Sunday, 1 July 2012

Comic book independents.

Vampirella #30
As we all know, when it came to the 1970s, the American comic book industry was dominated by two companies, Marvel and DC. Like the twin legs of the Colossus of Rhodes, they stood astride the harbour of four-colourdom sheltering us from the threat of boredom.

But, on the very same spinner racks where we found those comics, we'd occasionally discover other ones - comics published by companies far more obscure.

There were publishers like Dell and Gold Key who, in my limited experience of them, seemed to concentrate on publishing licensed properties like Star Trek or Ripley's Believe It Or Not. To be honest, they always felt a little too square for me and I rarely felt moved to buy any of their titles.

Skywald, Nightmare #17, a naked blonde reclines on an altar, beside a horny ape

In more “mature” directions, there were Warren and Skywald. My only exposure to Warren was issue #30 of Vampirella. My only experience of Skywald was issue #17 of Nightmare which I found to be far too unpleasant for my enlightened tastes.

Atlas Comics, Phoenix #1, Phoenix fires rays at attacking flying saucers that are destroying Reykjavík, Dick Giordano cover

No. For me, the independents that did most to capture my imagination were Atlas and Charlton.

Atlas didn't last long but, mostly thanks to sheer ambition, made an indelible impression, even if 99% of their output was total rubbish.

The Many Ghosts of Dr Graves #41, green druids drag a woman off to be sacrificed at Stonehenge, Charlton Comics

But the independent mags I was always happiest to see – and read – were those published by Charlton.

Who could fail to thrill to The Many Ghosts of Dr Graves, Ghostly Haunts, or the inimitable Midnight Tales with Professor Coffin and his lovely niece Arachne?

With their not-quite-glossy covers and strange, ragged edges, Charlton comics had a look all of their own. The stories within, mostly centring on light horror and mystery, had a distinctive feel too; quirkier and more idiosyncratic than those of the Big Two.

But that's enough about me. What're your memories of Bronze and Silver Age independents? Were there any titles you bought regularly? Ones you didn't regularly buy but always wanted to? And who was your favourite independent publisher?


Anonymous said...

Marvel and (to a lesser extent) DC both sometimes seemed arrogant and pretentious to me. In the late 1960's, I may have considered myself an iconoclast or a rebel for buying Gold Key and others. Tarzan and Korak may have been the only titles of which I bought as many as a dozen consecutive issues back then. I also remember Tower Comics' T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs. They had impressive artwork (Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Reed Crandall). They were an attempt to combine the James Bond-type genre (then at its peak of popularity) with costumed super-heroes like the Avengers or Justice League. Their problem may have been a Catch-22 in that the Bond fans were too old for comics and costumed characters, and the supeer hero fans were too young for the sexy spy genre.

Anonymous said...

Charlton was mainly doing horror and war comics in the 1970's, but they did try to publish super-heroes in the mid-1960's: Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Judo Master, Peacemaker. Blue Beetle and its back-up strip, the Question, were similar to Marvel comics in dealing with the characters' personal problems as well as the battles between heroes and villains. I have this vision of Charlton instructing Steve Ditko, "Make the strip as similar to Spider Man as possible, short of provoking a lawsuit."

Anonymous said...

BTW, another problem with Tower Comics may have been that they were over-priced. In 1966, regular-sized comics were twelve cents (about 7.5 p), with occasional Annuals or Specials (with 72-80 pages instead of the usual 32) priced at twenty-five cents. Tower's comics were always 56+ pages for 25 cents. Also, they were bi-monthly, which may have made it hard to build a following. Lightning Comics' Fatman the Human Flying Saucer had those same two problems. Fatman also had its own kind of catch-22. It was tongue-in-cheek, but the fad for camp comedy was already starting to pass by 1967. The kids who read comics wanted their super-heroes played straight. And the adults who liked campy comedy mixed in with action-adventure (the Batman TV show, Our Man Flint and Matt Helm movies) didn't read comics.

Steve W said...

I used to like Mighty Comics, which was a brand name division of Archie Comics. They came out in the mid 60s and feratured heroes like Fly-Man and The Shield. The stories were pretty stereotyped, but since a lot of them were written by Jerry Siegel they were still worth reading. The infighting amongst the heroes was legendary - they formed a loose group called The Mighty Crusaders but spent so much time arguing that they never actually accomplished anything!

southfolkman said...

Why as a young man you just happened to pick up that issue of Vampirella, I can't possibly imagine!

Steve W. said...

I'm proud to announce that I didn't buy it. My dad bought it, one Sunday, for my sister. My suspicion is he assumed that, because it was about a woman, it was aimed at girls.

R. W. Watkins said...

As I stated just recently, I enjoyed Charlton and Gold Key for their horror/mystery comics more so than I did Marvel for their contributions to the genre. Steve Ditko and writer Nicola Cuti's contributions to Charlton were particularly impressive. I'll never forget stories like 'The Walking Snowman' and 'I'll Never Forget What's-His-Name' (featuring Dr Graves).

Anonymous said...

I bought every Atlas comic at the time with the exception of Vicki (which I ended up picking up years later) and the B&W title Gothic Romance I loved them at the time (the b&w tile "Thrilling Adventure Stories is wel worth looking out for) as they seemed so different, in reality the were pretty much mince (but have a soft spot for them and there are some new stories featuring there characters now)Always enjoyed a Charlton comic for Ditko, Boyette etc art a d used to pick up Doomsday +1 and Eman regularly - I also remember Red Circle comics (think they were an Imprint of ARCHIE comics) and they published some nice stuff though mostly mystery / sorcery titles but also the old Mighty Comics (Hood,Crusaders, Fox etc which I loved) I picked up loads of these as a kid in the early 70s -McScotty

Steve W. said...

Was Thrilling Adventure Stories the one with the Samurais and the giant spider?

I seem to recall Atlas also did some mags that were clearly modelled on Famous Monsters of Filmland. I had a bunch of those.

R. W. Watkins said...

Yes, Steve, Atlas--or rather its sister company Seaboard--published a few mags. I have Weird Tales of the Macabre Nos 1 and 2 in my collection.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve - yes Thrilling Adventure has that Samurai / Spider story (Temple of the Spider") with art by Walt Simonson - issue 2 was a really good one with Toth, Severin, Russ Heath art and a Neal Adams cover. They (well under the title Seaboard for the mags- Atlas for the comics)did "Movie Monsters" which was like "Famous Monsters of Filmland" other mags like "Devilina" , "Weird Tales of the Macabre" were b&w comics based on Warren / Marvel type books (Thrilling Adventure was probably more like a UK comic in some ways) "Gothic Romance" was a story mag with spot illos (never got that one but read about it) McScotty

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