Remembering Charlton Comics’ Horror Titles

I paid a visit to our local antique shop this week, a cool little place on the north side called Barter House. I’m usually prowling for books, movies, and toys and this week I hit pay dirt. In addition to a 2003 NECA Toys Pinhead figure that came paired with a VHS copy of Hellraiser signed by Doug Bradley(!!!), I found a stack of Mad Magazine, Cracked, Eerie, Weird, and the Savage Sword Of Conan magazines and tucked away in the middle of the stack was #55 of The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves from February 1976.

Doctor Graves was a great nostalgic find for me, not because it was such a great issue, although its not bad and has a really cool werewolf story, but because Charlton Comics were a huge part of my introduction to horror.

I was in third grade and the 80s slasher boom was in full swing. I’d been a monster fan for as long as I could remember-Godzilla, Frankenstein, The Wolfman-but I drew a very distinct line between monster movies and horror movies. King Kong, yes/Jason Vorhees, no. The time was right though and I had started dipping my toes into what I’d considered horror, I mean, there was no escape. I had friends who had already seen Friday The 13th and talked to me about it, not to mention some older boys at our trailer park who told me that F13 was based on a true story about a killer from our town. I knew they were bull shitting me, but logic doesn’t mean much at midnight.

On TV I had discovered Tales From The Darkside and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, neither of which were particularly scary, but definitely put some new ideas in my head and could give me the creeps sometimes. Likewise, some family friend had sent over a box of old comics. This box was gold. It was full of war and western comics, including DC’s Weird Westerns (with Jonah Hex) and Weird War, but there were also a ton of horror comics. A few were DC’s Ghosts or House Of Mystery, but mostly they were from Charlton Comics, titles like Doctor Graves, Ghost Manor, Haunted, and Baron Weirwulf’s Haunted Library.

No, these weren’t particularly dark and gory like EC’s Tales From The Crypt or Warren’s Eerie, but they fired up my imagination and I was able to see a side of horror that went beyond the unkillable psycho in a mask (which I obviously grew to love).

My favorite was an issue of Ghost Manor with art from none other than Steve Ditko (Spider-Man) which featured a group of bank robbers dressed as classic monsters who pull off a heist then flee to their hideout only to discover they’ve added an extra monster to their numbers and he’s not wearing a mask! There was another story and I have had no luck finding out which comic it appeared in-and might actually be from DC’s Weird War, as the artwork as I remember it, resembles Joe Kubert’s work, but it bares mention due to the massive impact it had on me. It was called “The Hand Of Glory” and was about a young pilot who had always lived in his brother’s shadow. His brother had been a hero pilot in WWI, now there was no war and no chance for the young man to prove himself, until one day when the base is scrambled and fighters are ordered to take flight and directed towards New York City. On the way the young man keeps obsessing over the Hand Of Glory-then on the terrifying final page, the young pilot meets the Hand Of Glory as King Kong snatches his plane out of the air and crushes it in his massive paw! It gave me chills.

Charlton was a publisher from Conneticut that was in operation from 1945 to 1986 and published a wide variety of comics. Most comics fans would know them from a few of their super hero titles that were eventually bought by DC and were intended to be the main characters in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, before being rolled into the regular DCU; Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and The Question. There was no great difference between Charlton’s horror titles, aside from which mascot hosted the individual title (Doctor M.T. Graves, Baron Weirwulf, Impy, Countess R.H. Von Blood, or I.M. Dedd). They were mostly bloodless, but still fairly well done for the most part, featuring work from Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, and Mike Zeck, among many others who also worked for Timely, Marvel, and DC. The stories were a good mix of modern and gothic, and sometimes included prose shorts. Many of the covers are absolute treasures.

I held on to those Charlton Comics for years and reread them often. By fourth grade it was all over. I couldn’t resist the siren call of horror any longer and I owe as much to Charlton as I do to Fangoria for that. Sure, The Many Ghosts Of Doctor Graves is no Tales From The Crypt, but for a third grade scaredy cat it was a great gateway drug for a future horror nut.