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Charlton Comics

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Charlton Comics
Pre-code Horror:Steve Ditko's The Thing!


Derby, Connecticut





Parent Company

Charlton Publications

Company Background

Charlton Comics was an American comic book publishing company that existed from 1946 to 1985, having begun under a different name (T.W.O. Charles Company) in 1944. It was based in Derby, Connecticut. The comic-book line was a division of Charlton Publications, which published magazines (most notably song-lyric magazines), puzzle books and, briefly, books (under the Monarch and Gold Star imprints). It had its own distribution company (Capital Distribution).

Charlton Comics published a wide variety of genres, including crime, science fiction, Western, horror, war and romance comics, as well as funny animal and superhero titles. The company was known for its low-budget practices, often using unpublished material acquired from defunct companies and paying comics creators among the lowest rates in the industry. Charlton Comics were also the last of the American comics to raise their price from ten cents to 12 cents in mid-1962.

It was unique among comic book companies in that it controlled all areas of publishing, from editorial to printing to distribution, rather than working with outside printers and distributors as did most other publishers. It did so under one roof at its Derby headquarters. The company was formed by John Santangelo, Sr. and Ed Levy in 1940 as T.W.O. Charles Company, named after the co-founders' two sons, both named Charles, and became Charlton Publications in 1945.

The company's first comic book was Yellowjacket, an anthology of superhero and horror stories launched September 1944 under the imprint Frank Comunale Publications, with Ed Levy listed as publisher. Zoo Funnies was published under the imprint Children Comics Publishing; Jack in the Box, under Frank Comunale; and TNT Comics, under Charles Publishing Co.. Another imprint was Frank Publications.

Following the adoption of the Charlton Comics name in 1946, the company over the next five years acquired material from freelance editor and comics packager Al Fago (brother of former Timely Comics editor Vincent Fago). Charlton additionally published Merry Comics, Cowboy Western, the Western title Tim McCoy, and Pictorial Love Stories.

In 1951, when Al Fago began as an in-house editor, Charlton hired a staff of artists that included its future managing editor, Dick Giordano. Others, either on staff or freelance, eventually included Vince Alascia, Jon D'Agostino, Sam Glanzman, Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio, Bill Molno, Charles Nicholas and Sal Trapani. The primary writer was the remarkably prolific Joe Gill.

The company began a wide expansion of its comics line, which would include notoriously gory horror comics (the principal title being Steve Ditko's The Thing!). In 1954-55, it acquired a stable of comic book properties from the defunct Superior Comics, Mainline Publications, St. John Publications, and most significantly, Fawcett Publications, which was shutting down its comics division. Charlton continued publishing two of Fawcett's horror books — This Magazine Is Haunted and Strange Suspense Stories — initially using unpublished material from Fawcett's inventory. Don Markstein's Toonopedia notes that Charlton's acquisition included unused artwork from a number of Fawcett titles. Artistic chores were then handed to Ditko, whose moody, individualistic touch came to dominate Charlton's supernatural line. Beset by the circulation slump that swept the industry towards the end of the 1950s, Haunted struggled for another two years, published bi-monthly until May 1958. Strange Suspense Stories ran longer, lasting well into the 1960s before giving up the ghost in 1965.

Charlton published a wide line of romance titles, particularly after it acquired the Fawcett line, which included the romance comics Sweethearts, Romantic Secrets, and Romantic Story. Sweethearts was the comics world's first monthly romance title (debuting in 1948), and Charlton continued publishing it until 1973. Charlton had launched its first original romance title in 1951, True Life Secrets, but that series only lasted until 1956. Charlton also picked up a number of Western titles from the defunct Fawcett Comics line, including Gabby Hayes Western, Lash LaRue Western, Monte Hale Western, Rocky Lane Western, Six-Gun Heroes, Tex Ritter Western, Tom Mix Western, and Western Hero.

Al Fago left in the mid-1950s, and was succeeded by his assistant, Pat Masulli, who remained in the position for ten years. Masulli oversaw a plethora of new romance titles, including the long-running I Love You, Sweetheart Diary, Brides in Love, My Secret Life, and Just Married; and the teen-oriented romance comics Teen-Age Love, Teen Confessions, and Teen-Age Confidential Confessions.

Superheroes were a minor part of the company. At the beginning, Charlton's main characters were Yellowjacket (not to be confused with the later Marvel character), and Diana the Huntress. In the mid-1950s, Charlton briefly published a Blue Beetle title with new and reprinted stories, and in 1956, several short-lived titles written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, such as Mr. Muscles and Nature Boy (the latter with artist Mastroserio), and the Joe Gill-created Zaza the Mystic.

A large number of Charlton characters are now in the public domain due to lapsed copyright.

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