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Charlton Comics

Entry updated 25 September 2023. Tagged: Comics, Publisher.

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Charlton Comics was the primary Comics imprint of Charlton Publications, founded in 1946 in Derby, Connecticut, by Joe Santangelo Sr and attorney Ed Levy. Charlton Publications published a wide variety of assorted magazines and, briefly, the Monarch paperback imprint which published some sf. Charlton Comics was notoriously the lowest-paying US comics publisher, and would often pick up material and titles from defunct publishers – obtaining, for example, a great many romance and western comics from Fawcett Publications when they folded their comics line in 1953. Later, however, Charlton created many original titles. The company's comics output ranged from the above genres to funny animals, war comics, sf, Superhero adventures and many horror titles.

Strange Suspense Stories was an anthology title picked up from Fawcett, continuing into the mid-1960s and featuring some sf amid its supernatural tales. Space Adventures ran from 1952 to 1967 with gaps, some minor variant titles and a late issue in 1967. It is most important for introducing the superhero Captain Atom, created in 1960 by artist Steve Ditko and the incredibly prolific writer Joe Gill. Gill was active from the 1940s into the 1980s, mostly for Charlton until its closure in 1986. Further Charlton titles with many Gill scripts included Unusual Tales (1955-1965), Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds (1956-1965), Out of This World (1956-1959), Outer Space (1958-1959) and Space War (1959-1964). Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds later became Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds featuring Son of Vulcan, starring a Norse hero similar to Marvel Comics's Thor; the title changed again to Son of Vulcan alone and then (named for an unrelated replacement superhero) Thunderbolt.

Other titles of sf interest from Charlton included 1960s Ties spun off from the films Konga (1961) and Gorgo (1961). Attempts were made in the 1960s to launch such Superhero titles as The Judomaster and The Peacemaker, but these all failed within a year.

In the 1970s new talent broke into comics through Charlton, including Jim Aparo, Dennis O'Neil, Roger Stern and Bob Layton. Many of Charlton's sf titles were Ties to Television programmes including some sf series: The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978), The Bionic Woman (1976-1978) and Space: 1999 (1975-1977) all appeared briefly as colour titles and as magazine-format black-and-white comic books. All were short-lived.

Two notable original sf titles emerged from this period. Doomsday + 1 (1975-1977), the first ongoing colour comic created by John Byrne with Joe Gill. This Post-Holocaust series related the adventures of three astronauts launched to a Space Station just as an accidental nuclear World War Three begins. Landing in Greenland after radiation levels have dropped to a safe point, they encounter a revived Viking freed from Suspended Animation by the melting ice; he joins them for the title's brief run, encountering a Soviet Scientist turned Cyborg and other dangers. E-Man (for Energy-Man) was an Alien energy being created in 1973 by Nicola Cuti and artist Jo Staton. Arriving on Earth and taking the human name Alex Tronn, he briefly engaged in light-hearted adventures; the character has since been occasionally revived by other publishers.

Charlton published numerous horror/supernatural anthology titles through the 1970s, including Ghostly Tales, Midnight Tales and Monster Hunters. All these, especially the last, sometimes strayed into sf territory. Flash Gordon appeared briefly, as did Lee Falk's The Phantom and, somewhat earlier, Alex Raymond's Jungle Jim; none were especially successful.

Modern Comics was Charlton's reprint imprint, chiefly used – much as Gold Key Comics did with the Whitman imprint – to sell reprinted titles in plastic-bagged sets of three to five assorted issues in department stores and similar outlets.

By the end of the 1970s, most of Charlton's licensed titles had lapsed while their others had ground to a halt. Sporadic efforts to revive the comics lines were made in the early 1980s; but in 1983, Charlton sold most of its superhero characters to DC Comics. The comics line ended for good in 1985, with the company ceasing to operate by 1991. DC Comics has since developed both the Blue Beetle and Captain Atom into major heroes, though less use has been made of other Charlton characters such as The Question. Being of minor importance for straight sf comics, Charlton is now remembered mainly for its supernatural titles. [GSt/DRL]

see also: Space Western Comics.

further reading

  • Strange Suspense Stories (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2019) [graph: collects issues #16-#22 of Strange Suspense Stories comic: in the publisher's Pre-Code Classics series: illus/various: hb/Steve Ditko]


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