THE CHARLTON MYSTIQUE, PART SIX
In which Marvel’s (and Alter Ego’s Roy Thomas weighs in, on Yellowjacket!
Folks, in Part Five of our look at the late, lamented Charlton Comics, (‘The Charlton Mystique, Part Five’), among other things, I talked about how John (Eric) Santangelo, Junior, had passed away, on March 26th of 2011.
In the magazine Comic Book Artist # 9, dated on the cover as August 2000, Charles Santangelo, son of the late John Santangelo, Senior, co-founder of Charlton Publications/-Charlton Press/-Charlton Comics/-Capital Distribution Corporation, etc….talked about his late father, and his (then), still living brother, John (Eric) Santangelo, Junior.
From Charles Santangelo, in an interview conducted by Christopher Irving: “They heard about a comics press (machine) that was available in Pennsylvania, bought that, and got the rights to Blue Beetle, Nyoka, and a couple of other titles. (Ed) Levy and my old man, (John) Santangelo, Sr., were great guys, and brilliant in their own right. They were like Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. My old man was the inside guy handling production and the hiring and getting things done, and Ed was the guy outside who went to New York and he had an editor friend to do the editorial work.
Charlton continued with humor magazines, crossword puzzles (magazines of same), and comics, getting very big. In the mid-60’s, Ed (Levy) decided he was going to retire and didn’t want to work every day, like he had been doing. His son wasn’t interested in the business, and I was, so Ed (Levy) said (to Charles Santangelo, Senior) – “John, you want to buy me out?” So they sat down with an accountant, and an attorney was there, Ed was there, and I was there… That was it, my father bought out the other half and made a deal with another handshake. They shook hands before the partnership, and shook hands when they ended it; No contracts or anything. They were just great guys. I left the business in 1968. I got tired, since I’d been in it since I was a kid. In ’68, my dad was still going but I thought he (his health) was going downhill. We had 52 titles, doing quarterly, which was a mistake. I wanted to cut down to thirty bi-monthlies. I was over-ruled, being a young guy.
That eventually got me to leave, because I decided it was too much and time to leave. We had that disagreement and I left, but he stayed on for another ten years, and he gave the business to my brother. eg: the now late John (Eric) Santangelo, Junior.”
Charles Santangelo continues: ” I got tired of wearing a tie and answering the phone, going to meetings and meetings and meetings. I was almost 34 and wanted to do things.
My old man was pretty tough and didn’t want to do them. I said, “Arrivederci, I’m going.” I left and opened up a car wash and gas station, and did that until nine or ten years ago, when I leased the business, and retired. I haven’t worked in 10 years, but I had a great time, and I’m having a great time, and I have some great memories. We had a good outfit, but after I left, my father had my younger brother (John (Eric) Santangelo, Junior) come in to take over. My dad had wanted to keep it in the family, but it was too much for my brother, and things started to go downhill.
We were the first national distributors for Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine. Flint was quite a character, and he figured out how much commission we were making, decided it was too much, and he broke the contract and went out on his own. We sued him, and he counter sued. The judge went down the middle, but we lost to Hustler, a big loss. After that, things went down hill.
My brother, about seven or eight years ago, started to sell off titles like Hit Parader, sold Country Song Round Up to someone else…sales fell apart on comic books. We got out of the comic business, and eventually started selling magazines, equipment, and the building, which went to a real estate developer. When they put up the building, it was almost on a marsh near the railroad track. Along Route 60, they put a highway beside it, and the real estate became very valuable. On the other side of the street from us were shopping centers with major franchises. We didn’t belong there, like the commercial retail. My brother, (John (Eric) Santangelo, Junior) sold it, and got millions for it. It was a 150,000 foot building.
We all made a lot of money and are doing great. Those were good years for me. Guys like Joe Gill, Pat Masulli, Dick Giordano, and Frank McLaughlin are all in my heart. And there was the fella with the big thick glasses: Steve Ditko. He was great. He and I had some good talks and conversations. I like Steve.”
Note: former Marvel Comics Mike Zeck also got his start in comics, at Charlton Comics.
Yet another television series that got adapted into a Charlton Comics series, was called ‘Ivan Tors’ PRIMUS’. It was, basically, a skin diving TV series, very much like the earlier Lloyd Bridges series, Sea Hunt. This new television and (Charlton) comic book series PRIMUS starred Robert Brown, as Carter Primus. The director of this one season only, 26 episodes television series, was Ivan Tors. The TV series aired from September 15th, 1971 to June 9th of 1972. This TV series never aired on TV in my area, so I have never, ever seen it.
Amusingly, the cover of Charlton’s comic book series PRIMUS # 6’s story title, right on the cover, is ‘Trapped by the man called YANG.’ No relation, of course, to either the Charlton Comics two series YANG, nor HOUSE OF YANG. the Charlton comic book PRIMUS series lasted seven issues.
And now, let’s go even further back into Charlton Comics history. The very first Charlton Comics superhero was called Yellowjacket, which preceded Marvel Comics’ superhero Yellowjacket (one of several hero aliases for Hank Pym, and Avenger.)
The Charlton Comics Yellowjacket was secretly Vince Harley. He appeared in the comic book Golden Age, World War Two years.
Vince Harley, in his civilian guise, was a writer for the Pulp-like fiction magazine, DARK DETECTIVE magazine. He appeared in the Charlton comics title ‘Yellowjacket Comics’, numbers one through ten. Yellowjacket also appeared in ‘Jack In The Box’ # 11 (eleven), and also, in the one-shot comic book ‘TNT Comics’ # 1.
As previously stated in an earlier chapter, Yellowjacket’s nephew (with the same powers, mastery over yellowjacket wasps), appeared in his OWN story, in Charlton’s first published comic book ever, ‘Zoo Funnies’, Volume One, Number One.
What now follows is a panel by panel, blow by blow account of all of Yellowjacket’s appearances, one panel and page, at a time!
Yellowjacket Comics # 1 came out, dated on the inside indicia information, as September, 1944. Oddly, the superhero Yellowjacket did NOT appear on the cover of Yellowjacket Comics # 1-! In fact, on the cover of # 1, is depicted a handsome, male, brown haired circus aerialist, swinging from a circus trapeze. On this cover of # 1, he has just caught another (female) trapeze artist, from falling to her death! And, he did, thankfully, catch her!
Dressed in a red, short sleeved circus costume, with a pastel light green belt and slippers, this male trapeze artist sure looked like Yellowjacket himself, Charlton’s first ever superhero! But this character probably wasn’t supposed to be Yellowjacket himself, on this premiere issue.
This cover scene – aside from this first issue’s cover – does not take place anywhere inside the issue. However, there IS a circus comics story, inside Yellowjacket # 1.
Relegated to a small 2 inch by 3 and 3/4 inch cover box on the very bottom left side of the cover of his own titled series, the blurb inside this box reads, “Introducing Yellowjacket, The Scourge of Sinners!”
The other stories in YJ # 1 are, firstly, in this order, a ‘Diana The Huntress’ (on Mount Olympus) comics story, with Zeus, Hercules, Mercury (the swiftest Greek God of all), Discordia (a Greek God I’ve never heard of, despite the fact that one of the ‘bird’ courses I took many years ago, in university, to give me enough credits for a particular semester, was ‘Ancient Greek Literature.’ I strongly suspect the writer of this backup story made this character up from the depths of his imagination.
Next up, was a two page text story, entitled ‘Message For The Cops’; then a comics story entitled ‘Famous Tales of Terror’, based on Edgar Allen Poe’s tale, “The Black Cat”, which, several decades ago, was made into a movie, and a rather good one, at that!
Following this Poe tale, is a ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ type of illustrated page, amongst other cartoons in this section.
The first panel of this page is rather interesting. It says “John Hanson (not George Washington) was elected November 5th, 1781, as the first President of the U.S.-!
The next panel on this same page, is blatantly racist. It reads, “Negroes have whiter teeth than white persons. No, the dark skin makes their teeth look whiter.” (By comparison.) Also, the cartoon of this African American has exaggerated features, and massive pink lips. Ungh!
That’s the thing about a lot of comic books from the 1940’s and even 1950’s – racist is unfortunately prevalent, in many of them.
The next story in Yellowjacket Comics # 1 is called ‘King of The Beasts’, about a lion tamer at a circus.
It’s actually quite an interesting tale!
Next up is a well-written tale of World War Two era Merchant Marines, civilian uniformed shipping crews. This story has a real Don Winslow of The Navy feel – which, by the way, is another WW 2 era comic book (and Big Little Books) series that I collect.
This comics series, ‘Harbor Lights’, in Yellowjacket Comics # 1, also has a Pulp magazines feel to it.
I collect vintage pulp magazines, also, but that is probably a topic best saved for another time.
The next single page feature in YJC # 1 is called ‘Yellowjacket’s Bee Lines’, and it is a page of cartoon sight gags.
Next up is a comics tale titled ‘The Filipino Kid.’ This story, to me, reminds me of a civilian clothed version of The Green Hornet and Kato.
This is the final story in the issue, rounding out the book.
Story synopsis and dialogue from the Yellowjacket comics story, in Yellowjacket Comics #, November issue, 1944:
For our purposes, however, I’m going to focus mainly just on the Yellowjacket superhero stories in these issues. The first YJC story in # 1 takes place in a Pulp magazines office, where wordsmith Vince Harley (alias Yellowjacket) confers with his editor, at Dark Detective Magazine’s office.
Vince Harley is, of course, also secretly the costume and domino-masked superhero called Yellowjacket.
Yellow jackets are, of course, another word for wasps!
Vince’s editor informs him that his latest written piece of prose fiction isn’t good enough to publish; the editor therefore feels that, if published, it won’t sell.
Vince says to his editor that he’s already rewritten it three times!
Vince says, “But — oh well! Maybe I need a vacation!”
His editor informs him, “What you need is the real criminal viewpoint!”
Vince replies, You’re not suggesting I take up murder on the side, are you?”
Editor: “Just get the cobwebs out of your brain, Vince!”
Vince: “I’ll get in touch with you in a few weeks!”
Caption: ‘Later, Vince is in the garden of his suburban home.’
Vince: “I feel better already, now that I decided to lay off work for awhile!”
Vince, by the way, (his hobby), is a bee keeper hobbyist, of bees and wasps. He relaxes in his living room, while it pours rain, outside.
Suddenly, something falls against the unlocked front door of his home, and the door falls open!
Fallen down, just inside the door, is a red haired young woman in a red dress, and red shoes, unconscious! She has fainted.
Vince gently picks her up, lays her on his coach, in front of a roaring fireplace.
When she awakens, she explains that her name is Judy Graves, and that some men had been chasing her!
She then faints a second time!
Vince looks in her purse, for clues to what she was talking about.
And, surprised, exclains, “Jewelry! A young fortune in precious stones!”
I feel certain the letterer meant to letter ‘a small fortune in previous stones!’
Vince: “I wonder if these are hers?” Or, maybe I should call the police?”
Then, he decides, “No. I’ll give the kid a break and wait until she wakes up — she seems to be sleeping naturally, now.
Caption: ‘But Vince falls asleep, too.
Caption: ‘And, shortly, three men enter his house!’
One of the men awakens Vince, with “Hey, snap out of it!”
They are all holding guns, pointing them at Vince. Vince thinks, silently, ‘Well, sting me — the girl’s gone! With the jewels, too!’
One of the gunmen, aggravated that the girl is nowhere to be seen, slugs Vince with his gun; clobbers him over the head with this gun!
He is angrily quizzed by the three thugs that have entered his house, about what happened to the girl, and the jewels.
Vince: “Ow-w! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
One of the thugs insists Vince is lying — which, of course, he is, in order to try to protect the disappeared young woman!
Vince decides to go on The Offensive, and he slugs the thug who had just slugged him!
Then, the other two creeps both attack Vince, knocking him unconscious!
One of them is about to kick the comatose Vince Harley in the head, explaining, “One kick in the puss, and he’s a dead duck!”
But the second thug stops him from doing so, saying, “Hold it — I got a better idea! C’mon outside!”
One of them grabs a grated box of Vince Harleys’ wasps, and the other creep says, “Wow — be careful wit’ those things! They’re yellowjackets!”
Now, shake ’em up, good, so dere mad and — we scram!”
The other low life asks, “Yeah — but what about de goil? Huh?”
Caption: ‘Outside the room, the closet suddenly opens.’
Out of it comes the girl, who has been hiding inside the house, the whole time!
She says, “What can I do? Those bees will sting him to death!” Then, she screams, “Aieeeee! They’ve covered his body!”
And, indeed, they’ve completely covered him!
Then, the bees all leave Vince Harley, and they then reenter the box hive.
Girl: “Gracious! They’re going back into the hive — and it doesn’t look like he’s been stung, at all!”
Vince slowly awakens, and he then asks what happened.
Vince: ” Oh — what happened?”
The girl, Judy Graves, asks, “Aren’t you hurt? What about the yellowjackets! Didn’t they…?”
Vince Harley: “Yellowjackets! Oh, now I remember — those men! Say, where did you come from? I thought you skipped!”
Judy Graves: “I wanted to tell you, but I guess I passed out! Those men were Jake Mallon and his gang. They tried to make me work with them, in stealing the jewels! I — I’m no criminal!! I was on my way to tell the police, when Mallon chased me in here!”
Vince Harley: “I’m beginning to understand! Now, where do those mobsters hang out?”
Caption: ‘The girl tells Vince all she knows!’
Vince: “Now, here’s what you do — first, go to the police, and –“
Judy: “Yes, I understand!”
Caption: ‘Meanwhile, Mallon and his gangsters have reached the hideout…’
One of the thugs: “It beats me how that gal got away!”
his criminal compatriot says, “Aw, she doesn’t dare go to the cops!”
The first thug laughs, and exclaims, “Anyway, we committed the poifect crime! what a way to moider a guy!”
“Yeah!” exclaims another.
And another: “Noone could pin it on us!”
Caption: ‘Then –‘
There is a loud buzzing sound in the room, suddenly. The creeps look around, wondering where it is coming from!
“Gee, what is that? It’s getting louder!”
Caption: A bright yellow striped figure crashes into the room, through a window…’
“Yipes!” yells one cretin.
Caption: ‘A swift blow floors the gang leader!’
Yellowjacket: “Out you go!”, as he punches him.
Yellowjacket: “Drop the guns, you two!”, he says, tackling two of them, at once!
“Ow-w, my neck!”, one of them yells.
Yellowjacket: “I’m letting you both off too easily!” he says, smashing their heads together, with force!
Thug lying on the floor, aims his gun at YJ: “You die now — whoever you are!” he says to the masked man.
YJ: “You’ve got a mighty hard head, Mallon!”
Suddenly, a yellowjacket wasp stings Mallon right on his butt!
Mallon yells, “Yeow! I’m shot!”
YJ: “You think I call myself Yellowjacket for nothing, Mallon?”
Caption: ‘Just then, Judy arrives with the police!’
Police constable: “Hully gee, lookit this dump!” (Busted lamps, etc…)
Judy Graves enters the gang’s house, between the two police officers.
Cop two: ” lHey, stop! Hold up!” he yells after the costumed and masked hero, Yellowjacket, as he runs off.
YJ: “Sorry, officer, but I must protect the law from my sting!”
Caption: ‘One later week later, Vince is in the editor’s office, again, of Dark Detective magazine.
Editor: “Wonderful, Vince! This is the kind of stuff I’ve been yelling for!” he says, looking over Vince Harley’s latest version of his prose fiction story.
Vince: “Swell, Jeff”, he says to his editor. I think I’ve got the idea, now!”
Once Vince Harley leaves his editor, Jeff’s office, he turns to the readers of the comic, and says, “I got a check, Judy got off with a suspended sentence, and Yellowjacket is ready for more adventure!”
The End of Yellowjacket Comics # 1
*****In late June of 2016, I asked Marvel Comics’ (and Alter Ego magazine’s) Roy Thomas, if, in the 1960’s, when he created the ‘Yellowjacket’ persona for Avenger Hank Pym, if he’d been inspired to do so, by the Golden Age (1940’s) superhero called Yellowjacket. He gratiously replied, and here is what Rascally Roy had to say about that. I had, at the same time, asked him about the Silver Age costume designs of Marvel’s Sub-Mariner character, Stingray, and X-Men’s Havok, since I always liked their original costumes. I also like the Silver age Yellowjacket costume:
Sure, you can use what I wrote. I’m less wild about the YJ costume than you are… needed bigger wings, but I was afraid of his looking like Archie’s Fly… but John (Buscema) basically followed my general description.
Marie Severin designed Stingray, just based on my idea that he looked like a human stingray… while Neal Adams designed the unique look and energy-display of Havok’s (not Havoc’s) costume.
Good luck on the article. Sure, I’ve admitted many times in print that the 1940s Yellowjacket, whose comic I saw a time or two as a kid, was the inspiration of the YJ identity of Hank Pym. I thought that was such a cool name that, back when I was 12 or so, I made up another character with that name–he was basically just a swipe of C.B./Crimebuster from BOY COMICS, only wearing a yellow jacket instead of a red hockey sweater. So the Marvel YJ was only the second character with that name I created. The 40s stories were nothing special, but I loved the look of the costume and the name. Interesting, the company was a forerunner of Charlton… to which in 1965 I sold my first two comics stories.
More to come, folks, in The Charlton Mystique, Part Seven-!