CHARLTON COMICSPrimary Product: Comic books
Producing from: 1946-86
Noted For: Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Atomic Mouse, Timmy the Timid Ghost, E-Man and more
Please contribute to its necessary financial support.
Amazon.com or PayPal
out a flawless gem), that somehow managed to hang on for decades before eventually petering out.
Charlton Publications started in 1931, with a couple of second-tier magazines named Hit Parade and Song Hits. It quickly became one of many small outfits operating in the lower echelons of the publishing industry, turning out any kind of printed material that might make a buck. The main secret of its success was keeping costs down — for example, it operated out of Derby, CT instead of New York City; and used cheap, in-house printing, done with a second-hand press that had originally been used to print cereal boxes.
Charlton entered the comic book field with Marvels of Science, the first issue of which was dated March, 1946. It used real-life information to appeal to the sense of wonder of its young readers. Like many attempts to sugar-coat education, it didn't last very long. But by the time it finished its four-issue run, Charlton was publishing more comics. By the early 1950s, it was doing westerns, funny animals, science fiction, crime comics, and more.
Charlton expanded tremendously in the mid-1950s, acquiring titles and unpublished inventory from several small publishers — and even a couple of majors. Fawcett, the former publisher of Captain Marvel, got out of comics in 1954, and sold its remaining titles, such as Six-Gun Heroes and Fawcett's Funny Animals, to Charlton. Charlton also picked up quite a few properties, such as The Blue Beetle and a couple of jungle heroes, from the collapse of Fox Feature Syndicate. Among the smaller publishers Charlton absorbed were Toby Press and Capitol Comics. Also, a few Charlton comics of that period were based on licensed properties, such as the TV sitcom My Little Margie (no relation), the newspaper strip Brenda Starr and the radio drama Tales of the Mysterious Traveler.
Charlton's propensity for keeping costs down extended to paying writers and artists — its rates were among the lowest in the business. Consequently, relatively little of its output is worth reading. Some top-rated talents worked there in the '50s and '60s, including Wallace Wood (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents), Al Fago (Timmy the Timid Ghost) and John Buscema (She-Hulk), but usually didn't put their best effort into it. Also, Steve Ditko, later identified with such diverse characters as Mr. A and Spider-Man, did most of his 1950s work for Charlton.
In the 1950s and '60s, Charlton got into superheroes just like most other comics publishers. Buscema's Nature Boy (1956) and Ditko's Captain Atom (1960) didn't take off, but later efforts, starting with a 1964 revival of The Blue Beetle, flourished for a couple of years. By that time, Charlton's stories and art had improved. Its rates were still among the lowest, but it had come to be regarded as a good place to start a comics career, get a few credits, and put work out where it might be noticed by the better-paying publishers. Denny O'Neil, Joe Staton, Pat Boyette, and other highly regarded comics creators got their start in the field at Charlton.
After abandoning licensing for a decade or so, Charlton re-entered that field in 1967, by picking up the titles of King Comics — Flash Gordon, Popeye, The Phantom, Blondie, Jungle Jim and Beetle Bailey. More King Features comics were added over the next year or so, including Hi & Lois and Barney Google & Snuffy Smith. In 1970, most of the Hanna-Barbera characters, including Yogi Bear and The Flintstones, went from Gold Key Comics to Charlton. Other animated characters, such as Underdog and Rocky & Bullwinkle, were published by Charlton in the 1970s as well; but by the latter part of that decade, the licensing came to an end.
By that time, the old cereal box press was really showing its age. Charlton's printing, never among the best, deteriorated — as did its circulation, at least partly as a response to changing conditions in the comic book market. Charlton switched to all reprints, suspended publication once or twice during the early 1980s, and finally closed its doors in 1986. The 1960s superheroes had been sold in 1983 to DC Comics; and the company's other properties and assets were sold at auction.
In 1999, the building that had housed Charlton Comics was demolished — and with it, that ancient printing press.
DC used the Charlton superheroes as the basis for the main characters in Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. Also, that company occasionally publishes its own versions of some of them, such as Captain Atom and Peacemaker. Other Charlton stories turn up very occasionally, in very sporadic reprints from small publishers. Other than that, today, there's nothing left of Charlton Comics.
Charlton Comics articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: