The Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part One

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.

cat and coffee

1) Shannon Wheeler

Let’s start off with the obvious choice: Too Much Coffee Man by Shannon WheelerToo 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.

Here is Too Much Coffee Man living up to his name on page two of the story “TMCM vs. TM©M” which sees a ruthless corporate executive shamelessly steal our protagonist’s name & imagery, and then hit him with a cease & desist order.  In the battle of indy original versus big business rip-off, who will win? (Hey, maybe Mitchell Brown can do a “My Enemy, Myself” entry about this story!)

“TMCM vs. TM©M” first appeared in Too Much Coffee Man #1 published by Adhesive Press in July 1993.  I read the story in the Too Much Coffee Man’s Parade of Tirade trade paperback released by Dark Horse in November 1999, which reprinted the first eight issues of the Adhesive Press run.  The story, and a whole bunch of other caffeinated goodness, can also be found in the Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus published by Dark Horse in 2011, with an expanded edition in 2017.

Too Much Coffee Man

2) Dan Jurgens & Al Vey

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.

Common Grounds 5 pg 8

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.

Fantastic Four 5 pg 2

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.

X-Men 31 pg 10

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-Man on 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.

“Vamfire” was later reprinted in 2011 in the excellent trade paperback E-Man: The Early Years, which collected the entirety of the E-Man stories from the 1970s under one cover.  It is apparently still available through the publisher. I highly recommend it.

E-Man The Early Years pg 207

Thanks for stopping by to sample our fine four-colored espresso.  I hope you will come back again soon when we will have five more examples of Comic Book Coffee from throughout the decades.

 

This is how the world ends: Doomsday + 1

Four and a half decades ago, at the small Derby, Connecticut-based Charlton Comics, the company’s main writer teamed up with a young up-and-coming artist to create a striking post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that, though short-lived, is remembered to the present day.  The writer was Joe Gill, the artist was future superstar creator John Byrne, and the series was Doomsday + 1.

Doomsday+1 1 coverAbout six months ago I located copies of the original six issue run of Doomsday + 1.  They were fun, enjoyable comics.  The first issue was released 45 years ago this month, on April 8, 1975, so I felt now was a good time to write a short retrospective on the series.  That, and for obvious reasons of late I’ve sort of had the apocalypse on my mind.

In the opening issue of Doomsday  + 1 the end of the world is touched off on April 7, 1996 by power-mad Latin American dictator General Rykos.  On the verge of being overthrown, Rykos is determined to take everyone down with him.  He launches a pair of nuclear missiles, one at New York City, the other at Moscow.  The United States and Russia each believe they have been attacked by the other, and before anyone can figure out who is actually to blame, both nations have launched their atomic arsenals at each other, wiping out human civilization.

Hours before Rykos starts World War III, NASA launches a small spacecraft into Earth’s orbit on a scientific mission.  The three –person crew of the capsule is U.S. Air Force Captain Boyd Ellis, his fiancée, radiation specialist Jill Malden, and Japanese physicist Ikei Yahsida.  As a result this trio are saved from the apocalypse, but are nevertheless forced to watch helplessly from Earth’s orbit as the human race is destroyed.

The capsule remains in orbit for over a month, the three astronauts waiting for the radioactivity on Earth to drop.  Finally running out of food, they bring the capsule in for a landing on the uninhabited Greenland, which has been mostly spared from fallout.  However the heat of the nuclear weapons has melted the Greenland ice cap, releasing from suspended animation several prehistoric mammals.  Also freed from an icy slumber is Kuno, a Goth warrior from the Third Century.  Jill, a linguist, is able to communicate with the man out of time, and soon the hulking hairy figure has become a valuable ally.

Doomsday+1 1 pg 20

Over the course of the six issue series, the quartet explores the devastated Earth, hoping to find other survivors.  Along the way they have a series of strange adventures, encountering a mad Russian cyborg & his mechanical army, alien peacekeepers, an underwater civilization, human criminals, and visitors from a parallel universe.

There’s also a bit of what you might call a love triangle, or maybe a love quadrangle.  Boyd and Jill start out as a couple, prompting some jealousy from Ikei, who is also attracted to Boyd.  Kuno, upon meeting the group, is immediately attracted to Jill, and the two of them soon become involved, leaving Boyd and Ikei to then hook up, as well.

Joe Gill was an incredibly prolific writer who produced hundreds of stories for Charlton Comics.  He and John Byrne seemed to have a good creative rapport on this series, with Gill allowing Byrne a free hand to make changes to the scripts.

Looking at the art on Doomsday  + 1, it’s apparent that Byrne, in some of his first professional work, was already showing a great deal of potential.  Obviously he would get much, much better over the next few years, but already you can see his aptitude for dramatic layouts & storytelling, his ability to render both action & characterization.

Doomsday+1 2 pg 1

On the last three issues the artwork is credited to “Byrne Robotics.”  Many years later Byrne would re-use the name for his official website & message board.  I posted there to inquire about the “Byrne Robotics” credits on Doomsday  + 1.  Byrne explained:

“I used Byrne Robotics when a friend helped me ink backgrounds. (She’d lost her job so I gave her a temp job.)”

I also informed Byrne that I would be writing this blog post, and I asked if he had any thoughts about Doomsday + 1 that he would be willing to share.   He kindly responded:

“Thems were some old time comic books! If they’d been published in the Fifties, they’d not have stood out much from the crowd.

“And they were fun. Joe Gill, the writer, gave me permission to change anything I wanted to, if I felt it improved the story. A real learning experience—like pretty much everything I did at Charlton.”

That is a common theme you hear from comic book artists who began their careers at Charlton Comics, that it was a really good training ground where they were given an opportunity to hone their skills, helping them gain the experience that later enabled them to obtain more high-profile, better paying work at other companies such as Marvel and DC Comics.

A few random observations about these six issues:

The scene on the cover to the first issue does not appear in the actual comic book.  No doubt it was Byrne’s homage to both the ending of Planet of the Apes and Jack Kirby’s cover for the first issue of his own post-apocalyptic comic book series, Kamandi.  Of course, there is a looooong tradition of artists utilizing the ruined Statue of Liberty as a landmark on disaster movie posters and on post-apocalyptic book covers.

Doomsday+1 4 pg 15

Issue #4, the one with the underwater civilization, has some lovely artwork by Byrne & his assistants.  The look of the beautiful, graceful Amphibian woman Meri almost seems like a composite of Snowbird and Marrina, two of the characters Byrne would introduce in Alpha Flight a decade later.

There is one aspect of issue #4 which I feel has perhaps not aged well.  We are told that the Amphibians, due to their inability to live in the depths of the oceans, created a second race, the Gill-Men.  Over centuries the Gill-Men became more vicious & belligerent, eventually turning on the Amphibians.  Unlike the Amphibians, the Gill-Men are large, monstrous-looking beings.  If you read between the lines, you might come away thinking the Gill-Men were created to be servants or slaves, and that they rebelled against their masters.  If that is the case, having them as very clear-cut villains, and making them grotesque compared to the elegant, humanoid Amphibians, feels sort of, well, racist.

Then again, it could be I’m just reading too much into this!  After all, in issue #6, our heroes meet the inhabitants of an alternate reality Earth, a civilization of “Beautiful People” who have created a highly advanced utopia.  However we quickly learn that this apparent paradise only exists because these Beautiful People have raided other parallel Earths, abducting their inhabitants to serve as slaves.  So in this case the supposedly more advanced, attractive culture is very much the villain.

Doomsday+1 5 pg 12 JillLooking at issue #5, our heroes are captured by a group of military prisoners who have seized control of an abandoned Air Force base.  Boyd and Kuno are tied up by the criminals, who intend to have their way with Jill and Ikei, the first women they’ve seen since the nuclear war.  Hoping to catch their captors off-guard, Jill and Ikei pretend to be compliant, going so far as to get dolled up in a couple of sexy outfits.  I noticed that the dress Byrne has Jill in resembles a couple of the outfits he would draw Colleen Wing wearing just a few years later in the pages of Iron Fist. (Yes, I do notice things like this!)

Doomsday + 1 was apparently cancelled on very short notice by Charlton, as there was a completed seventh issue ready to go when the ax fell in 1976.  Fortunately the story “There Will Be Time” did see print soon after, in black & white, in the 4th and 5th issues of the semi-professional fanzine The Charlton Bullseye.

At this point it appears Byrne was intended to take over as the full writer of the feature.  In “There Will Be Time” he lays the groundwork for a new direction, as the survivors encounter Stinson Tempest, a time traveler for the 40th Century who becomes stranded in the post-apocalyptic present.  It feels like there was a lot of potential to where Byrne planned to take the series, so it’s a shame it was cut short so abruptly.

Plus, y’know, it had dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs are always fun.

Charlton Bullseye 4 Doomsday+1

There is actually one other Doomsday + 1 story, although for many years it was believed lost.   Charlton Comics revived Doomsday +1 in 1978 as a six issue reprint title, picking up from the original numbering.  At first sales on the revival were good, and Charlton considered running new material.  Regular Charlton contributor Tom Sutton was commissioned to write & draw a story to appear in issue #13.  Unfortunately sales soon dropped, and the decision was made to once again cancel the book, with Sutton’s story never seeing print.

Doomsday+1 13 coverYears later the original unlettered artwork resurfaced, although Sutton’s script for it had gone missing.  Sutton passed away in 2002.  Eventually another Charlton veteran, the great Nicola “Nick” Cuti, working from Sutton’s art, wrote an entirely new script.  It speaks to both the clarity of the storytelling in Sutton’s artwork and to the immense talent of Cuti’s writing that this new script meshes almost seamlessly with pages drawn over three decades earlier.  “The Secret City” was then lettered by Bill Pearson and colored by Donnie Pitchford.  At long last it saw print in 2013 in issue #8 of Michael Ambrose’s excellent magazine Charlton Spotlight, published by Argo Press.

Looking at the artwork for “The Secret City,” it appears that Sutton’s original intention was to pick up after the events of Doomsday + 1 #6.  Cuti managed to work in references to the events of “There Will Be Time” in his script, definitely placing it after the survivors began working with Stinson Tempest.

As I’ve previously observed from my past looks at Cuti’s excellent writing on E-Man, he is really good at developing realistic characters & relationships.  We have no way of knowing how Sutton would have dialogued the series’ quartet, but Cuti takes the opportunity to add some realistic tension to the relationship between Boyd and Ikei.

Reading the original stories, Boyd is definitely a belligerent, trigger-happy individual, ready to start a fight at the drop of a hat (in fact Kuno the supposed “barbarian” often comes across as more careful & strategic-minded than Boyd).  In his script for “The Secret City,” Cuti has Ikei expressing disapproval for Boyd’s aggressive attitude, perceiving it as a perpetuation of the warlike mindset that recently led to humanity all but wiping itself out.  It definitely gives a certain subtlety & nuance to Sutton’s story, a pulpy affair that sees the quartet fighting against an army of Roman Legionnaire lizard men zipping around in flying saucers!

Charlton Spotlight 8 pg 19

So, for those of you who are interested in reading Doomsday + 1, where can you find these comic books?  Since this was some of John Byrne’s earliest work, near-mint copies of the first six issues tend to be expensive.  However, if you don’t mind your comics being a bit dog-eared, you can find less pristine copies for lower prices.  Issues #7-12 are reprints, so they’re probably not as much in demand, meaning that may be another way to get these stories without forking over a lot of money.

There is also the seven issue miniseries The Doomsday Squad, published by Fantagraphics in 1986, which reprints the original six issues, as well as “There Will Be Time” in color for the first time.  Several of the issues feature brand new cover artwork by legendary artist Gil Kane, who provides his own unique interpretation of the characters.Doomsday Squad 6 cover

As for “The Secret City” by Sutton & Cuti, head over to the Argo Press website and order a copy of Charlton Spotlight #8.  The issue also features a 2012 interview with Cuti about his Charlton work.

Also, since Doomsday +1 might be the public domain (no one seems to know for certain who, if anyone, currently owns the rights to it) sometimes you can find full issues of the original series posted on blogs & websites.  The complete first issue can be read on The Bronze Age of Blogs, if you are so inclined.

One last item: Several years ago John Byrne decided to re-conceptualize Doomsday + 1 from the ground up.  The result was the four issue miniseries Doomsday.1 published by IDW in 2013.  As Byrne explained:

“I’ve been thinking for some time that I would like to revisit a post-apocalypse kind of scenario, such as was seen in my very first ‘dramatic’ work in comics, but this time without the more obvious fantasy elements of that original series (mermaids, alien robots, frozen mammoths, etc.),” said Byrne. “When bits and pieces of this new series first started to percolate around in my head, I knew almost at once the shape that ‘revisit’ would take; something in the ‘All-New, All-Different’ vein. And the first time I doodled some images of my ‘crew,’ I knew I was there!”

Doomsday.1 sees the Earth ravaged not by nuclear war but by a devastating solar flare.  The crew of the International Space Station watches helplessly as nearly the entire surface of the planet is devastated, with billions dying.  Following the disaster, the Space Station crew makes their way back to Earth, to the small area within the Western Hemisphere which was spared the worst of the solar storm.  Their search for other survivors soon brings them into conflict with the worst of human predators.

Doomsday Point 1 coverThis miniseries is extremely grim and downbeat.  I also think it’s one of the best things that Byrne has done in a number of years.  The somber subject matter very much suits the direction that Byrne’s artwork has developed in over the last couple of decades.  It also is a good fit for the darker sensibilities that he has shown in his writing since the early 1990s.  I’ve often felt that such material was not a good fit for mainstream super-hero series (I definitely was not fond of what he did to Donna Troy during his run on Wonder Woman) but it feels much more at home in his creator-owned projects such as this and Next Men.

I also appreciated the fact that Byrne writes the characters in Doomsday.1 as fairly intelligent & genre-savvy.  In other words, he doesn’t have them acting like idiots solely in order to advance the plot.

So in spite of the similar premises, Doomsday.1 is a very different book from its predecessor.  Nevertheless, I definitely recommend it.  It’s a genuinely riveting story.  It’s also an excellent way in which to see how Byrne has grown & developed as a creator, to look at how he depicted the apocalypse in 1975, and how he approached a similar scenario 38 years later in 2013.

Nicola “Nick” Cuti: 1944 to 2020

Longtime comic book writer, editor & artist Nicola Cuti passed away on February 21st.  He was 75 years old.

E-Man 1 cover smallCuti, 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.

Moonchild Comics
Moonchild Comics #2 by Nicola Cuti, published by San Francisco Comic Book Company in 1969

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.

Haunted 36 pg 11
“The Night of the Demon” by Nicola Cuti and Tom Sutton from Haunted #36, May 1978

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.

Charlton Arrow vol 2 1 pg 2
The origins of E-Man and Nova Kane, as retold by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton in The Charlton Arrow vol 2 #1, 2017

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.”

Charlton Arrow vol 2 1 cover smallOn his own blog my friend Nick Caputo wrote a detailed retrospective of Cuti’s career which I hope everyone will check out.

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.

Michael Mauser: Portrait of a P.I.

“My name is Mauser. That’s also the name of my pistol. In my profession, my pistol’s the only reliable friend I have. I take care of it, and it takes care of me. I’m a private eye, and this is my story…”

Over on Facebook someone asked me why, in my recent post E-Man and Nova: The 1990s and Beyond, I had not devoted more space to private eye Michael Mauser.  I responded that I was actually going to do a separate piece focusing on Mauser’s publication history.  And here it is…

Michael Mauser logo

The diminutive detective Michael Mauser, who has always struck me as a cross between iconic private investigator Sam Spade and super-sloppy grouch Oscar Madison, was created by writer Nicola “Nick” Cuti and artist Joe Staton in the pages of their groundbreaking, entertaining comic book series E-Man, published by Charlton Comics.  Mauser made his debut in E-Man #3, cover-dated June 1974.

“The Energy Crisis” is set in New York City during the oil crisis of late 1973.  E-Man’s girlfriend Nova Kane, archeology student & burlesque performer extraordinaire, is walking home from her job, accompanied by fellow dancer Rosie Rhedd.  After the pair narrowly escape a mugging, Rosie is suddenly pulled through a solid brick wall by an unseen assailant.  The shocked Nova goes to E-Man, aka Alec Tronn, for help, but the energy man from the stars is busy rushing back & forth across the city helping with the numerous emergencies caused by the power shortages.

Coming across a flyer advertising Michael Mauser’s services, Nova reluctantly heads to his office.  Although startled by Mauser’s slovenly appearance, she tells him about Rosie’s strange disappearance.  Mauser agrees it’s a fantastic story, but adds “So long as you’re paying me, I’ll believe anything.”

Mauser and Nova return to the scene of the crime, and discover the wall into which Rosie was pulled belongs to an old warehouse.  Although it hasn’t been used in years, Mauser spots fresh tire tracks in the warehouse, as well as a crate labeled “Boarsville,” home of the reclusive, secretive billionaire energy magnate Samuel Boar.

The pair hop into Mauser’s VW Bug and head out to Boarsville, but on the town outskirts they are ambushed by an unseen foe.  Both are captured, but not before Nova is able to make a phone call alerting E-Man.  He quickly zips over to Boarsville via the phone lines.  Tangling with Samuel Boar’s sinister robot henchmen the Battery, Alec learns that Boar is using a new source of energy to power his empire: living people!  Rosie, Nova and Mauser are just three of the hundreds of innocents kidnapped by the Battery and plugged into Boar’s generators. E-Man fortunately breaks free, defeats the Battery, and arrests Boar.  The authorities quickly release all of the Boar’s victims.

Later, back at Mauser’s office, the P.I. offers a E-Man a job, to which Nova responds “Not a chance! He’s a big lovable guy and I want him to stay that way… not become corrupted by a cynical creep like you!”  She then storms out, and Mauser informs E-Man “That’s a tough little broad you’ve got there.”

E-Man 3 pg 5

Interviewed by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Creator in March 2015, Joe Staton explained the origins of Michael Mauser:

“Nick [Cuti] had the idea for a detective based on Arnold Stang. He was a little guy with a really nasal voice, little glasses… And since Nick was hanging out with Wally Wood and they had guns all over the place, the idea of Mauser… Nick HAD a Mauser. Very cool gun. The ultimate gun, visually, and it came together.

“The visual I wound up with Mauser – this was obviously before the Internet and it was hard to find a lot of things – so I didn’t really have any reference for Arnold Stang. I knew who he was just generally, but that was when the Dustin Hoffman / Steve McQueen movie was out, Papillon. And there were all these pictures of Dustin Hoffman in these really thick glasses in Papillion, so I just thought, well, he’s not Arnold Stang, but he’s close enough. So that was the original visual.”

Michael Mauser’s next appearance was in E-Man #7 (March 1975).  The mysterious “TV Man” has been using alien technology to cause E-Man to lose control of his powers, making him transform into characters from television broadcasts.  Seeking a final showdown, the TV Man ambushes Mauser in his office, instructing him at gunpoint to deliver an ultimatum to E-Man.  The unperturbed Mauser, staring down the barrel of TV Man’s gun, deadpans “You know how to make a point. Do you still need me… or is a truck about to come through that tunnel?”

Passing along TV Man’s message, Mauser brings E-Man over to Rockefeller Plaza the next day for a “high noon” showdown.  Having served as messenger, the P.I. announces “It’s getting close to noon so I’m going to take off. There’s no hero in my blood.”

Despite his protestations, though, it would soon become apparent that Mauser possessed more than his share of bravery & heroism.  He was akin to Rick Blaine from Casablanca, who always insisted “I stick my neck out for nobody,” but who when push came to shove was hard-pressed to ignore injustice or turn his back on someone in need of help.

Mauser embodies the sentiment that inside every cynic is a disappointed idealist.  In spite of his appalling lack of manners, his fondness for cutting corners, and his disdain for authority, underneath it all Mauser has his own set of ethics, a personal code of conduct he rigorously adheres to.

Vengeance Squad 1 pg 24

In addition to further appearances in E-Man, readers soon got to see Mauser in solo action. The character appeared as the regular back-up feature in Charlton’s detective series Vengeance Squad, which ran for six issues between July 1975 and June 1976.  In some of these tales Mauser was hip-deep in the action, mixing it up with all sorts of dangerous criminals; in others he was practically an observer, delivering pointed narration on the activities & schemes of various unsavory characters.

E-Man was cancelled with issue #10 in September 1975.  Mauser would subsequently appear as a supporting character in an E-Man and Nova story by Cuti & Staton which ran in issue #4 of the semi-professional fanzine Charlton Bullseye the next year.  After that Mauser, along with the rest of the E-Man cast, disappeared into limbo.

Seven years later, when E-Man was revived by First Comics, once again Michael Mauser was a regular presence in the pages of the book, simultaneously an ally and a nuisance to Alec Tronn, Nova Kane and Teddy Q.  Additionally, Mauser received a back-up story in issue #4 (July 1983) by writer Mike W. Barr and artist Rick Burchet.  “Mauser, P.I.” was a humorous send-up of the then-popular prime time detective show Magnum, P.I.

Early in 1985 Mauser also co-headlined a three issue miniseries with Ms. Tree, the private detective created by Max Allan Collins & Terry Beatty.  The P.I.’s: Michael Mauser and Ms. Tree was written by Collins and drawn by Staton & Beatty.  It was a very effective meeting of the two headstrong, independent, trigger-happy private eyes, a deft blend of dark tragedy and sardonic humor.

Michael Mauser and Ms Tree 1 cover

Due to his being employed by DC Comics at the time, E-Man co-creator Nicola Cuti was unable to contribute to most of First’s E-Man series.  Cuti was at last reunited with Staton on issue #24 (June 1985), and the pair immediately set out to tell the definitive origin of Michael Mauser.

“Mauser’s Story” is one of the best comic books that Nicola Cuti has ever written.  The artwork by Joe Staton & Rick Burchet is wonderful.  I am hesitant to go into too much detail about it, because I encourage everyone to seek out a copy in the back issue bins.  But here is a brief synopsis…

Michael Mauser was born in the upper middle class neighborhood of Beacon Falls, CT.  The tragic death of Mauser’s father resulted in the family having to move to the slums of Brooklyn, NY.  Being beaten up on a daily basis by the local street gang the Black Lions caused Mauser to have to toughen up very quickly.  Soon he was a member of the Lions in good standing.  When they were arrested for an attempted robbery, Mauser and the rest of the gang were shipped off to fight in Vietnam.  It was there that Mauser acquired his namesake handgun, courtesy of Eddie Phuong, a wheeling-dealing Vietnamese soldier.  His experiences in Vietnam taught Mauser personal responsibility and loyalty, but also left him deeply traumatized.  Wounded in battle, Mauser was shipped back to the States, and he helped smuggle in Eddie’s younger sisters Ruthie and Angela so that they could have a better life.

Back at home, Mauser spent several years drifting from one job to another.  Eventually his old acquaintance Police Captain Bill Doyle informed him that Eddie had arrived in the States and was now a major drug smuggler.  Mauser approached Ruthie to find out if she had any information on her brother, but she was murdered by one of Eddie’s thugs to keep her from talking.  Mauser located Eddie anyway, and barely escaped with his life.  The experience prompted Mauser to go back to school and become a private investigator.

In the present day, Mauser is reunited with Angela, now a grown woman.  He learns from her that Eddie is once again back in New York.  Mauser sets out to finally take down Eddie, and to protect Angela from being killed like her sister.

E-Man v2 24 pg 24

After the First Comics series of E-Man was cancelled, Mauser and the rest of the gang went into limbo for a few years, finally appearing once again in the E-Man special in 1989 and three issue miniseries published by Comico in 1990.  The special had a back-up story starring Mauser.  While investigating a kidnapping, Mauser is reluctantly saddled with his young niece Kitty Katz, who he regards as an “insufferable brat.”  Kitty spills his coffee and almost shoots Mauser with his own gun, but in the end she does help him solve the case.

The next time we saw Mauser in solo action was in 1992.  For the first time the character starred in his own title, the black & white special The New Crime Files of Michael Mauser, published by Apple Comics.

“Snow Angels” is one of the darkest tales produced by the team of Cuti & Staton.  In the midst of a cold, brutal winter in NYC, Mauser, assisted by Angela, is tracking down a serial killer known as the Spray Paint Strangler.  The disturbing case causes Mauser to begin to question both his sanity and his memories.

Staton’s artwork for “Snow Angels” is astonishing.  I think that on occasion people forget just how versatile an artist he really is.  Staton is well-regarded for his cartoony style, but is certainly capable of much more, as he amply demonstrated in the late 1980s and early 90s.  He had always been a fan of mystery, detective and crime stories, and in this time period had several opportunities to work in those genres.  For DC Comics, Staton had penciled the 1989 series Huntress, which introduced the post-Crisis incarnation of the character and her war against organized crime.  Later, in 1995, he illustrated the three volume organized crime graphic novel Family Man.

You can witness a progression of Staton’s artwork on these stories, from Huntress through The New Crime Files of Michael Mauser special, to the Family Man trilogy, an evolution of an effective noir-tinged style.  Certainly the artwork on “Snow Angels” was somber, suffused with a moody tone.  Combined with Cuti’s atmospheric script, it made for a disquieting read.

New Crime Files of Michael Mauser pg 21

A year later Cuti and Staton crafted another solid, enjoyable Mauser story, “The Old Farmhouse.”  It appeared in the anthology special The Detectives, published by Alpha Productions.  Also featured in The Detectives were stories starring private investigators The Maze Agency, Mike Mist, Tony Bravado and Johnny Dynamite.  The striking cover was illustrated by hot artist Adam Hughes, making this this the only occasion he ever drew the Michael Mauser character.

There were two other Mauser stories to be published in the mid-1990s, in issues of the quarterly anthology title Noir from Alpha Productions.  Regrettably I don’t have copies of either of those magazines, but I’m keeping an eye out for them.  Additionally, there was also a Mike Mauser Files one-shot published by ACG in 1999, but that appears to have been a reprint of several older stories.

The next time we would see Mauser in a major way would be in 21st Century, when Digital Webbing published a trio of E-Man specials between 2006 and 2008.  Mauser had a supporting role in both E-Man: Recharged and E-Man: Dolly, and co-starred in E-Man: Curse of the Idol.  In that last tale Mauser and E-Man were searching for a mysterious, powerful extra-dimensional idol that was also being sought by a corrupt South American general.

There was a Michael Mauser back-up, “Fish Story, ” which had originally been intended to run in Vengeance Squad #7 way back in 1976, but it was never published after the series was cancelled.  In 2008 Staton finished the artwork for this unseen tale and it at last saw print in Michael Ambrose’s Charlton Spotlight #6 (Fall 2008) from Argo Press.

Most recently Mauser appeared in the first chapter of “Homecoming,” the three part E-Man and Nova serial that was published in The Charlton Arrow volume 2 #1-3 (Sept 2017 to Jan 2018).  In the opening pages of “Homecoming” we see Mike and Angela at long last get married, in a ceremony attended by all of their friends & family, including Alec, Nova and Teddy Q.  After all these years, Michael Mauser finally has his happy ending.

Charlton Arrow vol 2 1 Michael Mauser wedding

Michael Mauser is definitely an interesting, memorable figure.  It certainly demonstrates Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton’s versatility and creativity that they devised a character who is equally at home as a supporting player in the fantastical adventures of E-Man and Nova as he is starring in his own hardboiled crime and mystery tales.  If you haven’t read any of Mauser’s adventures before then I certainly recommend seeking them out.  They are enjoyable reads with great work by Cuti and Staton.

E-Man and Nova: The 1990s and Beyond

In the past I have blogged about E-Man, the wonderful and imaginative comic book series co-created by Nicola “Nick” Cuti and Joe Staton in 1973. E-Man, aka Alec Tronn, is a sentient energy being who wandered the universe for thousands of years.  Finally arriving on Earth, he befriended the beautiful and intelligent Nova Kane, an archeology / geology major at Xanadu University who moonlighted as a burlesque performer to pay her tuition.  Eventually gaining energy powers of her own, Nova joined Alec in defending Earth against an assortment of bizarre villains and menaces.

E-Man ran for 10 issues in the mid-1970s, published by Charlton Comics. It was revived by First Comics in 1983, and that second volume lasted 25 issues.  Staton was the penciler for the entire First Comics run, but unfortunately Cuti was only able to write the final two issues.

After the cancellation of E-Man volume two in 1985, Staton retained the rights to create new stories featuring the characters. On several occasions over the past three decades he and Cuti have reunited to chronicle the further adventures of Alec, Nova, cynical private eye Michael Mauser, adorable koala Teddy Q, and the rest of the colorful gang.

E-Man 20th Anniversary Special

Subsequent to the First Comics run, Cuti and Staton returned to E-Man in a special published by Comico in September 1989, edited by Michael Eury.  In volume two Alec and Nova had relocated to Chicago.  Nova had lost her powers and had been hired as the host for the basic cable TV show Moppet Monster Matinee.  As the new special opens, Alec and Nova are back in New York City.  Nova is once again enrolled at Xanadu University, however she still has not regained her powers (a caption cheekily informs us this is due to her suffering from a bout of “Pasko Syndrome”).

During the course of the story a device known as the Reality Arranger causes a number of bizarre surrealistic transformations to sweep through the Big Apple.  Eventually reality is stretched past the breaking point and snaps, although the universe very quickly recreates itself from scratch, with the side effect of Nova once again possessing her energy powers.

We are never given an explanation for how everyone ended up back Manhattan. If you want, you can just assume that Nova decided to leave Channel 99 and return to school to finish her degree.  Alternately, Staton himself suggests that readers can regard the effects of the Reality Arranger as responsible for the sudden shift back to NYC.  In any case, the Reality Arranger, and the remaking of the entire history of the world, is a convenient “get out of jail free” card to hand-wave away any continuity discrepancies between the non-Cuti material published by First and the stories written by Cuti once he returned to the series.

Co-starring with Alec and Nova in the Comico special is Vamfire, the diva-ish negative energy “sister” of E-Man who was birthed from the same star. Vamfire was created by Cuti & Staton back during the Charlton days, but her debut story remained unpublished until a decade later, when it finally appeared under the First banner.  Initially conceived as a Vampirella-type figure, here in her second appearance she is redesigned by Staton to have a more punk rock look.

E-Man Comico special cover

The special did well enough that Comico published a three issue miniseries in early 1990, edited by Shelly Roeberg. By this point E-Man had definitely become an ensemble title.  E-Man himself barely appeared in the first issue of the miniseries.  The majority of the action is given over to Michael Mauser, Nova Kane and Teddy Q working to save Vamfire after her physical form is accidentally splintered into numerous twisted fragments due to a mishap in a carnival house of mirrors.

The second issue shifts the focus back on Alec as he attempts to find his way back to the star Arcturus, the “mother” that gave birth to him millennia earlier. Having lost his way, Alec stops on the planets Targasso and Landano for directions, on both worlds discovering troubled civilizations.  For me this story really demonstrates that E-Man is not a comedy or a parody series, but rather a fairly serious book that nevertheless possesses a sense of humor and a tone of fun.  I think that was something that was regrettably lost in some of the early issues of the First Comics run.  Cuti is the writer who really does the best job at balancing the drama and humor on E-Man, and as much as I do like some of the First issues, the series wasn’t quite the same without him.

In the third issue of the Comico miniseries Alec at long last finds his way to Arcturus, only to discover that his “mother” really is just “a ball of burning gasses.” I found it to be a bit of a sad moment, that Alec travelled over 215 trillion miles only to learn that he really doesn’t have an actual parent.  However he quickly gets over his disappointment and speeds back to Earth.  It becomes apparent why Alec cares so much for our world: it is the only home he has ever really had, and Nova is more than just a girlfriend; she is his family.  Unfortunately a horde of Lovecraftian entities follow E-Man back to our world, leaving him and Nova with quite the alien infestation to combat.

E-Man Comico 3 pg 1

Three years later Cuti & Staton once again returned to E-Man, this time at Alpha Productions. Published in October 1993, the Twentieth Anniversary Special was inked by Chuck Bordell and edited by Christopher Mills.  This story introduces Eco-Man, who is actually a hippie environmentalist who was murdered decades earlier by motorcycle thugs in the employ of criminal industrialist Samuel Boar.  Resurrected by radiation and lightning, the super-powered Eco-Man sets out with a militant zeal to save the environment from polluters.  He is joined by Vamfire, who is instantly attracted to him.

There was a second E-Man special published by Alpha in March 1994 titled E-Man Returns, but I don’t have it.  I’ve been looking for a copy of it for several years without success.  It never seems to show up in the back issue bins or on Ebay.  I’m guessing it didn’t have a very large print run.  If anyone has an extra copy for sale please let me know!

May 2018 Update: After he read this post Christopher Mills put me in touch with Alpha Productions publisher Leni S. Gronros.  Thanks to Gronros, I was finally able to obtain a copy of E-Man Returns, which featured “Island of the Damned,” a great E-Man and Nova story by Cuti, Staton & Bordell.  Gronros also sent me a copy of the anthology special The Detectives, which contained a Michael Mauser story.  Thank you to both Christopher and Leni for their help.

E-Man Alpha 1 pg 7

The early 1990s was sort of the Wild West for creator-owned comics. Independent companies sprung up and went bust faster than you could say “speculator market.”  Eventually the entire comic book biz experienced a huge implosion.  Given the chaos and unpredictability of this period, it’s not too surprising that Cuti & Staton were unable to get E-Man off the ground again permanently.  Nevertheless, the few stories they did create in that decade were well done, and of course Staton still retained the rights, meaning that they could always hope for another opportunity down the road.

There is actually one other noteworthy E-Man appearance from the 1990s. Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen is a huge fan of the original Charlton run.  In a way his creator-owned series Savage Dragon has a similar tone to E-Man, containing deadly-serious stories punctuated by bizarre humor, with the focus not so much on fight scenes as it is the relationships between the various oddball characters.

Savage Dragon #41 (September 1997) is the wedding of Barbaric and Ricochet from Larsen’s spin-off series Freak Force. A whole bunch of creator-owned and independent characters were guests, among them Femforce, DNAgents, Vampirella, Hellboy, Destroyer Duck and Flaming Carrot.  Larsen took this opportunity to have his old favorites E-Man, Nova Kane and Teddy Q appear at the wedding.

Savage Dragon 41 pg 12 E-Man

Jon B. Cooke is another fan of E-Man, as well as the various other unusual series Charlton Comics published. Cooke devoted two issues of his magazine Comic Book Artist, published by TwoMorrows, to examining the work of the talented creators who were at Charlton.  The theme of CBA #12 (March 2001) was “Charlton Comics of the 1970s.”  Cooke interviewed both Cuti and Staton for this issue.  Staton illustrated a brand new cover featuring Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, and the various bizarre horror comics hosts from the Charlton titles.  In addition, Cooke was able to have Cuti & Staton contribute a brand new two page E-Man story “Come and Grow Old With Me.”  This short tale focuses on the wonderful romance between Alec and Nova.

The next time E-Man and friends would appear would be five years later. Cuti & Staton yet again reunited for the E-Man: Recharged special, published by Digital Webbing in October 2006.  The vibrant, effective coloring was by Matt Webb.

E-Man: Recharged holds a special place in my heart. In 2006 I was already a huge fan of Staton’s artwork.  I had a passing awareness of the E-Man series, having heard it mentioned from time to time by Larsen and others, and having seen the cameos in Savage Dragon #41.  I was curious about it, but this was the first time I ever saw an issue of E-Man for sale.  In a remarkable coincidence, the very same day E-Man: Recharged came out I also found a copy of issue #7 from the original Charlton series in the comic shop’s back issue bins.  Between those two books I instantly became a fan.

E-Man Recharged pg 17

Recharged was a great introduction to E-Man and friends, with Cuti & Staton having Alec, Nova, Mauser and Teddy Q encounter the nefarious Brain From Sirius for one last epic confrontation. I couldn’t wait to see these characters again.  Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long.  There were two further E-Man specials from Digital Webbing, Dolly in September 2007 and Curse of the Idol in November 2008.

Additionally, another E-Man story surfaced in late 2008. “Future Tense” by Cuti, Staton & Bordell had been written & drawn in the early 1990s for Alpha, but never saw print.  In the years since the script had gone missing.  By studying the artwork Cuti was able to reconstruct the story and write a brand new script a decade and half later.  It was finally lettered by Bill Pearson, another Charlton alumni, and saw print in issue #6 of the magazine Charlton Spotlight edited by Michael Ambrose and published by Argo Press.

“Future Tense’ has E-Man and Nova encountering the Time Traveller from the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine. The couple travel forward with him to the far-future year of 802,701 AD and attempt to finally resolve the terrible conflict between the Eloi and the Morlocks, with events taking several surprising turns.

Charlton Spotlight 6 pg 9

As you can no doubt discern from these various E-Man revivals, there are a lot of fans of the old Charlton comic books out there, including a number who have helped Cuti & Staton in their efforts to continue chronicling the adventures of E-Man and Nova. Among those number is Mort Todd, a dyed in the wool Charlton fanatic.  Todd is the editor in chief of Charlton Neo, which over the past few years has been involved in reviving a number of titles and characters that were previously published by Charlton, often working with the original creators.  Of course Todd made sure to approach Cuti and Staton.

Originally announced in 2015, the new E-Man and Nova story at long last saw print as a three part serial in the anthology series The Charlton Arrow volume 2 #1-3 ( Sep 2017 to Jan 2018).  Matt Webb once again provides the coloring.

Cuti and Staton are both now in their 70s, and Staton is very busy drawing the daily Dick Tracy newspaper strip.  Given those facts, Staton explained “I’m approaching this three-parter as the final E-Man story.”  Indeed, Cuti & Staton utilize the occasion to spotlight a large number of E-Man and Nova’s supporting cast, and to bring closure to certain elements.

“Homecoming” sees Nova, accompanied by E-Man and Teddy Q, returning to her hometown of Hawleyville, PA to visit her parents & younger sister Anya. Nova is surprised that a large casino, Peccary’s Pen, has opened in the quiet town.  Suspecting that something odd is going on, she convinces Alec that they should investigate.  Anya, who works as the casino’s bookkeeper, soon learns that her boss is actually Nova and E-Man’s old foe Samuel Boar, allied with another of the Brains from Sirius.

Boar, in an attempt to manipulate Anya, arranges for her to gain “bad luck” super powers. Anya, who was jealous of Nova’s fame & abilities, sides with Boar.  Nova attempts to save her sister’s soul, while Alec brings in old friends the Entropy Twins, Eco-Man and Vamfire to help out against the new Brain.

Charlton Arrow vol 2 1 pg 6

This three-parter is a lot of fun. Cuti’s story serves as a nice coda to over four decades of E-Man and Nova adventures.  Staton works in a more simplified, cartoony style akin to the one he has been utilizing for the past seven years on Dick Tracy.  At first it was a bit of a jolt to see these familiar characters drawn this way, but I soon got used to it.  If this is indeed the final outing of E-Man and Nova by Cuti & Staton, then they go out on a high note.

While it’s regrettable that E-Man was never a long-running, super-successful comic book series, we are at least fortunate that Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton had several different opportunities to return to their creation over the decades, each time crafting fun, enjoyable stories.

Halloween spotlight on Tom Sutton at Charlton Comics

Today, to celebrate Halloween, I am spotlighting the work of an artist with one of the most distinctively eerie styles I have ever come across, Tom Sutton.  Born in 1937, Sutton had a very prolific career.  Unfortunately he is probably not nearly as well known as some of his contemporaries due to the fact that he rarely worked on super-hero titles.  His style was not particularly well-suited to the spandex set, and he himself was not especially fond of the cape & cowl crowd.  However, when it came to horror, mystery, science fiction, romance and even humor, Sutton was a perfect fit.

Sutton worked for several companies, among them Marvel, DC, Warren, Skywald, First, Eclipse and Fantagraphics. He did an especially large body of work for Charlton Comics, that third-rate outfit run out of Derby CT that specialized in low page rates, cheap printing, poor paper quality… and almost unlimited creative freedom.  As I’ve written before, for up-and-coming writers and artists who were looking to break into the biz & find their feet, or for more seasoned creators who were seeking a publisher with little editorial or corporate oversight, Charlton was the place to go in the 1970s.

Haunted 23 cover

I am going to focus on Sutton’s output at Charlton, because he did really great work there… and because I really don’t have too much of his other material readily at hand. Especially his Warren Publishing work, or his art for Marvel’s black & white magazines.  But I have at least a couple of dozen issues from among Charlton’s various horror anthology titles, many of them containing superb work by Sutton.

Interviewed in 2000 by Jon B. Cooke for  Comic Book Artist #12 from TwoMorrows Publishing, Sutton explained the appeal of working at Charlton:

“They published weird stuff, and I have always been fascinated by weird stuff, and the weirder the better….  I do owe a certain amount to Charlton, because they allowed me to write a lot of ditties of my own, to paint a lot of horrible covers, and they never, ever, ever remarked on my technique.”

Sutton’s artwork was undeniably distinctive, leaving an impression upon readers throughout the years.  The juxtaposition of a quirky, cartoony style with the use of an absolutely insane amount of detail played a significant part in generating the disquieting impact of Sutton’s illustrations. There is what I would describe as a psychologically unsettling quality to his work.  I definitely see that epitomized in his ghoulishly insane cover for Haunted #23 (September 1975) pictured above.

Haunted 17 pg 20

Sutton was an expert storyteller. He knew how to pace his layouts and position the figures in his panels for maximum dramatic impact.  In much of his work there is a palpable sense of anxiety and dread.

One of the best examples of this was the story “A Budding Evil” which he wrote and drew.  It appeared in the pages of Haunted #17 (July 1974) for which he also illustrated the cover.  I featured that piece in last year’s Halloween spotlight on Charlton Comics horror anthologies blog post.  This time, above, is a page from that story.  That wide-eyed gaze of the female protagonist in the last panel is a trademark of Sutton’s.  He very much specialized in rendering people wrought with fear & dread, capturing the quality of souls in anguished terror.

Haunted 36 pg 11

On the other hand, “The Night of the Demon” from Haunted #36 (May 1978) very much demonstrates Sutton’s versatility.  Charlton mainstay Nicola “Nick” Cuti wrote the tale of Sonya & Tanya Marcus, mother & daughter witches living in medieval times.  Sonya utilizes magic for good, and she seeks to instruct her daughter to follow in that path.  Sutton’s work on this story has a great deal of atmosphere, but in this case it is of a fairy tale nature.  Yes, there is a bit of a dark undercurrent to some of it, as Sonya lectures her daughter on the powerful, dangerous demon Ailurikos, who must be invoked very carefully, and only on occasions when he can be directed towards benevolent goals.  Sutton renders Ailurikos as a sleek, sinister amalgam of a panther and a bat.  But for the most part Cuti’s tale is one of whimsy, and Sutton’s art reflects that.  He certainly draws the young Tanya as a sweet, adorable figure.  (And quite coincidentally Diversions of the Groovy Kind is spotlighting “The Night of the Demon” as part of Halloween Week.)

Ghostly Haunts 163 pg 1

Another interesting story illustrated by Sutton was “Baku the Dream Eater.”  This story neatly straddled the genres of horror, fantasy and romance. Sutton’s beautifully rendered title splash, posted above, is absolutely amazing.  It’s another fantastic piece by Sutton, as once again it demonstrates his flexibility as an artist.  Certainly it is a very nice example of how adept he was at illustrating beautiful, sensual women, as well as his usual bizarre monsters.  I scanned this from Ghostly Tales #163 (October 1983) which was an all-reprint issue (by the early 1980s Charlton was on its last legs and recycling a great deal of older material).  According to the Grand Comic Database, “Baku the Dream Eater” originally saw print in Ghostly Haunts #55 (October 1977).

Haunted Love 11 pg 9

Speaking of romance, one of the odder Charlton titles (and that is definitely saying something) was the very short-lived Haunted Love, which lasted a mere eleven issues. As Cuti explained to Jon B. Cooke in Comic Book Artist #12, the Haunted Love series was an attempt to combine their readers for ghost comics, who were mostly young boys, and their readers for romance comics, who were young girls.  Supposedly this would result in twice as many sales.  But, as Cuti humorously observed, “As it turned out, instead of combining our two audiences, we would up alienating both audiences.”

Nevertheless, during its short run Haunted Love featured some decidedly oddball & offbeat, but still interesting, stories.  One of these was “Beware: Do Not Love Him!” in issue #10 (July 1975).  Written by prolific Charlton scribe Joe Gill, it featured gorgeous artwork by Sutton in the gothic romance tradition.

Ghostly Haunts 40 cover

Some people find spiders scary. Speaking for myself I have always thought they were pretty cool.  Plus they are cheaper than hiring an exterminator!  (I must have read Charlotte’s Web one too many times as a child.)  Having said that, I can certainly understand why a giant spider would be a source of anxiety.  Obviously so too did Sutton, who illustrated an awful arachnid in its wicked web on the cover of Ghostly Haunts #40 (September 1974) seen above.  Appropriately enough he signed this piece as “Grisly.”  That lurid green coloring maximizes the impact of this one.  Within the pages of this issue is the bizarre accompanying tale “The Game Keeper,” which is both written and illustrated by Sutton.

Charlton horror hosts by Tom Sutton

The aforementioned Tom Sutton interview in Comic Book Artist #12 contained several examples of Sutton’s Charlton work.  Among these was the above piece, a striking black & white illustration featuring several of the Charlton horror hosts which originally saw print in Charlton Bullseye #1 (1975).  Front-and-center is my favorite of them all, the lovely Winnie the Witch.  Looking over the cool double page spread drawn by Mort Todd for The Charlton Arrow #1 (order your copy now if you haven’t already) I can identify the other spooky subjects of Sutton’s illustration.  Floating above the group is Impy, standing behind Winnie is Mr. I.M. Dedd, on the left with a noose is Mr. Bones, and at the right with a book of occult lore in hand is Dr. M.T. Graves (you have got to love those names).

Tom Sutton passed away on May 1, 2002 at the age of 65. He left behind him a rich legacy of distinctively macabre art.  I think that there have only been a handful of comic book artists over the decades capable of conjuring up a genuinely frightful mood though their work.  Sutton was undoubtedly one of them.  If you are not already familiar with his art, I highly recommend seeking out some of the many comic books that he illustrated throughout his career.

By the way, I bought about half of the Charlton horror issues at various comic book conventions over the years.  The others were found in the back issue bins of Roger’s Time Machine aka Mysterious Island, a comic shop that for a long time was on West 14th Street.  Now known as Mysterious Time Machine, it’s located at 418 6th Avenue, between 8th and 9th Street.  It’s a great place with a huge selection of comics, including those old Charlton books.

I hope everyone enjoyed this brief look at the work of Tom Sutton.  If you would like to see more of his awesome art, please check out Tom Sutton, Comic Book Artist Extraordinaire on Facebook.  Have a happy Halloween!

E-Man: the First Comics years, part two

I finally was able to find copies of the rest of the First Comics run of E-Man.  So at last here is the second part of my retrospective on that cool series.  (And here is a link to Part One for those who missed it.)  When last we saw Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, and Teddy Q, they were driving west to Chicago, where Nova had received a job offer to host the basic cable TV show “Moppet Monster Matinee.”  As before, the creative team for these issues is Joe Staton as writer & penciler, and Rick Burchett as inker.

En route in E-Man #13, their truck suffers a broken axle, and the trio is stuck in a sleepy little Midwestern town waiting for the repairs to be made.  However, the residents are acting quite bizarre, and the next morning Nova arrives at the garage to find her truck has been totally dismantled.  Following after the somnambulistic mechanic who is driving off with most of the parts, Alec discovers the entire town has been not-too-successfully hypnotized by an individual named Chaos.  Via a handy flashback, we learn that Chaos is an antagonist from another First title, Warp (which was penciled by the amazing Frank Brunner, so I should pick up those back issues at some point, as well), and has become stranded on Earth.  Eventually ending up, via teleportation, in the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure (the setting of yet another great First series, Grimjack by John Ostrander & Tim Truman), E-Man and Chaos declare a truce, E-Man returns to Earth, and he & Nova are soon on the road again.

E-Man v2 13 pg 24

After a short tussle with the dangerously incompetent Randarr the Inexplicable (who I keep hearing speak with comedian Rip Taylor’s voice when I read his dialogue), Nova assumes hosting duties on “Moppet Monster Matinee” to great success, vamping it up for the cameras.  Once again, Staton demonstrates his superb skill for drawing lovely ladies.

Back in New York City, private eye Michael Mauser, still smarting over Alec & Nova’s departure, takes on a new case.  Hired to investigate the mysterious death of a businessman named Delzell, Mauser discovers that E-Man’s old enemy Samuel Boar, the ruthless energy magnate, is involved (and every time I read his dialogue, I hear actor John Vernon).  Barely surviving a run-in with Boar’s deadly robot The Battery, Mauser travels out to Chicago to investigate Boar’s latest criminal undertaking.  Once again Mauser finds himself in over his head, and he is forced to enlist E-Man’s aid.  Nova is less than thrilled that the sloppy, rude PI has wormed his way back into her & Alec’s lives, but she cannot dissuade E-Man from offering his assistance in thwarting Boar’s schemes.

One of the stronger stories that Staton writes is “Rosemary and Time” in E-Man #18.  This is a split issue.  Alec ends up bouncing around the past in a broken time machine with Rosemary, a high school student from the 30th Century who is doing research for her term paper while attempting to collect the autographs of Chicago’s most famous historical figures.  Alec and Rosemary’s comic misadventures end up actually causing some of the Windy City’s worst disasters, although Staton writes & pencils these segments in such a way that you cannot help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

In the second half, Nova and Teddy Q return home from work to find the apartment trashed, with a beat-up Mauser lying amidst the wreckage.  Mauser recounts to Nova how he got tangled up in a dangerous investigation of the Chicago Mob which involved his old girlfriend Angel, who he hasn’t seen since they were both teenagers.  It’s a heartbreaking account that reveals that underneath his gruff, unkempt exterior A) Mauser really is a sharp, clever detective and B) he possesses a sensitive, caring side.  As the issue ends, Alec returns home from his time jaunt to find Nova and Mauser having fallen asleep while hugging, the implication being that they have finally begun to put aside their differences.

E-Man v2 18 pg 13

The next few issues of E-Man offer up some especially wacky shenanigans, namely a zombie jazz musician, loony vigilante Golden Gopher, a trigger-happy group of mercenaries known as the B-Team (yeah, you can probably figure out who they’re based on) and Teddy Q gaining superpowers in order to save Australia’s entire population of koala bears from being turned into fur coats by the nutty Marsupial Mama.  This all culminates in the ultra bizarre but awesomely entertaining E-Man #23, as many of the guest stars and villains from the past two years return for “The See-Thru Wars,” a comedic action extravaganza.

E-Man #24 is an especially great issue, as series co-creator Nicola “Nick” Cuti finally has the opportunity to once again write for the series.  “Mauser’s Story” has an amazing work by Cuti, Staton & Burchett, as readers are given the history of Michael Mauser.  Cuti does a superb job showing us the development of Mauser over the years, revealing the different, hidden sides of the character.  Staton’s penciling is fantastic.  He has often commented that he very much enjoys drawing mystery & detective stories.  This issue definitely provides him with the opportunity to work on that type of material, and he does a wonderful job.

Okay, truth be told, I am not certain you can fit Mauser’s history with his one-time girlfriend Angel that Staton revealed in #18 into the timeline that Cuti gives us in #24.  But as Sarah Jane Smith once chided the Fourth Doctor, “So pedantic at a time like this! Does it matter?”

E-Man v2 24 cover

In the next issue, Cuti, Staton & Burchett show us E-Man at his most anguished.  While using his powers to foil a robbery, Alec accidentally kills one of the hold-up men.  Distraught at taking a life, he rockets off to the South Pacific, hoping to find peace & solitude so he can decide it he truly has a place on Earth, or if he should leave the planet before he causes more harm.  Nova, finally realizing she loves Alec and does not want to be without him, heads after him with Teddy Q, although without the benefit of powers they are stuck island-hopping in a rundown boat right out of The African Queen.  Alec eventually realizes that no matter where he goes, he will always have his amazing powers, and so he might as well learn to deal with the consequences.  After saving the inhabitants of a tropical island from a group of grumpy Polynesian deities, Alec is reunited with Nova, although she is less than thrilled to discover that he’s been hanging out with a sexy island babe all this time.  Well, as the Bard once observed, the course of true love never did run smooth.

And that was it; E-Man #25 was the final issue of the series.  Just when Cuti & Staton had finally gotten back together, everything came to a screeching halt.  I guess #25 is a decent enough wrap-up to the series, although the subplot Staton had left percolating in the background of Nova gradually regaining her superpowers never did end up being resolved.  Fortunately over the subsequent years Cuti & Staton were able to reunite for the further adventures of Alec and Nova at publishers Comico, Alpha Productions, and Digital Webbing.  And there are plans to have an E-Man story by Cuti & Staton appear in a future issue of Mort Todd’s The Charlton Arrow.

Although the First Comics run of E-Man was admittedly somewhat uneven, at least in the writing department, on the whole it was still an entertaining read.  Of course, the always-wonderful penciling of Joe Staton offered consistent quality throughout.  I really enjoyed the amazing, inventive visual gags he threw in as Alec assumed all sorts of strange & funny shapes.  Staton also gave a more prominent role to Teddy Q, who was adorable and silly.

E-Man v2 14 pg 6

And that goes right to the heart of why I enjoy E-Man in its various incarnations.  Staton and Cuti have always done such an effective job of balancing serious and silly, comedy and drama.  They are able to tell interesting, thoughtful stories with believable character development that also possess a real quality of fun & humor to them.  As I’ve observed on this blog before, I really wish that there were more comic books & graphic novels like that.  So hopefully Cuti and Staton really will have the opportunity to collaborate on E-Man again, and soon.  There really is nothing else like it out there.

E-Man: the First Comics years, part one

During another recent stop at Mysterious Island (aka Roger’s Time Machine) I discovered that they had in stock the entire 25 issue run of E-Man published by First Comics between 1983 and 1985. I was already a huge fan of the original E-Man series by Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton that Charlton had published a decade before, as well as the more recent specials released by Digital Webbing. So here was a good opportunity to pick up much of the material that I was missing. This is the first part of my look back at that First Comics run.

E-Man v2 1 cover

Okay, truth be told, I was a bit hesitant to read these issues. Erik Larsen, the super-talented creator of Savage Dragon, is a huge fan of E-Man. And he has commented in the past that he was not fond of the First Comics issues. During this time, Cuti was working on staff at DC Comics, which prevented him from returning to E-Man. Instead, the writing chores initially fell to Martin Pasko, whose work Larsen did not really like.

And, yeah, the first few issues of E-Man written by Pasko are a bit rough. Suddenly Alec Tronn and Nova Kane, who had previously started to become romantically involved, are now back to being platonic roommates, with Nova bringing home a different guy each night to sleep with. She is also suddenly upset about the fact that she has gained super-powers similar to Alec’s. Sloppy hardboiled PI Michael Mauser, instead of just being his usual rude, brusque self, is downright obnoxious, insulting Nova left & right. Oh, yes, and the ghost of Albert Einstein is narrating the book in a very thick accent.

Upon reflection, I did realize that Cuti and Pasko have very different styles of humor. Cuti’s work is undoubtedly on the subtler side. Pasko, on the other hand, is extremely blunt & heavy with his satire. I do think that Cuti’s approach works better for the characters, but Pasko, once you get used to him, does pen entertaining stories.

Pasko’s two-part tale in issue #s 2 & 3 is a heavy-handed parody of a certain popular group of mutants. Deranged scientist Ford Fairmont has been kidnapping teenagers and transforming them into real-life incarnations of his favorite comic book superheroes, the Unhappy F-Men. Mauser & E-Man are drawn into the case when they are hired to find one of those missing kids, Kitty, by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Porn… which makes their daughter Kitty Porn. Groan… insert rimshot! That said, Pasko does do a fair job satirizing Claremont’s purple prose. I’m a fan of those classic X-Men stories, but I still found this rather funny.  Anyway, things come to a head when Nova is also kidnapped and turned into Jean Beige, the Dark Albatross, before becoming completely depowered.

E-Man v2 5 pg 19

Probably the stand-out story of Pasko’s time on E-Man is issue #5, in which he takes his sledgehammer wit to the task of pummeling Scientology, and very effectively at that. “Getting Void” features the menace of the Psychobabbler, aka Elrod Flummox, head of the Church of Technolography.  And if you’re wondering what that “Pauline Blooper” bit on the page above is in reference to, be sure to do a Google search on Paulette Cooper or Operation Freakout.  It’s very disturbing stuff.

Paul Kupperberg scripts over the plots to Pasko’s last couple of issues, bringing with him perhaps a less heavy-handed touch, before Joe Staton himself takes over as writer. Staton’s first issue is #9, wherein E-Man and Mauser encounter the femme fatale Tyger Lili, who is in fact “Commander Zhong of the Grand Army of the Communo-Socialist Worker’s Party of Greater Macao.” Faster that you can say “better dead than red,” E-Man and Mauser are racing the prevent Tyger Lili from getting a hold of a miniaturized neutron bomb that’ll wipe out all life in the good old U.S. of A.

The next two issues are co-plotted by Pasko and Staton, with scripting by Kupperberg. This two part tale is an interesting look into Nova Kane’s previously unexplored origins. We witness the bumpy, unhappy journey she took from her younger years as Katrinka Kolcnzski of Barrentown PA to the geology student / burlesque dancer that we all know & love. It’s a rather poignant story which does good work developing Nova’s character.

Staton becomes the permanent writer on E-Man #12, which sees the return of Tyger Lili. The socialist seductress has joined forces with Big Al, a talking, cigar-smoking albino sewer alligator who dreams of conquering the world in the name of reptile-kind. Lili eventually realizes that Big Al has it in for all of humanity, and she quickly switches sides, freeing an entrapped E-Man so that the hero can stop the gigantic robot Gai-Tor from demolishing the city. It’s a very goofy story, but definitely a lot of fun.

E-Man v2 9 pg 6

Joe Staton’s artwork on these first dozen issues is very good. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about E-Man, the original Charlton issues were among some of his earliest professional work. A decade later, it is obvious that he has grown as an artist & storyteller, producing very strong, exciting, funny work on E-Man volume 2.

Perhaps because he was also busy as the Art Director at First, Staton did not do full artwork on E-Man after the initial five issues. Beginning with #6, Rich Burchett takes over the inking chores. I was already a fan of Burchett’s art from later at DC in the 1990s on various titles. Seeing his earlier work here was a pleasant surprise. He really complements Staton’s pencils, resulting in very nice artwork. Truthfully, even though I think Staton usually looks best when he inks his own pencils, after looking at these issues of E-Man I definitely have to put Burchett on the list of the top inkers to have worked with him.

The first ten issues each have a bonus page in the back, parodies of those old Hostess ads that used to run in comic books back in the 1970s. These spoofs are drawn by a number of talented artists, among them John Byrne, Bruce Patterson, and Fred Hembeck. One of my favorites was in issue #5, written & drawn by Reed Waller, featuring his erotic funny animal character Omaha the Cat Dancer. Michele is a fan of Waller’s work, and had previously seen this piece when it was reprinted in The Complete Omaha Volume 2. So she enjoyed getting to see it in color.

E-Man v2 5 pg 30

As E-Man #12 ends, Nova has received a job offer in Chicago, to work as a hostess on a monster movie television show. Despite Mauser’s protestations, Alec decides to join the woman he loves, and the couple is off to the Midwest, leaving behind a melancholy PI who is surprised to discover he is going to miss them.

In the next installment (hopefully coming soon, time permitting, cross your fingers) we shall see what sort of misadventures await Alec Tronn & Nova Kane in the Windy City. And we’ll also find out just what sort of trouble Michael Mauser gets up to without those two to keep an eye on him.

Happy birthday to Joe Staton

I want to wish a very happy birthday to the super-talented comic book artist Joe Staton, who was born on January 19, 1948, and who turns 66 years old today.  Staton has had a long, productive career, working on dozens of titles from numerous publishers.

Staton, as with a number of other artists who broke into the comic book biz in the 1970s, got his start at Charlton Comics.  Beginning in 1971, Staton drew a number of stories for their various horror anthologies, plus licensed titles Space 1999 and The Six Million Dollar ManWith writer Nicola Cuti, he created the cult classic sci-fi super hero E-Man, which I covered in a previous blog.

In the mid-1970s, Staton also worked for Marvel.  He inked Sal Buscema’s pencil breakdowns on Avengers and The Incredible Hulk.  Staton, however, enjoyed both penciling and inking, and so starting in 1977 he began working at DC, where he would illustrate a wide variety of titles over the next two decades.

Brave and the Bold 197 pg 19

Early on, Staton made a lasting contribution to the DC universe when, working with Paul Levitz and Bob Layton, he created the Huntress, aka Helena Wayne, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth Two.  Six years later, in 1983, Staton collaborated with writer Alan Brennert and inker George Freeman on “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne,” which revealed how Batman and Catwoman fell in love and married.  This now-classic story originally appeared in The Brave and the Bold #197 and several years later was deservedly included in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told collection.  It is one of my all-time favorite Batman stories, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it.  Brennert’s script was very moving & memorable.  Staton & Freeman did tremendous work on this.  Staton’s layouts & storytelling are incredibly dramatic. He also succeeds in capturing some of the atmosphere of Golden Age artist Dick Sprang.

In late 1979, Staton became the penciler on Green Lantern, beginning a long, well-regarded association with the characters of the GL Corps.  Staton actually had three separate runs on the series, first from 1979 to 1982, then from 1985 to 1988, and finally from 1990 to 1992, that last time alternating with artists Pat Broderick and M.D. Bright.  During this decade-plus time, Staton co-created several characters in the GL mythos, namely Kilowog, Arisia and Salaak.  Although he didn’t create Guy Gardner, Staton is the artist who designed his now-iconic look.  Also making their debut in the pages of Green Lantern during this time were the alien freedom fighters the Omega Men, who Staton co-created with Marv Wolfman.

Green Lantern Corps 201 cover

In 1992, Staton was the artist on the Guy Gardner: Reborn miniseries, and then on the first year of Guy’s ongoing series.  Throughout the 1990s, Staton continued to work for DC, drawing a number of titles, including several Batman-related projects, in addition to the noir crime miniseries Family Man.  He also had work published by Caliber, Topps and Archie.  Beginning in 1999, Staton became one of the regular artists on the Scooby Doo comic book.

Staton has often commented that he enjoys working on mystery and detective stories.  He definitely has a real flair for that type of material, and in recent years he has fortunately had the opportunity to work in the genre.  With writer Christopher Mills, he worked on the four issue miniseries Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries, published by Ape Entertainment in 2008, and collected as a trade paperback a year later.  Set in the fictitious metropolis of Port Nocturne during the rough & tumble days of Prohibition, Femme Noir chronicles the adventures of the enigmatic vigilante known only as “The Blonde.”  I really enjoyed this series.  Beginning in 2011, Staton has also been the artist on Dick Tracy.  His style fits the newspaper strip perfectly.

Femme Noir TPB cover

Joe Staton and his charming wife Hilarie live in Upstate New York, and so I’ve had the opportunity to meet them at a number of comic conventions in the tri-state area over the years.  I can honestly say that Staton is one of the nicest comic book creators I’ve ever met.  It is always a pleasure to see him at a show and chat with him for a few minutes.  I’ve been lucky enough to obtain a few sketches by him, as well as a page of original art from one of his Green Lantern issues.

Once again, have a very happy birthday, Joe.  Thank you for all the wonderful, enjoyable stories that you’ve worked on over the years.  And here’s hoping for further editions of E-Man and Femme Noir in the near future.  I really do miss Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, The Blonde, and all the other colorful characters from those series.

Halloween spotlight on Charlton Comics horror anthologies

In the last ten years or so, I have really gotten into the old Charlton Comics of the 1970s.  Although these books were printed very cheaply, and the creators on these titles received very low page rates, it was a rather popular company to work at.  Aspiring professionals such as John Byrne, Joe Staton, Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, Don Newton and Dan Reed found Charlton an ideal place to hone their talents.  Charlton also attracted more established creators, particularly Steve Ditko, who was drawn there by the prospect of very little corporate oversight, allowing him much greater creative freedom.

I recently wrote about E-Man by Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton, which originated at Charlton in 1973.  Today, to celebrate Halloween, I’m going to take a brief look at some of Charlton’s other books, namely their horror anthology titles.

The horror comics that Charlton published in the 1970s featured some extraordinary creepy, chilling, atmospheric artwork.  They also possessed clever & intelligent writing.  Nicola Cuti contributed a number of great stories.  One of the other prolific writers at Charlton was Joe Gill, who Ditko especially enjoyed collaborating with.  Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package is a collection of many of the artist’s great Charlton horror tales collected together by Robin Snyder in 1999.  In his introduction, Ditko writes “The comic book story/script writer? It doesn’t matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.”

I’ve really enjoyed searching out copies of those classic Charlton books.  Here are a handful of my favorite horror covers from that period: Ghostly Haunts 23

One of the first Charlton back issues I ever read was Ghostly Haunts #23.  The cover art is by Ditko.  That is series hostess Winnie the Witch on the right side of the cover.  Within this issue was some absolutely amazing artwork by Ditko wherein he utilized some extremely dramatic, effective layouts & storytelling to create a genuinely eerie mood.  This was the point at which I began to reappraise my opinion of Ditko and became a fan of his work.

Haunted 17

Here is the really intense, horrifying painted cover to Haunted #17 by Tom Sutton.  He was an artist who had a real ability to draw tortured, anguished souls, which served him extremely well over the years working as one of the top horror artists in the comic book biz at several different companies. Haunted 18

The cover to Haunted #18 is a dramatic sci-fi/horror mash-up by Joe Staton, with a gruesome, unearthly monstrosity on the attack. Staton’s layout of this image is just so incredibly dramatic and effective.

Scary Tales 12

This extremely striking cover to Scary Tales #12 prominently features series host Countess Von Blood.  I believe that Staton designed that character, but I’m not sure if this particular cover is his work.  Can anyone out there ID the artist for certain?

The next time you’re at a comic con, it is well worth taking a dive into the back issue bins to search out treasures such as these.  You can find quite a number of the Charlton issues from the 1970s for pretty reasonable prices, especially if you don’t mind picking up slightly dog-eared copies.  They’re a real bargain, with superb artwork and imaginative writing.

A big thank you to the Grand Comics Database, which is where I obtained these cover scans from.  That website contains a huge wealth of information.

Hope that everyone enjoyed viewing these covers. Have a happy Halloween!