“The Way it Was” by Dick Giordano
The sexy ’60s! Miniskirts, bell bottoms, lotsa hair, colorful clothes, student protests, draft card — and bra — burning, flower children, hippies — and the Beatles.
With that as a backdrop, I accepted the position of executive editor of the Charlton Comics Group.
Upon my arrival there (actually, I’d worked at Charlton in various positions since 1952…most recently as a freelancer), I discovered that “we” were publishing thirty-four bimonthly comic books; that, by genre, they were all over the map, and that in addition to my basic responsibilities for their editorial and creative content, my duties also included scheduling and overseeing the thirty-four titles through the production process. Sidebar: Charlton was located on Division Street in Derby, Connecticut and everything from concept to shipping was done under that same roof. That fact gave Charlton a competitive advantage — which they never really used, or truly understood.
They claimed that the comics were losing money, but as near as I can remember, I was never given a mandate to improve sales or produce better books — just to get ‘em done on time and don’t spend any extra money. With those caveats, I embarked upon what I now think of as one of the most frantic, frenetic, and yes, creative periods in my editorial career. I was endowed with a few lumps of clay, very little financial or emotional support and a relatively free hand. We did a lot of flying by the seat of our pants and made a lot of it up as we went along, but that’s creativity — makin’ somethin’ out of nothin’ (of course, that presupposes that you agree that we did, indeed, make somethin’)!
What follows may not be in strict chronological order. My recollections of what happened are far clearer than when it happened. Bear with me.
I know the first thing that happened is I looked at Marvel’s and DC’s super-hero lines and decided that I wanted to get into the sandbox and play, too! Although Charlton had already dipped its toe in to the super-hero pool, it did so without a real understanding of the genre and quite halfheartedly. It was little wonder that the old Blue Beetle, Son of Vulcan (with one issue containing the first work of writer Roy Thomas) and the original Captain Atom didn’t do very well. My memory gets fuzzy here. I wasn’t there when Captain Atom was first published and those earlier issues carried no credit lines (altough a Steve Ditko signature appeared on the occasional splash page), so I’m not sure if Joe Gill or Dave Kaler created the character…although when writer credits started appearing, it was Dave Kaler. The “idea” sounds like Gill to me…the scripts, not.
First things first. I intended to build the hero line around Captain Atom (the only original super-hero to survive) but I never could snuggle up to super heroes. After the last survivor of the planet Krypton, I had trouble keeping a straight face when I heard how the heroes who followed Superman got their powers. As a reader and later as an artist, Batman was (and still is) my favorite hero mostly because his origin was pure. We could relate to young Bruce’s obsession. We could see ourselves driven to fight criminality to avenge our parents’ senseless murders. I decided that, Captain Atom aside, the other heroes would not be super-powered, but would derive their abilities through specialized training or offbeat technology. I coined (I think) the phrase “action heroes” and used it on all my house ads and letter pages and in panel discussions at conventions. Never super-heroes; always action heroes.
Next, I worked out a budget that would allow me to pay the action-hero artists a bit more money without increasing the comics’ overall cost structure. No, it wasn’t smoke and mirrors, but space doesn’t allow a detailed explanation.
In fact, it doesn’t allow for much more. We’ll pick up the story next issue.
All right. So now I had a theme, a couple of bucks and some talented guys standing in the wings waiting to get started.
» Captain Atom: No matter who wrote it, Steve Ditko was at the character’s core. It was his art that grounded the strip. His knack for designing costumes, villains and supporting cast is what is remembered to this day.
»The New Blue Beetle: This was very nearly all Steve Ditko — at his prime! The origin, the costume, the Bug and associated gimmicks all came to life on Steve Ditko’s drawing board. Introduced initially as a backup in Captain Atom, it soon garnered more fan mail than the good Captain and was spun off into his own title.
»The Question: Again, pure Ditko…and somewhat controversial at the time. And one of the best backup strips I’ve ever seen. I thought at the time that the character wasn’t strong enough to support a full book. Years later, Denny O’Neil’s run on THE QUESTION proved me wrong.
»The Peacemaker: A product of the Cold War, the tag line “He loves peace so much he’s willing to fight for it” wasn’t as laughable then as it is now. Pat Boyette’s quirky art blended nicely with Joe Gill’s scripting to produce a neat bimonthly read.
»Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt: Created, written and drawn by Pete Morisi, who signed his work “P.A.M.” because his full-time day job had a prohibition against moonlighting. I felt that this was Pete’s crowning achievement. And he did it all after a 40-hour week elsewhere. Yes, it was bimonthly, but Pete really sweated the scripts and, to a lesser degree, the art. I tried to help him over the humps…mostly without success. He didd a great job and eventually had the rights to the strip revert to him. DC licensed “Thunderbolt” for a spell, and I believe the rights reverted to him again.
»Judomaster: Frank McLaughlin was a judo instructor and a comics artist. You marry the two skills and you get…Judomaster. Originally conceived as a newspaper strip, Frank sold the idea to the boss at Charlton to publish a Judomaster Summer Special that Frank would write and draw. The Special did well enough so that Judomaster soon returned in his own title. I remember Frank and myself going down to the bank to cash our checks on Fridays and co-plotting the next issue together. The villains; his sidekick, Tiger; as well as the supporting cast were created on those trips to the bank and back. What fun to see our discussions turn into printed issues!
»Sarge Steel: Well, I did something besides let the others have fun. I think I drew every issue but one (and I inked that over Bill Montes’s pencils) until I left Charlton and ol’ Sarge became a secret agent. I still love the character — as a hard-boiled private eye, though — and would love to draw him again. For the curious minds who need to know, Pat Masulli wrote the first issue of Sarge Steel and designed the character in a rough sketch that included the brush cut, the Luger pistol and the steel fist. So although Joe Gill wrote and I drew every issue and backup appearance in Judomaster after that, neither of us can lay claim to having “created” the character. And “Sarge” is his name (Sargent, as in Sargent Shriver), not his rank.
See, kid — hang around me an’ you’ll learn things!
Thank you and good afternoon.