Monday, October 10, 2005

The Golden Age of Fanzines Lives On

by Mark Burbey

A couple of writing assignments have kept me from working on my blog, but they’re done, so I’m back.

As a comic book fan who was lucky enough to be around during the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was likewise in the right place at the right time for the golden age of fanzines. Bill Schelly wrote a great book on that period and the fanzines it produced – called THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMIC FANDOM. Choices ran the gamut from the amateur fanzines that were as charming as they were crude, to the zines that bordered on professional publications. The best fanzines included EC-oriented zines SQUA TRONT and SPA FON, zines that analyzed comics as an art form such as GRAPHIC STORY MAGAZINE, and strip zines like STAR-STUDDED COMICS and Wally Wood’s groundbreaking WITZEND, and adzines like the ROCKET’S BLAST COMICOLLECTOR. With the exception of WITZEND, these fanzines were published on an irregular basis by fans who published for the love of it. By the ’80s, the era of fanzines had pretty much run its course, but today we have collector-aimed magazines like COMIC BOOK ARTIST and ALTER EGO that feel like the fanzines of old, but are produced by professional publishers who can maintain regular schedules.

Harking back to the days of old, however, are publishers driven by the sheer love of comics and the desire to share that passion between the pages of a narrowly focused fanzine. One such fanzine is CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT. Published by Michael Ambrose, CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT thoroughly embraces the output of an often disparaged (and defunct) publisher that saw its best days in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Charlton Comics is best known as the company that Steve Ditko settled in with after leaving Marvel Comics at the height of his tenures on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. In addition to drawing a slew of stories in every possible genre for Charlton’s sundry anthology titles, Ditko drew CAPTAIN ATOM, wrote and drew a revised version of the BLUE BEETLE, and created and wrote THE QUESTION, a mainstream-palatable version of his Objectivist mouth-piece, Mr. A. Charlton is also fondly remember for a variety of ghost/mystery comics that regular published the work of great talents such as Tom Sutton, Wayne Howard, Mike Zeck, Don Newton, Joe Staton, Pete Morisi, Pat Boyette, and if you looked hard enough, a rare appearance by Alex Toth. For me, Charlton is the company that published comics unlike those from Marvel and DC. The ghost comics were, by far, superior to DC’s mystery comics. Sure, there would be the occasional story or cover by Kaluta, Wrightson, Toth, etc., but the bulk of DC horror comics were illustrated by South American artists who were certainly skilled and prolific, but they were boring. And the stories, by and large, were formulaic. Charlton’s ghost comics were a real kick. Charlton generally let the artists do whatever they wanted to do. We’re not talking underground comix kind of freedom, but mainstream horror ghost stories freedom. Tom Sutton, who was as good a writer as he was an artist, would get a twisted idea into his head, translate that into a good horror yarn, draw it up, send it to Charlton, and they’d publish it. Ditko, on the other hand, drew the scripts that were sent to him, but the majority of these scripts were written by Joe Gill, a workhorse who could write a solid story sooner than the rest of us could make a sandwich.

If you look down your nose at Charlton – don’t. And if you haven’t checked out CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT – do. Ambrose has published four issues so far, and is hard at work on the fifth. Issue #1 was a tribute the late Pat Boyette, and #2 was kind of a potpourri issue with Charlton history (including rare photos of the Charlton offices and printing plant), more Pat Boyette stuff, and an interview with Bill Black. Issue #3 was dedicated to the late and undeniably great Tom Sutton, and #4 was dedicated to the also late but definitely worthy Pat Morisi.

Contributors so far have included Bill Pearson, Bill Schelly, Ron Frantz, Jim Amash, Bhob Stewart, Alex Toth, Robin Snyder, Steve Skeates, Joe Gill, Don Mangus, Nicola Cuti, Batton Lash, and many others. I’ve contributed to the last two issues, and have just finished an article for #5, but I’d be a fan of CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT regardless.

All four issues can either be purchased from your favorite comic shop, from mail order guys like Bud Plant, or directly from publisher Mike Ambrose.

Charlton Spotlight Homepage


Blogger Spider63 said...

I have Charlton Spotlight #4, the PAM issue, and it is great to read about a regular guy who was a Policeman by day and a comic book artist in his spare time. Charlton Comics was about the average guy, and they were cool. And some great artists and writers also happened to work at Charlton too!

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