Saturday, August 26, 2017

Neighborhood Book Shops and the Thrill of Collecting Comics

During the 1960s and into the early 1970s it was commonplace for a neighborhood in New York to have stores that had no exact classification. A segment of these establishments also bought and sold used books, magazines, records, coins, stamps, war memorabilia and assorted ephemera. Of the ones I frequented in Brooklyn and Queens many were owned by middle-aged (or older) couples. The interiors also shared similarities; cluttered, dusty and often unorganized, but with a sense of wonderment and surprise. Who knows what treasures might lurk within the ruins?

For those like my brother John, it was a place to seek out old or missing comic books to add to his collection (in those days my older brother did all the buying while I reaped the benefits!). Virtually every store had their comics displayed on wooden or metal shelves in stacks that were easily accessible. They were not wrapped in plastic and had no particular order that I recall. Popular titles such as Superman and Fantastic Four were mixed alongside Swing with Scooter, Betty and Veronica, Bugs Bunny, Tarzan or Undersea Agent. Unknown companies and unusual titles that were rarely distributed on newsstands in my neck of the woods surfaced with frequency here; ACG, Charlton, Dell, etc. I recall seeing batches of I.W./Super Comics, a company that repackaged and reprinted stories from defunct companies. Most were generic war, crime, mystery and children's material, a few featured characters we were not yet familiar with, such as Doll Man, Plastic Man and The Spirit. My brother and I passed on these comics, which often featured new covers by the likes of Ross Andru and John Severin.   

  Blazing Sixguns # 16, circa 1964. John Severin cover art; Sam Rosen lettering.  

Israel Waldman, publisher of I.W. (whose initials comprised the company name) bought the plates from companies that had gone out of business, even though he didn't own the copyrights on characters. This didn't deter him from producing titles starring recognizable heroes such as Jack Cole's Plastic Man, who had appeared regularly in the 1940s and into the 1950s. Shortly after a three-issue run the hero was revived by DC, which HAD legally secured the rights to Quality titles (the original owner), including Blackhawk and Plastic Man. The attractive cover seen above is illustrated by the talented Gray Morrow. Sam Rosen, known for his distinctive lettering for Marvel in the 1960s, provided most of the logo designs and cover lettering for I. W./Super. Both cover images from Comic Book Plus. 

When I questioned my brother John on his purchases at the stores we most often frequented, which included the Ruth and Sam Book Shop, located in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn; "Pat's," and "Kirk's," both residing less than a mile away in Ridgewood, Queens (I should explain that we always referred to the proprietors name rather than the establishments formal designation) he was at a loss to recall exact titles. Since John collected many of Marvel's it's likely that he picked up issues of X-Men or Journey into Mystery that were missing from his collection. Both of us are certain that when John had a part-time job he bought stacks of late 1950s/early 60s Batman and Detective Comics for reasonable prices.  

Detective Comics # 253, March 1958. Shelly Moldoff cover art; Ira Schnapp lettering. One of the many Batman-related comics my brother John and I suspect was bought at the Ruth and Sam Book Shop.  Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

  In the days before the Overstreet Price Guide became an essential "tool" for dealers, including those without a clue to their perceived worth, there were opportunities for collectors to find real bargains. Many of the "mom and pop" shops had no interest in the subject matter at hand and only wanted to move merchandise. They often paid little and sold comics for pennies. Of course there were exceptions, which began to escalate by the mid-1960s. Sparked by the Batman TV phenomenon, articles in magazines and news periodicals emphasized that early issues of Action ComicsSuperman, Captain Marvel, Mickey Mouse and the like were sought out by collectors willing to part with considerable sums of money. Proprietors kept the more expensive and older titles behind the counter, where they were less likely to be pilfered by the more daring hooligans with itchy fingers. 

Strange Tales # 125, October 1964. Jack Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Sam Rosen letters. The above issue is one of many I purchased at "Pat's" (perhaps called Ridgewood Books or some such; I don't quite recall). Pat was more knowledgeable than some of the other owners; he was one of the few in that period who had a price list and sold copies of The Comic Reader, the first fanzine I had ever seen back in 1972. Many of the "Human Torch," "Nick Fury" and "Dr. Strange" issues of Strange Tales in my collection came from his store.    

I won't deny a trace of sentiment for those long gone days, but looking back there was a less structured, haphazard and often thrilling sense of the unexpected in rummaging through stacks of comics that were not encased in plastic, marked with notations on grading, artist and appearances of important characters (all items that raise the price of a title, natch!) or price lists. It wasn't a complicated or high-brow enterprise for these folks - get the product in and out. First come, first serve. Most of us benefited from that process.       
It's a lot easier to buy old comic books these days. With the internet a world of dealers is at your fingertips. I've benefited from it as well as countless other collectors, but the process is antiseptic. The sense of sight, smell and touch when discovering that elusive item you'd been searching for was invigorating in a way that only a collector can understand. Comic Conventions offered similar sensations but differed considerably; dealers were usually (but not always) more savvy, leading to less bargains and more calculation as to worth. 

The passage of time can often lead to a greater appreciation for what was once commonplace. None of us could imagine that one day these unpretentious wonderlands would vanish from the landscape, surviving only through our distant, sometimes hazy memories. For those of a certain age the shops that sold old comics epitomized the continuity of childhood. Like the corner candy store or nearby record shop they were an omnipresent and all-important part of the neighborhood tapestry, where you just might discover a buried treasure among the debris. 

My friend Frank recalls buying Amazing Spider-Man # 12 (May 1964) at Ruth and Sam's for the exorbitant price of two dollars! That was a lot of money to a kid in the 1960s, but when he expressed hesitancy Sam had a simple retort: "Money talks. Bullshit walks!" (store owners could be crusty, eccentric and cantankerous, but for those reared on the streets of Brooklyn it became part of our everyday experience). Like many kids, Frank was enthralled by Steve Ditko's startling cover scene. He HAD to know how this turned out and soon returned to acquire his treasure.    

 The remains of Ruth and Sam Book Shop after a devastating fire in 1977.  Image from The Brownstone Detectives site. 

While composing this piece I began doing some online research, hoping to track down information or photographs on the stores I described. The first site I came upon jarred my memory. The Brownstone Detectives blog detailed the devastating Bushwick fires of 1977 which destroyed many buildings, including Ruth and Sam's store. I didn't realize forty years had passed, which made this look back particularly bittersweet. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Flo Steinberg RIP

Flo Steinberg was a private person who didn't like to be in the spotlight. She probably wouldn't have wanted the attention I afford her here, but I hope she'd forgive me (and for you Flo, I'll be brief). 

        Flo's photograph first appeared in Marvel Tales Annual # 1, 1964.

Flo began her employment at Magazine Management in March, 1963, working for Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee as his "Corresponding Secretary" (what would be known today as an Administrative Assistant) during the early years of Marvel Comics' superhero period. Flo not only worked directly for Lee, but also assisted production manager Sol Brodsky. Her duties in the office included making appointments, taking phone calls, handling freelancers and reading incoming mail; in addition she was directing traffic for production, making sure the artists, inkers and letterers were getting their jobs in on time; sending the stories to the Comics Code for approval and checking in with the printing plant. There were a lot of balls to juggle, but according to all accounts Flo's patience and professionalism were outstanding.      

Another aspect of Flo's job was dealing with fans in their various manifestations; those who came in off the street; responding to letter requests and writing to the many fanzines that were sent to Marvel. Stan Lee took the fan press seriously and made sure there was communication between them, not only through the letters pages but also by personal replies, often written by Flo, samples of which I've posted below.  

                                 Jeddak III, November 1963.
                        Yancy Street Journal # 4, September 1964.

                         Yancy Street Journal # 5, November 1964.
                         Yancy Street Journal # 6, December 1964.

                          The Web-Spinner # 2, August 1965.
  Yancy Street Journal # 11, September 1965. This issue also announced Roy Thomas joining Marvel as writer and editorial assistant. Thomas is noted as "...presently aiding Flo Steinberg in the corresponding department. He now holds the job of reviewing the amateur comic-zines and related publications which are sent into the bullpen for comment." Having written for and published fanzines Roy would soon take over that chore from Flo.    

                          The Web-Spinner # 3, November 1965.

                   Yancy Street Journal # 11, November 1965

Flo became a familiar name to fans due to the many letters she wrote to fanzines from 1963-65. On a larger scale Stan Lee recognized her in the comic books, mentioning her in letters and editorial pages, where he bestowed the title "Fabulous Flo" on her. It was highly unusual in those days for anyone outside of the creative talent (and even their names were often anonymous) to be recognized, but Flo was an exception. 

In addition to letters, Flo also provided a few scoops for the fanzines, including the announcement of the Giant-Man feature being dropped for the Sub-Mariner in Tales To Astonish. Yancy Street Journal # 7, undated but likely January 1965. 

I've never heard a harsh word spoken about Flo by anyone working for Marvel (or elsewhere), including the many freelancers who came into the office to deliver work. In her position Flo had to be part Baseball manager/part psychiatrist; her temperament was such that she could handle sensitive creators; straight-forward business people, messengers, fans and anyone else who walked in the door during working hours with charm, tact and toughness when needed.

Flo was employed at Marvel from 1963-1968, when the company was growing and expanding in popularity. She returned in the 1990s, working as a proofreader, which she continued on a part-time basis until her passing. 

Flo occasionally gave interviews but discovered that some in the fan press were only interested in "getting the dirt" on company affairs and individuals - something she was vehemently against. Flo could easily have succumbed to writing a "tell-all" book and profiting on her notoriety, as so many have done, but she was a person of character and integrity.    

Flo once mentioned to me that there were no "prima donnas" at Marvel in those days. Everyone was professional and pitched in with one goal in mind - to get the work done. Deadlines were met with almost 100 % accuracy. In public she refused to badmouth anyone. Flo was frank in explaining that while she enjoyed what she was doing there was no glamour involved and she certainly didn't see herself as a celebrity - it was a job. Like anyone in a business setting I'm sure she liked some people and didn't care for others, but she had no interest in gossip. 

Flo's one and only foray into publishing occurred In 1975. Big Apple Comix included contributions from a number of her friends and associates, including Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Ralph Reese, Linda Fite and the great Wally Wood.   

In the past decade or two I've had the pleasure of spending time with Flo at lunches and dinners, often accompanied by Michael J. Vassallo and Barry Pearl (part of that notorious group of scholars and wiseguys known as the Yancy Street Gang). I think she enjoyed our company because we didn't pester her with questions on what went on in the office on a certain day, or what Stan Lee was "really like," instead we often spoke about everyday concerns. Flo appreciated the fact that we treated her like a person and understood that her days at Marvel were part of a long-ago past. 

Flo garnered attention not because of a manufactured familiarity through the pages of Marvel Comics; that fragile illusion could never hold up this long. The many interactions she had with fans over the decades, both in correspondence and in person, belied a sincere, concerned and thoughtful person. 

I can vouch for that.  

Flo Steinberg passed away on July 23, 2017.

I'll miss you, Flo.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Marie Severin and Bill Everett

In the early 1970s Marie Severin was producing a plethora of covers for Marvel’s growing line of comics. Severin not only created cover roughs for other artists to complete (including Jack Kirby, John and Sal Buscema, Dick Ayers and Neal Adams), but penciled many of her own covers as well. Some of those covers were clearly rushed; lettering was often sloppy, with word balloons and copy that distracted from the art. There were, however, several gems that stood out; some of the most distinctive bore the stylized signature “7-EV,” which translated to Marie Severin pencils; Bill Everett inks.

Marie Severin's preliminary cover art to Thor # 186 (March 1971) and John Buscema's published version, inked by John Verpoorten. In this instance it was decided, perhaps by editor Stan Lee, to draw Hela as a full-figure instead of Marie's original head shot. While many artists adhered closely to Severin's compositions a few altered her designs to suit their own sense of storytelling.  

 Color guide to "War Dance!," Frontline Combat # 13, July-August 1953. Pencils and inks by brother John Severin, script by Jerry De Fuccio, letters by Ben Oda.  

Marie Severin started her career at the prestigious and influential EC Comics in the 1950s, doing production work and coloring practically their entire line of crime, horror, war, science-fiction and humor titles. Her vibrant hues added another level of quality to EC’s coterie of creators. 

In the early 1960s Marie began working for Marvel full-time, at first as production assistant to Sol Brodsky, but her duties grew after publisher Martin Goodman saw her art on a house ad. This led to an assignment penciling "Doctor Strange," followed by the Hulk and Sub-Mariner. Her storytelling skills were immediately obvious and while her efforts focused primarily on superhero fare there was always a sense that she wasn't taking this stuff seriously; a knowing wink at the audience. This was exemplified when Marie was allowed to lampoon Marvel's top heroes in Not Brand Echh. The title ran for 13 issues, from 1967-69, and Marie's art was represented in every one. Marie continued to be a force at Marvel for decades, contributing to the comic book field as both an artist and colorist, but her greatest talent, arguably, was her ability to find humor in life's absurdities and bring it to life with pen and brush.  
Marie caricatured most of the Marvel superheroes (along with the then-current movie BONNIE AND CLYDE) on the cover of Not Brand Echh # 9, August 1968.

Early on Bill Everett displayed a flair for the unusual as this cover demonstrates. Amazing Mystery Funnies Vol 2; # 2, December 1939.     

 Bill Everett was not only one of the industries pioneers but a versatile creator who could do it all: write, pencil, ink, letter and color. From his earliest days Everett had a distinctive style, inspired in part by comic strip artists including Milton Caniff and Roy Crane (whose technique of employing Ben-Day to create shading he adopted). Everett created many original characters, but Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner became an immediate hit, holding the attention of the buying public. Namor was an offbeat hero who inhabited an undersea kingdom and often fought against the human race. After his initial run in the 1940s he was revived for a brief period in the 1950s; less than a decade later Sub-Mariner was incorporated into the Marvel lineup by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Young Men # 26, March 1954. Everett's Sub-Mariner feature included some of his favorite storytelling tropes: use of elements - especially water - to suggest a feeling of weight and depth, a somewhat cartoonish but expressive line and depiction of beautiful women. Everett art, lettering and possible story. Image from the reprint in Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Masterworks Volume 1.   

Everett continued to produce superb work decade after decade, working on war, western, jungle, romance, horror and other genre material. After leaving comics for a period of time Everett took on the assignment to create a new superhero for Stan Lee in 1964, Daredevil, with assistance from Jack Kirby. He returned to Marvel full-time in 1965, where he drew "Doctor Strange," "The Incredible Hulk," and, eventually, returned to his beloved character, Sub-Mariner.    

By the late 1960s Everett was often employed to ink (and color) other artist’s pencils. His crisp, detailed rendering made Everett one of the best in the field. Everett inked some of Marvel’s top artist’s, including Jim Steranko, Gene Colan and Jack Kirby.  While his inking style was elaborate, Everett rarely overpowered the pencils; he instead complimented the art, adding another layer - like frosting on a cake.
Gene Colan and Bill Everett's rendition of Spider-Man, from Captain America and the Falcon # 137, May 1971.
Jack Kirby on pencils and Bill Everett on inks; two masters of comic art. On this page from Thor # 179, November 1969, Everett gets to ink the oceans he so loved. A Kirby/Everett Sub-Mariner would have been wonderful to see.  
In 1970 Everett inked a series of covers over Marie Severin’s pencils. Below I've assembled (I believe) every pairing of the two dynamic artists. While many inkers complimented Marie’s pencils, including Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Dan Adkins and Tom Palmer, Everett’s embellishment meshed perfectly with her style. Marie often designed busy covers utilizing background characters; Everett added depth with his intricate inks. They lent their talents to a number of superhero covers, including Daredevil, Iron-Man and Spider-Man (in Marvel Tales) and produced exceptional art for the mystery and monster line, including Tower of Shadows, Chamber of Darkness and Where Monsters Dwell. Oddly enough, with one exception the team never drew covers for characters they were closely associated with (i.e. Sub-Mariner and the Hulk).  

                       Note: All the covers are suspected to be colored by Marie.

Severin and Everett's first cover collaboration was one of their very best. Everett was at home in the horror and suspense genre, having drawn countless exceptional covers for Stan Lee in the 1950s. Detailed buildings and fearful citizens populate this scene, with faces peering out of windows. The muted colors add considerably to the mood. Sam Rosen letters. Chamber of Darkness # 4, April 1970.   

Marvel Tales # 26, May 1970. Image from the Grand Comics Database. 

Severin and Everett only drew the top image of Spider-Man, based on Steve Ditko's dramatic representation from Amazing Spider-Man # 33. Jack Kirby and Chic Stone stats of Thor and The Human Torch take up the bottom portion of the published cover. The original artwork from Heritage Auctions is seen below. 

The Severin/Everett team really outdid themselves on the mystery/monster covers. This deliciously rendered cover includes a busy background, although the coloring keeps the focus on the foreground figures.  And, no, that's not the Puppet Master applying makeup. Can YOU spot the Severin-Everett signature? Sam Rosen letters, Tower of Shadows # 5, May 1970. 

A typical sight for residents of New York City - a giant ant loitering in the street! Where Monsters Dwell was a reprint title that featured pre-hero monster stories. The interior story that relates to the cover scene, reprinted from Strange Tales # 73, February, 1960 and drawn by Jack Kirby, was inked by Bill Everett a decade earlier. The "Sev/Ev" signature can be seen on the lower right side, next to the stoop. Sam Rosen letters, Where Monsters Dwell # 3, May 1970.

Iron Man Special # 1, August 1970, is the only instance where Marie penciled an Everett inked Sub-Mariner. Their signature can be observed next to Iron Man's left foot. Sam Rosen lettering. 
Another water based background. Signature on the sunken ship to the right. Daredevil # 67, Aug 1970.  

Close-up of the stylized "E7V" signature. Variations appeared on most of their covers.

This is my least favorite of their mystery-oriented covers. I suspect Marie may have made solo alterations on the falling man; perhaps the original was rejected by the Comics Code and Marie toned it down? Whatever the case, the figure doesn't appear to be inked by Everett to my eye. There are some nice touches, though, particularly their signature on the underside of a sneaker. Chamber of Darkness # 6, August 1970. Sam Rosen letters.

Marie and Bill were picked to inaugurate the cover of Astonishing Tales # 1, August 1970. The split format leaves less room for detail and has a rushed quality to it, in particular the Dr. Doom section, which may include alterations before publication by Marie or another hand. Morrie Kuramoto and Sam Rosen letters.  
Crowd scenes were a staple of Severin-Everett covers. One drawback in this period was an over-reliance on word balloons to explain the story. It can be argued that a powerful image by talented craftsman should be able to draw a prospective reader in. Iron Man # 29, September 1970.        

The third Severin-Everett Iron-Man cover includes more fleeing crowds! Their signature appears on the building to the right. Iron Man # 30, October, 1970.  
This time Severin/Everett produced a full Spider-Man cover with strong results, marred again by an abundance of word balloons. Note the detailed buildings and characters looking out windows. The truck in the lower left hand corner sports their signature. Marvel Tales # 28, October 1970.

The team take a final crack at Iron Man and Everett inks Daredevil once again in the reprint title Marvel Super-Heroes (# 28, October 1970).  

The Severin-Everett collaboration ended after seven months and twelve covers. Everett probably cut down on his Marvel assignments at this point when he began producing black and white magazines for Skywald (detailed in an earlier post): 

Marie continued to work diligently on a variety of assignments; as head colorist, cover artist and, of course, weaving her satiric skills on humor titles, including Spoof, Arrgh and Crazy magazine. A rare treat was her teaming with brother John, who added a meticulous layer of detail to Marie's pencils for a brief run in Kull the Conqueror. In later years Marie worked with Sol Brodsky in the Special Projects department, developing children's books. All told she worked at Marvel for over thirty years and continued to draw and color comics into the 2000's.  

Besides the aforementioned brother/sister team-up in Kull, Marie and John parodied Tarzan in Spoof # 2, November 1972.  Two decades earlier, John illustrated Harvey Kurtzman's satire of the Jungle Lord in Mad # 2 (December 1952-January 1953). Kid sister Marie was involved in that story as well - as colorist. Roy Thomas script, Sam Rosen letters (and - who else? - Marie Severin colors). 


...I Had always been interested in anything nautical, anything to do with the sea  -- ever since I was born I guess. Everett on Everett, an Interview by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego # 11, June 1978  
From time to time in the mid-1960s Bill Everett was involved with the Sub-Mariner feature in Tales to Astonish, first as inker on the pencils of Gene Colan and Jerry Grandenetti and later as co-plotter/penciler, but the character had changed significantly and the updated version was not particularly to his liking. In 1972, though, Everett was allowed to author his creation once again, taking the character in an unusual direction; combining the trappings of 1940s-era comics with a modern sensibility. 

Everett's final go-round on his creation was an artistic leap and - I might argue - some of the most impressive work of his career. Although Everett had been drawing the ocean depths for decades, his ability to create the sensation of an otherworldly, breathtakingly rich world was heightened in these stories, perhaps due to years of honing his craft. Script and art by Everett; lettering by John Costanza, Sub-Mariner # 50, June 1972.    

The last Severin/Everett "collaboration" was drawn in 1971 for Roy Thomas, to accompany his interview with the artist. Marie drew a caricature of Bill; Everett illustrated the surrounding characters. Unfortunately, it would not see publication until seven years later, in Alter Ego # 11, June 1978. Everett was never to see it, though, as he passed away on February, 20, 1973, at the age of 56. 
Both separately and as a team Marie Severin and Bill Everett epitomize the talent, creativity and, quite often, the pure sense of delight in cartooning that flows from their pen and brush. They were also gifted at being multi-talented; able to pencil, ink, color, letter and write - tools that served them well in the comics' industry. Much of what they have produced is worthy of study, appreciation, analysis and admiration.    

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ditko at Charlton Part 2: 1972-1974

In the first part of this article I examined Steve Ditko's contributions to Charlton press from 1969-71, a period of time when the artist chose to work almost exclusively for the company. Steady work gave Ditko time to produce his own copyrighted stories, which were published in various fanzines (two solo comic books by Ditko also found their way into the public eye in 1973; Avenging World and Mr. A, both were available through mail order, at comic conventions, in counter-culture shops that sold independent publications [commonly referred to as undergrounds] and in the few comic book stores then in business). I conclude with a look at Ditko's 1972-74 output. 

As noted in part one, the majority of non-signed stories were likely written by staffer Joe Gill. Editorial began adding script and art credits more often beginning in 1973 and when Gill's by-line appears in print it will be noted below.  

GHOST MANOR: "The Waiting Noose" (#3, February) is Ditko's first 1972 dated story. While Ditko drew no new western tales for Charlton, this story includes a flashback to a ghost town where justice is meted out. Ditko composed an inventive full page shot of the horrified protagonist; a full figure drawing along with an extreme close-up of his face. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
"Come Tlakluk" (#4, April), Charlotte Jetter lettering. I believe this is Ditko's only double page montage at Charlton, likely accomplished by rearranging Joe Gill's script, which often followed a five or six panel per page grid. A clue to Ditko's juggling of panels is evident on the splash, which usually consisted of one large panel. Here three smaller panels are added. Ditko's only restrictions appear to have been page count; editors had predetermined production and advertising considerations which, as Ditko knew, could not be altered. 

An exchange with Jim Amash from Charlton Spotlight # 5 (Fall 2006) confirms Gill's feelings on the subject:

Jim: Would Ditko change your scripts?

Joe Gill: All the artists did if they wanted to. I didn't care.

Jim: I knew that Pat Boyette did, but I wondered if Ditko did.

Joe Gill: I can't imagine. I didn't read the comics after they were done (mutual laughter)  
Ghost Manor # 5 (June) sports one of Ditko's most impressive covers; a brilliantly composed drawing that has the reader looking outward from the prisoner's perspective. The view through the cell evokes images from a number of classic films, including Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) and Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961).       
Ditko's interior art for "The Last Garland" (GM # 5) is truly exceptional; his beautifully detailed inking creates an atmospheric flair. The wormy relative is another classic Ditko caricature. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
GHOSTLY HAUNTS: The first issue of the formerly titled Ghost Manor continues with Winnie the Witch as hostess. "The Night of the Lonely Man" (#22, January) begins in a remote Balkan village, as residents fear walking the streets on the anniversary of a murder that took place years ago. Ditko uses shadows throughout to create a feeling of apprehension. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
"Treasure of the Tomb" (#23, March) is a humorous tale of a dead man who inhabits the body of a grave robber. As he had done earlier with Doctor Graves, Ditko employs the hostess in-between panels and attempting another interesting technique by placing her curvaceous figure in silhouette. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
Ditko's second story in Ghostly Haunts # 23, "Return Visit," is as accomplished as his first one. The tale of two death row inmates who escape prison and seek to retrieve their stolen money is filled with creative flourishes (it's very hard to pick out just one page to showcase; Ditko's work is SO good in this period). One highlight is Ditko's depiction of the killers; one a gaunt and grim Boris Karloff type; the other a perennially grinning maniac. Joe Gill story; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
Issue #25(June) is worth noting for Ditko's redesign of Winnie the Witch. Alterations included a shorter cape, green hair and dress and a broom (which was soon discarded), perhaps to make her look like a more traditional witch. I much prefer the original look. Joe Gill script. 
You never know who'll appear in a Charlton publication! Labeled on the splash page as a "special guest appearance," Dr. Graves makes a house call in Winnie's title. In this panel from "I'll Never Forget What's-His-Name?" (GH # 27, November) Winnie narrates Dr. Graves's adventure. There was no interaction between the two characters though; Winnie remained the unseen and omniscient host.     
GHOSTLY TALES: Ditko penciled many impressive covers in this period, arguably some of his very best. Issue #94 (April) would be an example, depicting a terrified man running from a ferocious wolf with a demonic figure superimposed over the beast.
"Answer the Phone, Dottie" (#95, June) presents a teenage girl who torments her neighbor with prank phone calls. Ditko delights in portraying a spoiled, nasty, vicious, sloppy teenager, the kind he obviously despises. Aside from the supernatural ending, the reality of the situation makes the story interesting. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
In this period Ditko occasionally drew covers for an interior piece he did not illustrate. In this instance Ghostly Tales # 97 (August) is based on a Don Perlin feature. Ditko's subtle composition includes an almost unnoticeable shadow of Mr. Dedd in the background.    
HAUNTED: The expressions Ditko conjures of a ghostly avenger in "Stay of Execution" (# 3, January) run the gamut from grim to despairing, echoing the image of Death portrayed in Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal.  The mood is intensified by Ditko's application of continuous lines on the spirit's face and clothing.    
"Driven to Destruction" (#4, February) includes another evocative cover scene. Inside, a henpecked husband is driven mad by his wife's incessant nagging. Ditko continues to play with panel sizes, opening with a six panel grid instead of the standard splash, saving it for the last page instead. Ditko does exceptional work on the husband’s hate-filled expressions throughout. Of particular note is his extreme close-up composition on page three, overlapping the previous panel. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
Perhaps in a playful mood Ditko draws two characters who resemble Peter Parker and Harry (or Norman) Osborn in "This is How it Is" (Haunted #5, April).
A spirit in despair over his son's tyrannical behavior. Ditko conveys the father's pain in a long shot as he sits on a gravestone framed by tree branches. From "This is How it Is."
"Stop the Clock" (Haunted #7, August), opens with a couple stranded on the road. They go to an old house for help and encounter an eccentric man apparently living in the past. References to Colliers and Liberty magazine, Benny Goodman and the radio show "Lights Out" add an authentic feeling to the proceedings. Ditko's full-page drawing of the ghoul is inspired by the classic scene of Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES : "A Gift for Gifford" (#30, February) concerns a timid man who acquires an idol that transforms him into an aggressive, violent monster. Ditko's rich shading, panel to panel continuity and expressive faces adds to the drama. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
"The Heart of Jeremy Mirth"(#DG 31, April) is the story of a dying man who will pay any price to gain a new heart. Ditko invents another distinctive page/panel layout, using index cards as a design motif. Ditko clearly learned from earlier creators who tinkered with the comic book format; master storyteller Will Eisner and his Spirit feature being one inspiration. Ditko is not often lauded for such innovations, overshadowed by artists such as Neal Adams, a fan favorite in the 1970s who had a bigger canvas and drew popular characters including Batman. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
Quite a few stories in this period were repetitive and at times Ditko struggled to make them interesting. Even when he didn't quite succeed there was almost always a worthwhile page or panel, such as this illustration of a sinister woman from "Bury Him Deep!," Doctor Graves # 23, August.                      

GHOST MANOR: Issue #9 (January) "Tonight, I'll Dream of You" is a surreal entry. An insect-like creature dreams of a human aboard a ship, who, when he falls asleep, becomes trapped in his dimension. Ditko's art fluctuated wildly in this period, at times consisting of looser pencils and less defined inking; perhaps a sign of boredom with familiar material. There are numerous exceptions to the rule, however, as I believe the examples below illustrate.   
Ditko employed an effective montage consisting of three scenes for the cover of Ghost Manor # 10 (March).
 "Reconciliation" is an amusing story about a married couple who move into an old house occupied by the ghost of a woman who accidentally killed her husband. A typical Joe Gill plot is enlivened by Ditko's solid storytelling, whose wispy lines bring dimension to the ghosts. 

                              A stunning Ditko cover adorns Ghost Manor # 11 (April) 
This never happened on Gunsmoke! Ditko returns for another foray into the wild west, and I do mean wild! In "Theft of Evil" (GM # 11), an old man guards a gold mine which houses a gigantic monstrosity that resembles a caterpillar. This story is similar to another Ditko drawn thriller, "The Worm Turns," which appeared in The Thing # 15, July-August 1954. It's likely that Joe Gill authored both stories.
"Escape" (#15, October), Joe Gill script, Charlotte Jetter lettering. Ditko's powerful visuals are coupled with a strong Joe Gill script. In a Nazi prison camp during World War II POW's plan to escape their sadistic captors. Ditko's depiction of the brutal Nazi's and their counterpart doberman includes a stunning sequence seen through the killer dog's teeth.
GHOSTLY HAUNTS : "Partners" (#29), Joe Gill script. A tale of two friends who strike gold in Canada and become insane with greed. Ditko's experimentation with panel arrangements rises to a new level as he employs multiple images within panels. While others may have faltered with such an unorthodox presentation, with Ditko as maestro, the reader's attention is unfazed and the story flows gracefully. The man frantically caught in a blizzard is another example of superb storytelling technique.
Although "Web of Evil" was published in Ghostly Haunts # 31 (April) the job number (D-3407) indicates that it was drawn before "Partners" in issue # 29. This means that Ditko's first use of the multiple image technique began with this story, which, while very good for an initial attempt, illustrates how quickly the artist improved.
Once again the elements play an important part in a story. "The Shetabi Legend," Joe Gill script, (GH #32, May) has two Canadian scientists and their American Indian guide investigating the sighting of a fur-covered creature. This is another rare tale without any real threat. Ditko again employs silent panels to great effect.
Any fantasy story where an elderly woman is threatened, has a black cat for a companion and comes face to face with a thief rarely turns out well..for the offender that is! "A Little Witchcraft" (GH # 34, August) has Ditko returning to his fuller, more pronounced use of brushwork. The criminal's masked face is perhaps an amusing nod to Rene Magritte's 1928 painting, The Lovers.* Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. * (observation by my good friend Frank Mastropaolo, whose behind the scenes assistance on this and many other posts over the years has been invaluable).         

GHOSTLY TALES : "Ghost Artist"(#101), scripted by Bhob Stewart and Russ Jones, has a decidedly EC-ish flavor. A comic book artist hires an assistant who grows increasingly envious and resentful of his mentor. While the older cartoonist (who Ditko drew to resemble co-author Russ Jones) is calm and helpful the young hack is portrayed with a simmering hatred. Authors Stewart and Jones took some of their own experiences working with Leonard Starr and Wally Wood to fashion the story and Ditko was up to the challenge. You can read about this and other behind the scenes industry stories by Bhob Stewart and Russ Jones here: 

"Last Laugh" (GT #103, April) begins with another superb Ditko cover; the reader's eye is directed to a skeleton menacingly clutching a gun pointing to a door being opened. Ditko's use of hands and fingers is always expressive. The interior story, centering on a man who is desperate to acquire his step-father's wealth, is not as lush as Ditko's earlier efforts but his pacing and use of overhead shots make this a solid outing.
Criminals sporting a bulging eye were a staple of Joe Gill thrillers! Not only did they show up in a number of Ditko outings (see the previous blog post) they appeared in stories drawn by other Charlton artists. Ditko, however, seemed perfectly suited to portray these proptosis-challenged protagonists. "Triumph of Evil," GT # 105, July, you-know-who script, Charlotte Jetter letters. 

In "The Moon Beast" (GT #106, August) a woman is determined to interview a reclusive horror star renowned for his portrayal of a Werewolf (Ditko's character bears a resemblance to Lon Chaney, Jr. who played the Wolfman in a series of 1940s Universal movies). Ditko fires on all cylinders in this outing, from his portrayal of the Werewolf to the attractively drawn, resourceful reporter. Perhaps the story elements were more to Ditko's liking than usual, including the opening pages with the couple watching a movie. Whatever the case Ditko turned in one of his strongest efforts of the year. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
"Happy Ending" (#108, November) also has a movie motif,  this time concerning an eternally youthful actress, although its not plastic surgery that maintains her beauty! Another finely rendered tale with good use of horizontal panels on three pages. Joe Gill script;Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
HAUNTED: "Bride in Darkness" (# 11, February) again navigates the familiar territory of a sexy spirit seeking vengeance for past crimes. Ditko's delicate lines, hair and expressions create a personable figure. 

"A Voice in the Fog" (#14, September) continues the artist's manipulation of pen and brush to convey the lack of visibility encountered in a heavy fog, a technique he mastered several times in the past. It is marred only be an uneven coloring job. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
MANY GHOSTS OF DR.GRAVES: "Who's There?" (#38, May) was Ditko's third experiment in telling a story without the use of standard panels, instead employing multiple images in horizontal frames. This interesting tale focuses on a young man alone in his recently deceased parents house. The varied emotions, expressions and body language of the man along with the constantly moving "camera" prove once again that Ditko is a master at creating dramatic tension in everyday surroundings. Joe Gill script. 
"Crash Pad" (DG # 40, July) concerns a trio of squatters who encounter supernatural justice. Ditko portrays the young hooligans in the least flattering light, sporting unkempt hair, wearing filthy clothing and looking cartoonishly unattractive.
Joe Gill revisits an often-used plot about a curse handed down through the centuries. A more gruesome outing than usual, since the victims are all decapitated (even if they occur off-panel). Ditko's work is of high-quality, particularly the splash page where the reader's eye "looks" through the guillotine. Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
    HAUNTED LOVE : In 1973 Charlton decided to combine two popular genres; ghosts and romance. "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" (#4, October) is the story of an unattractive, envious woman who will do anything in order to win the man she lusts after. Ditko's aptitude for portraying expressions is on full display, as seen by the smiling witch and venal woman. Joe Gill script;Charlotte Jetter lettering.  
In "Until we Meet Again" (HL #5, December), a woman mourns for her lover who was lost at sea. Still carrying a glimmer of hope that he survived, she watches the ocean, rescuing a man with no memory of his past. Ditko renders the seashore setting, ocean waves and female protagonist with a distinct charm, making this one of his best "romance" stories. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
                                                       Killjoy copyright Steve Ditko
E-MAN: Ditko's back-up tale appeared in issue #2 (December) which introduced Killjoy, a costumed hero created, written and drawn by the artist (his first fully scripted tale for the company). Opening with a logo that echoes the famous "comedy and tragedy" masks made famous in theater, Ditko's hero utters no words,  wears a mask adorned with a perpetual grin and tangles with an array of comedic villains. In this story Ditko works in a more simplistic, "bigfoot" style that emulates his concurrent independent comics.

Beginning in late 1973 Charlton included images of their characters on the top left corner of each cover, similar to Marvel's character box. Ditko drew five of the mystery hosts animatedly posing in his signature style.

Ditko's exclusive commitment to Charlton ended in 1974. In this period he drew fewer stories and only three covers, perhaps due to his impending freelance assignments for DC and Atlas/Seaboard. While his sense of design, layout and composition was solid, the inking had grown much looser. Also lacking was his novel and amusing presentation of Charlton's hosts; the bits between panels declined considerably, with their appearances often relegated to opening and closing scenes. This diminished activity saw its beginnings in the previous year. 
GHOSTLY TALES: "The Third Victim" (#109, January) has a distinct Twilight Zone feel, as a second hand entertainer forces a brilliant craftsman of ventriloquist dummies to make one for him. While clearly less detailed, Ditko's pacing and characterizations were still effective. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 

"Make my Dreams Come True" (#111, September) is a compelling tale of infidelity and voodoo concerning a woman whose desires are actualized with tragic results. Ditko's use of locale and a diverse cast adds intrigue to one of Joe Gill's stronger outings in this period. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
Even in some of the weaker stories Ditko often finds something interesting to focus on, such as this panel from "Leroy's Dawg!" (# 112, December), with its mirror images of human and animal. Tom Peterson script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
MANY GHOSTS OF DOCTOR GRAVES: # 48 (November) Ditko only drew two stories for this title in 1974, neither of which was top quality. "Death Scene" featuring a Sherlock Holmes styled hero, was a slightly better outing. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering.
GHOST MANOR : "Self Portrait!" (#20, September) is a stronger Ditko presentation, including depictions of a Gargoyle statue and bizarre characters/ settings. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
 An inspired tale, scripted by Assistant Editor and one of Charlton’s better writers, Nick Cuti. "Death in a Darkroom" (#21) concerns a freelance photographer who inadvertently takes a picture of a murder. If you don't blink you'll notice cameo appearances of E-Man (a Nick Cuti-Joe Staton superhero then starring in his own comic) Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle in a parade. I've added a close-up rendered in black and white to make the figures clearer, since the printed comic got the colors wrong. Charlotte Jetter lettering. 

The process of photography was played up and a wonderful infinity panel has the protagonist staring at a man who is staring at his photograph of a murder. A very inventive tale in which Ditko's art complimented the narrative.
GHOSTLY HAUNTS: # 37 (January). No, I didn't photoshop this page! The creature wreaking havoc in "The Ancient Mine" is colored in green and purple hues exactly like The Hulk, a character Ditko had been associated with at Marvel. Coincidence? Or someone at Charlton having a little fun? Whatever the case, Marvel's lawyers probably never even knew about the story. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
"Moon of Vengeance" (GH # 39, July) is an uneven story credited to Jane Giddens; her only known script for Charlton (or elsewhere). The premise is unusual though, focusing on an American Indian woman who is haunted by a river spirit seeking to possess her body. At the least it was not a typical Charlton mystery tale; the evil spirit is more akin to Indian folklore and a female lead (and her lady friend) was a novelty as well. Ditko did the best he could with the script, although an abundance of dialogue and scenes of talking heads were challenging even with his great facility. Ditko was successful in depicting the woman's physical and emotional turmoil and some panels stood out, such as her expressive features in the last panel (above),
Haunted # 16, June. One of only three covers Ditko drew for Charlton in comics cover-dated 1974.
While "Room for One More" (Haunted # 16, June) was standard fare about crime, betrayal and ghostly revenge, Ditko was up to form, creating an ominous mood with his attention to settings and investing characters such as the elderly man with distinct personality. Joe Gill script; Charlotte Jetter lettering. 
E-MAN: Killjoy returned for a second outing in # 4, (August), which continued Ditko's bizarre collection of outre criminals and objectivist philosophy in a lighter tone. Worth noting is that years later Ditko bought the rights back to Killjoy from Charlton.
Issue # 5 (November) introduced an attempt at a patriotic female superhero in the Wonder Woman mold. Created by Joe Gill, the character was designed by Dan Adkins after editor George Wildman and Gill rejected Mike Vosburg's concept. As related in The Comic Reader # 106, May 1974;

Dan's first drawings of the character were returned with tissue overlays by Wildman with suggested adjustments to Miss Belle. Dan's revisions were made, and he mentioned the work to a number of other professionals, which was not appreciated by the Charlton offices, since they had wanted secrecy on the project until it was ready. Dan left the project and was replaced by Charlton regular Steve Ditko.

While her red-white and blue costume was attractive, and Ditko's art was up to par, the eight page story, which ended on a cliffhanger, informed readers that Liberty Belle might continue in its own book if reader interest warranted. Cries of “Give me Liberty,” however, apparently didn’t ring through the halls of Charlton’s offices.

Announcement of Ditko (and Wally Wood) returning to freelance for DC from The Comic Reader # 114, January 1975

In 1975 Ditko's exclusivity with Charlton came to an end. In the November, 1974 issue of the news related fanzine The Comic Reader (# 112), it was revealed that Ditko would be penciling a new superhero title for the nascent Atlas/Seaboard line, The Destructor, teamed with writer Archie Goodwin and inker Wally Wood. Two issues later the fanzine noted his return to DC, with Wally Wood again inking some of his stories.

As he had done since his earliest years, Ditko continued to work regularly on Charlton's horror-mystery line where it was business as usual, drawing stories for Ghost Manor, Ghostly Haunts, Ghostly Tales, Haunted and The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, and contributing to new titles Beyond the Grave, Creepy Things, Midnight Tales, Monster Hunters and Scary Tales

In The Comic Reader # 136, October, 1976 the news section included an announcement that Charlton would be closing its comic book line. This turned out to be premature, for the company returned  six months later in June 1977, using up inventory until 1978. 
Inventory stories continued to appear amidst reprints all through 1977 and into 1978. As ascertained by job numbers (which usually were lettered on the splash page) "Crazy Jack" (D-8392; Ghost Manor # 37, May, 1978) was the last story Ditko drew for Charlton in the 1970s, although "Dead Fire" was the last story to be PUBLISHED in Scary Tales # 15, July 1978 (job number D-8326).   

With Charlton's decision to cut costs by going all-reprint many artists, including Ditko, were absent an account they had relied on for over two decades. From 1978 to late 1984 the company published their usual array of war, western, soap opera, adventure and humor titles; occasionally new stories by aspiring writers and artists were used. Of course, many Ditko covers and stories were represented in familiar titles, including Ghostly Tales, The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, Ghost Manor, Haunted, Space War and Space Adventures, utilizing material from the 1950s to the 1970s. 

  Ads for Static (aka Charlton Action) appeared in fanzines such as The Comics Journal.

Charlton again shut down in late 1984, but after an eight month hiatus resurfaced in June, 1985. The Comics Journal # 97, April 1985, related that Ditko would be back with the only all-new material title, Charlton Action featuring Static:

According to Static's editor, Robin Snyder, the first issue of that book will debut in July. Static will be written, drawn and lettered by Ditko, and will be [sic] newly edited versions of the stories that ran in the now-defunct Eclipse Monthly....Furthermore, Charlton is allowing Ditko to own this material, and is only buying one-time publishing rights to the stories.      

Letting Ditko retain ownership of his character was a big deal in the mid-1980s; of the big two only Marvel began to offer creators copyright on new characters appearing in their slick magazine Epic Illustrated and its comic book offshoot, Epic Comics. New Ditko art intermingled with his 1950s stories in Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, but after five months the party ended abruptly and Charlton closed its doors in October 1985. As Ditko stated in his essay "First Choice" (Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, 1999) "..Charlton left us, and the comic field."      

After over three decades the line has again been resurrected by Mort Todd, the publisher of Charlton-Neo, a lovingly produced assortment of reprints and new material, with some of the original creators involved. You can sample his product and purchase his comics here:

For decades Steve Ditko produced some of his most unusual, inventive and offbeat work at Charlton, unencumbered by editorial edict or restrictions. Like the corner candy stores that sold their product, Charlton existed in an era when comic books were not marginalized fodder for a small segment of fans. In that long-ago time kids picked up, read and traded all types of comics: western, romance, humor, hot rods, war, ghosts. The vast majority of buyers had no idea who Ditko - or any of the other writers and artists - were. It didn't matter. An untold number were consistently entertained by a supremely dedicated and intense craftsman.  
In 1998 Ditko and Robin Snyder published a collection of mostly 1970s Charlton mystery tales, quite a few of which I've discussed here, all in glorious black and white. If you want to get an even better idea of what Mr. Ditko crafted, track this one down.


GHOSTLY TALES #71-73, 75-77
JUNGLE JIM # 22,27

FIGHTIN' ARMY # 89,90,92

GHOST MANOR # 16,18-19
(VOLUME 2)       # 1-2
GHOSTLY TALES # 84-89, 90(cover)
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 24, 26, 27, 28(cover), 29

GHOST MANOR # 3-5, 6(cover), 7-8
GHOSTLY HAUNTS # 22-25, 26(cover), 27-28
GHOSTLY TALES # 92, 93-94(covers), 95, 96(cover), 97, 99,100
HAUNTED # 3-5, 6(cover), 7-8

E-MAN # 2
GHOSTLY HAUNTS # 29, 30(cover), 31-34, 36
HAUNTED # 11-15
MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES # 37-38, 40-43

E-MAN # 4-5
GHOST MANOR # 17-18, 20-21
HAUNTED # 16, 18