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Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Archive's Sunday Comics - Strange Possessions

Last week we had no Sunday Comics, but we more than make up for it this week
with a complete script by Archive friend Keith Chapman, better known as western
writer Chap O'Keefe. And who better to tell us about this week's offering than
the author himself? Keith here gives us some fascinating background on this
week's strip as well as some great reminiscences.
 
And so over to Keith: 
 
Charlton Comics was founded in the early 1940s and published The Many 
Ghosts of Doctor Graves from 1967 to 1982, for the best part of the run 
as a bi-monthly. It was one of Charlton's most popular mystery/ghost 
titles. Several now legendary comic-book artists drew for its pages, 
perhaps as an escape from the fetters on individual creativity imposed 
by New York publishing giants like Marvel and DC.
 
More than one comics fan has noted that Charlton, despite its low 
budget, barely adequate printing press, and Derby, Connecticut address, 
produced some truly top-class material and gave a start to some of the 
finest talents the industry has known.
 
Dr Graves "hosted" the stories that appeared in the comic carrying his 
name. This generally meant a thumbnail portrait of the character would 
be incorporated with the opening and closing text panels of each 
self-contained story. The same pattern was followed by other Charlton 
ghost comics. For example, Ghostly Tales had a Mr Dedd for a host and 
Ghost Manor had a Mr Bones. Usually three stories were featured in each 
issue.
 
 From time to time, Dr Graves, who had originally been introduced by 
writer-artist Ernie Baniche as a "ghost fighter" in the May 1966 edition 
of Ghostly Tales, would play an actual role in a story. The writers of 
these few "real" Dr Graves stories included prolific Charlton staff 
stalwart Joe Gill. The story here Strange Possessions, appeared in 
The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves No. 62, 
October 1977.
 
I would have liked to have written more, but Charlton's 
fortunes were already in serious decline. In December 1975 , executive 
editor George Wildman, who had accepted every one of my 'great' stories 
for his ghost comics, wrote, 'At present I have more than enough scripts 
on file. Try me much later.' The following June, managing editor Paul 
DelPo wrote, 'We are again cutting back on comic titles and inventory. 
As a result, freelance scripts are being curtailed and we will only have 
enough work for our regular staff. As to how long this policy will 
remain in effect, I don't know.' By then I was established in New 
Zealand as the chief sub-editor of a women's magazine and had a young 
family to support. So basically it was goodbye to comic books, since the 
Kiwis published none of their own. A few years later, Transworld Feature 
Syndicate of New York, who'd sold a story of mine to a 'confessions' 
magazine, offered George another ghost script. He returned it to me, 
writing, 'I am sorry to say that at the present time we are not 
accepting any outside material due to our small production schedule of 
only twelve titles. We are using up inventory on hand plus reprinting 
old material.'
The artwork for Strange Possessions is by Steve Ditko, who is today 
largely thought of as a Marvel team member -- co-creator with that 
company's editor-in-chief Stan Lee of The Amazing Spider-Man, and artist 
at various times for The Hulk, Doctor Strange, and other famous 
superheroes. But as early as 1954, Ditko's art home had been at 
Charlton, for whom he'd drawn The Thing. His association with the 
company continued through to its closure in 1985.
 
After a falling-out with Marvel in 1966, Ditko worked mainly for 
Charlton and various small-press publishers, though he did have a stint 
with DC in 1968 and '69. For a while, he lived close to the Charlton 
Building, in a small hotel in Derby, Connecticut.
 
Through a long comics career, Ditko shunned interviews and avoided 
cameras. In 1969, he said, "When I do a job, it’s not my personality 
that I’m offering the readers but my artwork. It’s not what I'm like 
that counts; it’s what I did and how well it was done.... I produce a 
product, a comic art story. Steve Ditko is the brand name."
 
In 1987, Ditko was declared the winner of the Comic-Con International 
Inkpot Award. Typically, Ditko didn't attend the convention, so the 
award was accepted on his behalf by one of his publishers. Ditko 
returned it to the publisher, telling her on the phone, "Awards bleed 
the artist and make us compete against each other. They are the most 
horrible things in the world. How dare you accept this on my behalf."
 
With some of the unique Charlton background noted, it's time to turn to 
the fiction itself, and join psychic investigator Dr Milius T. Graves, 
who is more than ready to talk one more time to his public!
AND SO WE PRESENT THE MANY GHOSTS OF DOCTOR GRAVES
(Remember click on any image for a larger version)
 

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