorial auspices of  Pat Masulli and Giordano had a distinctive character which set it apart from everything else on the stands. All the "Action-Heroes" had that, something Giordano strived mightily to create in order to find some level of sales success. It didn't work but not for lack of trying.

(Dick Giordano (far right) holds court in the 60's with writers O'Neil and Skeates)
With "Flips and Counters with Judomaster" Giordano attempted to open a line of communication with the fans. That strategy had proven mondo successful for Stan Lee at Marvel and clearly Giordano was attempting to tap into something akin to that popularity with his refurbished Charlton books. In those letters pages in Judomaster and elsewhere, Giordano entered into a robust and surprisingly frank conversation with the fans, treating them with true respect. For all his vibrant personality Stan could come off as glib and sometimes condescending in his letters pages, and DC rarely did it at all and didn't really to understand the whole dynamic. Giordano did get it, and he brought forth something which worked for this young fan.

Letters pages have disappeared in the modern day, losing out to the internet where fans yak incessantly about their favorite comics (this website a case in point of course). But once upon a time they were important, really important in building what we take so much for granted today, real sense of community among comics book fans, a group that often shared isolation and a degree of loneliness all their own.

Here are the letters pages from Judomaster...all of them. 


In this one we meet Judomaster's creator and the artist and writer of the lead feature Frank McLaughlin.


This letters page features a missive from Bill Schelly, a regular contributor and a man who has since gone on to document much of what was happening in the fan press of the time.



This is the only two-page letters section in the comics run, but it was the first issue I ever encountered and so I just assumed two pages was the norm, and was disappointed when I only found one. The candid talk about prices and distribution was fascinating. Dick Giordano was an artist before he became editor and the value of having artists write as well as draw the feature is discussed.


Letters pages were always great places for cross promotion and Pat Boyette's Peacemaker gets a push in this installment.


I get the sense that Stan Lee is getting a mention here in the discussion of dialogue and attempting to get a natural feel. Stan's loquaciousness would seem to be the counter to what is mentioned. Sarge Steel fans really miss that comic and since he's the back up in Judomaster a lot of the page time is devoted to him.


The Action Hero line up is in full swing and you really get a sense that we are talking about a line and not just a single comic book. Giordano really was on to something.


But it didn't last, just like the Action Heroes themselves the letters pages went away and were replaced by the durable one and two-page text pieces which had decorated Charlton comics for many many years. It's a shame really. With the lapse of the letters page the company lost a crucial connection with their fan base and lost an ability to reinforce a sense of a distinctive voice. But for a short time, a sweet moment in comic history they had the lightning in a bottle and were making the most of it.

I hope to explore more about Judomaster, Charlton and other such things as the Dojo enters its eighth year. Glad you're here, thanks for showing up, and I hope you hang around for what's to come. 

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6 comments:

  1. I big-time miss the old Letters Pages & I love this kind of stuff. Thanks Rip. I’ll be pouring over this post for days.

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    1. These old letters pages are troves of neat info. Stuff is lurking all over and especially in pages with this kind of candor.

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  2. Because the actual printing plates were made in-house, as well as the actual printing of the comics, Charlton's letter pages were the most up-to-date, commenting on the most recent issue.

    About the Action Hero line, it sort of coincided with a huge superhero explosion, where virtually every publisher (including some new ones) were trying the genre out, due to the combined booms of Marvel and the Batman TV show. I enjoyed many of them, but in retrospect the Charlton characters were strong original concepts, well-designed with their own visual styles. I came on board as a Ditko fan, but quickly became a fan of artists I'd never heard of before. Boyette on the Peacemaker, Aparo's Nightshade, Morisi's Thunderbolt...this was a great line-up. The only other original heroes of that period that compare well might be the Thunder Agents. Charlton pulled the plug fairly quickly, so the sales must have been just wretched. I've never understood that. I'd like to see a chronology showing how close the cancellations were to Giordano, Aparo, Skeates and others following Ditko to DC. There may be an explanation therein.

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    1. Your point about the timeliness of the pages is a great one. Giordano's last book he's on as editor appears in the summer of 1968 (the Action Heroes are represented only by Blue Beetle at this point) and he takes over Blackhawk at DC with Boyette on the art that same summer. He also had edited the first issue of The Creeper which had appeared a few months earlier. I've always reckoned that Ditko went to DC first and it was him who served as the link to the other talent there. So I'm thinking it's something of a chicken and egg situation, as the Action Heroes didn't sell as well as they ought but the creative spurt and the talent pool was just what DC was hankering for with Marvel breathing down their necks on sales. Giordano, Sekowsky, and Kubert were all artists given the reins of titles long held by writers, a new vibe.

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    2. Ditko did arrive first and recommended Giordano. I'm sure all of the Charlton guys welcomed the significant pay raise. That change in editors and need for new writers was the result of a clutch of DC creators getting flushed out for banding together to negotiate for employee benefits like insurance.

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    3. DC's cruel summary discharge of those longtime talents is a black mark on the company which will long remain in my memory forever. To oust regulars like Gardner Fox and Arnold Drake was really unforgivable. Marvel benefited but then Marvel seemed to benefit by everything DC did back then.

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