Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bill Molno's 1970s war art for Charlton

Technically, Bill Molno's '70s Charlton work starts in September, 1971 with "The Talking Tooth" (Fightin' Marines #99), but I strongly suspect this feature was an instance of delayed publication--stylistically, it is identical to a Nov., 1968 Fightin' Marines feature by Molno called "Silent Signals."  Observe:

Same lettering, too.  And there's the biggest clue of all: the job number of B-647.  (The other two stories in Fightin' Marines #99 have the job numbers B-1591 and B-1561, respectively.) Clearly,"The Talking Tooth" was drawn well before 1971.   I think we can safely conclude, based on available data (i.e., mine and GCD's), that Molno's '70s Charlton work really starts in July, 1974 with his cover for Fightin' Army #114:

Molno drew one more war cover before Charlton mass-fired its staff in 1976, though that cover (Fightin' Army #129) wasn't printed until November, 1977.  Its art was (mostly) taken from the splash panel to "A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse":

Notice how the guy in the foreground appears to be shooting one of his own men (above)?  Well, it turns out he was borrowed from the interior story's second panel and carelessly pasted in.  Hence, the rather awkward detail in an otherwise tight composition.  Behold:

During Charlton's reprint era, Molno's art graced five war comic covers (from 9/81, 5/80, 3/78, 12/82, and 8/81, respectively):

But we're here for the interior art, and I'm happy to report that it's the best of Molno's career (though my personal favorite is the artist's highly eccentric '60s Charlton space art).  Here are some of his best compositions and layouts from Fightin' Army, Fightin' Marines, and War, images which display a looseness of line, depth of detail, and inventiveness in layout missing from much (though not all) of his pre-1974 work.  In my humble yet biased view, these are highly effective and efficient battlefield depictions. It should come as no surprise that the man behind these images was a watercolorist.

By the way, going through these, I noticed to my surprise that some of them received their first (and only) printings during the reprint era--meaning, of course, that they had remained in inventory since the mass firing of 1976.  And so I had assumed that, for instance, 1979s "The Cold, Cold War" and 1978's "My Duty Or Death" were reprints.  Not.  This stuff gets complicated!

Below: "Private War," Fightin' Marines #133, Oct., 1977:

Below: "Trapped Again," Fightin' Marines #123, May, 1975.

Below: "The Devil Dogs at Chateau Thierry," Fightin' Marines #125, Sept., 1975.

Below: "Chicken," Fightin' Marines #127, Jan., 1976:

Below: "The Raiders," Fightin' Army #130, Feb., 1978.  (Not to be confused with the Molno-illustrated story of the same title in War #9, Nov., 1976):

Below: "The Chongjn Express," Fightin' Marines #118, Aug., 1974.

Below: "My Duty or Death," Fightin' Army #131, March, 1978.  

Below: "The Cold, Cold War," War #13, April, 1979:

Below: "Giant Killer," Fightin' Army #127, Dec., 1976:

More Molno to come!



  1. Lee,

    I think my first comment disappeared into the internet ether, so I'll try again! I agree with you that this is some of Molno's most exciting work, most of which I've never seen before. Some really nice pages/panels, one of my favorite being "The Cold, Cold War". In my own research I also discovered that inventory appeared in "all reprint" stories, so I'm glad you found a few surprises. I look forward to more Molno magic!

  2. Glad you enjoyed! Yes, the "Cold, Cold War" is amazing. I'll be using some of its images to make a case for Molno being the artist on the cover of War #7 (uncredited on GCD). I wonder why Charlton held on to those 1978 and 1979 Molnos? Maybe some of their inventory got misplaced and they stumbled across it later. The Civil War story is almost an epic (12 pages!), so it's odd that it was delayed. The cover to Fightin' Army #130 gives no indication that it's new.

    I've been wanting to do a Molno space-art feature for a while, and I reckon I should get to it. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Lee, thanks for the Molno in the '70s overview. It seems to be that Molno always did his own inks. Can you point out any instances in the war books where he was inked by someone else? Also, do you think Molno was responsible for drawing his own sound effects into the panels? His stories are so redolent with sound effects that complement the art that I'm virtually certain they were in the original art, not added later.

  4. Hi, Mickey. Molno inked all of his '70s war art for Charlton (unless I'm forgetting an entry or two). He also self-inked much, if not most, of his war art from 1962-on (with Ernie Bache inking him on several c. 1965 efforts). Prior to that, he did his own war inks from time to time but mostly penciled for Vince Alascia, Sal Trapani, and Rocke Mastroserio. By 1961, the Molno/Alascia efforts had evolved into a graceful and tidy style, in contrast to the self-inked Molnos from 1962-on, which were roughly inked and, by 1963/64, minimalist in the extreme (is that logically possible?). The contrast between his highly sketchy 1964 art and his highly detailed '70s work is pretty amazing. I love all phases of his Charlton war art, though his '70s efforts are probably his best.

    Hope that answers your question! I agree about the sound effects--they have a consistent (and consistently quirky) character, and some of them--like my favorite, "KROOOSH!"--don't seem to have happened in anyone else's art. Charlton truly let artists do their own thing. By contrast, his Gold Key work of the '60s (with Sal Trapani) features way more conventional effects (e.g. "BOOOMM!"), though the lettering looks self-added.

    Some of my most recent posts feature Molno pencils for Dell, Gold Key, and DC--you might find those interesting. Thanks for commenting!