Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ghosts Of Charlton!

Dick Giordano

Charlton Comics had a long tradition of "horror" comics to its credit by the time the Silver Age was in full bloom during the 60's. One of their venerable titles was Unusual Tales which gave way in 1965 to become a home for the superhero Blue Beetle, the Dan Garrett version before the character was revamped by Steve Ditko.

Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico

But by 1966 the steam seemed to be running out of the superhero craze and Blue Beetle gave way itself to an old comic, but one done with a distinctly EC flavor by adding a snarky ghost host.

Rocke Mastroserio
Ghostly Tales took over  the series with the May 1966 fifty-fifth issue  and launched, slowly but surely, a new era in Charlton ghostly books. Ghostly Tales was alone for quite a while.

Steve Ditko

Even one-shots like Shadows from Beyond hosted by The Old Gypsy Woman, in late 1966 didn't quite catch fire. Oddly this comic like The Blue Beetle appears to be also a continuation of Unusual Tales. Charlton's numbering is a horror story all its own.

Pat Boyette

It wasn't until a full year later in 1967 that a full-blown spin-off title The Many Ghosts of Dr.Graves arrived to keep Ghostly Tales company on the newsstands.

Rocke Mastroserio

Also out in the later part of that year was the debut of Strange Suspense Stories a series that straddled the horror and sci-fi realms, but it would be many months before a second issue arrived for this short-lived but vivid series.

Rocke Mastroserio

In the early part of 1968 there was even the oddball one-shot in the fourth issue Charlton Premiere called of all things "Unlikely Tales" which was very much in the...ahem...spirit of the other books, but would only see this one edition.

Rocke Mastroserio

Finally a third full-blown title joined the ranks when Ghost Manor debuted in the summer of 1968.

Pat Boyette

That title stumbled along with various concepts, even featuring The Old Witch as a host for a time. But it really came alive when Winnie the Witch showed up in the auspicious thirteenth issue in 1970.

Steve Ditko

But by 1971 the Ghost Manor closed in a manner of speaking.

Jean Elier

It relaunched immediately with Winnie the Witch still installed as hostess and its numbering intact, but with the new title of Ghostly Haunts.

Steve Ditko

That same month in 1971 saw the release of another title called simply Haunted. The host was an offbeat little ghostly character named Impy.

Pat Boyette

A few months later Ghost Manor reappeared with a new number one and a new host by the name of Mr.Bones, the butler of the manor it seems.

Wayne Howard

The following year in 1972 Wayne Howard's Midnight Tales debuted, offering a robust twist on the classic ghost  host material with Professor Coffin and his gorgeous niece Arachne on hand to spin the tales, and even take part in some.

Tom Sutton

Haunted Love joined the line-up in early 1973 and gave readers ghost stories with a specific romantic flavor. This title was a neat blend of Charlton's now familiar horror look with their reasonably successful romance comics.

Don Newton

It would be a few years, but in 1975 under the guidance of assistant editor Nick Cuti things really began to shake up a bit. Strange Suspense Stories was long gone and Haunted Love would last only a few more issues.  The title Haunted was revamped and re-branded with a new host, specifically one Baron Weirwulf who even added his name to the title on the cover if not in the actual indicia. More was to come.

Tom Sutton

The summer of 1975 saw a burst of activity as Beyond the Gave was added to the roster.The host was one Mortimer Tishin.

Tom Sutton

It came out in the same month as its companion title Creepy Things. The host for this one was one Dee Munn.

Don Newton

The very next month saw the debut of yet another title, Monster Hunters with tales by Baron Whiteshroud.

Joe Staton

Scary Tales with the provocative hostess the Baroness R.H. Von Bludd, also arrived in the summer of 1975 and proved to last of this crop of new titles, and the most successful not completing its run until the early 1980's. But it was also the last new horror title Charlton ever created in its long history.

The ghost host comics from Charlton had a special flavor, a sense of fun which was often lacking or seemed somewhat forced in other titles from other companies. For a time it seemed only Charlton was keeping the genre alive. They produced at least one ghostly title right up until the company's demise.

Ultimately the ghost books along with all the other titles from Charlton ceased. The company went away like so many of its predecessors. But for a time in the Silver and Bronze Ages, they produced some great comics with work from true masters of the genre. Artists like Tom Sutton, Pat Boyette, Don Newton, Wayne Howard, Steve Ditko, and Rocke Mastroserio are considered special talents with a particular zeal for ghostly work. Most of these outstanding artists are sadly gone to that great beyond, as has the company they worked for, but the comics are still with us, and that's something we can all be thankful for on this Halloween Eve.

I hope folks have enjoyed a month of ghostly posts here at the Dojo. Next time we'll change gears and get around to some things which have been piling up as the delightful month of October has unfolded. Until then as always...

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ghostly Tales From The Haunted House!

Here is a simply outstanding ad drawn by the great Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio, from Charlton Comics hawking the latest issue of Ghostly Tales. I've featured it here before. Ghostly Tales was still a relatively new magazine, less than two years old, at this time one of only two ghost host books from Charlton, the other being the direct spin-off of Ghostly Tales, The Many Ghosts of Dr.Graves. Dr.Graves was still an ongoing feature in Ghostly Tales.

The ad features this cover for the August 1967 issue of Ghostly Tales, what is to my mind perhaps Rocke Mastroserio's absolute best ghost comic effort. The outstanding perspective, the way Mr.Dedd is crouched in the corner as the ghost apparition exudes towards him from "The Shining Castle" all add up to a fantastic image. The colors on this one are really top-notch, something Charlton covers of this period don't get enough credit for. Whatever the cause, Charlton covers had deeper and richer colors often than most other comics of the period.

Here's that same image from a much later 1984 comic, the final year of this sturdy comic book's run, and as you can see the subtlety of coloring is missing, but the strength of the drawing's composition remains. If you'd like to read Ghostly Tales #62, then check out this link.

The ad also announced the coming of the "Big C", a remarkable bit of branding which did elevate Charlton at least in memory at a time when all comics were seeking to find a distinctive character in the marketplace. The very next issue of Ghostly Tales featured the "Big C", again gracing a Rocke Mastroserio cover. Mastroserio would soon die, much too young and his loss left a real void in the ranks of Charlton's cadre of great artists.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Whistling Past The Graveyard!

There is a certain charm to Jon D' Agostino's rendition of Charlton's Timmy the Timid Ghost, especially in the 1962 cover above showing Timmy whistling his way through a tough situation, but not one you'd think which might intimidate the deceased especially.

But D'Agostino's image is actually a reworking of Al Fago's 1956 image of Timmy doing almost exactly the same thing. Fago's cover has more vigor as his drawing typically had more fluid motion than D'Agostino's but I'm hard pressed to choose between these two dandy comics. I like the way D'Agostino frames Timmy's noggin in the yellow moon, but then Fago offers up the added touch of Timmy about to step into a frying pan. What added mayhem this will create is anyone's guess.

Both of  course owe their inspiration, if not to this particular 1950 St.John's cover featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost, then certainly Timmy's very existence as one of the better knock-offs of the classic beloved character.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ghost Of The Atom!

The Ghost is one of those visually interesting Steve Ditko villains you crave to see more of. In his debut in Captain Atom #82 (featuring a great cover by Ditko and Rocke Mastroserio), Alec Rois was a charming scientist who develops a mechanism for teleportation and in classic comic book logic uses it to commit crimes. In his debut he battles Captain Atom and Nightshade as he attempts to rob of all places Fort Knox. The two heroes battle The Ghost not realizing his true identity as their friend the affable Alec Rois.

In his next appearance in Captain Atom #86, we discover that The Ghost apparently resembles "The Faceless One", the object of a cult of other-dimensional women called "The Sunarians". This works to both the advantage and disadvantage of Alec Rois who is again defeated by Captain Atom and the lovely Nightshade.

In what was to be originally Captain Atom #89 (or perhaps #90), the story of The Ghost and his role as The Faceless One of the Sunurian cult was to be more thoroughly developed, but the Captain Atom series was alas cancelled.

Al Milgrom

That tale though was eventually rescued and presented in two parts in the first two issues of The Charlton Bullseye. They have been presented at this very blog before and you can check them out. Here is Part One and here is Part Two.

This evocative image of The Ghost malevolently hovering over a defeated Captain Atom is a fairly dramatic image by a young John Byrne.

Gil Kane

His inspiration for the image is pretty easy to detect, one of  the many homages Byrne would go on to create in his fecund career.

The Ghost does seem to have survived and a version of him does show up at DC, but I know very little about the character. I can tell from his few cover appearances by Pat Broderick, that the striking design by Steve Ditko was largely abandoned for a much less dramatic look. It's a shame, because The Ghost is a fantastic looking villain in his simple and elegant original duds.

On a final note, I've always thought that Iron Man's villain also named "The Ghost" owed more than a tiny bit to Steve Ditko's original villain. The fact that Bob Layton, Charlton fan and CPL Gang leader was his creator only makes me more convinced. The high-tech baddie was a good match for Shellhead, wherever he came from.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Spirited Advertising!

These exceedingly handsome advertising and promotional items  appeared in Eerie #54, a comic magazine I've long wanted, but frankly never imagined I'd find or be able to afford. It's a nice example of the horror material Warren was producing at the time, but the reason I coveted this issue is that it features The Spirit's debut at Jim Warren's publishing house. The Spirit magazine from Warren was a watershed event for me as a comics reader. I'd read of The Spirit, even seen a rather bland example of the comic in Jules Fieffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, but I didn't appreciate the magnificence of Will Eisner's creation until I got to read the reprints from Warren.

And I also found this.

It's the back cover ad for the upcoming Spirit magazine in the every next issue of Eerie, issue #55. I found both of these magazines for very nice money a few weeks ago. The condition is suspect a bit, but still and all it's sweet to have both these early Spirit appearances.

When The Spirit finally appeared, the magazine was unusually handsome, featuring a slick modern straightforward logo and a lush Sanjulian painting over an original Will Eisner comics image. Beautiful.
Now my Warren Spirit collection is complete...almost.

I still need that Spirit cameo in Vampirella #50. Admittedly that's not a classic Eisner story, but I did own it once upon a time and remember it fondly. My comic obsessiveness pricks me to seek it out. Aarrrggh. There's always something else.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Red Ghost!

I first beheld the malevolence of Ivan Kragoff and his "indescribable" Super-Apes on the old Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four cartoon show. Later I was able to read their second comic book apperance in a Marvel Collector's Item Classics reprint of Fantastic Four #29.  It would be many years before I was able to catch a reprint of the Red Ghost's debut in Fantstic our #13, a masterly tale written by Stan Lee and drawn by the Silver Age Super-Team of Jack "King" Kirby and "Sturdy" Steve Ditko.

The Red Ghost and his gang of Apes were just the right blend of creepy and bizarre, a modern spin on Poe's classic "Murders in the Rue Morgue" but with Commies and cosmic radiation and the nation's obsession to reach the Lunar landscape.  

Jack Kirby and Chic Stone

The Red Ghost and his  anthropoid allies didn't rate much cover attention in either of their two early FF appearances, though both covers are pretty nicely dramatic. The Ghost and his minions were the closest the FF ever came to confronting the "Red Menace"  which loomed so large in the early 60's.

George Tuska

Later with Commies becoming less a relevant part of the national texture,  the Red Ghost parts with his original trio of Super-Apes, find a new duo and some new powers to boot. In the pages of Iron Man he changes up his ability to become intangible and instead becomes all misty. I frankly thought the attempt to  juice him up was a fumble and his hip new duds were downright creepy. An old guy sporting that medallion put me in mind of scary old dudes like Timothy Leary and such like, oldsters trying to stay hip at painful costs.

Sal Buscema

Thankfully the look didn't last long in Marvel time. But it did linger long enough for the Red Ghost to be part of the smackingly awesome Avengers-Defenders Clash!

The Red Ghost is one of those Marvel baddies who gets lost in the shuffle, but who I really remember with the appropriate blend of proper villainous disdain and nostalgic warmth.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

At The Stroke Of Midnight!

This remains the scariest single comic book story I've ever read, at least one that was supposed to be scary. It is Jim Steranko's finest single comics work in my opinion.  This ghost story is an exquisite gem, that yields more excitement the more you examine it and the many facets which make it sparkle so brilliantly. I think I found it so memorable, because as a young fellow reading it, I did not completely understand what I was beholding,  but I knew in my core that what it added up to was some nasty stuff. The tricks with time really pull you along. Sam Rosen must be given kudos also, as his lettering does precisely what it should, be available readily to the eye, but rarely intrusive into the core of the imagery, a real challenge in this tiny panels.  Only the great Eisner ever designed a comic book page which compelled the reader so completely and utterly. This is Steranko at the top of his game.

Now I  am not gonna dismiss the John Romita cover which adorns the debut issue of Tower of Shadows. The ominous image is a dandy, and while less in your face than Steranko's rejected image, it does give a stronger hint about what is beneath it. I don't think Digger's leering mug is helping though, so Steranko's blending of the logo and box works best for me as far as t hat goes.

All in all a masterpiece of fright.

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