Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Charlton Memory

By Dave Noe
When I was a youngster just starting to collect comics, some of the first books I had was…Spider-Man. Yep, I loved the ol’ Webhead, him and the Fantastic Four. I must have had twenty or thirty of those Marvels in my special comic book box (it had handles!). One day, I decided to go back and read some of those old comics from the year before, when I noticed something strange. My box had extra comics in it. These comics were different than anything I had ever seen. They were from companies called Gold Key and Charlton. They were ghost stories and monster stories.

I was just a kid. I didn’t remember buying them. I didn’t have any money anyway, so I couldn’t have bought them. My parents claimed that they didn’t buy them. Surely they were putting me on. It seemed like the comics just magically appeared. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them tremendously, and read them over and over until they were nearly shreds of pulp.

Not long after that, I was sitting in the waiting room of an auto garage with my mom while she had some work done on the car. I was so bored. There was nothing to do but pester Mom about buying me a candy bar from the vending machine. The news on the TV was mind numbing. Finally, she told me to come sit down and read a magazine.

“Here,” she said. “Here’s a comic book.”

What?? I had been through that stack of boring torn up magazines several times, and I had not seen any sign of a comic book. Yet, here was a perfectly good Ghostly Tales, just sitting there waiting to be read. Incredible! It was like magic.

Many years later, I decided to introduce my young nephew to the wonders of comic books. I pulled out an old well read stack of comics from my collection. It was a well rounded selection, including some magical Charltons, of course. Well, you should have seen the look in his eyes when he started shuffling through the stack. Finally, he locked onto a book that caught his attention, and you’ll never guess what it was. That’s right… Spider-Man.

Oh, well, the more things change, the more they remain the same. My guess is that once he goes through all the Spideys a few times, he will give the pile another going over and magically discover a whole new world, including Charltons old and new.
© Dave Noe

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Writer In Progress 2: It's the Structure, Stupid!

By Derek Adnams

When last we saw our intrepid Writer in Progress, I was writing the story that would become a full blown comic book script. Well, I may have misspoken. When I say “story,” what I mean is a brainstorm of the events that will take place in the arc, put into chronological order, with whatever pieces of dialogue, particular scenes and motifs that are germane to the tale. It certainly is not a full blown short story, ready for submission to a literary journal. The “story,” as I see it, is the basic material I’ll use for the eventual script. But it’s always missing something, and that something is structure.

I must confess – I am a structure junkie.  I always felt my ideas were good, but it wasn’t until I started studying story composition and screenwriting that I discovered how much fun writing within defined borders could be. This is why I have gravitated to writing comic books, which, while having the unlimited budget of imagination also have some of the most stringent physical constraints of any medium.

When it comes to structuring the story, I put the draft through two filters: The Three Act Structure and The Hero’s Journey.

The Three Act Structure is the tried and true Rosetta Stone of screen writing, and what it does is give your plot cohesion, rising action, and a resolution.  It looks like this:

1.     Opening
2.     Inciting Incident
3.     Act 1 Turning Point
4.     Mid-Point
5.     Act 2 Turning Point
6.     Crisis
7.     Climax
8.     Resolution
9.     Final Page

I call Step 9 “Final Page” instead of “Denouement” because I don’t want my story to have Lord of the Rings Disease, where the story is really over but there’s another hour of Hobbits crying that the audience has to sit through. When it’s done, it’s done. 

Once I know that the story has all these elements, I then worry about character, which brings me to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey:

1.     The Ordinary World
2.     The Call to Adventure
3.     Refusal of the Call
4.     Meeting with the Mentor
5.     Crossing the Threshold (end of Act 1)
6.     Tests, Allies & Enemies
7.     Approach
8.     Ordeal (near mid-point)
9.     The Reward
10.  The Road Back (3/4 of the way through)
11.  Resurrection (climax)
12.  Return with the Elixir

If you compare The Three Act Structure to The Hero’s Journey, you’ll notice that they overlap, but The Hero’s Journey is much more concerned with the Hero, hence the name. It’s important to note that The Hero’s Journey does not have to happen in the order stated above. “Meeting with the Mentor” could easily happen during the “Test, Allies & Enemies” portion, at the beginning of Act 2.

What is important is that every part of these two structure templates serves the character and the story you want to become your comic book masterpiece.

So now that you have a well structured tale and a compelling hero to put through the ringer, how do you turn this into a comic book script?

Next Week – Breaking It All Down For A Four-Color World

Further Reading (or, Books That Make Me Seem Kinda’ Smart)
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O'Neil

© Derek Adnams

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lost Treasures 5: Dick Giordano In Love

Can you feel the love?  More from the collection of Rob Jones' recently uncovered treasure trove of photocopies of Dick Giordano's Charlton Comics covers.
Nurse Betsy Crane #17 (July 1962) Inks by Vince Colletta

Romantic Secrets #51 (September 1964)

Romantic Story #72 (June 1964)

Sweethearts #75 (January 1965)

Teen-Age Love #31 (April 1963)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writer In Progress

By Derek Adnams

I’ve wanted to be a “comic book writer” since 1979 and I saw Amazing Spider-Man #188 on a spinner-rack. If you had asked me then, that’s exactly what four year old me would have said. As a child of the 1980’s, I got a little more specific by the time I was eleven and decided that my career goal was to be “Frank Miller.”

After spending my twenties (and most of my thirties) away from comics, I received a “Happy New Year” text from my childhood best friend a few seconds after the clock struck 2012 (a year of change) telling me that he’s professionally making comics.

So I started to write.

For the past two years I’ve been studying the craft and writing comic book scripts regularly, but I’m hardly an expert. My goal with this blog is to show the steps I use in crafting a comic book story, giving another “Neophyte” some ideas on how to get started and opening a dialogue on the process.

So where do ideas come from?  Grant Morrison said it best in Supergods:

“The interior of our skulls contains a portal to infinity.”

Since you never know when that portal may open, I carry an old-school Mead Composition book with me. 


That’s where the idea, the image, the passage of dialogue goes to breed.

That’s also how stories come to me–as building blocks of something larger. Once I have enough pieces, I begin to construct the story. 

Writing the story as a prose narrative is always my first step.

According to Kurt Vonnegut, there are two kinds of writers: “Swoopers” and “Bashers.”

I used to be a “Basher,” but that was before I discovered the joy or rewriting and editing. Now I’m a “Swooper,” especially when writing the initial story draft. I go through my notebook, type out all the relevant scribbles that relate to the comic book script I’m beginning to form, and type away. I cut...I paste...I add and subtract. 

When I’m done, I have the story.

Now what?

Next Week – Structuring Your Tale

Further Reading (or, Books That Make Me Seem Kinda’ Smart):
Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison

On Writing–A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

© Derek Adnams

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Moving On Up

By Brian K. Morris

When you read the credits in the classic Charltons, it almost reads like a history of comics. Through either acquisition of old material (such as The Blue Beetle and the non-Batson Fawcetts) or just paying their contributors regularly (however little that was compared to other publishers), the company amassed quite a list of veteran creators.

Some names who had made their marks elsewhere include Joe Gill (of course), Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, John Buscema, Neal Adams,Wally Wood, Jack Binder, Nicola Cuti, Al Fago, John Severin, Charles Nicholas, Vince Alascia, Tom Sutton, Don Perlin, Jack Abel, Tony Tallarico, Wayne Howard, Vince Colletta, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and of course, Steve Ditko.  

I suspect, however, that many old Charltons are in demand today because of the talent that emerged mostly via the fanzines of the day or completely out of the blue. Those names include (but are not limited to) Paul Kupperberg, John Byrne, Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano, Joe Staton, Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Bob Layton, Denny O'Neil, Gary Friedrich, Pat Boyette, Sam Grainger, Mike Zeck, and Don Newton, all of whom went on to work for other comic book companies.

For me, when I got serious about amassing a set of Charltons back in the day, I marveled (I couldn't very well have DCed) at how inexpensive they then were. My gain, every other local comic snob's loss. I took a special interest in the artists that moved on to other, more verdant pastures. For instance Luis Dominguez went on to draw lots of mystery and western covers for DC. Jose Delbo drew just about every female feature at the same company and did a fantastic job at it. Colorist Wendy Fiore spent some time working for Marvel and First Comics while Charles Nicholas wound up at DC doing mystery and super-hero work when Charlton closed its doors.

When looking back at the company's rich history, it's not that the company lacked for talent. It's been said that the company appeared to be almost an intermediary step between fanzine work and The Big Two. This certainly makes Charlton a vital step in the evolution of comic talent. Or talent that worked in other fields, for that matter.

In a personal sense, as I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, the absence of the Action Heroes made my heart yearn to see them revived. So I spent one summer researching my old issues of Captain Atom, Ditko's Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt with the intent of turning them into a super-team. First I drew up the story in pencil on unlined notebook paper, embellished the art with ball point pen ink and lettered it in a fashion that never knew an Ames Lettering Guide. After the story was completed, I translated it into a script and mailed it to the Derby, Connecticut offices.

The only parts of the submission process that I managed to execute correctly was to get the page count right and to include a self-addressed stamped envelope. My sincerest thought was that the cost of the second envelope and what had to be about a quarter's worth of postage in those pre-Internet days was probably a waste of cash. Surely my script would be snapped up!

However, in re-reading the script during a recent move to Indiana, I realized it read like it was written by a too-smart-for-his-own-good fifteen year old…which I just happened to be at the time. The script was–and is–totally cringe-inducing. But anyway, in an act of extreme benevolence, then-Assistant Editor Nicola Cuti  included a copy of the classic The Comic Book Guide for the Artist/Writer/Letterer with my rejection letter, a publication that sent me on a path to learn what "submission guidelines" were all about and how to follow them. 

As it was, despite a couple more tries to break into the company as The Next Joe Gill, my only contribution to the old Charlton line was a letter printed in an issue of Haunted. But upon receiving that Comic Book Guide and seeing how things were supposed to be executed, I grew more serious about learning my writing craft. I went on to write mini-comics, articles, stage plays, short stories, and eventually novels.

Now, I'm hoping to crack the Charlton market all over again...as are many of us. Which one of us might be the next Paul Kupperberg? The next John Byrne or Joe Staton?

In the future, who will be picking up the Charlton Arrow back issues and finding themselves amazed at who went on to bigger and better things? "Hey, wait a minute! They used to...?"

Perhaps one day, they will be talking about you.
© Brian K. Morris

Friday, November 7, 2014

Found Treasures 4: Unusual Giordano

More from the collection of Rob Jones' recently uncovered treasure trove of photocopies of Dick Giordano's Charlton Comics covers. We've looked Dick's Western and romance covers, so this time we thought we'd go with something a bit more...unusual!
Unusual Tales #36 (November 1962)
Unusual Tales #39 (May 1963)

Unusual Tales #43 (January 1964)

Unusual Tales #45 (June 1964)

Unusual Tales #46 (August 1964)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Inspires You?

By Paul Kupperberg

Writers should be readers. They should read extensively and continuously in whatever field or genre they work, and they should read outside their field as well, fiction and nonfiction. They should read writers great and merely good. They should read for inspiration and what they read should make them envious, inspiring them to write better or to be more productive.

And, yes, a lot of my inspiration comes from the great comic books I've read (and reread) in my lifetime. Will Eisner's The Spirit, Jack Cole's Plastic Man, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four (particularly their run from around #40 to #100, in my opinion probably the greatest run of any series ever), and too many others to list. I just finished reading the Sergio Aragones/Denny O'Neil/Nick Cardy Bat Lash (thank you, DC Showcase Presents series!) and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, and I plan next to dig into Steranko's run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But I also read as much as I can of fiction and nonfiction, in as wide a range of authors and topics as possible. American history and biography aside, some of my favorite nonfiction books have been about oysters, codfish, and giant redwood trees. I doubt if any stories will ever spring from them, but they're fun and fascinating reads that tell us a lot about our history and connection with the natural world.

My inspirations start with what is, in my opinion, the greatest novel of the 20th century, The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (keep in mind I was an English lit major in the 1970s!). It’s a beautifully written, stunning achievement of story telling that I reread at least every couple of years. Despite its dated and deeply ingrained Jazz Age flavor, it remains a gripping tale of one man’s need to reinvent himself in pursuit of an American Dream--not necessarily the American Dream, just the one that Jay Gatsby imagined for himself. That his dream is, in reality, a vapid and ordinary bit of fluff like Daisy Buchanan is what makes his efforts and his fate so heartbreaking.

But that just lead me to another favorite novel of self-reinvention, Jack London’s autobiographical Martin Eden (1909), the tale of a San Francisco waterfront tough who by the sheer power of ideology and muscular intellect shapes himself into a man of letters and renown who, despite achieving everything he’s sought, is unable to live in a world that can’t also be reshaped to fit his proletariat beliefs. But then, I also love his Sea Wolf (1904), which is less a rousing seafaring adventure than it is a psychological thriller that pits brawn against even brawnier intellect. And then there’s London’s John Barleycorn (1913), another autobiographical novel, this one dealing with the author’s love of and struggles with alcohol.
Of course, it’s impossible for me to think of John Barleycorn without comparing it with another great American work on the subject, Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life (1994), another tough guy writer who dealt head on with his demons and addiction to drinking, this one in the form of a memoir that, if you haven’t read, you owe yourself an apology and the immediate purchase thereof. And how can I talk about Hamill without recommending his lyrical allegorical novel Snow in August (1997) and the fantastical Forever (2003), about a man who draws life from the hero of most of this author’s writing, New York City.
Oh, and speaking of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I didn’t mention his wonderful and heartbreakingly funny Pat Hobby stories, a series of short stories about a circa-1940 down on his heels Hollywood screenwriting hack, written near the end of the author’s life, when his art began mimicking his life. And, while I’m on the subject of humor, there’s no way I can ignore the surrealist offerings of TV writer Jack Douglas, whose collections of short pieces, My Brother Was An Only Child (1959) and Never Trust A Naked Bus Driver (1960), both first read when I was eleven or twelve years old in the mid-1960s were, besides Mad Magazine, Jerry Lewis, and my father, the biggest influence on my thoroughly warped sense of humor. Not so funny (although it has its moments), but written by another 1950s television writer, is Helene Hanff’s epistolary masterpiece, 84 Charing Cross Road (1970), following her twenty year correspondence with London-based bookseller Frank Doel, a clerk at Marks & Co. located at the aforementioned address (also a sweet, charming film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins), which says more about the love and respect of friendships to me than anything since Huckleberry Finn.
I could keep going, on and on (and on and on and on), from longtime favorites acquired in my childhood like Madeleine L’Engel’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Sidney Taylor’s “All-of-a-Kind Family” series, and Jacques Futrelle’s “Thinking Machine” stories, to my two candidates for best science fiction novels of all time, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953) and Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (1953), to the great detective and noir writers, including Rex Stout, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, and Elmore Leonard, to name just a few, to novels by the likes of Gore Vidal, Frederick Exley, Kurt Vonnegut, William Goldman, Joseph Heller, Graham Greene, and absolutely anything by Phillip Roth...anyone who has ever made me stop dead in the middle of reading what they’ve written to soak in some line or idea. (The latest instance of that happening was while rereading Greene’s Our Man In Havana (1958) with the line, “Time gives poetry to a battlefield.” I mean...wow!)
And I’ve hardly even touched on short stories--J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (1948); “The Girls in their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw (1939); Ernest Heminway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936)--and non-fiction, especially biographies of writers, or the great comic book writers...but don’t get me started! I could literally write a book on the books and stories that have had an impact on me and my writing. And, lately, I’ve been reading a lot of plays and screenplays by everyone from Lillian Hellman and Tennessee Williams to Paddy Chayefsky, Aaron Sorkin, and others looking for inspiration in the craft of writing dialog.

The point (at long last!) is, there’s some inspiration to be found in everything you read. If you’re lucky, it’s positive inspiration that leads you to take a chance on a new way of expressing an old idea or to up your game and reach for the level of prose and quality of writing you’ve just experienced. At the very least, even bad writing can be inspiring, if only as inspiration to avoid duplicating its badness. In the end, it doesn't matter.

What inspires you?
© Paul Kupperberg

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Favorite Charlton: Hercules Magazine #8

By Paul Kupperberg

My favorite single Charlton Comic?

That’s easy. It’s Hercules #8...but not the 32-page 12¢ issue cover dated December of 1968. Nope, this would be the 68-page 35¢ black and white magazine format Hercules #8, also cover dated December 1968.

And while those two comics shared a number, cover date, and one story, there was something about that B&W magazine that grabbed hold of me and made me read and reread it until, in all likelihood, it fell apart. I still have a vivid memory of laying on the floor in front of the TV set in my grandmother’s apartment on Brooklyn’s Avenue B and East 92nd Street, my face buried in that comic, absorbing the “adventures of the man-god Hercules” by Joe Gill and Sam Glanzman and the back-up tales of Thane of Bagarth by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo. Very few comics are so indelibly imprinted on my brain that I can summon up the time and the place when I first read them--off the top of my head I can think of The Flash Annual #1 (1963), Detective Comics #324 (February 1964), the first Secret Origins 80-Page Giant (Summer 1961), and The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (July 1966)--but this one is still stuck there, 46 years later.

What was it about this comic that attracted me to it? I can’t tell you for sure, but I remember being enthralled by the black and white art of Sam Glanzman on the pair of Hercules tales (“The Fantastic Giant Boar” and “The Origin of the Man-God”), both enhanced by gray tone shading to compensate for the magazine’s lack of color. I also adored the heroic fantasy of Skeates and Aparo’s Thane (the three parts reprinted from Hercules #1-3 likewise shaded), and just found the entire package irresistible. On top of it all, the “Giant Boar” story had been expanded from its original 12-pages to 20-pages by taking panels and blowing them up to half-page, full-page, and even double-page size!

But typical of Charlton’s cheap approach to production, they didn’t bother resizing word balloons and captions in these blown-up panels, so the reader would turn the page to find a giant image accompanied by giant text, even though one can still clearly discern the paste-up lines where the photostated balloons had been dropped in. How hard would it have been to reduce the pasted in balloons and captions to match the size of the rest of the lettering (all hand done and not the product of A. Machine)? Not very...except that would have required a production artist to go in and extend the artwork to compensate for the reduction, staff time that no one there thought it worth expending.

It was cheesy, yes, but it was Charlton cheesy and that made it magnificent!

What made the dauntless dabblers from Derby decide to publish two versions of Hercules #8 at the same time, making use of the same lead story? I can only guess that it was an experimental move made in response to The Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1, published just a few months earlier (July 1968) by Marvel Comics. The House of Ideas, of course, made use of original material for its initial foray into B&W magazines (itself a stab at competing with Jim Warren’s Creepy and Eerie magazines), but Charlton never spent a cent that it didn’t have to spend.

Whatever the reason for it, Hercules Magazine #8 was the one and only of its kind from Charlton at that time. Marvel must have also discovered that mainstream superhero comics did not sell well to the higher end magazine buyers; The Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine lasted only one more issue and they wouldn’t return to the black and white magazine format until 1971’s Savage Tales. Charlton stayed away even longer, making use of it for licensed titles such as Space: 1999 and Emergency in 1975.

But that single issue of Hercules remains one of my most memorable comics from the 1960s, the era in which I came of age as a comic book reader. As usual, the little company that could came through.
© Paul Kupperberg

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Character Issues

By Paul Kupperberg

(This is a piece I recently wrote for the Crazy 8 Press website blog (where I publish much of my prose writing) that's as relevant to Charlton Neo as it is there.)

Having spent more than a little of the past forty years laboring in the comic book field, a majority of the stories I’ve written were about OPCs (Other People’s Characters), from the Atom and Archie to Superman and Scooby Doo. I’ve never had a problem with that; as a lifelong comic book fan, I was always happy to get my paws on the classic characters I grew up reading. But a writer comes to these established and long running characters weighed down by the character’s baggage, allowed to bring to them a certain limited amount of individual interpretation but always bound by what came before...and with full knowledge that no matter what story they tell, things have to be reset to the status quo when they’re done.

Still, along the way, I managed to create a few new additions to the DC Universe of characters. A sorcerer here, a spy agency there, a science fiction hero way out there in deep space...but though I created them, they aren’t really mine. Mainstream corporate comics operate (for the most part) under the work-made-for-hire provision of copyright law, meaning that the corporation is considered the legal “author” of the work. The actual creators have some (small) equity in the creation, but no real control over its destiny or use. The editor, as representative of the “author,” has more control over the character than does the creator and the corporation is free to make whatever changes or alterations it deems necessary.

I’ve also written a considerable number of words in prose for OPCs, including the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, Star Trek, Doctor Who, the Avenger, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Archie, Powerpuff Girls, and others, and I’ve enjoyed them all. But, again, these characters were all well established before I got to them and I was obliged to leave them pretty much as I found them once I’m done. As much fun as I’ve had with all the neat toys in those different sandboxes, I always knew they belonged to someone else and that when I went home at the end of the day, I had to leave them where I had found them for the next writer to play with.
Takion by Walter Simonson
The difference between writing OPCs and your own creation is the same as the difference between running a race with and without leg irons. In corporate comics or prose featuring licensed properties, you’re hobbled by the rules of the characters’ owners. But with your own characters, you’re free to run like the wind, limited only by your own imagination.

And, thanks to a paradigm shift in publishing, I’m free to write my characters, my way. Of course, I was always free to write the stories...I just wouldn’t necessarily have had a venue in which to publish them so someone other than myself could actually read them. But thanks to Crazy 8 Press and Charlton Neo for comics projects, now I do. And what I write remains mine, to do with as I wish and retain full rights to them should I ever be lucky enough to have any of them optioned for licensing or other media.

Maybe corporate comics and book publishing can offer me greater exposure (although neither seems to be offering much these days in the way of anything except to the Big Names who can sell Big Numbers), but they take away much more by what they demand in exchange for the privilege of being published by them. Junker George and F.B.I. Special Agent Irwin Benjamin in the ReDeus stories, shabby and put upon little Weekly World News investigative reporter Leo Persky in a quartet of tales (previously published in R. Allen Leider’s Hellfire Lounge anthology series and soon to be included in my upcoming Crazy 8 collection of short stories, In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories), the comics characters Blank and Neo (and others to follow) in various Neo publications...mine, mine, mine, all mine.

As Janice Joplin sang, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” but in this instance, I think it means everything to gain.
© Paul Kupperberg