Over the past two decades I’ve picked up a bunch of issues from the various horror anthologies published by Charlton Comics during the 1970s. Although regarded as a third-tier publisher, with low page rates and cheap printing, half a century ago Charlton was one of the best places for young, up-and-coming artists to hone their abilities. Some of the most talented creators of the Bronze Age of comic books got their start at Charlton.
For Halloween back in 2013and 2014 I spotlighted a few of my favorite Charlton horror covers and the Charlton horror work of artist Tom Sutton. This year I’m looking at some more great spooky covers from the fearsome folks at Charlton.
Before he gained critical recognition at DC Comics as one of the all-time greatest Batman artists, Jim Aparo contributed to a wide selection of genres in titles published by Charlton, including action, romance, costumed crimefighters… and, of course, horror. Aparo’s cover to Ghostly Tales #79 (April 1970) provides a preview of the atmospheric work the artist would regularly thrill readers with on his Batman stories in just a few short years. That’s the host of Ghostly Tales, Mr. L. Dedd (later known as I. M. Dedd) in the lower left-hand corner.
Wallace Wood protégé Wayne Howard’s career in comic books did not really extend beyond Charlton… which was a great pity, because Howard was undeniably talented. His covers for the anthology series Midnight Tales, for which Howard received a practically unprecedented “created by” credit, showcase both a deft skill at rendering highly-detailed work and a humorously bizarre sensibility. Midnight Tales ran for 18 issues between 1972 and 1976. The series starred Professor Coffin aka the Midnight Philosopher and his coquettish niece Arachne, who each issue presented a different-themed selection of horror & fantasy tales. The cover to #6 (November 1973) offers a good example of the duo’s macabre misadventures.
Acclaimed horror artist Tom Sutton drew a number of hyper-detailed blood-curdling covers for Charlton throughout the 1970s. For Ghostly Haunts #38 (May 1974) he rendered this unsettling depiction of early 20th Century “cosmic horror” innovator H.P. Lovecraft accompanied by his mythic tome of unearthly lore, the Necronomicon.
As I’ve blogged about in the past, one of my favorite creators, who happened to get his start at Charlton, is the great Joe Staton. In addition to co-creating cult classic heroes E-Man and Nova Kane with writer Nick Cuti, Staton was a regular contributor to Charlton’s horror anthologies. For the anthology series Scary Tales Staton designed the book’s hostess, the sexy vampire Countess R.H. Von Bludd. Staton rendered a painted cover for Scary Tales #1 (August 1975) which, even with the rather lackluster printing, still stands out as a testament to his impressive early abilities.
Steve Ditko was obviously not a newcomer to comic books in the 1970s, but he found Charlton, with it’s almost complete lack of editorial oversight, to be a welcome home. Ditko also had a very good working relationship with Charlton’s main writer Joe Gill. Here is one of Ditko’s numerous eerie Charlton covers, for Ghostly Tales #122 (August 1976).
Mike Zeck, who in the 1980s found acclaim at Marvel Comics for such titles as Captain America, Secret Wars, and The Punisher, also got his start at Charlton. Among this various jobs of the Derby, CT based publisher were several striking stories & covers for Monster Hunters. Zeck’s cover for issue #9 (January 1977), which he also colored, sees professional monster hunter Colonel Whiteshroud stalking a werewolf. Or is that the other way around?
If you browse around at comic conventions and on eBay you can often find relatively affordable copies of the Charlton comic books from the 1970s. They’re worth seeking out for some entertaining stories and quality artwork.
Welcome another round of Super-Blog Team-Up, in which a group of bloggers writing about comic books tackles a shared topic. This time we have a very devilish theme, as Super-Blog Team-Up goes to Hell.
For my own entry, I’m looking at the original crossover of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn published by Image Comics in 1996, which sees both characters exiled to the nether regions.
The infernal action begins in Savage Dragon #29, written & penciled by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, and colored by I.H.O.C. Officer Dragon, the green-skinned, super-strong member of the Chicago Police Department, is attacked & kidnapped by his demonic enemy the Fiend, who has enlisted a sorcerer to send the Dragon’s soul straight to Hell itself.
Who is the Fiend, and why does she have such a huge axe to grind with Dragon? This helpful bit of exposition by Larsen provides all the information you’ll need to get caught up…
Dragon’s soul ends up in the Fifth Circle of Hell where, according to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Inferno, the wrathful and sullen are punished for their sins. Dragon is soon joined by Spawn, aka deceased government assassin Al Simmons, who himself has been returned to Hell after using up all of his demonically-imbued energies to save the life of his ex-wife Wanda’s second husband Terry Fitzgerald.
Dragon and Spawn first encounter each other in Spawn #52, written by Todd McFarlane, penciled by Greg Capullo, inked by McFarlane & Danny Miki, lettered by Tom Ozrechowski and colored by Brian Haberlin, Dan Kemp & Matt Milla.
The inhabitants of Hell’s Fifth Level are divided over which of these two arrivals is their long-promised “messiah” leading Dragon and Spawn having to fight against each other. Spawn is victorious, but when the inmates of the Fifth Circle prepare to execute Dragon, an appalled Al Simmons tells them “Free him now. You must learn to turn the other cheek.” Which is, unfortunately, the last thing to tell an army of eternally-damned sinners, who quickly turn on Al. Now both Dragon and Spawn are about to be stoned to death… well, stoned to be more dead when they already are. What can I say? Metaphysics isn’t my strong point.
Before sentence can be carried out, the pair are transported to the next level of Hell, as seen in Savage Dragon #30. If there’s a particular characteristic of this plane, it appears to be the torment of eternal boredom, as Spawn and Dragon are left to spend hours waiting for something to happen. Al rages at his inability to advance further and finally confront Malebolgia, the Hell Lord responsible for his transformation into Spawn.
Dragon, on the other hand, has become convinced that this is either a dream or a hallucination, and he responds to their imprisonment in the fiery pits with a stream of sarcastic banter…
“Heaven and Hell are a load of crap! There’s no such thing as… Oh man — you’re right! This MUST be Hell – that piped in music sounds like Michael Bolton and Yoko Ono singing a duet. Ha! Oh looky — it’s George Burns! I knew he was going to get Hell for those God awful Oh, God movies! Maybe I can get his autograph!”
The Fiend, furious that Dragon is not only not suffering but is in fact refusing to take his predicament at all seriously, travels to Hell to force him to fight Spawn or remain trapped forever. Dragon, though, still believes none of this is happening and blatantly throws the fight, telling Al to continue on his quest. Spawn finally is able to teleport onwards to the next realm of Hell, his journey continuing in the pages of his own series.
As Savage Dragon #31 opens, Dragon is still trapped in the abyss. The Fiend begins sending an army of the Dragon’s deceased enemies against him, only for all of them to receive a thorough ass-kicking by him. In a sudden moment of epiphany the Dragon figures out the Fiend’s secret origin, although he still can’t quite bring himself to believe that any of this is actually happening.
Poop-pooing the thought that the Fiend made a deal with the Devil, Dragon finds himself face-to-face with none other than Satan, who’s now ready to claim Dragon’s soul himself. Before that can happens, though, God Himself arrives in Hell to fight the Devil for the fate of the Dragon. What follows is a bare-knuckle brawl of literally Biblical proportions as God and the Devil trade punches across the landscape of perdition. (Click to the below image to embiggen!)
Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Larsen’s artwork is here. Even if you were doing a “God vs The Devil” movie with a $100 million special effects budget it probably still would not look anywhere near as amazing as it does here on the printed page. That’s the thing about comic books: they can accomplish with artwork, with penciling & inking & coloring the depiction of characters & events that are just impossible to depict believably in live action, no matter how much money you might have.
Let’s also recognize the superb lettering by Eliopoulos. He really does a fantastic job with the different fonts. I’ve often observed that lettering is very-underrated skill, and this is a great demonstration of how important & effective it can be.
God finally cleans the Devil’s clock and sends him packing. Dragon then attempts to have a conversation with the Almighty about life, the universe & everything. Asking what is actually the one true faith, and what really happens to someone when they die, God informs him that each individual’s personal version of God is different, and so too each person’s beliefs defines what their afterlife will be. This leads Dragon to ask:
“You mean – if I firmly believed that I’d spend the rest of eternity making mad, passionate love to a bevy of leggy super-models – I’d get that?”
And he’s sufficiently intrigued when God answers in the affirmative.
God, finally growing tired of the extended Q&A session, sends Dragon’s soul back to his body on Earth.
In the next issue, discovered by his friend & fellow police officer Frank Darling, Dragon recounts his fantastical experiences in Hell. He admits it all sounds absolutely crazy. However, Dragon adds that “just to be safe” he’s thinking of abandoning his atheism for a belief in an afterlife filled with leggy supermodels.
I really enjoyed most of the Savage Dragon / Spawn crossover because it was it was such an unconventional story. The two characters don’t really team up, with Dragon instead basically just getting on Spawn’s nerves most of the time. It really sums up Larsen’s unconventional, offbeat approach to creating comic books.
Y’know, I haven’t actually looked at the chapter that ran in Spawn #52 since it was first published. All these years later, McFarlane’s turgid prose really comes across as overwrought. I can’t believe I actually followed Spawn for 64 issues before finally losing interest. I doubt I’d have lasted anywhere near as long nowadays.
That said, the artwork by Capullo, McFarlane & Miki is very hyper-detailed, exaggerated and dynamic. The major selling point of Spawn has probably always been the art, so in that respect it succeeds.
That’s that’s why I’ve always preferred Savage Dragon. Larsen started off as a good, talented artist, but he’s also always had an offbeat, humorous, imaginative style to his writing. The quality of both his art and his writing has improved consistently over the past three decades, which is why to this day Savage Dragon remains one of my all-time favorite series.
Larsen’s fight between God and the Devil here was outstanding. Typically in comic books there are two approaches to the whole “Heaven vs Hell” conflict. The first is that, out of a desire to avoid controversy, God is a completely absent presence, and the Devil’s forces are shown to be running rampant totally unimpeded. That happens frequently in both Marvel and DC storylines. The second is that Heaven is a corrupt, squabbling, ineffectual bureaucracy, no better than Hell. That is definitely the approach McFarlane utilized in his Spawn series. You also would see that a lot in the Vertigo titles DC used to publish back in the 1990s.
So, in contrast, I found it a breath of fresh air for Larsen to have God show up and kick the Devil’s ass, for good to actually triumph over evil. Just because human beings are constantly messing up organized religion and abusing faith shouldn’t negate the possibility that there might just be an actual Higher Power that is unencumbered by mortal failings, and that on the cosmic scale maybe it’s conceivable for decency & morality to ultimately succeed.
Thanks for checking out my contribution to Super Blog Team-Up. You can find links to the other entries below.
There were so many comic book creators, publishers, vendors and other guests at New York Comic Con this year. Michele and I tried not to spend too much money, or buy too many things, because we’re on a budget, plus there’s only so much you can fit into a one bedroom apartment.
One of the major highlights of NYCC for me this year was meeting actors Anson Mount and Melissa Navia from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I first watched the original series in reruns on Saturday evenings at 6 PM on WPIX Channel 11 when I was a kid in the early 1980s. As a long-time Trekkie, I really enjoyed the first season of Strange New Worlds. It was very cool to meet Anson Mount and Melissa Navia, who both did great work on the show. Mount and Navia really made the time to greet all the fans such as myself. I’m definitely looking forward to season two.
I purchased the first Quad trade paperback from publisher Sumerian Comics, formerly known as Behemoth Comics. Quad is a very well done post-apocalyptic dystopian anthology series by South American creators Aluisio C. Santos, Diego Sanches, Eduardo Ferigato and Eduardo Schaal.
I also purchased the John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Twitch graphic novel from Storm King Comics. This one is written by Duane Swierczynski, drawn by Richard P. Clark and lettered by Janice Chiang. It was cool seeing both Clark and Chiang at NYCC again.
Last year at NYCC we met creator Sara Richard in Artist Alley. Michele really enjoyed her artwork, so this year she purchased Richard’s book The Dead Hand Book: Stories from Gravesend Cemetery.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I bought a copy of Empty Graves: 31 Horror Portraits by Dave Fox at NYCC. Fox really knocked it out of the park with these spooky illustrations.
I also got the Forbidden Planet variant cover for Sweetie Candy Vigilante #1 published by Dynamite Entertainment. Artist Jeff Zornow, writer Suzanne Cafiero and editor & art director John Cafiero were doing a signing at Forbidden Planet NYC on Thursday evening after the show.
Michele bought a copy of Highball #2, published by Ahoy Comics, from artist Fred Harper. She also got the NYCC convention exclusive cover to Godzilla vs. Mighty Morphin Powers rangers from the IDW Publishing booth as a gift for me.
Finally, I bought Michele one of the absolutely adorable Purritos from Uncute. I was tempted to also get one of those eerily cute Tentacle Kitty stuffed animals. Maybe next year.
Michele and I both had a lot of fun at New York Comic Con, and as you can see we picked up some cool stuff at the show.
New York Comic Con 2022 was held on October 6th to 9th at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. It was an exhausting but fun experience. One of my favorite parts of the convention was once again Artists Alley, which featured a large, diverse selection of comic book creators.
Here are some of my favorite creators who I met at New York Comic Con this year. I have included links to their work, so you can check them out for yourself.
One of the great things about NYCC is it gives you the opportunity to meet creators who are visiting from outside of United States. I’ve been enjoying the work of Italian artists Marco Santucci and Maria Laura Sanapo over the past few years for DC Comics and other publishers. I’ve been interacting with them on social media, so it was definitely nice to actually get to meet them.
In my mind Dan Jurgens is one of the definitive, all-time great Superman artists. I loved his work on the character in the late 1980s thru the mid 1990s. He also did very good work on Captain America for Marvel Comics and the Image Comics series Common Grounds. It was a pleasure to finally meet him and be able to let him know how much I have enjoyed his work.
It was good to see The Hero Business creator Bill Walko at NYCC again. He’s got a really fun art style. The Hero Business is such an enjoyable series. If you haven’t read it yet then I highly recommend ordering the upcoming The Hero Business Compendium to be published by New Friday Comics, the creator-owned division of Lev Gleason Publishing. The Compendium will be a 472 page book in oversized graphic novel format collecting the complete ten year The Hero Business saga and is scheduled for release next month.
It’s also always good to see artist Russ Braun at comic cons. He’s a genuinely good guy and a talented artist, having drawn the classic Batman storyline “Venom,” War of the Gods and Fables for DC Comics, as well as regularly collaborating with writer Garth Ennis on a number of projects, among them Battlefields, The Boys and Jimmy’s Bastards.
Not to sound like a broken record, but it was also great to see Andrew Pepoy again at NYCC, back for the first time since before the pandemic. He’s an amazing artist and a good person. Andrew has a few advanced copies of this long-awaited new The Adventures of Simone & Ajax book Lemmings and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My! at the show. I’m looking forward to receiving my copy in the mail soon.
Alex Saviuk and Keith Williams were the art team on Web of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics when I was in high school in the early 1990s. I really enjoyed their work on the series. I don’t know if it was coincidence or design, but they ended up sitting next to each other in Artists Alley, so I wanted to get a photo of the two of them together.
Lynne Yoshii has a beautiful art style. I first discovered her work on the great Gotham City Garage series. She since drawn stories for several DC Comics anthology specials. I’m looking forward to reading the recently released Nuclear Power graphic novel from Fan Base Press that she illustrated.
Bought a copy of Empty Graves: 31 Horror Portraits by Dave Fox which contains some incredible, creepy artwork. Dave Fox has been working on a series of horror portraits over the past few years, and it’s nice to have them all collected together. He really knocked these out of the park, capturing the spooky, eerie essence of some of horror cinema’s most iconic villains & monsters.
These were just a few of the talented creators at New York Comic Con. It was an enjoyable show, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to attend it.