Charlton Comics

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Charlton Comics was a minor comic book publishing house that existed from 1946 to 1986, best known for several of its characters and some of the noteworthy creators who worked for it.

Operating out of Derby, Connecticut, the firm published a wide variety of genres including crime, science fiction, western, horror, war, romance, funny-animals, and superheroes. The company was known for its low-budget practices, using a second hand printing press (previously used for printing cereal boxes) throughout its history, often using unpublished material acquired from folded companies, and paying among the lowest rates in the industry to the creators of the original material they published.

In 1952, Charlton acquired a stable of comic book properties from Fawcett Publications which was shutting down its Fawcett Comics division. Captain Marvel, who was at the time the subject of a legal battle between Fawcett and DC Comics, was not part of that deal.

The most noteworthy period of the company was in the mid-1960s in the so-called "Silver Age" when editor Dick Giordano hired former Marvel Comics artist Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spider-Man). During this time, the company produced several superhero characters, such as a new Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, The Peacemaker, Judomaster, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. They called these new set of superheroes "Action Heroes". The company developed a reputation as a good place for new talent to get their first work published; examples include John Byrne and Dennis O'Neil.

By the late 1960s, Charlton's superhero titles had been cancelled, with licensed materials becoming the staples of the company's business. They produced comics featuring cartoon characters from Hanna-Barbera and King Features Syndicate, and various prime time television shows such as Emergency! and The Six Million Dollar Man. They also published war comics, which were enthusiastically supportive of the U.S. military, even while the Vietnam War served as the focal point for the burgeoning anti-war movement. In the mid 1970s there was a brief resurgence of talent, when the CPL Gang group got involved, publishing new titles like E-man, Space: 1999, Midnight Tales, Doomsday+1, and others. CPL Gang also produced a short-lived fanzine called Charlton Bullseye which published unused and new materials, like the unpublished last Captain Atom story and the like. And they apparently created a new logo for Charlton, the one they'd use the rest of their existence: the circular 'Charlton bullseye'. Also during this period, most of Charlton's titles had painted covers (it was apparently cheaper to do so). But by 1978, most of these titles were dead, and the new talent had moved on, mostly to Marvel Comics.

By the 1980s, the company was in serious decline. The comic book industry was in a sales slump, struggling to reinvent a profitable distribution and retail system. Charlton's licensed titles lapsed, their aging press was deteriorating towards uselessness, and the company did not have the resources to replace it. There was yet another attempt at new materials, with a new Charlton Bullseye comic publishing new Captain Atom, Blue Bettle, and Question materials, and a later attempt with new material by Steve Ditko. Charlton closed its doors in 1986 and the building and press were demolished in 1999. Editor Robin Snyder sold off many properties to their creators, but the bulk of their work was purchased by Roger Broughton of Canada, who would produce several reprint titles under the name of "ACG" (he had also purchased the rights to the old American Comics Group properties) and claimed to have planned to restart Charlton Comics. This has yet to occur beyond a few reprints of Charlton works.

Charlton's most enduring legacy is their superhero characters, most of which were acquired in 1983 by DC Comics (where Giordano was then managing editor). They were originally going to be used in the landmark Watchmen mini-series written by Alan Moore, but DC decided to save the characters for other uses, so Moore developed new characters for his story, loosely based on them. The Charlton characters were instead incorporated into DC's main superhero line, where some of them enjoyed renewed popularity, most notably Blue Beetle, who had languished in obscurity for years before being reintroduced in DC's epic Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries. The company's longest running character, Atomic Mouse, was licensed by the furry comic company Shanda Fantasy Arts in 2001.

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