Monday, April 28, 2014

Welcome to Lee's Comic Rack!

As a kid, my comic collecting life mostly revolved around Classics Illustrated, but I fondly remember the "other" comics I grew up buying and trading--mainly science fiction, horror, adventure, and war titles on Gold Key, Dell, and Charlton.  This blog pays tribute to titles in/from those lines, with an emphasis on Charlton, which I've collected 100s of over the past few years and which, by now, is my favorite non-CI comic line.

Some people can remember the first comic book they ever owned, but I'm not one of them.  I do, however, remember my first Classics Illustrated (of course!)--The Conquest of Mexico, bought (and read to me) by my Dad, circa 1963.  The cover and interior art blew me away.  Little did I know that, by then, CI was a reprint-only company, though I do recall causally wondering why new titles weren't appearing.  However, I was more than content with the 100-and-whatever titles available, and I used to obsess over the missing numbers in the reorder list.  True story: Around 1969, I order three out of print titles and received first edition ten-cent copies, all mint!  (The Cloister and the Hearth, A Christmas Carol, and The Black Tulip.)  Plus a note from the company explaining that the unlisted numbers are no longer in print and to please not order them.  And I thought they were just hiding the titles on their readers!

Meanwhile, the first Charlton comic I remember noticing--and noticing in a big way--was Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #40 (Feb., 1964).  I don't recall buying a copy or having one bought for me, but I must have owned it, because I remember every panel and plot.  (That, or I memorized it over the course of a few visits to the comic rack at Food Town.)  The issue's opener, the Bill Molno-illustrated Sleeping Giant, seemed at the time like the coolest comic book story ever conceived, and I even drew my own version of the giant-hand-reaching-for-the-spaceship panel.  Where that vanished to, I know not, but here's Molno:

The Sleeping Giant splash page also made a huge impression on my six-year-old noggin.  It's one of the reasons I'm a Bill Molno fan for life (though I had no idea, until very recently, who had drawn this):

I remember finding the Charlton space titles extremely cool, despite the company's cheap lettering and the tacky "Charlton comics give you more!" promise on every odd-numbered page.  Something about them seemed just right.  I don't know that I regarded them as low-rent or cheap as much as simply different.  (I now realize they were both.)  Oh, and I liked their Hercules series--I remember trading a comic and some change for a friend's issue.

My verdict changed dramatically three years later with the Oct., 1967 Space Adventures Presents U.F.O., a knock-off of the Dell Flying Saucer series that left me feeling sorry for Charlton.  Wretched printing quality (every issue I've seen looks as bad as the one I owned), terrible opening story, and a long adventure featuring weird Pat Boyette art that didn't make it for me.  (I was ten; what did I know?)  I didn't come back to Charlton until 1976 or 1977, not knowing that, by that time, the company's pre-reprint days were short.  (Yes, I typed "pre-reprint days.")

Gold Key-wise, I bought some TV show titles (U.N.C.L.E.; Wild, Wild, West, etc.) and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, at least until the latter became primarily a monster-on-the-loose mag.  Dell-wise, Ghost Stories was my favorite title, by far, with the art seeming a lot more sophisticated at the time.

And those are my non-Classics Illustrated comic book memories, save for a brief period in which I tried to warm up to Marvel Comics (I never did).  I'm sure my brain is storing a great many more, and maybe some of them will pop to the surface during the course of this blog.  Maybe they'll be less dull!  Anyway, that's my story.  You had to be there.


  1. Lee - It's always fascinating to discover the "origins" of a comic collector. Although mine was much different (since, as you know from my blog, I was very much a Marvel reader) I also appreciated and read comics from many other companies, and enjoyed them. Luckilly I have an older brother, John, who had some money to not only buy the latest Marvel's, but occasionally bought DC, Dell/Gold Key, Tower, Archie/Mighty and Charlton. Unfortunately Charton's were always readily available in my neighborhood in Brooklyn until around 1970, but then we started buying all the mystery titles since those were particular favorites. Ditko has always been a particular favorite of mine, but I also enjoyed the work of many Charlton regulars, although Nicholas/Alascia was not one of my favorite teams I do appreciate them more today.

    I enjoy the diversity in art that appeared in the non-Marvel/DC comics and many that are ignored and/or maligned are interesting to my eye. Paul Reinman, Joe Certa and Bill Molno or names that are rarely celebrated but I believe they should be. It's great to find a blog that looks at someone like Bill Molno in a positive light and shows examples of his fine work.

  2. Nick--Thanks! An honor to get your approval, and I plan to keep the Molno coming. And this is the ideal time for me to start a Molno timeline on paper (as opposed to trying to maintain it mentally!), especially with Molno's mysterious absence from Charlton from the late 1960s to circa 1973 and the confusion it adds to the Molno/Charlton story. When I came back to Charlton in 1976 (following my 1967 fallout, thanks to "U.F.O."), Ditko was my favorite, though I recall confusing his work with both Rich Larson's (!) and Tom Sutton's (!!). I wasn't paying sufficient attention back then, even with the artists' credit right there in front of me. Ditko remained my Charlton draw until I very recently switched allegiance to Bill, especially after figuring out he was the artist behind the marvelous "Last Will and Testament" in Haunted #29.

    Thanks again!

  3. I could tell Ditko art a mile away since I was a tyke, but I can also see some of the influences in artists like Sutton, Larsen and many others such as Joe Staton. You've been added to my favorites blog list, so I hope a few new faces pass your way (my brother John will be one!). I look forward to catching up on your blog and future posts, as well as your interest in Dell/Gold Key.