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.
Today I’m looking at the second year of the title. The regular creative team is the same as before: writer & cover artist Jerry Ordway, penciler Peter Krause, inker Mike Manley, letterer John Costanza, colorist Glenn Whitmore, assistant editor Chris Duffy, and editor Mike Carlin.
Actually, this is where I first came in.
Yes, it’s true, I did not read the graphic novel when it originally came out in 1994, or the first 13 issues of the ongoing series. But I kept hearing such positive things about the series, so when issue #14 came out with guest pencils by the legendary Gil Kane, I decided to give it a try.
Freddy Freeman, aka Captain Marvel Junior, was a popular guy and a jock before he was crippled by Captain Nazi and then received powers from Billy Batson and Mary Bromfield, the two Captains Marvel. So when Freddy starts showing some interest in Mary in issue #13, Billy becomes extremely overprotective. Billy and Freddy end up coming to blows, and Freddy leaves Fawcett City.
Issue #14 picks up on Freddy, who has arrived in New York City. He encounters Chain Lightning, another teen metahuman, although she suffers from some form of multiple personality disorder, which makes her very dangerous & unpredictable.
Ordway did a great job writing a story that was simultaneously a stand-alone tale, and which also brought new readers such as myself up to speed on what had happened before. That sort of skill has unfortunately become rare in mainstream superhero comics. I found #14 a really engaging issue with great artwork by Kane, so I came back a month later for #15, and I was hooked. I subsequently sought out the graphic novel and the previous issues.
Thinking about it, I was probably also intrigued by the clever “cereal box” house ad that DC ran featuring Ordway’s cover painting for the upcoming issue #16 to promote the Mister Mind storyline. Now that is how you promote a comic book!
Mister Mind was the “big bad” behind the lengthy “Monster Society of Evil” serial that Fawcett Comics published back in the 1940s. Eventually revealed to be a tiny, cartoony-looking worm, Mister Mind’s cute appearance belied the fact that he was a cold-blooded killer. Nevertheless, I really don’t think the character would have worked in that form in the 1990s. Ordway reimagines Mister Mind as the vanguard of a race of millions of telepathic worms from Venus which possess a shared consciousness.
Just like his Golden Age namesake, this modern “Mister Mind” and his race plot to take over the world. The worms have a plan that manages to be simultaneously brilliant and ridiculous, specifically taking over the mind of Billy’s miserly uncle Ebenezer to build a giant casino in Fawcett City, and then have Captain Marvel’s arch-enemy Doctor Sivana teleport the worms from Venus to Earth where they can take over the people who come from across the country to visit the casino. In a tip of the hat to the original Captain Marvel stories, the casino’s mascot is the original cartoony version of Mister Mind.
The worms all speak in an alien language which could be translated via a decoder card that readers got for free by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to DC Comics. Yes, I sent away for one, and yes, I still have it. Maybe it’s no Captain Midnight Decoder Ring, but it’s still pretty cool.
Mike Carlin informed me on Facebook that John Costanza is the one who lettered the Mister Mind Alphabet.
Also in these issues, much to Bill Batson’s chagrin, the Wizard Shazam decides to leave the Rock of Eternity to once more live among humanity… which means posing as Billy’s grandfather and moving in with him.
The Power of Shazam #17 features one last flashback sequence penciled by Silver Age legend Curt Swan, who had previously contributed to issues #8 and #11. This segment reveals exactly how Doctor Sivana and Mister Mind came to be working together. Issue #17 was released in June 1996, the month Swan passed away, making it among the last art he drew. It demonstrates he was doing solid work right up to the end.
I’m glad that Ordway included this sequence, because it helps fill in the gap between the graphic novel and the first issue of the ongoing series. Billy Batson and Sivana barely interact in the graphic novel, but when the monthly series begins four years have passed and Sivana is now Captain Marvel’s arch enemy, as well as one of the few people who know he’s actually Billy. So this segment gives some info on how they became such bitter adversaries, and how Sivana went from being a shady tycoon to a mad scientist on the run from the law.
Another highlight of this four issue story arc is Captain Marvel donning a Wallace Wood-inspired spacesuit for the journey to Venus… where he discovers that Sivana has obviously been raiding Tony Stark’s wardrobe!
Krause & Manley do their usual superb work on issues #15-17, with Manley stepping up to contribute both pencils & inks for the wrap-up in issue #18.
Around this time a couple of other books related to The Power of Shazam came out. The first of these was Showcase ’96 #7 (August 1996), a team-up between Mary Bromfield / Captain Marvel and the vigilante Gangbuster, who Ordway created with writer Marv Wolfman in Adventures of Superman a decade earlier. This enabled Ordway to continue the storyline of Gangbuster being on the run from the law that had been set up in the Superman books and continued through a previous issue of the Showcase anthology. It also allows Mary to again step into the spotlight and demonstrate she is just as much a hero as her brother.
Looking at this story again in 2022, it was a pleasant surprise to see journalist Cat Grant also appeared in it. I miss how Cat was written back in the 1990s as an intelligent, caring person. I really didn’t like how she was depicted when she was brought back in 2008 with a completely different, and very ugly, personality.
Art on the Captain Marvel / Gangbuster story was by penciler John Statema & inker Mike DeCarlo, with letters by Ken Bruzenak and colors by Dave Grafe. Will Rosado & Klaus Janson drew the dynamic cover which shows Mary and Gangbuster facing off against the superhuman pyromaniac the Arson Fiend.
Also released was The Power of Shazam Annual #1 which… hey, wait a minute! I’ve never read this one before! What gives?
Seriously, all these years later I can’t remember why I didn’t get the annual when it came out. It’s possible I never saw it. Or maybe, since it was around the time that I was deciding to start reading the series, I skipped it to focus on the regular issues.
Of course, it’s equally possible that I simply didn’t get it because of the whole “Legends of the Dead Earth” theme of stories set in the far, far distant future that ran through all of DC Comics’ annuals in the Summer of 1996. At the time 17 year old was me was unfortunately hung up on continuity, on whether or not stories were “real” and “actually happened,” and it seemed to me that Legends of the Dead Earth was Elseworlds in all but name, and therefore “didn’t count.” Which was pretty damn silly of me, because years later I read several of those annuals and found them to be entertaining mash-ups of superheroes, pulp sci-fi & fantasy. What can I say? I was a foolish teenager back in 1996.
And, ironically, The Power of Shazam Annual #1 actually “did count” as it introduced teenager CeCe Beck (named after the first Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck) who transformed into Thunder, an incarnation of Captain Marvel over six thousand years in the future, and who went on to make several more appearances. She even hung out with the Legion of Super-Heroes for a while. Shows what I know!
Since I was doing this reread of the entire series, I finally tracked down this annual and, wow, it’s really good! Writer & cover painter Ordway does a superb job of really subverting a familiar formula. The “plucky rebels fighting an oppressive evil empire” trope gets upended as we see that the resistance has committed some morally questionable acts, with one of their leaders being responsible for the deaths of Beck’s parents. There are people living in the regular society who are perfectly happy with their existence, so simply overthrowing the existing order is only going to make a bad situation worse. Inspector Javert, despite being named after the antagonist from Les Miserables, turns out to be a reasonable authority figure. Beck realizes that both sides need to find a way to co-exist.
Regular inker Mike Manley here turns in some really nice animated-style pencils, neatly balancing the fun and dystopian elements of Ordway’s story. Manley is effectively inked by John Nyberg. John Costanza and Glenn Whitmore once again turn in quality letters and colors.
So, yes, this one was definitely a very unexpected gem!
Returning to the ongoing monthly series, we now get to The Power of Shazam #19. I only have one issue from this series autographed, and it’s this one.
Following up on the Captain Marvel Junior story from a few months earlier, issue #19 sees Freddy Freeman visiting S.T.A.R. Labs to check up on Chain Lighting, and to receive treatment for his own injuries from Dr. Caitlin Rousso.
Caitlin accidentally lets slip that Captain Nazi is being held at S.T.A.R. Labs until he can be transported back to Europe to stand trial for war crimes. Freddy, seeking vengeance, busts out Nazi and takes him to an abandoned industrial area, only to realize that, as much as he wants, he cannot bring himself to kill his enemy in cold blood. Unfortunately Nazi takes the opportunity to escape, and now it’s up to Freddy, working alongside middle aged superhero & World War II veteran Minute Man to recapture the superpowered fascist.
Gil Kane, who penciled issue #14, returns for this story. Regrettably this time Kane was only able to complete the first half of the issue. Joe Staton, another great artist, as well as a personal favorite of me, stepped in to pencil the second half. Around this time Staton was also helping Kane complete the pencils for the graphic novel The Life Story of the Flash, which was published in 1997.
I got this one autographed by Kane the one time I was fortunate enough to meet him, and subsequently had Ordway and Staton add their signatures. Hopefully one of these days I will also get the opportunity to also have this issue signed by Manley.
The first year and a half of The Power of Shazam was pretty much self-contained. Ordway understandably wanted to take the time to introduce Billy Batson, Mary Bromfield, Freddy Freeman and the rest of the cast, to tell his own stories. Fortunately DC allowed him the opportunity to do just that. Yes, Captain Marvel popped over to the Underworld Unleashed event in-between issues, but it was done in such a way that if you didn’t read that crossover you really wouldn’t have missed anything.
Starting with issue #20, though, Ordway starts linking The Power of Shazam with the rest of DC Universe. A tie-in with The Final Night crossover brings in guest star Superman, a character Ordway is, of course, very familiar with. But even here Ordway uses the crisis of the Sun Eater as the impetus to have Captain Marvel Junior return to Fawcett City and bury the hatchet with the rest of the Marvel Family, and to engage in some nice character development.
Issue #21 features a wacky guest appearance by Plastic Man. The artwork by Krause & Manley is really well-suited to the oddball humor of Pas and his sidekick Woozy Winks. There were some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in this one.
Then in issue #22 Batman stops by Fawcett City to investigate organized crime. Billy’s already got gym class and homework and a school bully on his plate, but when the Dark Knight tells you he expects you to meet up with him, well, what can you do?
Issue #23 sees Ordway introduce another post-Crisis revamp of an old Captain Marvel enemy, the radioactive robot Mister Atom. The story also once again showcases how the series has become an ensemble piece. Billy and Mary are pretty much equal co-stars, and both of them are referred to as Captain Marvel. “Mary Marvel” is only a nickname that Billy calls Mary; everyone else refers to her as “Captain Marvel Lady” or “the Lady Marvel” or variations thereof. Even the opening narration refers to Mary as Captain Marvel.
Speaking of the opening, the double page spread on this issue by Krause & Manley is gorgeous.
I do have to admit, on first reading issue #23 did feel like somewhat of a throwaway story… but about 15 months down the line it turned out to be very significant to the series. Ordway did a good job of setting up plotlines & character arcs on this series that would pay off later.
Oh, yeah, among the various mindless missives printed in this issue’s lettercol is some inane drivel by a Ben Herman of Harrison, New York. I think I heard that guy later moved to Queens, NYC and started writing long, rambling blog posts 😼
The second year of The Power of Shazam came to a close with issue #24. It has a gorgeous pulp-style painted cover from Ordway. Krause & Manley do a fine job illustrating the flashback adventure within.
The now-retired costumed hero Spy Smasher is recounting to Billy & Mary an incident from back during the Cold War when he worked with their late father, archaeologist Clarence Charles Batson, to retrieve an ancient artifact known as the Scorpion from East Germany. Once the property of the Wizard, the Scorpion has the potential to be an incredibly powerful weapon, so naturally both the Communists and a group of Nazi war criminals also want to get their grubby mitts on it.
After several very close calls, including a fight with the armored Baron Blitzkrieg, CC and Spy Smasher at last escape from behind the Iron Curtain with the Scorpion. Spy Smasher wraps up his tale… just in time for Billy & Mary’s father to arrive and tell them it’s time to come home, because their mother is making dinner.
Holy moley! What in the name of Shazam is going on? Aren’t Clarence & Marilyn Batson dead? How can any of this be happening? What a cliffhanger!
I’ll be looking at what happens next in an upcoming post when I cover the third year of The Power of Shazam. I hope you’ll come back for it!
Mike DeCarlo has been drawing comic books for 40 years, both as an inker / finisher over a diverse selection of pencilers and doing full artwork. He has worked for a number of publishers, among them DC, Marvel, Valiant, Archie, Bongo, Boom! Studios and IDW. Mike graciously agreed to be interviewed about his lengthy career.
This interview was conducted by e-mail in December 2021.
BH: Hello, Mr. DeCarlo. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start out with your background. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have?
Mike DeCarlo: Born in New Haven, Connecticut, March 1957. Loved cartoons, Newspaper Strips and Comics since I was 4 or 5. Sports of any kind also.
BH: What was your educational background? Did you major in an art-related field? Was the comic book industry something that you actively hoped to enter?
Mike DeCarlo: Went Southern Connecticut State University in CT in 1975 and 1976 for Art. Found it boring. Began work as a Sports Cartoonist and Political cartoonist in 1977 to 1979. Took the Dick Giordano Art School Course in May, 1979 and after 2 months he hired me as his assistant.
BH: How did you first find work in comic books? According to the Grand Comics Database, your first published work was inking Ernie Colon’s pencils on a team-up of Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes in The Brave and the Bold #179 from DC Comics in 1981. How did you receive that assignment?
Mike DeCarlo: By the end of 1980, Giordano told me to go to DC and show my portfolio to Joe Orlando, the Art Director, and he hired me as an inker on the spot. Yes, the Colon job was my first along with “Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk” [DC Special Series #27, Sept. 1981] which I inked with Giordano around the same time.
BH: One of your earliest regular art assignments was inking Joe Staton pencils on Green Lantern, beginning with issue #147 in late 1981. How did that come about? Did you enjoy working with Joe Staton? He’s one of my all-time favorite comic book artists, and I feel the two of you went well together.
Mike DeCarlo: Joe was always a great guy to talk to and incredibly easy to ink. I only remembered it being offered to me at this point.
BH: In recent years you’ve expressed that you wish that you’d been able to focus on penciling and on doing full artwork rather than working almost exclusively as an inker. As a matter of fact, you did have a few penciling jobs at DC early in your career, namely the Green Lantern Corps back-up story in Green Lantern #155 (Aug 1982) and three installments of the Huntress back-up feature that ran in Wonder Woman #302-304 (April to June 1983). What did you think of your work on these stories? How come you did not do more penciling during this period?
Mike DeCarlo: My penciling was very mediocre then. I had much to still learn. I was not shocked that more penciling was not offered to me.
BH: Among the numerous pencilers you’ve worked with over the years has been George Perez, who is known for his hyper-detailed art style and his fondness for drawing huge crowds of characters. You first inked Perez first on Tales of the Teen Titans in 1984 beginning with the now-famous storyline “The Judas Contract” and were on the series for a year. How did you find working with Perez?
Mike DeCarlo: George was exacting and very complex. It was tedious but rewarding when finished.
BH: You then inked Perez in 1985 on issues #3 and #4 of the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, which literally had a cast of thousands of characters. What were your thoughts on that assignment? In particular, I was struck by the fact that #4 was the only issue of Crisis on which Perez was credited with only providing layouts, meaning you provided the finished artwork. That must have been a great deal of work. That opening splash page alone, with Supergirl flying above Gotham City, is insanely detailed. [Note to readers: Check out the image above to see exactly what I’m talking about!]
Mike DeCarlo: Giordano told me about Crisis well before it started and that DC would use me and a few others to ink George. It was a landmark series for them. I did what they asked of me but it was very draining to do. I was not totally disappointed when [Jerry] Ordway took over.
BH: You were first paired up with longtime Batman artist Jim Aparo in late 1987, becoming his regular inker for the next four years. During that period you worked with Aparo on several high-profile Batman storylines such as as “Ten Nights of the Beast” and “A Death in the Family.” How did you receive that assignment? What were Aparo’s thoughts on your work? I felt you made an effective art team.
Mike DeCarlo: Again, it was just offered to me and I happily accepted. Jim was pretty easy to ink and he and I got along well. Jim said I did a wonderful job with his pencils. Quite a compliment.
BH: In the early 1990s you began doing work for Marvel Comics. How did that come about? Eventually in 1993 you became the regular inker on Thor, paired up first with Bruce Zick and then M.C. Wyman. The two of them had very different art styles. How did you approach working over each of their pencils?
Mike DeCarlo: I went to see [Jim] Shooter and a few editors and lined up some work. Marvel was a fairly unfriendly place for me–maybe because I was known as a DC guy? I had issues with both Thor pencilers. I was happy to be on Thor, but those two were not pleasant to work with for me.
BH: You’ve said on Facebook that Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby was one of your favorite comic books when you were a kid. You did have a chance to work on a few issues of Fantastic Four in the early 1990s. How did you find the experience? Would you have liked to have done more work with the characters?
Mike DeCarlo: I wish I could have done the FF every month!
BH: What was it like working with Mike Zeck on Bloodshot: Last Stand for Valiant Comics? That was another great collaboration, in my opinion.
Mike DeCarlo: We were the best of friends anyway and I found it a pleasure.
BH: For more than a decade, beginning in 1996, you worked on a variety of series featuring animated characters such as Looney Tunes, Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Cartoon Network Block Party for DC Comics. How did you approach working in a style that is very different from so-called traditional superheroes? Some of those animated stories also gave you the opportunity to do full artwork, which I image you enjoyed.
Mike DeCarlo: Animation came easy to me because I was skillful with a brush and enjoyed a highly graphic approach to Art.
BH: You’ve inked a diverse selection of pencilers during your career. Do you have any favorites?
Mike DeCarlo: Gil Kane, Michael Golden, Mike Zeck, Joe Staton and Jim Aparo and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.
BH: What was your general approach to inking? One thing I’ve noticed about books that you’ve worked on is that your inking style is fairly apparent at a casual glance, yet you also are successful at not subsuming the style of the pencilers you worked with. It seems like it must be a delicate balancing act, one that you accomplish very well.
Mike DeCarlo: I tried to “get into the head” of the penciler and use my art training judiciously.
BH: Please let us know what you have been working on in recent years.
Mike DeCarlo: I do tons of commissions, The Black Swan Man as an ongoing Internet Financial Strip and am working on Trinity, a Graphic Novel for European Investors. I don’t ink anymore, unless it’s my own work. I happily take on any commission a client has in mind. I’m also mostly done with a Patreon site for my work patreon.com/MikeDeCarloArt or website mikedecarloart.com
Last month Michele and I went to the Society of Illustrators to see the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit. It was a great opportunity to see a very impressive & diverse selection of original artwork from comic books was on display, both from mainstream and alternative creators.
Here are just a few highlights from the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit, which ran from July 15th to October 23rd…
The unpublished cover artwork originally intended for Avengers #37 (Feb 1967) drawn by Don Heck for Marvel Comics that was eventually used as a cover by editor Roy Thomas for his comic book history magazine Alter Ego #118 (July 2013) from TwoMorrows Publishing.
A page from the Doctor Strange story “The Many Traps of Baron Mordo” drawn by Steve Ditko from Strange Tales #117 (Feb 1964) published by Marvel Comics.
The cover artwork for Green Lantern #56 (Oct 1967) penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.
The cover artwork for Hawkman #8 (June-July 1965) drawn by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.
Two pages from Fantastic Four #116 (Nov 1971) penciled by John Busema and inked by Joe Sinnott, published by Marvel Comics.
A page from Incredible Hulk #196 (Feb 1976) pencil breakdowns by Sal Buscema and finishes by Joe Staton, published by Marvel Comics.
Two pages from the underground comix series The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers created by Gilbert Shelton.
The cover artwork for Laugh Comics #182 (May 1966) drawn by Dan DeCarlo, published by Archie Comics.
A daily installment of the newspaper comic strip Sky Masters penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Wallace Wood that ran from September 1958 to December 1961.
The cover artwork for Not Brand Echh #9 (Aug 1968) drawn by Marie Severin, published by Marvel Comics.
A page from Red Sonja #6 (Nov 1977) drawn by Frank Thorne, published by Marvel Comics.
While I definitely enjoyed this exhibit, it was slightly sobering to realize that in many cases the artists sold their original artwork many years ago for a fraction of the current asking prices. In some cases some of this artwork was given away by the publishers as gifts to fans, or flat-out stolen. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances. So I can certainly understand why in recent decades comic book artists have chosen to sell their original work at much higher prices.
I did 100 entries of The Daily Comic Book Coffee on the Comic Book Historians group at Facebook. I decided to switch things up after that, and began posting Comic Book Cats. Each day I post cat-centric comic book artwork by a different artist.
Ghostly Tales #85, drawn by Steve Ditko and written by Joe Gill, published by Charlton Comics in April 1971, and Speedball #10, plotted & penciled by Steve Ditko, inked by Dan Day, scripted by Jo Duffy, lettered by Jack Morelli and colored by Tom Vincent, published by Marvel Comics in June 1989.
Steve Ditko drew a number of stories with cats throughout his lengthy career. Here is artwork from couple of them.
The first page is from “The 9th Life,” one of the best stories that Joe Gill wrote for Charlton’s horror anthologies. Ditko did really good work illustrating Gill’s story.
Michael Holt rescues a stray black cat and takes it back to his apartment in the slums. Michael is depressed about the state of the modern-day world. The black cat is apparently a shape-shifting witch named Felicia, and she offers to transport Michael back to the past. Michael agrees, but soon discovers the “good old days” were not so good, with tyranny and disease. Returning to the present day, Michael realizes that he needs to actively work to make the world he lives in a better place. He is reunited with Felicia, who joins him on his path of fighting for a better world.
The second page is from the last issue of the short-lived Speedball series. The laboratory accident that endowed Robbie Baldwin with his kinetic energy powers also gave those same powers to Niels, a cat who belonged to one of the scientists at the lab.
A subplot running through the Speedball series was Robbie’s repeatedly-unsuccessful efforts to capture Niels. Getting a hold of a normal feline who doesn’t want to be caught is difficult enough as it is; give a cat bouncing superpowers and the task becomes nigh-impossible!
Dwayne Turner & Chris Ivy
Sovereign Seven #7, penciled by Dwayne Turner, inked by Chris Ivy, written by Chris Claremont, letter by Tom Orzechowski and colored by Gloria Vasquez & Rob Schwager published by DC Comics in January 1996.
I spotlighted Chris Claremont’s Sovereign Seven in a couple of Comic Book Coffee entries. It was a fun series, so I’m happy to take another look at it.
In this issue Finale of the Sovereigns is caught in the middle of a struggle between international mercenary Marcello Veronese and his fugitive quarry. Pursuing the sword-wielding fugitive, Finale enters a doorway, only to find herself in the Crossroads Coffee Bar & Inn on the opposite side of town. Crossroads once again lives up to its name, serving as a portal to different places, dimensions & times. Greeting the stunned Finale is Lucy the cat, who is apparently dressing as Supercat for Halloween.
Batman #406, drawn by David Mazzucchelli, written by Frank Miller, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Richmond Lewis, published by DC Comics in April 1987.
I must have read the Batman: Year One trade paperback a dozen times in high school. To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite Batman stories. Many of the images from this story have burned themselves into my consciousness. So as soon as I decided to do Comic Book Cats, I just knew I was going to spotlight this page.
A pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle, her roommate Holly, and their menagerie of cats being awoken at 5 AM by the GCPD’s corrupt, trigger-happy swat team attempting to kill Batman by dropping bombs on him. Of course the cats now want to be fed, even though it’s much too early! I’ve always thought David Mazzucchelli did an especially good job on this page.
This is actually scanned from the trade paperback, which was re-colored by Richmond Lewis. As has been astutely observed by colorist Jose Villarubia, newsprint has a different texture from the paper used in TPBs, and the result is that coloring done for the former will not reproduce accurately in the later.
Batman: Year One is apparently one of the very few times when the original colorist was asked to do new coloring for a collected edition. Lewis’ work for the Year One collection is outstanding, and I’m grateful that for once DC Comics actually went the extra mile.
Frankie Comics #3, written & drawn by Rachel Dukes, published by Mix Tape Comics in November 2014
Rachel Dukes’ mini comic Frankie Comics is absolutely adorable, a really cute look at quirky cat behavior. I met Dukes a couple of times at Mocca Fest, where I picked up copies of the first and third issues. I still need the second one.
In this two page sequence Dukes demonstrates that Frankie has a very cat-like approach to “helping” out his humans.
Dukes showed me a photo of the real-life Frankie, who looks very much like one of my two cats, Nettie Netzach. Judging by the antics Dukes portrays in her comic, they also act alike. Michele suggested they could be long lost sisters. You never know.
Bob Brown & Don Heck
Daredevil #109, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Don Heck, written by Steve Gerber, lettered by Artie Simek and colored by Petra Goldberg, published by Marvel Comics in May 1974.
This is not technically a cat page as it does not feature any examples of Felis catus, aka the domestic cat, but I am showcasing it anyway. Because, honestly, the dramatic arrival of the stunning Shannah the She-Devil accompanied by her pet leopard and panther is a pretty damn impressive cat-related image.
Bob Brown is one of those good, solid artists from the Silver and Bronze Ages whose work often flew under the radar, but who you could always count on to turn in a professional job. Over the years I’ve developed more of an appreciation for Brown’s work. He is effectively inked here by Don Heck, another talented, underrated artist.
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #13, written & drawn by Rachael Smith, published by Titan Comics in August 2015.
I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was eight years old. Over the decades a few different cat-like aliens have shown up on the British sci-fi series, as well as in the various comic book spin-offs.
Several issues of The Tenth Doctor comic book series contained a humorous back-up strip featuring the Doctor and his cat Rose by Rachael Smith. Yes, the Doctor named his cat Rose; he really was hung up on Billie Piper, wasn’t he? In this installment Rose convinces the Doctor to try speed dating. Of course, this being Doctor Who, things go horribly, hysterically wrong.
British artist Rachael Smith has also written & drawn several creator-owned graphic novels.
Joe Staton & Freddy Lopez Jr.
Back Issue #40 cover drawn by Joe Staton and colored by Freddy Lopez Jr, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in April 2010.
Back Issue is a magazine edited by Michael Eury that takes an in-depth look back comic book from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Each issue has a theme, and BI #40 spotlighted “Cat People,” i.e. cat-themed characters of the Bronze Age. One of the characters examined in this issue was, of course, Catwoman.
The cover illustration of Catwoman and her black cat prowling the alleys of Gotham City is by one of my favorite artists, the incredible Joe Staton, who had previously penciled two key Catwoman stories, DC Super Stars #17, the origin of the Huntress, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth 2, and The Brave and the Bold #197, which revealed how Bruce Wayne and Seline Kyle fell in love and married.
Staton has drawn a few cats in various stories throughout the years. I’ve always liked how he rendered them, with his cartoony style always giving them genuine personality. That’s certainly the case here with Selina’s feline companion. Freddy Lopez Jr’s coloring is very effective, as well.
Josie and the Pussycats #54, drawn by Dan DeCarlo and written by Frank Doyle, published by Archie Comics in April 1971.
“The Cat Woman” is drawn by Josie and the Pussycats co-creator and longtime Archie Comics artist Dan DeCarlo. This story sees the scheming Alexandra becoming convinced that her cat Sebastian is being taken by Josie as “bait” to lure in handsome Alan M. After all, Alexandra deduces, that is exactly what she would do if the tables were turned. Tsk tsk, jealous people are always projecting like that!
It turns out that the real reason why Sebastian keeps wandering over to Josie’s house is because she has a wall calendar with a photograph of a beautiful female cat!
DeCarlo always drew cute gals, and as seen here he also did a good job with cats (the actual four-legged furry kind, as opposed to the kind who play musical instruments) investing Sebastian with a lot of personality.
Max Meow: Cat Crusader, written & drawn by John Gallagher, published by Penguin Random House in 2020.
In the great city of Kittyopolis, aspiring feline journalist Max Meow takes a bite out of a giant meatball from outer space and gains super powers. Donning a costume, Max becomes the heroic Cat Crusader, who protects Kittyopolis from menaces such as giant killer cheeseburgers. However, being a hero is not as easy as it might appear, something that Max must learn the hard way. Will Max save the day, or will the Cat Crusader be defeated by that rotten rodent, the despicable Agent M?
Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a funny, adorable graphic novel for younger readers by John Gallagher, who previously worked on Buzzboy and Roboy Red. He is also he is art director for Ranger Rick magazine, published by the National Wildlife Federation. As explained on the Max Meow website:
“John learned to read with comics, so he is more than excited to share the magic of reading, fun, and imagination with the young readers of the world.”
Curt Swan & Stan Kaye
Action Comics #266 cover penciled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, published by DC Comics in July 1960.
Curt Swan was the primary artist on the various Superman titles from the mid 1950s to the mid 1980s. It’s inevitable that at some point or another during that lengthy period Swan would be called upon to draw Streaky the Supercat. Here is Swan’s cute rendition of Streaky zipping through the sky, along with Superman, Supergirl and Krypto the Superdog.
The inks are by Stan Kaye, who had previously been the regular inker over Wayne Boring’s pencils on Superman for a decade and a half. Swan and Kaye were often paired up in the late 1950s and early 60s, drawing numerous covers for Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman and World’s Finest.
The identity of the colorist for this cover is probably lost to time, which is too bad, because whoever it was did a really nice job.
I hope you found these interesting and informative. Please remember to check out First Comics News for the rest of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Daily Comic Book Coffee archives.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic all of the major comic book conventions are cancelled. It’s unfortunate, but certainly understandable. “Con crud” is a real thing at the best of times, and any huge comic con would be a major health hazard.
I enjoy going to comic cons for the opportunity to meet creators and get their autographs on books that they worked on. Obviously that is NOT happening this year. So this summer I contacted a few creators via social media and asked if I could mail them books to get signed.
One of these creators was longtime artist Joe Giella. I reached out to him via his son Frank Giella, who I’ve known for a couple of decades. I’ve gotten a couple of things signed by Joe in the past, but I had a few others I was hoping to have him autograph, so I asked Frank if I could mail them to him to pass along to his father, and he very kindly agreed.
I sent Joe Giella a few Bronze Age comic books. I don’t have any of the really classic issues he worked on for DC Comics in the 1950s and 60s since the majority of those are out of my budget. Whatever the case, I’m happy I had the opportunity to get these books signed.
All-Star Comics #73 (July 1978) has Giella inking the pencils of Joe Staton, another artist whose work I love. The writing is by Paul Levitz. I only got into the 1970s revival of the Justice Society of America in recent years when I picked up the trade paperbacks, but I immediately became a fan. I guess I’ve always liked the JSA a bit more than the Justice League because the JSA members don’t have their own solo titles, which enables more character development to take place in their series. Also, the Earth-2 setting allowed the original JSA members to age, and to mentor a new generation of heroes, which I enjoyed.
Joe Giella began working for DC Comics in 1949, and some of the earliest characters he ever drew for them were the members of the JSA. Then in the early 1960s Giella was one of the artists on the stories that introduced the Earth-2 concept and which brought the JSA back into print for the first time in a decade. Given his historic connection to these characters, I was glad to have him autograph All-Star Comics #73.
Captain America #182 (Feb 1975) was a rare Marvel Comics job by Giella. He inked a few odd issues for Marvel during the 1970s, as well as doing full artwork on various one-off projects such as a few t-shirts and The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook, which was an actual thing. Here Giella is inking Frank Robbins. This was during the period following the classic “Secret Empire” storyline by Steve Englehart when a disillusioned Steve Rogers abandoned the Cap identity and became Nomad.
I know that my experience with Robbins’ work parallels a number of other readers, in that initially I disliked it, over time I gradually learned to appreciate it, and now I now really enjoy his art. I feel Robbins’ work was more suited to war and mystery and horror stories than superheroes, but even on the later genre I find there’s quite a bit to appreciate. I think Giella did a very nice job inking Robbins on this issue, and I wish they had worked together more often.
Superman Family #200 (March 1980) was a really fun “imaginary story” written by Gerry Conway. Set 20 years in the future (late 1999 to be specific) it featured Clark Kent and Lois Lane married with a teenage daughter named Laura.
There were several art teams on Superman Family #200. The portions of this issue that Giella inked were penciled by Bob Oksner, another great artist whose work I have grown to appreciate in recent years. Oksner & Giella made an effective art team. That’s another collaboration I wish we had seen occur more frequently.
Finally, here is the variant cover that Giella drew for the sixth issue of the Archie Meets Batman ‘66 miniseries published by DC and Archie Comics (March 2019). Giella is apparently the oldest living Batman artist, so I really wanted to have him sign something featuring the Dark Knight of Gotham City. This cover is a nice piece which demonstrates that Giella, now in his early 90s, is still going strong as an artist.
Thanks again to Joe Giella for autographing these books, and to his son Frank for arranging everything.
Longtime comic book & animation writer Martin Pasko passed away on May 10th. He was 65 years old.
Between 1973 and 1982 Pasko wrote a great many stories for the various Superman titles at DC Comics. On quite a few of these he was paired with longtime Superman penciler Curt Swan. In 1978 Pasko, working with artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dan Adkins, launched the Superman team-up series DC Comics Presents with a well-regarded two-part story costarring the Flash.
In the mid 1970s Pasko also wrote Wonder Woman. The first part of Pasko’s run had him wrapping up “The Twelve Labors of Wonder Woman” storyline. Several issues later the series shifted focus to the Earth-Two’s Wonder Woman during World War II. This was an effort to align the book with the first season of the live-action television show starring Lynda Carter. Pasko’s final two issues, #231-232, were plotted by his friend Alan Brennert, his first work in comic books. Brennert & Pasko’s story, which was drawn by Bob Brown, Michael Netzer & Vince Colletta, had Wonder Woman teaming up with the Justice Society.
All of this was slightly before my time as a reader, as I was born in 1976. I have read some of those Superman and Wonder Woman stories in back issues or trade paperbacks. However, the first work by Pasko that I vividly recall from my childhood was his early 1980s revival of the Swamp Thing with artist Tom Yeates.
Pasko wrote the first 19 issues of The Saga of the Swamp Thing. He and Yeates created some genuinely weird, spooky, unnerving stories during this year and a half period. I vividly recall the two-part story from issues #6-7, which had Swamp Thing encountering a bizarre aquatic creature with eyeball-tipped tentacles that could transform people into one-eyed monsters. The shocking cliffhanger in issue #6 definitely seared itself onto my young mind and left me wondering “What happens next?”
I think Pasko’s work on Swamp Thing is often underrated, overshadowed by the groundbreaking Alan Moore run that immediately followed it. I know that I’m not alone in this estimation. A number of other fans also believe Pasko’s Swamp Thing stories are due for a reevaluation.
During this time Pasko was also working in animation. Among his numerous animation credits, he wrote several episodes of Thundaar the Barbarian, which had been created by fellow comic book writer Steve Gerber. It was Pasko who devised the name Ookla for Thundaar’s massive leonine sidekick. As he recounted years later, he and Gerber had been attempting to come up with a name for the character when…
“We passed one of the entrances to the UCLA campus and when I saw the acronym on signage, the phonetic pronunciation leapt to mind.”
I was a huge fan of Thundaar the Barbarian when I was a kid. I doubt I paid any attention to the credits back in the early 1980s, but years later, after I got into comic books, when I watched reruns of the show, the names of the various comic book creators involved in it, including Pasko, leaped right out at me.
Pasko was the writer on the first several issues of the revival of E-Man from First Comics in 1983, working with artist Joe Staton, the character’s co-creator. As I’ve previously written, I just don’t feel that Pasko was a good fit for E-Man. It really is one of those series that was never quite the same unless Nicola Cuti was writing it. Nevertheless, I’m sure Pasko gave it his best. There is at least one issue of E-Man where I think Pasko did good work, though. I enjoyed his script for “Going Void” in issue #5, which featured a brutally satirical send-up of Scientology.
Pasko got back into writing for DC Comics in late 1987, writing a “Secret Six” serial drawn by Dan Spiegel in Action Comics Weekly. He soon picked up another ACW assignment, featuring the revamped version of the Blackhawks conceived by Howard Chaykin.
This past January on his Facebook page Pasko recounted how he came to write Blackhawk in ACW. When asked to take over the feature from departing writer Mike Grell by editor Mike Gold, Pasko initially accepted it only because of the lengthy, ongoing strike by the Writers Guild…
“I took the assignment because I had no choice–I needed the money–but it turned out, in the end, to be the most fun I ever had writing comics. I haunted the UCLA Research Library, immersing myself in everything I could learn about the post-WWII era in which the series was set, making Xeroxes of visual reference for the artist and having the time of my life.
“But my greatest thanks are reserved for that artist, my fantastic collaborator, the impeccable storyteller, Rick Burchett. Which is why this stuff is tops among the work of which I’m most proud. That stuff was all YOURS, Rick.”
Pasko & Burchett returned to the characters with an ongoing Blackhawk comic book that launched in March 1989. It was a really enjoyable series, and it’s definitely unfortunate that it only lasted a mere 16 issues, plus an Annual.
In 1992 Pasko became a story editor on Batman: The Animated Series, working on 17 episodes of the acclaimed series. He wrote the episode “See No Evil” and co-wrote the teleplay for the episode “Paging the Crime Doctor.” Additionally, Pasko co-wrote the screenplay for the 1993 animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which was released theatrically.
In the later part of his career Pasko contributed to several nonfiction books. He also wrote the occasional comic book story for DC. Among these was the special DC Retroactive: Superman – The 1970s penciled by Eduardo Barretto, which gave Pasko the opportunity to write the Man of Steel and his Bronze Age supporting cast one last time.
I never had an opportunity to meet Martin Pasko. I narrowly missed him at Terrificon a few years ago. Fortunately, Pasko was very active on Facebook, and I was one of the many fans who he enthusiastically interacted with there. He wrote some really great stories in his time, and will definitely be missed.
On the Facebook group Comic Book Historians, moderator Jim Thompson issued a “Call to Arms” to occupy and cheer up those of us who are working from home or unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject until May 1st (if not longer).
Jim had already been posting his 1000 Horses series for the past three years, each day showcasing artwork featuring a horse drawn by a different artist. Group member Mitchell Brown has done several shorter themes, most recently “My Enemy, Myself” featuring “evil twin” stories.
Mitchell sometimes collects together some of these FB posts on his entertaining & informative blog, the appropriately named A Dispensable List of Comic Book Lists. That inspired me to do the same with my blog. Here is the first installment in the Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee. From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee? I guess we will just have to see.
1) Shannon Wheeler
Let’s start off with the obvious choice: Too Much Coffee Man by Shannon Wheeler. Too Much Coffee Man first appeared as a self-published mini comic in 1991. In a 2011 interview with The New Yorker, Wheeler explained the origins of the series:
“In 1991, I drew an autobiographical cartoon for The Daily Texan with themes of alienation and loneliness. When I described it, people’s eyes glazed over. As a cheap gag, I started “Too Much Coffee Man.” I still address the same themes, except now there’s coffee. People like coffee.”
That’s certainly true. I’m drinking coffee at this very moment, right as I’m typing this sentence.
From such humble beginnings, Too Much Coffee Man has been in near-continuous publication for almost three decades. The series has enabled Wheeler to humorously explore existential angst, the lunacy of American society, and the dangers of overindulging in caffeine.
This artwork is from Common Grounds #5 from Image Comics, cover-dated June 2004. Script is by Troy Hickman, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Al Vey, letters by the Dreamer’s Design team, and colors by Guy Major. I’m going to quote from my own previous blog post about Common Grounds…
Published by the Top Cow imprint of Image Comics in 2004, Common Grounds was a six issue miniseries written by Troy Hickman, with contributions from a number of extremely talented artists. It initially began life as a mini comic titled Holey Crullers that Hickman had worked on with Jerry Smith a few years before. Common Grounds was set around a nationwide chain of coffee shops that were frequented by costumed heroes & villains, a sort of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for super-humans. The various Common Grounds stores serve as “neutral territory” where both crime-fighters and criminals can gather peaceably to enjoy a cup of joe and some doughnuts.
Hickman and his artistic collaborators introduce a cast who, on the surface, are expies for famous DC and Marvel characters. Hickman utilizes these to both pay homage to and deconstruct various storytelling structures and devices of the superhero genre. What I like about how Hickman goes about this is that he does so with a surprising lack of sarcasm or mockery. All of his jibes are of the good-natured sort, and he takes equal aim at the implausible silliness of the early Silver Age and the grim & gritty trappings of more recent decades. Common Grounds is simultaneously extremely funny and very poignant & serious.
I’m fairly confident I’ll be featuring work from some of the other Common Grounds art teams in future installments! It’s definitely due for another re-read.
3) Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott
If you’re going to talk comic books, sooner or later (probably sooner) you’re going to have to discuss Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Whatever the specific division of labor was (and all these decades it’s almost impossible to determine that precisely) the two of them working together in the 1960s created the majority of the Marvel Universe.
It all started in August 1961 with the Fantastic Four, a group who right from the start were characterized as much by their all-too-human disagreements as their super-powers. And no one was more dysfunctional than the gruff Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, who had been transformed by cosmic radiation into a monster.
Early on Ben Grimm very much straddled the line between hero and villain, and in those first few issues the rest of the FF found themselves wondering if the Thing, consumed by anger & self-loathing, might violently turn on them. However, the Thing gradually evolved into a character who was both gruff & comedic. We see one of the first hints of that here, in this scene from Fantastic Four #5, cover-dated July 1962. Ben is attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee, only to get razzed by literal hothead the Human Torch.
This is one of those pages that really makes me appreciate Kirby. I love the panel with the Thing holding the cup of coffee. This was when he still looked like orange oatmeal, very much a horribly disfigured individual, before he evolved into the almost cartoony orange brick form we are all familiar with. There’s this simultaneous humor and tragedy in that panel, as Ben Grimm, now this huge, grotesque figure, is almost daintily holding that coffee cup & saucer, a very human gesture, and a reminder of what he once was, and longs to be again.
Inks are by Joe Sinnott, his first time working on FF. Lee wanted Sinnott to become the regular inker, but soon after Sinnott received the assignment of drawing the biography of Pope John XXIII for Treasure Chest. Sinnott had inked about half a page of Kirby’s pencils for the next issue when he got the Treasure Chest job, and so had to mail the art back to Lee, who then assigned it to Dick Ayers. Sinnott fortunately got another opportunity work on the series in 1965, commencing with issue #44, and for the rest of the 1960s did a superb job inking Kirby. Sinnott remained on FF for the 15 years, inking / embellishing over several pencilers.
In a case of Early Installment Weirdness, we see the Torch reading an issue of The Incredible Hulk #1, which in the real world had come out two months earlier. It seems at this point in time Lee & Kirby had not quite decided if the Hulk occupied the same fictional universe as the FF.
4) Werner Roth & John Tartaglione
X-Men #31, cover-dated April 1967, was penciled by Werner Roth and inked by John Tartaglione. “We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!” was written by Roy Thomas.
X-Men in the 1960s was a title of, um, variable quality. Series creators Lee & Kirby both left fairly early on, and newcomer Roy Thomas sometimes struggled to find a successful direction for the book. Thomas was paired with penciler Werner Roth, who did good, solid work… but regrettably did not possess a certain dynamic quality necessary for Marvel-style superheroes. Also, I’m not sure if Tartaglione’s inks were an especially good fit for Roth’s pencils.
Roth was, however very well-suited to drawing romance, war and Westerns comic books. He certainly was adept at rendering lovely ladies, as seen in his exquisite art on Lorna the Jungle Queen in the 1950s, which he inked himself. So it’s not surprising that some of Roth’s best work on X-Men was when the main cast was in their civilian identities, and the soap-operatic melodrama was flying fast & furious. Witness the following…
Here we have two different coffee-drinking scenes on one page. At the top, Scott Summers, Warren Worthington and Jean Grey are hanging out with Ted Roberts and his older brother Ralph at a greasy spoon known as the Never-Say-Diner… really, Roy?!? Ted was a short-lived rival to Scott for Jean’s affections, and Ralph was (spoilers!) a short-lived villain named the Cobalt Man. Elsewhere, Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake have taken their dates Vera and Zelda to their semi-regular Greenwich Village hangout, Coffee A Go-Go, where Bernard the Poet is, ahem, “reciting his latest masterpiece.” The scene closes with Bobby creating the world’s first iced espresso.
5) Joe Staton
This entry is drawn by one of my all-time favorite artists, the amazing Joe Staton. “Vamfire” is a short story featuring E-Man and Nova Kane, the awesome characters created by Nicola “Nick” Cuti & Joe Staton at Charlton Comics in 1973. This story was originally planned for Charlton Bullseye in 1976. It did not see print until a decade later, in The Original E-Man and Michael Mauser #7 (April 1986) published by First Comics, who had the E-Man rights in the 1980s.
I’ve blogged at length about E-Manon several occasions. Suffice it to say, it’s an amazing series, with brilliantly humorous & heartfelt writing by Cuti and wonderfully imaginative artwork by Staton. This six page story introduces E-Man’s negative energy sister Vamfire, a sort of proto bad girl anti-hero who would reappear in later stories. “Vamfire” also introduces Nick and Joe’s Café, and Staton draws himself and Cuti as the proprietors. Nick and Joe’s Café would also return in later stories, with the running gag that their coffee was always terrible. Nevertheless they somehow managed to stay in business, no doubt due to being strategically located near Xanadu Universe in Manhattan, where innumerable sleep-deprived college & graduate students were desperate for a caffeine fix to keep them awake during the school’s interminable lectures.
Longtime comic book writer, editor & artist Nicola Cuti passed away on February 21st. He was 75 years old.
Cuti, who was known to his friends as “Nick,” is best known for co-creating the superhero / sci-fi comic book series E-Man with artist Joe Staton at Charlton Comics in 1973. I’ve blogged about E-Man on several occasions. Although I did not discover the series until 2006, I immediately became a HUGE fan. The combination of Cuti’s brilliant, clever, imaginative writing and Staton’s animated, cartoony artwork resulted in a series that was exciting, humorous, poignant and genuinely enjoyable.
However, there was much more to Cuti’s lengthy career than just E-Man. He was a versatile creator.
A longtime science fiction and comic book fan, Cuti began self-publishing his own black & white comic book series Moonchild Comics in the late 1960s. The three issue series featured the outer space adventures of the voluptuous wide-eyed Moonchild the Starbabe.
Cuti was a huge fan of the legendary Wallace Wood, and on a chance telephoned the artist. Woody agreed to look over Cuti’s portfolio, and he asked the young creator to work as one of his assistants.
While he was at Woody’s studio Cuti learned there was an opening for an assistant editor at Derby, Connecticut-based publisher Charlton Comics. Tony Tallarico, an artist who was doing work for Charlton at the time, urged Cuti to apply. Cuti interviewed with editor George Wildman, who offered him the job.
In an interview conducted in 2000 by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Artist magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing, Cuti described his role at Charlton:
“Basically, I was the production department, myself and another guy by the name of Frank Bravo… The two of us handled the entire production department which meant that when artists would send in completed stories, we would look over the artwork, proofread it, and if there were any spelling mistakes, we corrected them. And if there were any pieces of artwork that had to be corrected for one reason or another, we would do that.”
Cuti also worked as a freelancer for Charlton, writing numerous short stories for their various horror anthologies throughout the 1970s. In addition to Staton, Cuti collaborated with a diverse line-up of artists that included Steve Ditko, Tom Sutton, Wayne Howard, Sanho Kim, Don Newton and Mike Zeck. Cuti was a regular writer on the licensed Popeye comic book that Charlton published, as well as penning several stories for their Space 1999 comic book adaptation. He also worked on Charlton’s romance titles. As he would later explain in the interview with Comic Book Artist, one of the highlights of working for Charlton had been the opportunity to write for diverse genres, to tell various different types of stories.
In addition to his work at Charlton, Cuti was also a regular contributor to the black & white horror magazines from Warren Publishing. Regrettably I am not all that familiar with Cuti’s writing for Warren, although I am sure that he did quality work there, just as he did for Charlton.
I encourage everyone to head over to fellow WordPress blog Who’s Out There? Last year Gasp65 spotlighted the crime noir story “I Wonder Who’s Squeezing Her Now?” Co-plotted by Cuti & Wallace Wood, scripted by Cuti, penciled by Ernie Colan, and inked by Woody, the story was originally written & drawn in 1971, finally seeing print in the fifth issue of the Warren anthology title 1984 in February 1979. Cuti’s scripting on this tale, especially the ending, demonstrates what a thoughtful and intelligent writer he was.
In the early 1980s, following the demise of both Charlton and Warren, Cuti worked as an assistant editor for DC Comics. In 1986 he moved to California and began working in television animation, a field he remained in for almost two decades. Beginning in 2003 he worked on a number of independent films featuring characters he created such as Captain Cosmos and Moonie.
It is regrettable that Cuti was never able to establish himself as an especially successful comic book writer outside of Charlton and Warren, because he was, as I said before, an incredible writer. Fortunately he established both a creative rapport and a friendship with Joe Staton early on, and over the succeeding decades the two men periodically reunited at several different publishers to chronicle the further adventures of E-Man, his girlfriend & crime-fighting partner Nova Kane, and scruffy hardboiled private detective Michael Mauser. Cuti and Staton really did have a wonderful creative collaboration, and I definitely enjoy their work together.
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet Cuti, although I was able to correspond with him on Facebook. From everything I have heard from those who did know him, he was a genuinely good person. After his passing numerous heartfelt tributes were penned by his friends and colleagues.
I am going to quote in full longtime DC Comics editor Paul Levitz’s lovely tribute to Cuti on Facebook:
“You can learn something about a creator’s personality from their work, but it isn’t always a completely reliable guide. If you read Nick Cuti’s work you’d get the feeling that this was a man with a generally positive outlook on life. His characters were playful, joyful even. But you’d still be underestimating the cheerful glow that Nick broadcast.
“As an editor, he ignored the moribund state of Charlton Comics and recruited talent who would go on to be industry leaders—John Byrne, Joe Staton, even my buddy and prolific DC scribe Paul Kupperberg broke into pro ranks at Nick’s hand and encouragement. And he created—with Joe Staton —Charlton’s last great series, E-Man, a hero who charm reflected Nick’s own.
“At DC for a number of years he was a relentlessly cheerful presence, and a guardian of the old humor treasures from our vault, making them available to a new audience.
“As a cartoonist he could blend smiles with sexy, and give us his Moonchild.
“The announcement of his death today after a battle with cancer leaves the world with less smiles…and hopefully his spirit in the world of his starry children.”
If you are unfamiliar with Nicola Cuti’s work, I hope this will prompt you to check it out. A lot of the Charlton comics can be found relatively inexpensively in the back issue bins at comic conventions and shops that carry older back issues. Most of the E-Man comic books are also relatively affordable. The original Charlton series, which ran for 10 issues, was reprinted by First Comics in the miniseries The Original E-Man and Michael Mauser. Cuti wrote the final two issues of the E-Man run published by First in the mid 1980s. Between 1989 and 2008 various E-Man and Michael Mauser comics by Cuti & Staton were released through Comico, Apple Press, Alpha Productions, Digital Webbing, and Argo Press.
Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton’s final E-Man and Nova story was serialized in The Charlton Arrow vol 2 #1-3, which can be purchased through Mort Todd’s Charlton Neo website, along with a number of other cool titles. As I’ve said before, I am glad Nick and Joe had one last opportunity to reunite and bring the curtain down on these wonderful characters.
Thank you for all of the wonderful stories throughout the decades, Mr. Cuti. You will definitely be missed by all of your fans, friends and colleagues.
Today is Batman Day, celebrating all things relating to the Dark Knight of Gotham City, one of DC Comics’ most iconic comic book characters. Today is also Saturday, or rather Caturday, the weekly celebration of all things cat-related.
Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, first appeared in Detective Comics #27, published in 1939. Catwoman, real name Selina Kyle, made her debut just a year later in the pages of Batman #1. Both characters were created by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane.
For nearly eight decades the grim vigilante Batman and the sexy thief Catwoman have had an adversarial relationship with heavy romantic undertones. There was a mutual attraction from the start, one often undermined by the fact that Bruce and Selina have typically been on opposite side of the law.
Since this year Batman Day falls on Caturday, I am taking a quick look at the history between Batman and his longtime frenemy Catwoman.
Creator credits in the Golden Age of comic books were unfortunately often sparse, but the GCD credits the cover artwork to Batman #65 (June-July 1951) to Win Mortimer, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris. Whoever drew it, it’s a nice cover. Both it, and the story inside by Finger, Kane, Schwartz & Paris, demonstrate that right from the start Batman never knew if each time he met Catwoman she would turn out to be an enemy, an ally, or something in-between.
“The Jungle Cat-Queen!” is an exciting tale written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris, and appeared in Detective Comics #211 (Sept 1954). Catwoman plays a variation of “The Most Dangerous Game” with Batman and Robin on a jungle island. Sprang is considered the quintessential Batman artist of the 1950s. I first read this one in the excellent collection The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.
(Pay no attention to the contratually obligated Bob Kane byline. Kane had nothing to do with this comic, or any other Batman story published after the early 1950s. Unfortunately he loved to take credit for other people’s work. At least nowadays we have a much better idea of who did what.)
Batman #197 (Dec 1967) written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Frank Springer & Sid Greene sees Catwoman determined to marry Batman… whether he wants to or not! Yeah, this one certainly won’t win any awards for progressive depictions of woman! This was pretty typical of DC’s Silver Age superhero comics, the target audience for which was pre-teen boys. Oh, well… nice artwork by the underrated Springer & Greene, at least.
For an entertaining, in-depth look at Batman #197 by someone who read it when it first came out I highly recommend heading over to Alan Stewart’s excellent Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books.
Okay, this is certainly better! Batman #256 (May-June 1974) by writer Denny O’Neil & artists Irv Novick & Dick Giordano, has Batman and Robin investigating whether or not Catwoman has committed a murder at the circus. Selina is innocent, of course, since she’s no killer, but she is planning to “liberate” the tigers from the circus, so she can return the large cats to the natrual world. While Batman disapproves of Catwoman’s larcenous activities, he nevertheless admires her strong love for animals.
DC Super Stars #17 (Nov-Dec 1977) featured the origin of the Huntress, heroine of Earth 2 and the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman. This story, written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Joe Staton & Bob Layton, opens with the wedding of Bruce & Selina, who at least in this dimension found love & happiness together for two decades, until tragedy eventually struck. It’s a great story, so go find a copy and read it!
Meanwhile, back on Earth 1, Batman and Catwoman were still doing their will-they-or-won’t-they dance. Mike W. Barr was one of the writers to delve into their rocky relationship, as witnessed in this scene from Detective Comics #569 (Dec 1986) expertly illustrated by Alan Davis & Paul Neary.
In the post-Crisis, post-Zero Hour, post-whatever other reality-altering mega crossovers DC has thrown our way in the past 30 years, Batman and Catwoman still had that mutual attraction going. After numerous encounters that saw them working in various permutations of friends and foes, they finally officially became a couple in Batman #611 (Feb 2003) written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Jim Lee & Scott Williams.
I am generally not a huge fan of Lee’s work. I find his style too busy and hyper-detailed. Having said that, this is a beautiful splash page which has become an iconic image.
Of course, the course of true love never runs smooth, or words to that effect. Batman and Catwoman’s ongoing relationship has hit quite a few speedbumps. One of the reasons for this is that the two come from very different backgrounds: Bruce is a millionaire, and Selina grew up on the streets of Gotham City’s poorest neighborhoods. As a result the two have often disagreed over matters of crime, punishment and justice. This was expertly illustrated in Batman / Catwoman: Follow the Money (Jan 2011) written & illustrated by Howard Chaykin. It’s an enjoyable story, and I recommend searching out a copy.
I know a lot of people were upset that Bruce & Selina did not actually tie the knot during writer Tom King’s current run on Batman. But, honestly, as you can see from the above, they already bicker like an old married couple, so at this point it’s really just a formality!
I am going to close out with the cover artwork for Batman: Gotham Adventures #50 (July 2002) which features the animated incarnations of Bruce & Selina. Illustrated by the late, great, much-missed Darwyn Cooke, this image is a beautiful snapshot of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman.