or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Past
Saturday, February 21, 2009
With “The Watchmen” film coming out, I thought I would write about Charlton Comics. The superheroes from the The Watchmen characters were purchased and licensed by DC Comics in 1986 from Charlton. In the fifties and sixties, this relatively obscure comic book publisher had created a number of superheroes that it never used in its comic lines. Alan Moore had the idea of using many of these characters in his own comic, thus the transition.
That being said, this entry deals with my experience and memories of the Charlton line in the sixties and seventies. As with many of my journal entries here, I deal mostly with cartoon and television adaptations.
Charlton comics had a certain feel. Due to the fact that they cut costs by printing on a second hand press that was used to print cereal boxes. This accounted for the yellowish, dull look to their pages and covers. Compared to the brightness and color of, say, a Gold Key comic or the density and detail of a DC or Marvel, this line of comics always seemed a bit inferior. I won’t go into the early history of the comics. As the superhero years wore down in the late sixties, I was introduced to the Charlton line.
At that time, and through the seventies, the main genres were war-themed comics, gothic horror stories (in a manga style, ahead of its time), and romance stories. And a few superheroes still popped up, E-Man most noticeably of which I still own my copy of the first issue.
In 1970, Charlton took over the Hanna-Barbera cartoon franchise from Gold Key. I found the artwork to be inferior, the covers rather pedestrian, and was disappointed that HB (my favorite cartoon franchise) was singled out for this relocation. Whereas Gold Key continued with the current Saturday morning titles such as Scooby Doo, Charlton took over the older titles, even bringing some back which GK had let slide. The titles were The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, Top Cat, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Magilla Gorilla. A year little a new title, Hanna-Barbera Parade (10 issues) was created to include all the pre-1964 Hanna-Barbera characters in various stories. These covers were often quite exciting as they included a menagerie of characters in some theme (much like GK’s earlier “Bandwagon”).
An important note here: Charlton actually published a HB title based upon their cartoon shorts of Abbott and Costello starting in 1968, predating the other titles. This was always odd, as GK still took care of all HB titles. This title actually lasted 22 issues and dovetailed with the aforementioned HB infusion through 1971.
Most of these HB titles lasted no later than 1972, with The Jetsons and Top Cat going 20 issues through 1973. However, Yogi and The Flintstones lasted until Marvel took over the franchise in 1977. The Flintstones actually became a Charlton touchstone begetting sequel comics featuring Barney and Betty Rubble, Dino, and Great Gazoo. Even the new teenage version of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm had a long lasting run by Charlton starting in ’72. When GK completely abandoned the HB line in 1975, Charlton took over Scooby Doo until the Marvel takeover. They also published issues based on current HB Saturday morning fare: Valley of the Dinosaurs (with Pat Boyett artwork), Hong Kong Phooey, Speed Buggy, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, and Korg: 70,000 BC (a live-action show). A couple of issues of The Grape Ape followed this. By this time, the quality of the artwork was improving and certain artists were lending themselves exclusively to HB titles (such as Fred Hines for Barney and Betty)
Personal note: Both Pat Boyett and Fred Hines were San Antonio-based artists which led to much excitement on my part in those days. I think I remember my dad, also an artist, trying to set up a meeting with these guys, but my memory is hazy.
In 1970, Charlton also took over two Jay Ward titles from GK, Bullwinkle & Rocky and Dudley Do-Right, each for seven-issue runs. Also, Underdog (similarly animated by GAmma Studios) had a short run at this time. These titles would revert back to GK by 1973, a fate not afforded the HB titles. To wrap up the Saturday morning titles, Charlton published a short run of the Krofft live-action puppet show The Bugaloos (another odd choice given the other Krofft shows were represented by GK). Also, Ronald McDonald had his own Charlton comic in the early seventies…talk about tie-ins. Charlton also carried many King Features comics from the newspapers at this time: Popeye, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Mandrake, The Phantom, Tiger, and Snuffy Smith. As for prime-time series, Charlton had a run of the comedy-variety show Hee-Haw (a really strange choice) and the sitcom The Partridge Family. The heartthrob star of The Partridge Family, David Cassidy, even had his own title as did another icon, Bobby Sherman, possibly based on his sitcom “Getting Together”. And a short-lived syndicated science-fiction program called “Primus” had a Charlton run. There was a single issue based on the musical film “1776” which was even stranger.
The mid-70’s saw the now-classic Sci-Fi series Space: 1999 get a Charlton treatment. This continued with successful runs of The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and Emergency. Whereas Gold Key always used live-action photos melded with cool title graphics on their covers, Charlton always used artwork to depict the characters on the covers.I believe that is all the TV-related titles from Charlton although in the fifties, I believed they carried “My Little Margie” a popular sitcom at the time (recently shown on ION television).