Comic industry veteran Mort Todd took a Facebook group from a fan gathering to a published fanzine and ultimately to a published four color comic. It’s an insulating journey and Mort was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and let our readers know about the Charlton Arrow.
First Comics News: How did you discover Charlton Comics?
Mort Todd: As a kid, I devoured any kind of comics from any publisher, even educational and religious comics, but was kind of a snob about Charlton! The printing and some of the art seemed lacking compared to the slicker product of other publishers, even though they had some of the same creators. My little brother was less selective in his purchasing and I would read his Charltons. I started to enjoy the uniqueness of Charlton and appreciate the creative staff… and when I got a whiff of how much Steve Ditko contributed to the company, I was sold! In retrospect, I realized that when I was even younger, I had picked up a few Charltons unbeknownst to me… mostly Hanna-Barbera and comic strip titles.
1st: They were clearly the number three brand, what made them so appealing to you?
Mort: The creative freedom and variety of genres in the Charltons made them appealing to me. While Marvel and DC Comics primarily focused on superheroes, Charlton explored other genres, like westerns, romance, war, and horror, far longer than most publishers. Plus there were some great artists, many deserving more attention than they’ve historically received. Charlton was similar to a poverty-row movie company, using talent deemed ‘past their prime’ by the majors, as well as cultivating new talent before they were superstars. Joe Staton, John Byrne and a new generation of artists learned their story-telling chops there before moving on to the bigger publishers. Even though Charlton veered away from superheroes, they did do some great ones! Charlton distributed their reprints to chain stores under the Modern Comics imprint. Because of Modern, I got exposed to earlier titles from before my time, like Ditko’s incredible Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and The Question… along with Nick Cuti and Joe Staton’s E-Man. Just as Charlton was going out of business, I began editing Cracked magazine and Monsters Attack! and was able to work with some of their great creators, including Ditko and Pat Boyette. In fact, just about any classic Silver Age comic artist, you can think of worked at Charlton at one time or another. Severin, Colan, Toth, Kirby, Krigstein… the list goes on!
Mort: As a comics fan and a professional, I was aware of the sales of some of Charlton’s properties to DC and other outlets. And now, thanks to the internet, it’s easy to track down characters’ publishing histories and sort out who owns what. There’s also the fact that Charlton didn’t properly submit their titles for copyright until the late 1960s, so some ownership is in a gray area. We tend to cultivate some of the more obscure characters and engender a lot of new series in the spirit of Charlton’s creative spirit, where anything goes!
1st: How did the Facebook Group come about?
Mort: In Spring of 2013, The Charlton Arrow started as a Facebook fan page about Charlton Comics by a character called Fester Faceplant. He’s a musician and amusing fellow named Mark Knox, and he was inspired to do a Charlton tribute page by a friend, the late comic collector Steve Cohen. Fester immediately began inviting people who shared his love for Charlton, including myself and other fans and comic professionals. The page snowballed as others saw all the fun going on there! It’s quite entertaining with a lot of interaction between the creators and readers. People post rare Charlton covers and pages, fan art and other amusements. A few series for Charlton Neo have been created on its threads, with a back-and-forth going on between creators with input from fans. It’s a unique way to develop characters, as opposed to a boring editorial meeting. You can join in at https://www.facebook.com/groups/thecharltonarrow/
1st: How did the idea to produce a new Charlton comic come about?
Mort: Before long, Fester conceived the idea of doing a Charlton Arrow fanzine, which would’ve been a black-and-white magazine with articles about Charlton and some comics. Paul Kupperberg wrote a story about what really happened to the Charlton Action Heroes, but did it in a discreet way so as not to step on DC’s toes. Roger McKenzie and Sandy Carruthers took Pat Boyette’s one-shot Spookman and developed the character into a series. And I had some ideas, too! After some time, Fester was having trouble publishing it, so I offered to produce it and we reformatted it as a color comic. In the last three years, we’ve released six issues of The Charlton Arrow and some 18 other Charlton Neo titles, ranging from western and horror to romance. The pages are packed with a lot of well-know creators, many who originally worked at Charlton and some great new creators.
1st: Has the Charlton Arrow moved on to a profitable model or is it still an all volunteer army?
Mort: Since we started as a fanzine, we had creators, including many professionals, offer to work for the fun of it because of the independence available to fashion stories without (much) editorial interference or being bound by the ridiculous continuity of some comics. Moreover, all our features are creator-owned so there is potential for licensing in other media, and the comics give these properties a platform. Like the original Charlton, artists and writers are allowed to follow their muses and produce material other companies wouldn’t publish. We are by no means a profitable concern yet, having done all our sales through mail order and Amazon so far. We keep our cover prices as low as possible so the readers can access the same pleasure our creators enjoy. It is our hope that by graduating to sales in comic shops, we can increase our audience, and profit our contributors.
1st: What is Pix-C and how does it work with Patreon?
Mort: We were getting so much impressive material sent to us that couldn’t be published immediately so we came up with the idea of Pix-C, a weekly comics website. Multiple comics are serialized weekly and then archived. The idea also sprang as a way for busy creators to do stories without immediate deadlines. Since artists only had to do a page a week for Pix-C, instead of an 8, 10, 16-page story all at once, artists weren’t pressured to finish the story within a short deadline. Many of these comics are later collected and printed in our titles, including The Charlton Arrow, Unusual Suspense, and Total Frenzy. Full access to the site is only $1 a month. Higher pledges get digital comics, print comics, posters and other rewards. It’s done via Patreon, where you get billed automatically and can cancel at any time. To see some free Pix-C samples and how to join, go to www.pix-c.me. All funds go to furthering the publication and promotion of Charlton Neo titles.
1st: The Original Charlton Arrow was funded by Kickstarter, is this the sales model going forward; will each issue have a Kickstarter?
Mort: We started Kickstarter with The Charlton Arrow #5. So far, we have used Kickstarter to fund a small portion of the titles, which helps grease the wheels for these comics to be released. We don’t do it for every title, and with us being in comic shops now, will probably do it less.
1st: What made AC Comics the right publishing partner?
Mort: I had been in contact with Bill Black, a Charlton veteran, and an AC Comics founder, to reprint some John Severin Billy the Kid comics Charlton produced in the 1960s. He had the original stats, which he scanned for me and I’ve been recoloring for a collection due later this year. I saw that Big Bang Comics (who I’ve done some work with on a character called Protoplasman) did a distribution deal with AC, so wondered about doing the same. Bill put me in touch with Mark Heike at AC and we worked out a deal. The rest will (hopefully) be comics history! AC was the right partner because of their interest in other genres of comics, plus their appreciation of Charlton! And AC is the oldest indy publisher in existence and can appreciate another independent.
1st: Will the Charlton Arrow from AC Comics have new stories or is it a direct market version of the previous Charlton Arrow comics?
Mort: We’ll be renumbering The Charlton Arrow for the direct market with a new #1 (Volume 2) and it will feature all-new comics by some outrageous talent! Most exciting is that we’ll see the return of E-Man in #1 by original Charlton creators Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton. E-Man is a beloved character with a large following and the story will excite past fans, and inspire new ones! Joe is so dedicated to drawing this three-part story that he’s taking a hiatus of his popular, daily Dick Tracy comic strip. Equally thrilling, we’re introducing a new series by Daredevil writer Roger McKenzie and Spider-Man artist Steven Butler called Mr. Mixit. This character is a love letter to Steve Ditko and an amalgamation of many of his creations without being derivative or uninspired. This, like many of our comics, is a throwback to an earlier era of comics while looking forward. Writer Paul Kupperberg brings back Charlton’s Colonel Whiteshroud, the Monster Hunter, in a scary short with fantastic art by Mike Collins and Barbara Kaalberg. There will also be a few other amusing features to top off the first issue. Future releases will see more Charlton characters reintroduced, along with original strips, by past Charlton contributors and future superstars!
Mort: So far, we’re just doing The Charlton Arrow via AC to the direct market. Other titles, like Charltoons and a Best of the Charlton Arrow, are ready to be released and may possibly go through Kickstarter and just be available through mail order… Unless The Charlton Arrow is more successful than all our wildest dreams and we’ll be able to offer all our titles direct.
1st: What do younger fans who never read Charlton comics, back in the day, have to know about Charlton before reading the Arrow?
Mort: The variety! At a recent comic convention, I met a 12 year old who was a fanatic Charlton collector because they weren’t the repetitive standard of contemporary comics and he was excited about what we’re doing. I introduced him to the producers of The Charlton Movie documentary and they interviewed him as the future of Charlton fandom. Charlton Neo carries on the tradition of doing a wide variety of genres that will interest younger fans and oldsters alike. Mainstream comics are almost exclusively superhero-themed and we give them some alternatives. If you like modern superhero comics, there are plenty of outlets for that, and though we do have superheroes, they are of a different make than seen in current comics.
1st: What makes the Charlton Arrow so cool no true comic fan should miss the AC Charlton Arrow?
Mort: Ultimately it boils down to the fact that these are comics by comic fans for comic fans! The creators are producing their stories for the love of the medium, not cranking out stuff to meet a deadline and be continued in another issue or crossover. Most of our stories are self-contained and the ones that are continued resolve themselves in a couple chapters and do not require buying dozens of issues to get one story. You can read our comics without having to know an encyclopedia of continuity and we offer a range of talent and characters in every issue, so there’s something for everyone! Our content is much more accessible and appealing to a diverse audience than most comics today.