The PopCult Bookshelf
The Charlton Companion
by Jon B. Cooke
ISBN-13 : 978-1605491110
Longtime readers of PopCult know that your humble blogger is a big fan of Charlton Comics, the perennial “also-ran” comic book company that had bursts of creativity and innovation at various times in their history.
In this long-awaited book, Jon B. Cooke expands on his previous efforts, and with the help of many collaborators, puts forth the definitive account of that history. He covers the entire bizarre story of Charlton Publications, which was born out of a chance meeting in a county jail, and spent several decades as the nation’s only “all-in-one” magazine publisher, printer and distributor.
The Charlton Companion is an exhaustively-researched slice of manna from heaven for fans of Charlton Comics. In this book we learn how the company grew from publishing HIt Parader magazine to encompass a comic book line, hundreds of magazines and even their time as the original distributor of Hustler, before they finally shut down in 1992.
The focus is mainly on the comics, and this book has the full stories on the different eras, editors and creators that made Charlton, despite their lousy printing and distribution, one of the most interesting comic book companies around. While often derided for publishing substandard comics, the presence of Steve Ditko in their pages put the lie to that idea.
Among the revered comics pros who got their start at Charlton were Dick Giordano, Dennis O’Neal, Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Don Newton, Tom Sutton, John Byrne, Joe Staton, Mike Zeck and many others.
Charlton might have been considered a “farm-team,” but you can’t deny that a lot of hall-of-fame talent appeared in their pages. In this book we get lots of interviews and profiles with the different creators who worked for Charlton over the years.
The Charlton Companion also covers the magazine side of Charlton’s business, but the in-depth coverage is reserved for the comics. As the publisher’s blurb reveals:
Charlton produced a vast array of titles that span from the 1940s Golden Age to the Bronze Age of the ’70s in many genres, from Hot Rods to Haunted Love. The imprint experienced explosive bursts of creativity, most memorably the “Action Hero Line” edited by Dick Giordano in the 1960s, which featured the renowned talents of Steve Ditko and a stellar team of creators, as well as the unforgettable ’70s “Bullseye” era that spawned E-Man and Doomsday +1, all helmed by veteran masters and talented newcomers―and serving as a training ground for an entire generation of comics creators thriving in an environment of complete creative freedom.
From its beginnings with a handshake deal consummated in county jail, to the company’s accomplishments beyond comics, woven into this prose narrative are interviews with dozens of talented participants, including Giordano, Dennis O’Neil, Alex Toth, Sanho Kim, Tom Sutton, Pat Boyette, Nick Cuti, John Byrne, Mike Zeck, Joe Staton, Sam Glanzman, Neal Adams, Joe Gill, and even some Derby residents who recall working in the sprawling company plant. Though it gave up the ghost over three decades ago, Charlton’s influence continues today with its Action Heroes serving as inspiration for Alan Moore’s cross-media graphic novel hit, Watchmen.
While largely written by Cooke, The Charlton Companion also incorporates work by Chris Irving, who contributed greatly to the two issues of Cooke’s Comic Book Artist magazine from 2004 that had previously been the definitive word on Charlton; and also the late Michael Ambrose, the publisher of the dedicated fan magazine, Charlton Spotlight, who sadly passed away as this book was going to press. Frank Motler contributes an index of Charlton publications, as well. They even bring the book up to date with mentions of Charlton Spotlight and the Charlton Neo Comics.
The Charlton Companion is an invaluable resource for a previously-neglected area of comic book history. It’s also a fascinating look at publishing in the 20th century, and offers a glimpse of the immigrant business experience of the time. The story of Charlton is not only a huge part of American comic book history, but we also see how the company was connected to the likes of Betty Page, Larry Flynt, The Beatles, Heavy Metal Music, The Vatican and more.
The book is also profusely illustrated and wondefully laid out, which is pretty ironic, since Charlton was notorious for their low production values. This book simply looks spectacular.
The Charlton Companion is a must-have for anybody with an interest in Charlton Comics, but the book is really recommended for anyone with an interest in pop culture, publishing, music or the changing face of comics in the Bronze Age. You can order The Charlton Companion directly from the publisher, or from any bookseller, by using the ISBN code.
I remember as a kid noticing that the printing of Charlton comics looked somewhat different than DC, Marvel, or even Gold Key, and I could never figure out why. I also remember they had a title based on the short-lived sci-fi series “Space: 1999”, illustrated by John Byrne, and being very impressed with what I saw at the time. And of course the Charlton heroes made their way to DC with “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, and many of them are still around. This looks like a cool book!
Not sure if it’s a matter of rooting for the underdog or the keen bite of nostalgia, but I’ve always been a fan of Charlton. When I first discovered them as a tot I was impressed that the city of Charleston, WV, had its own line of comics. (I figured the truth out eventually.) From E-Man to Blue Beetle to Judo Master, there was a lot to enjoy! (By the way, I think it’s Mike Zeck.)
Yep. That was my typo of the day (now fixed). 🙂