Thursday, August 30, 2012

Before Marvel

In late 1959 and early 1960, at least a year before Jack Kirby talked Lee into allowing Kirby to create a new line of superhero titles for Marvel Comics, Steve Ditko was already doing that for the folk at Charlton Comics.

Charlton was a strange outfit. They did lots of comics, but I've never been able to figure if comic book publishing was ever profitable for them. They were mainly a printing company who churned out magazines. And they did comics to keep the presses running between jobs of producing the magazines which made them the real money. From what I hear it was easier to maintain the presses if they were constantly working.

The reputation at Charlton among creators was not wholly positive. They paid very low rates to creators and it was company policy not only to not return the artwork to the artists, but to destroy that very artwork once its purpose had been served in the printing process. But apparently there were some small advantages to working with them. They paid on time (even if the rates were low), they created a lot of work for writers and artists, and they didn't interfere much editorially with the folk making the comics. This would have been key for a guy like Steve Ditko.

Ditko seemed to be all about working. He was a creator who was being paid to illustrate. He had bills to pay and family to support. From everything I've read, he enjoyed the relative freedom of working for Charlton, and he did work for them right up until they closed up shop forever.

One of the characters Ditko created (or co-created) for Charlton was Captain Atom. The official history is that Joe Gill and Ditko created it together. But I've never read either of these guys opinions and history of Captain Atom. The character ran for a long time in various incarnations and was one of the superhero properties bought up by DC when they glommed all of Charlton's copyrighted intellectual property at auction. Captain Atom also was the source of Doctor Manhattan in the Alan Moore graphic novel, THE WATCHMEN.

So even before Kirby had succeeded in talking Goodman and Lee into allowing him to revamp Marvel into a superhero publisher, Ditko was already doing the same (to a lesser extent) over at Charlton.

My copy of SPACE ADVENTURES #36, with Captain Atom!

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