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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Scary Tale Revisited


By Paul Kupperberg

Art ©Neil Vokes
It’s a sequel almost 40 years in the making!

Well, not really. It’s more like a sequel that I never really thought about doing, or, in fact, had the opportunity to do for almost 40 years. In 1975, after several years laboring in the fields of fandom and hovering on the periphery of prodom, I sold my first comic book script to Charlton Comics, a 5-page sword & sorcery story called “Distress” (as in “a damsel in...”). It was a decent enough if overwrought little story about an itinerant sword-for-hire duped into going to the rescue of the aforementioned damsel in distress...who (spoiler alert!) turns out to be a vampire for whose dinner he has been lured to provide. The end.

The story appeared in Scary Tales #3 (December 1975), the first of some one thousand or so stories I would go on to write and publish over the coming decades. It was drawn by Mike Zeck, himself only a couple of years into what would become a distinguished career in comics, and was important to me more for being my first professional sale and published story than for any reasons of quality or pride.
Then, in 2013, came The Charlton Arrow, that Facebook group turned fanzine turned comic book turned nascent publishing group, and someone’s suggestion that I do a new story, a sequel with the character from “Distress.” On the face of it, not a bad idea; The Arrow (and now Neo) was/is after all, all about creating new stories in the same variety of genres for which Charlton Comics itself was known.

The problem was, “Distress” had ended with my sword-for-hire having the fangs of the vampiric damsel sunk into his neck. And the guy didn’t even have a name. Rereading that little classic, I didn’t see much there on which to hang any sort of sequel. But...maybe a prequel? The medieval world of sorcery implied by that 5-pager gave me plenty of wiggle room to play with the tropes of sword & sorcery. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing that’s actually impossible in any genre of comic book story thanks in large part to what I’ve come to call the “Ultimate Nullifier Effect,” (named for the denouncement device the FF used against Galactus in the classic Fantastic Four #50 by Lee and Kirby in 1966; remind me to tell you about it some day).
A 1980s convention sketch by Mike Zeck

So as I do with such conundrums, I left the problem to burble around in the back of my mind for a while until the answer finally broke through to the forefront and, with a little creative massaging, I had a story, originally entitled “A Scary Tale,” in homage to the comic in which the original story first appeared. But wiser editorial minds came up with the suggestion, based on the name I had tagged my sword-for-hire character with, of the punnier “Turis Trap.”

One script and the efforts of the talented artist Neil Vokes and colorist Matt Webb later, the result of those nearly 40 years (sort of) in the making can be seen in The CharltonArrow #3, available for pre-order now!

I hope it’s been worth the wait.
© Paul Kupperberg

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Riding High in the Saddle. And Pancakes.


 By Chuck Dixon

Chuck Dixon by Flint Henry
Hi, I’m comic book legend Chuck Dixon. You may remember me as the guy who killed Oliver Queen. The first time, anyway.

I used to think that Facebook was just for arguing with total strangers and watching videos of Asian traffic accidents. But I discovered recently that there’s more to it than George Takei memes and reports of where some girl you pretend to remember from high school boarded her labradoodle while she was on vacation in Myrtle Beach.

There’s lots of folks on my Facebook friends list from the comic book business (or, if you work at a library, “the graphic novel medium”) and a few of them were talking about Charlton Neo, a new endeavor providing a forum for the work of seasoned comic vets looking for interesting work and new talent looking for any work at all.

Charlton is maybe the only comics company I never worked for. So, I’d read their postings but I was kind of like the guy who’s only at the American Legion breakfast because he drove his dad there. I couldn’t really join in the conversations but there were free pancakes. At the VFW hall, that is. No pancakes at all in the Charlton Neo threads. So I lurked a lot but contributed little except for fanboy musings about Steve Ditko.

Then someone mentioned Westerns.

Westerns are my kryptonite. Well, if kryptonite was something Superman couldn’t resist harmlessly indulging in.

Westerns are my pancakes.

I broke in as a professional writing Westerns. Larry Hama bought four of my scripts of the old west for Savage Tales. Three were assigned to John Severin and one to John Buscema. My career in comics could have ended right there and I’d have died a happy man. No lie. I love Westerns, all kinds of Westerns. Cattle drives, cavalry charges, gunfights in the street, brushfires, stampedes, and massacres. I grew up on them in TV and movies. I have two 400-disc DVD players filled with nothing but sagebrush sagas from William Boyd to Terence Hill and I’m close to needing a third.

It just so happened that I had two creator-owned westerns complete with finished art in my possession. One with art by Eduardo Barreto and the other by Gary Kwapisz. They were to be part of a self-published anthology until I found out that self-publishing involved actual work and sometimes math. That whole “self” part was the deal breaker for me. So, I offered the two stories to the Charlton guys and they snapped them up. Then they started asking if I wanted to do anything new specifically for them.

They had me hooked.

The Charlton Neo project is much in the spirit of the old Charlton Comics company. See, Charlton was the last of the independent comics publishers that had newsstand distribution. They were also the last that did not solely rely on superheroes to stay in business. They were what we in the biz call a redundant publisher. That’s an outfit that looks at the sales figures then prints more of the kind of books that are at the top of their sales charts. If it’s Westerns, they print a lot of Westerns. Same for romance, war and horror. Charlton was never an “all the eggs in one basket” kind of company. Today we would call that “responding to market forces.” Today that’s as alien a concept to the big house publishers as likeable characters and stories that make sense.
Charlton was a small company but a smart one.

They also had two things going for them the bigger outfits did not have. They owned their own presses and they offered their creators a free hand.

These Neo guys (should that be we Neo guys now that I’ve been roped in?) don’t have their own press. (Do we?) But they are offering creators, seasoned and plain, the chance to do the stories they’ve always wanted to do without the pitch meetings, beat sheets, delays, excuses and all the other hoops editors make us jump through. Maybe you have that creator-owned project that’s been in your head for years and could be the next Big Thing. Here’s your chance to trot that sucker out in an actual comic book and with your copyright brand on it. All you have to bring with you is that burning desire to write and draw the comics that you love. They handle the marketing, production and even do the math.

It’s a ground-up, backyard, “let’s put on a show” kind of deal that would be impossible without a tool like the internet to bring us all together. For all the unbridled enthusiasm it is being run by professionals who know how to put comics together despite the first impressions their personal appearance might make. Neo is a mix of writers, artists, and even a few editors (but we won’t hold that against them) who want to create an ambitious, genre-spanning line of creator-owned and creator-controlled material that offers a venue for longtime pros, former phenoms, and fledgling ubernerds. Just bring your love and your talent.

The whole thing has a pull stronger than gravity to me. It’s a chance to strut my stuff with a bunch of my talented peers as well as work with artists I’ve never collaborated with before.

And someday, they promise me, there will be pancakes.

© Chuck Dixon

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Who Doesn't Love Love?

Henry Ford said about his Model T Ford, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." It's hard not to translate that to the thinking behind current day corporate comics: "Any reader can have any genre of comic book they want so long as it is superheroes."

At Neo, we love comics. All kinds of comics in every genre. Superheroes, sure, but also Western, action/adventure, horror, science fiction, fantasy, war, hot rod, humor, funny animal...and romance. We absolutely love love and love comics. Which is why we've chosen romance as the subject of the second new Neo title (after the Western Wild Frontier, available in November!), the 2-issue miniseries Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances!

We've talked about Secret Romances and it's stellar line-up of artistic contributors before, but their names bear repeating: Pat and Tim Kennedy, Joe Staton, Fernando Ruiz, Daerick Gross, P.D. Angel Gabriele, Kevin Tuma, Mort Todd, Barbara Kaalberg, Bob Smith, Jeff Austin, and Rob Kelly

And for covers, we have the legendary and prolific Charlton Classic romance artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on #1, and for #2, the Harvey and Eisner Awards nominated and Emmy Award winning Dean Haspiel, a sneak peak of which we are proud to share:


Available in February 2015: Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances #1...where "Happily Ever After" isn't what it used to be!

Friday, September 26, 2014

More Memories of Charlton Classics Past: E-Thanks


By Dave Noe

E-Man has a very special place in my memory, shared by only a couple of other titles (Freedom Fighters and Secret Society of Super Villains). For many years it represented a very specific time and place in my life that was both exciting and scary.

E-Man wasn’t sold in my area. At least, I couldn’t find it, and as a poor farm kid, I didn’t have much opportunity to hunt for comic books. Just going to town was a real treat but, sometimes, there were unforeseen circumstances that offered unexpected opportunities.

We were pretty young when it happened and my parents didn’t talk much to us about it. My mother had developed cancer and had to undergo treatment in a part of Missouri that was several hours away. My father, a quiet, hard working man, would be stuck in an enclosed hospital room with two young energetic boys who were used to running the hills and valleys of the farm. So he took to taking us to a barn-like structure that had vast unorganized rows of stuff laid out on low tables to pick out something that would help keep us occupied during the long hours of waiting.

I found a stack of comic books and with that, E-Man found me. I was hooked.

Three times, that first year, we took the pilgrimage. Three times we hit the barn store. Each time I came away with more issues of E-Man. Over the next few years we had to occasionally go back and the same comics were there for years! I ended up getting most of my E-Man collection from that discount store.

I never realized just how serious my mother’s condition was. We were just kids. I never understood the operation, the treatments, the check ups. I didn’t need to know the horror my parents were going through. But I was buoyed by fantasy, by some of my earliest experiences with comics, by Alec Tronn and Nova Kane.


My mother survived and is still with us to this day, a testament to the then new and successful surgical techniques that are now standard. And I still read comics today, too, a testament to the superior writing and storytelling of all those involved with E-Man and its superb backup stories.

This memory wasn’t prompted by a trip through the long box. It was inspired by a website, The Charlton Arrow Facebook page, created by fans and pros in celebration of their memories and fondness for the old Charlton Comics. The website lead to the creation of a new comic, also called The Charlton Arrow. 

But what happened next was even more amazing. They opened the submissions process to new and untested writers and artists as well to establish professionals, including many who had worked for the original Charlton.

But even that wasn’t what triggered my memory. That happened when the creators of E-Man, Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton joined the Charlton Arrow group. And they, and all the contributing pros, actively communicate with the fans and newbies. I don’t mean that they post statements and wait for the accolades to come rolling in. They engage in conversation with everyone, sometimes in private messages, sometimes about subjects that have nothing to do with comics. They tell inside stories. They provide tips and share their experiences, good and bad.

When I read those E-Man comics, I never thought that I would ever have the opportunity to speak to their creators, much less tell them the story of why their creation was so important to me and how it had touched my life.

Thanks guys!
© Dave Noe

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Grandson of Things He Learned Along the Way: What's On Your Bookshelf?


By Paul Kupperberg
  
As you may have surmised by now, this column’s less about the nuts and bolts of writing than the broader ideas behind writing. Not that I don’t think that stuff’s important. It is. It’s vital; plotting, narrative, characterization, the three-act structure, pacing, et al are the mechanical parts that all go into building the engine that drives the story. I guess I’m more about the design than the engineering. 

I’ve always seen writing as a craft, a skill you possess and hone through practice and repetition. Like your first efforts at whittling or painting a portrait, your early writing is not going to be good. Not at all. It will be the best you can do at the time with those native, undeveloped skills. Ironically for the writer, the beginning is not the word but the desire to tell a story. And on the second day comes the story to tell.

Every writing manual will tell you it’s okay to write a bad first draft; get the story on paper first and then go back and polish everything up pretty and nice. When you first start, a bad draft’s the only kind you’re going to write, but that’s okay too. Keep writing, keep looking for what doesn’t work and learn how to fix it. Don’t ever think there’s something you can’t learn, ever, from anybody, at any time. I have walked away from conversations with four-year olds which resulted in wonderful ideas and insights. Don’t stop, don’t ever stop. Keep writing even when no one’s paying you because even though this may be or turn out to be your full time job, you should never be writing for money.

I’ve said it before: You never write for the money but you turn in the manuscript for a check. The money, necessary though it may be, is not the objective of your writing; writing your ass off is. The check’s a perk. So is publication. That’s the frosting on the cake of the opportunity to practice your craft: To actually have it read by someone besides your friends and parents. (Wanna know a secret, and I know it’s not just me because when I get together with my fellow old-fart writer friends we all cop to it: I still get a thrill when I first see a new publication, a comic book, a novel, a short story, whatever, and there it is: my byline. Almost forty years after my first sale and following some one thousand more. It’s that good.)

But, just because I don’t discuss the nuts and bolts here doesn’t mean you should ignore them. That’s where reading comes in.

Me, I read a lot. History, science, history, non-fiction on strange subjects (salt, cod fish, oysters, the screw, books about the evolution of the book), biography, along with a healthy dose of fiction, ranging from literary to pure mindless pleasure reading. A lot of the biographies I read are about writers: J.D. Salinger, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Mike Royko, Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, Charles Bukowski, Pete Hamill, Robert E. Howard, Jimmy Breslin, Philip Roth, Jim Thompson…those are just a few I plucked at random from my shelves. And I don’t necessarily have to be a big fan of the author or, in some cases, even have read anything by them. There are lots more.

I think self-help books are, for the most part, for suckers. Really, how much personal insight can you gleam from such broad generalizations as are required in best-selling books by Dr. Phil and others of his ilk? But I become one of the suckers when it’s books by writers showing other writers how they do what they do.

Which brings us back to broad generalizations. How likely is it that your process is the same as my process? Or even resembles it a little? More likely, you and I approach how we write with polar opposite processes. You’d probably look at my methods and shudder and I’m likely to do the same with yours. But I’m still curious how you do it. Who knows, maybe there’s something I can steal from you that will help me. It’s happened plenty of times, and, at the risk of repeating myself: Don’t ever think there’s something you can’t learn, ever, from anybody, at any time. 

F’instance, I can’t read Stephen King. I just don’t care for his stuff. It’s not a critical judgment, just that as a reader, I don’t connect with him as an author...

...But, he’s Stephen King. He’s sold more books than I can ever dream of selling, so, whether he’s to my taste or not, he’s gotta know something that I can hook into in my own writing, so I read his book, On Writing. And, you know, I walked away from it with insights.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least point you towards some must-read books on the nuts and bolts of writing. You can’t build an engine if you don’t know what the parts do and I’ve found these books to be instructive, even reading them after I’d been doing what they’re teaching for a good number of years.

The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, by Dennis O’Neil (Watson-Guptill, 2001): I read this book in manuscript stage and kept that copy of the manuscript until I had the actual book to read. Denny is one of the best writers this field has ever seen and if you don’t know his credits, you don’t know your history and that’s a no-no (and we’ll get to that, boys and girls, in some books below!). His work on titles such as Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Batman, Iron Man, Azrael, and The Question set standards that make most of the rest of us go “D’oh!” a lot. Denny’s a thinking writer, one who looks at his craft, dissects his efforts, learns from his mistakes and shapes sharp, crisp prose that seems too simple to crackle, but son of a gun if it don’t. I’ve recently reread the first two volumes of The Question by Denny and Denys Cowan and find it’s fresher than almost anything being done today, twenty-five years later.

Think Zen, think Alex Toth, who spent years learning what to put into a drawing before he started taking things out of them and strip his style to the cartoon’s bare minimalist essence. Denny’s writing says what it means, but the beauty is, he never tells you what that is. Instead, he trusts his readers to follow along and figure it out. He’s also a generous teacher who has taught at the School of Visual Arts and lectured at universities…and at DC Comics, where he tried to impart some of his knowledge to the staff. These DC 101 classes were ostensibly for the assistant editors and younger crew, but when Denny spoke, even us older farts listened. Denny quite simply knows what he’s talking about and is worth listening to. Quite intently.

Will Eisner’s Shop Talk is a series of interviews conducted by (need I say it?) legendary Will Eisner, creator of the Spirit and of sophisticated modern narrative in graphic storytelling (y’know…growed up comic books). Previously published in magazines, Will’s style is less interviewer/interviewee as it is two pals, sitting around and talking shop (!) and the old days. We learn as much about Will as we do his “subjects,” a precious resource considering what he brought to the medium. Neal Adams, C.C. Beck, Milton Caniff, Jack Davis, Lou Fine, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Harvey Kurtzman, Phil Seuling, Joe Simon, giants all, and giants pushed to think, dissect and analyze their work and their process by the guy who set the standards for their field. It doesn’t matter that none of us can draw like Eisner or Kane or Kubert; these guys are giving the gift of gold to anybody in any creative field. It’s hard not to be inspired when sparked by men of this creative caliber.

I can only hope some or all of these books are still in print because when it comes to the sheer mechanics of the craft, there are few better than Lawrence Block, author of dozens of mystery and suspense novels, including many starring such enduring characters as recovered alcohol P.I. Matthew Scudder, burglar Bernie Rhodenbar, sleepless do-gooder Evan Tanner and Hitman John Keller. Block writes in what I call the “Mind-F*** School,” playing with the readers perceptions and expectations to shock, surprise and twist the story in ways no one ever expects. His plotting is tight and controlled (although that’s nothing a casual reader would ever pick up on; good construction like that should be so natural, you don’t even notice it’s there), his characters sharp and well-defined but always entirely human. And he writes some of the best dialogue out there. Natural, funny, smooth. There’s much of his prowess of which to be jealous.
Fortunately, the prolific Mr. Block is a sharer. He wrote a long-running column in Writer’s Digest magazine from which he pulled together his books on writing, of which I own and have read once or five times, Telling Lies For Fun & Profit (Quill Books, 1981), Writing The Novel: From Plot to Print, and Spider and Spin Me A Web: Lawrence Block on Writing Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books, 1979 and 1988); there’s another, it seems, entitled Write For Your Life, which I seemed to have missed but will be seeking out.) I don’t care if you’re writing a comic book story, a novel or a short story, Block’s advice is on the nose. If you’ve read enough of his novels (and I have; all of them), you know before you crack the covers of any of these books that you’re in for a treat.

I also recommend Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Annie Dillard’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art of Writing. Solid, sensible books that respect the process and the individual paths to creativity. And the brilliant William Goldman's (another author in the “Mind-F*** School,” a prolific novelist and screenwriter of The Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Great Waldo Pepper, All The President's Men, etc.) indispensable trio of behind-the-scenes reminiscences, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Which Lie Did I Tel/?, and The Big Picture.

For those of you looking to go the comic book route, there are a ton of books you can read, but a handful of must reads, to give you a true sense of the breath, depth and history of your chosen field. I don’t want to hear that you don’t know who Midnight is or what comic book company published him in the 1940s. You should know this stuff. These books should whet your appetite to learn more. If they don’t, what’re you doing trying to get into this business anyway?

The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. Published in 1965 and heap full of Golden Age origin stories and other tales of heroes rarely glimpsed in those days, the book’s true treasure is Feiffer’s reminisces of his discovering comics in their infancy and his eventual successful quest to join the industry he loved. The book is charming and filled with the types of observances and stories that make you wish you had been there, slaving over a 64-page comic book that needed to be created, written and drawn over a weekend. Ah, the good old days! (Fantagraphics published, within the last few years, Feiffer’s essay sans the comic book reprints which are, anyway, easily available in reprints and even online these days.)

Steranko’s History of Comics Volumes 1 & 2 by Jim Steranko. Extensive, exhaustive, brilliant. We’ve been waiting since the 1970s for more!

All In Color For A Dime and The Comic Book Book edited by Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff. These came out in 1970 and 1974, reprinting articles on comic book history by then-fans (many, like Ted White and Lupoff, who went on to writing careers) from the early-1960s fanzine, Xero. Great, well-researched and fannishly-enthusiastic (but in a good way) from guys who did it all out of love. And, for one of the best, most thoroughly researched histories of the business, you can't go wrong with Gerard Jones' excellent Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book.

There are many more books out there, how-to books, creator biographies and retrospectives, websites dedicated to any and all characters and creators, histories of the industry and art form you've chosen to dedicate your creative energies to, biographies of favorite (non-comic) authors, whatever. When you're not writing, you should be reading, these books and books by the writers who inspire you in whatever field you enjoy; just because you don't write science fiction doesn't mean there's nothing you can learn from Arthur C. Clarke or Greg Bear. It is all fodder.

Okay, you’ve got your homework assignment.

There will be a test. Open book, of course.
© Paul Kupperberg

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

More Memories of Charlton Classics Past: Space Adventures


By Dan Johnson

I was seven when I started collecting comic books. Even at such a young age, I knew I was a DC boy. Oh, every now and then I’d pick up a Marvel or Gold Key book, and I was a Dennis the Menace fan right out of the gate. But DC Comics got most of my business.

At that age, I was aware of Charlton, but had never bought any of their books. I wasn’t into horror just yet and that was all the company seemed to print. All that changed one evening while I was out grocery shopping with my parents at Kroger’s. That night, I made an amazing discovery on the store’s spinner rack. While looking for something to read, I found Space Adventures #10, and it became the first Charlton comic I ever bought. The reason for me picking it up was simple enough. This comic was not about horror, but rather outer space, and this book had a superhero on the cover: Captain Atom.

Now, I didn’t know who the good Captain was, so discovering an all-new character (at least to me) was exciting! At the time, I didn’t know that the stories in this issue were reprints, all published years before I was even born. But even if I had known, it wouldn’t have mattered. Captain Atom was a fun character and I found myself becoming a fan.

When I discovered Captain Atom, I also discovered Steve Ditko, the artist who illustrated these wonderful stories that caught my attention. As I got older and began to learn about the history of comics, Ditko quickly became one of my favorite artists. So, as you can imagine, this book holds a special place in my heart for another reason other than it being my first Charlton comic, it was also my first Ditko comic.

As time went on, I found other comics featuring Captain Atom and his cohorts, mainly through Modern Comics reprints and the occasional new story. While DC was still my flavor of choice, there was something wonderfully different about Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, The Question, and Nightshade.

Less than a decade after I bought Space Adventures #10, DC bought the rights to Captain Atom and the other Action Heroes. Very soon, the comic book character I first discovered in 1978 would even be hanging out with the Justice League. What can I say? Two favorite worlds had united. It’s like Reese’s peanut butter cups. They just seemed to go great together.  

Still, every now and then, it is fun to go back and reread this issue that started it all for me and remember when Captain Atom was uniquely Charlton. It serves as a constant reminder that while we can have our favorites, every now and then you have to try something different. 
© Dan Johnson

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Behind The Scenes: Filling in the Blank


By Paul Kupperberg

A Rick Burchett Black Hood for my sketchbook
At some point during last March’s Planet Comicon in Kansas City, I wandered over to say hello to Rick Burchett. Rick and I go back a ways, at least to 1991 when he was the artist on the most excellent Mark Wheatley scripted The Black Hood, one of DC’s Impact Comics line revival of the Archie Comics superheroes that I edited. Post-Impact, I hired Rick for the occasional job here and there, including illustrating several Batman kids books for Scholastic. But I had been a fan of his work since his stint on DC’s Blackhawk and remained one through his work on various and sundry Batman titles and beyond.

Anyway, that March day in KC we exchanged pleasantries, did the obligatory catching up on life and then Rick said, “So, who do I have to kill to get in on this Charlton Arrow thing?” Now, keep in mind that at that time, the first issue of The Charlton Arrow hadn’t even been released; in fact, we missed having copies for sale at the show by a week or so. But we had been talking it up plenty big on Facebook and Rick, a fan at heart like the rest of us involved in the project, had heard the news.

I was so delighted to learn that Rick wanted in on our little fanzine-on-steroids that I didn’t even think to take him up on his offer (oh, there are some old scores I could’ve settled!). Instead, I just said, “You want in, you’re in. What do you want to do?” Rick, a Western buff, had his answer ready. He wanted to do a Cheyenne Kid story. I told him it was a done deal; I’d write a Cheyenne Kid story for him to draw.
Batman by Burchett
I wrote, Rick drew, and the result of that collaboration can be found in the premiere issue of our second title, Wild Frontier, available in November. Needless to say, it’s a first class job by a first class artist working in a genre he loves. And, also needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I’m thrilled to see a script I wrote brought to life by Rick, an artist whose work I’ve long admired.

I didn’t think it could get any better, but I was wrong. While still at work on Cheyenne Kid, Rick emailed me to say how much fun he was having and asked what was next. I wasted no time in writing back that we had another title in the works, Charlton Action for which I was developing a new character: “I've got something in mind that's sort of Spirit-ish in tone, with a character in the Question/Batman mode.” Rick responded “Yowza!!!” Citing his love of drawing those “guys in suits” he signed on sight unseen.

It’s hard for a writer not to be inspired when he knows an artist like Rick is waiting to get his hands on your idea and turn the words into pictures, so I got to work, jotting down a few ideas, just a bare bones word sketch of what I had in mind for a character I was calling Blank.

Here’s what I sent Rick:

“Blank is a self-appointed troubleshooter, righting wrongs, steering good people onto the right road and manipulating the bad guys to throw themselves under the bus. Black suit, hat that shadows his face, gloves...but when he does leave fingerprints, instead of the usual ridges & loops, there are cryptic symbols. His calling card is blank...but at times of crisis messages appear on them to the holder. Everything about him is engineered to make him appear supernatural, but in the end there’s always a rational explanation for what he’s done...or is there?”

Here’s what I got back in return:
 
After seeing Rick’s sketches, the script just kind’a started writing itself. And the result is coming your way in 2015 in Charlton Action #1. I hope you’re even half excited as I am!

© Paul Kupperberg & Rick Burchett

Monday, September 22, 2014

Memories of Charlton Classic Past

By Roger Keel
I really can’t remember exactly what was my first ever Charlton Comic that I read. I was always reading comics or something as I grew up. I can remember the first Charlton Comic I ever bought with my own money.
It was Cheyenne Kid #74 (September 1969).  The beautiful Sanho Kim ghost bear cover! As a Western fan, this cover leapt off the spinner rack at my local store (not a comic shop, a general store that sold everything from groceries to hardware and comics). It excited my 10 year old eyes and mind!

I had read the Cheyenne Kid and the rest of the Charlton Westerns before, getting them in our weekly Saturday afternoon comic trade at the local movie theatre. I liked the character and the books, but as more of a DC and Gold Key fan, I purchased more Superman, Batman, Turok, Donald Duck, and Tarzan than any of the Charlton titles. But this issue really caught my eye and I started adding Cheyenne Kid to my monthly comic buys, soon followed by Billy the Kid and the other Western titles. It wasn’t long before I also started looking at the race car books and, of course, the horror titles. When I finally discovered the back issue comic market, I started getting the Action Hero books, as well as the remaining war books.  The distribution of Charltons in my area was a bit spotty, sometimes going a few months before seeing a new issue while skipping a couple issues in the run.

As one grows older, one’s taste change. I did start buying some Marvels along with my regular DC’s and some of the few remaining Gold Keys that were still appearing. I still bought Charlton–Space 1999, Six Million Dollar Man, and, of course, those horror books filled with all those Ditko stories. Add to the back issues that I was slowly acquiring (hard to do on a paper boy’s earning, even supplemented by other jobs). When I finally started to earn a steadier income in the late ‘70s and early ’80, I was finally able to get to books like Fightin’ 5, Peter Cannon-Thunderbolt, Captain Atom, and the Dan Garrett Blue Beetle. I have never regretted it!!

Sadly over the years, life and those pesky things called bills intruded into my comic buying and collecting and on a couple of occasions I was force to part with sections of my collection – including most of my Charlton’s and copy of Cheyenne Kid # 74!  But I am slowly getting them back.

Now I have the chance to get in on the ground floor (or the basement) of the return of Charlton with Charlton NEO

Wow! 

I don’t know if what I might contribute to Charlton NEO will be as fondly remembered in the future as some of the stories I read in the past. One can only try!
© Roger Keel

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Charlton Classic: Dick Giordano

A remembrance of Charlton Comics mainstay and comic book industry legend Dick Giordano by Neo writer/Exec Editor Paul Kupperberg that appeared in Charlton Spotlight #7.


The first time I became aware of Dick Giordano was during his tenure at Charlton Comics. As much as I loved his art (what’s not to love?), it was his editorial transformation of tiny Charlton from major cheese factory to creative competitor that earned him my admiration. Later, Dick loomed large in my career, being the top guy in DC Comics’ editorial when I went on staff in 1991; in fact, it was Dick who essentially hired me. Dick was one of the nicest human beings on the face of the planet, which always struck me as a bad quality to have when you’re managing a large number of people, especially a large number of flaky, creative people. I figured you were better off being able to raise your voice and be mean to get people to pay attention. But Dick knew better. Plus, everyone he oversaw as DC’s editorial director knew damned well that when Dick asked you for something, he was asking you as someone who had done your job before, no matter what your job happened to be. And done it well, likely under mediocre conditions. He had the love and respect of everyone there. Dick always spoke in low, measured tones and we all leaned in to hear what he had to say.

Dick, as was no secret, had a hearing problem and wore hearing aids in both ears. He often missed what was being said, especially in meetings when several people were speaking at once. My voice happened to be pitched to whatever frequency Dick could still hear in, so I never had a problem talking to him.

Dick practically grew up professionally at Charlton, on staff and as an artist throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but I only ever recall once or twice spending any time talking about the old days with him. The first time was during one of the few and far between lunches we had after he had retired from DC but before I left my editorial position. Over a Rob Roy (or two) and a good meal at a pub down the street from the office, Dick talked about some of the talent he had worked with, from Sal Trapani to Pete Morisi (who Dick took me to lunch with at the Society of Illustrators while I was editing DC’s revival of P.A.M.’s Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt).

The second was on the drive back to Connecticut (I live in lower Fairfield County, he, at the time, in upper) from Shea Stadium where a bunch of DC staffers had just seen the Mets game, viewed from the Warner Bros corporate box (with wait staff! ballpark hotdogs served on trays! by waiters!), a birthday present to Mr. Giordano from DC’s upper management. I don’t follow sports, not any of ‘em, so I could care less about going to a Mets game, but I went because it was Dick’s birthday and, let’s face it, whether you care about baseball or not, how often do you get to hang in a corporate skybox and get served wieners by waiters?

On the drive home, I asked Dick how long he’d been living in Connecticut and he said he moved up here to work at Charlton in Derby and I just started asking questions about the physical plant and how things worked there and some of the people he’d known. Dick loved the place as you can only love somewhere you spent so much fun and formative years; it’s the way I feel about the “old” DC, the company as it was in the mid-70s at 75 Rockefeller Center, with a staff of maybe 35 or 40 that interacted like one, big sick, dysfunctional family. It was an amazing time to be there, at the nexus of the Silver and Bronze Ages, where you still had Swan and Infantino co-existing with Kaluta and Wrightson. Dick was there for, and instigated, the Charlton equivalent of that time during his Action Hero phase.

Even after Dick retired from DC and returned to full time freelancing, we kept in touch, most often when I would call him with work for everything from custom comics to an illustration for an issue of Weekly World News. Dick was always happy to hear from me and took the job, delivering precisely what I had in mind, only better than I had envisioned it. Because he was Dick Giordano, one of the masters of the art.

I was fortunate to know Dick as an artist, a boss, and, best of all, a friend.

 # # #

Upon learning Dick's death on March 27, 2010, Paul published the following on his website, PaulKupperberg.com:


There are a few things I know from my 50 years of comic book reading and 35 years in the business:

In the 1960s, the comic books edited by Dick Giordano at Charlton and DC were some of the hippest and best books on the market. He was also one of the best artists in the business, penciling or inking, or both.

As an employee of DC Comics, I always knew I could count on Dick to be a great creative sounding board and a fair and impartial boss.

As an editor, I knew I could always call on Dick to do a fast and beautiful job.

As a writer, I knew my words were going to receive breathtaking treatment when he was assigned to draw it.

As a fan, I knew Dick was a fount of anecdotes, a man who had witnessed a vast majority of comics history helping make that history and loved to talk about it sitting around conventions or over an ice cold Rob Roy and a good meal.

But most of all, I knew Dick Giordano as a friend, and it’s in that role that I’ll miss him the most.

Good afternoon, Dick…

© Paul Kupperberg

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Son of Things He Learned Along the Way: Thought, The Enemy of Art

Another of Neo writer/Exec Editor Paul Kupperberg's columns on writing from a few years back at ComicsCareer.com.


 Several years ago, my then wife and our soon-to-turn 12-year old son (who’s now a college freshman) and I went to see Eric Andersen, a 1960s folk singer we like, play at a small club in a neighboring town. Andersen is one of these guys who travels by himself, playing small clubs and bars here in the States (he’s a much bigger name in certain parts of Europe but likes to come home and perform for us old hippies every year or so) and accessible during intermission and after the show to sell you some CDs, sign stuff or just talk. We had been to enough of his shows that he recognized us as regulars. This was the first time we brought the kid, who is a musician himself (a drummer, studying for about four years at that time).

After the show, we went up to say hello. Our son told Andersen that he was also a musician, played in a band (he still does, Palehound, which has become quite a thing on the East Coast indie music scene), and asked Andersen if he had any advise for performing. Andersen took our son aside and spoke privately to him for a few minutes. After we’d said our good-byes and left we asked what the singer had told him. This is, boiled down to its essence, what he said:

Don’t think. Thought is the enemy of art. And forget about the audience. You’re not playing for them, you’re playing for yourself. Make yourself happy and your audience will be happy too.

That’s pretty deep advise to lay on a 12-year newbie, but I’m glad he did it, and I'm glad the kid had enough on the ball to understand what the singer was saying; not that you have disdain for the audience, but that you have respect for the music first and that will come through to the audience. I’ve been telling the kid that his entire life, from the moment he could pick up a crayon and started to worry or get frustrated about coloring outside the lines or using the wrong color for Spider-Man’s costume.

There are no rules in art. There is no right or wrong.

He asked me, several years back, why he had to learn all these rules of grammar. He was never going to need to know how to diagram a sentence in real life. Besides, I’m a professional writer and I can’t articulate half the rules of grammar, plus, I break the rules all the time when I write. True, I agreed, but at one time I did know them and could diagram a sentence and, to this very day, though I may not be able to name the parts of speech (a dangling whatthewhosis?), I know when something is wrong and I can fix it. And, besides that, I said:

Yes, I break the rules because there are no rules in art. And, before you start breaking the rules for artistic (or any reason), you first have to know what the rules are.

I pointed out to him that as a musician, he first had to learn how to read music, then play it by the metronome and by the book before he started to learn jazz and how to improvise. It reminds me of the legendary comic book artist Alex Toth, known for his (brilliantly!) minimalist style, who said:

I spent the first half of my career learning what to put into a picture and the second half what to leave out.

That’s art: Learn it, then turn your back on it and make your own way. Just take the step. Don’t think about it.

Doesn’t sound possible. Writing—I’ll use writing as my example because that is, after all, what I do—is a thought process, putting words on paper in a certain order to achieve a specific narrative or emotional effect. Inform your reader of the locale or the time period, describe a character or setting, evoke fear or sadness, make them horny, whatever. You need to think about that before you jump in and start writing. This stuff doesn’t just happen by itself.

http://www.crazy8press.com/our-books/the-same-old-story/Well…it doesn’t and it does. Sure, you sit down and say, okay, in this scene, I want to achieve this thing that either moves the plot forward or reveals something about your characters, or both. In my mystery novel (a 1950s period story), I have one scene intended to convey new clues to the police detective; he’s talking to a waitress and short order cook in a diner and, while they drop the requisite information and plot points under his questioning, the scene took on a life of its own and became a set piece more about the character’s love of pie (he eats 3 or 4 slices during the interview) and his integrity (he won’t take the pie as a freebie and insists on paying because he intends to come back often for the pie and wants to be a welcome visitor instead of a crooked cop on the take).

If had thought about doing a character bit like that, it would have come off as clunky and unconvincing, but by just letting it flow from the process of writing the information I needed into the story, it turned into the one chapter two out of the four people who have read/are reading it have mentioned.

The real heart of your story comes out in those moments, the unplanned character bits, the spur of the moment inspiration that turns a minor character into a major player…another thing that happened in my mystery; this having elements of pastiche to it, I used the by-then deceased Julie Schwartz, a DC Comics editor since 1944 who I got to know thirty years later than the period in which the book is set, intending to use him in one scene, just as a tip of the hat to a man for whom I cared very much. But art knows no reason and Julie wound up coming back in later on in the book and, in fact, ends being a sort of Dr. Watson to my detective’s Sherlock Holmes—didn’t plan that, never would have planned that, but it happened and, without thinking, I went with the flow.

Another example: in a Justice Society of America novel I wrote a few years back, the heroes are all down and about to bite the big one at the hands of the bad guys. The POV character for the book, Mister Terrific, a one-time Olympic athlete, flashesback to his only competitive defeat, a loss by like 2/10th of a second becausehe allowed himself to be distracted by how his competitor was running his race. It’s maybe 800, 1000 words out of 85,000, but that little flashback, the frustration of not only reliving that moment but of repeating it now when the stakes weren’t a silver medal instead of a gold one, but his and his comrade’s lives as well as the lives of countless innocents, is one of four or five in the book that stand out to me as what these characters are about, not just events that push the story forward (although they do that, too).
It's unpublished and likely to remain that way. Don't ask.

Plotting is a mechanical structure: One comic book I know creates elaborate charts of story direction, individual character arcs, introduction of subplots, how long they play out, secondary and tertiary subplots and how they evolve to become major subplot and then the main plot. He can, on the down and dirty, connect the Leggos-level of sheer mechanical plotting, wipe the floor with me. My plotting in comics, even ones I wrote over two, three, or four year stretches, was usually ad hoc, based on some broad outline that I, sort of, knew where it was headed. Unless I changed my mind and went somewhere else because my free-form plotting allowed me the room to do that. With his plotting, once you start pulling on one thread, the whole sweater starts to unravel.

I’m not bound by the specs of the plot-machine he builds for himself. He has said he envies my ability to write that way, more from the gut and less from the head. The gut is where the passion and the juice come from. The head is where rational thought lies. You want about 25% of the latter and 75% of the former in your work. Know where you’re going, understand the mode of transportation you’ve chosen to take you there, but don’t be bound by some route you’ve laid out on the map before you even left the garage. Take detours, visit interesting roadside attractions, cut across land marked with “No Trespassing” signs, leave the blacktop and explore some dirt roads, and stop every now and then for a couple or four slices of pie at that diner you pass along the way.

Just do it, but whatever else...don’t think!
© Paul Kupperberg

Friday, September 19, 2014

Get Carded by Charlton Neo

Have we mentioned the Charlton Arrow Limited Trading Cards Series #1 recently? Because there are still sets and uncut sheets available for discriminating Neophytes everywhere. But we're not kidding about the "limited" part, so you better get 'em while supplies last!

http://morttodd.com/card.html

The Charlton Arrow Limited Trading Cards Series #1 consists of 24 cards, 16 in black & white and 8 in color. All the genres of Charlton arerepresented , from superheroes and Westerns, to romance and funny animals…including a bit of the horror Charlton was famous for! 
 
These collector edition cards are each 4.25" x 5.5" on card stock (of course!) and limited to 250 sets that come with a signed & numbered Certificate of Authenticity.
The card set is $9.99 (plus $2.95 shipping & handling), with additional sets available at $7.99 (please include another $1 for s&h for each additional set). Shipping & handling outside the US $7.95 (plus $1 for additional sets).

The three uncut sheets are $15 (plus $4.95 s&h; $9.95 outside the US).


 To order the cards, pay securely via PayPal by sending payment, and a description of your order (quantity, whether it is for the card set, uncut sheets, or both) to card@morttodd.com. You can also use that email for inquiries or for more information if you want to pay by credit card or money order. Allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Charlton Classic: Jim Aparo


Jim Aparo was probably one of the best artists of the Silver and Modern ages of comics and, though remembered primarily for his long tenure on Batman for DC, he began his comic book career at Charlton Comics in 1966 drawing everything from Bikini Luv to the Phantom. Jim soon made the move to DC Comics, one of the creators Dick Giordano brought along with him to his new editorial home. Jim’s early work on Aquaman, The Phantom Stranger, and in the pages of House of Mystery and House of Secret quickly made him a fan favorite, but it wasn’t until his long (almost 100 issues!) run on Batman in the pages of The Brave and The Bold that Jim’s star went nova. The Spectre (in Adventure Comics), Batman in Detective Comics, Batman and the Outsiders, and many other projects followed, and Jim continued his awesome contributions to comic until 2004, a year before his death.

Neophyte Steven Thompson remembers a brief encounter with the artist that showcased a side of the man that fans of his nearly 40 years of work seldom got to see:

My wife and I met Jim Aparo at a Chicago Comic Convention in either 1989 or 1990. He was sitting all by himself so we spent quite awhile talking with him. He said it was his first convention and he couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about, but he was enjoying meeting fans. He said he never really knew he had fans that were older than 12.”

Neo writer and editor Paul Kupperberg, who had the honor of working with Jim in both those capacities during his own career with DC Comics, has a similar story to tell:

“I was at that same convention in Chicago and, like Steven, found the man sitting by himself at a table so I leapt at the opportunity to talk to him. I went over and introduced myself and as soon as he heard my name, he said, ‘Oh, right. You wrote that Lois Lane Brave and Bold.’

“I was flabbergasted. Yes, I had written a single, and to my mind, undistinguished issue of The Brave and The Bold that Jim had drawn nearly a decade earlier, (#175, June 1981) and I couldn’t believed that he not only remembered it but insisted that he’d had fun drawing it. We spent about 20 minutes talking during which time several other fans came by for autographs and handshakes from the gentle, genial man.

“After each encounter, Jim had a broad smile that lit up his face, expressing, as he had with Steven, that he never even know he had fans, much less ones who were so excited to meet a guy who was, after all, just doing his job. I said I was glad he got to come to the show to meet those fans so he knew what he and his work meant to them...and, incidentally, I was one of ‘em! Having the great Jim Aparo draw one of my stories was, I assured him, a high point of my comics writing career. The Bob Haney/Jim Aparo Batman in B&B was and remains, I said, my absolute favorite version of the character ever and, honestly, just standing there talking to him was giving me a major league fannish rush. I knew I was embarrassing him, but I’m glad I did...it was about time the man knew the important place he held in comics history and the hearts of his fans. 
“I had to go, as I was running late for some panel or other, but Jim and I did chat briefly on and off the rest of the weekend and, 20 years later, I got to assign him several jobs while I was in DC’s Licensed Publishing department and renew our acquaintance, albeit only over the telephone. On my first call to him, I didn’t have to remind him of our earlier encounter. ‘We met in Chicago a long time ago, didn’t we?’ he said. I said we had indeed. He chuckled and said, ‘I remember that convention. It was really something, meeting all those people. Really something.’

“Yes, Jim. It really was.”

 # # #

(Jim Aparo is represented in The Charlton Arrow #3 in Steve Skeates' reminiscence of their collaborative effort on Charlton’s comic series featuring The Monkees in the company's Teen Tunes and Pin-Ups magazines. The strip lasted only a few issues (Charlton lost the rights to the Pre-Fab Four to rival publisher Dell Comics), but you'll find this forgotten gem reprinted here. Use the link at the upper right of this page to pre-order the issue. Now!)