Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

August 23, 2020

GUNFIGHTERS #72 (Charlton Comics, April 1982)

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gunfighters 72

GUNFIGHERS #72 (Charlton Comics, April 1982)

There is something charming about the re-purposing/re-cycling of product in the low end of the popular culture marketplace. I recently saw a collection of late 70’s newspaper ads from the South and from Texas for drive-in theaters and was surprised to learn that the 1960’s and early 1970’s films of Herschell Gordon Lewis were playing regularly in various combinations up through 1980 or so–imagine going to your local passion pit on the outskirts of town circa 1980 and getting a double-bill of THE GORE GORE GIRLS and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. At the same time, you could go to your local Sound Warehouse’s budget bin and purchase some dodgy budget label LP for $1.99 containing the grungy Ed Chalpin-produced R&B jams featuring the pre-fame Jimi Hendrix, fifteen years after they were recorded (and who knows if Hendrix was even aware that the tape was rolling!). In the comics world, Charlton Comics was putting out new product consisting of reprints of older Charlton content (comics looked down upon and ignored by the comics powers-that-were back then, whether they were new or reprints), some going back to the late 1950’s! Why, you could potentially have bought the Charlton GUNFIGHTERS comic under review here, picked up the budget-label Hendrix album, and gone to see the Lewis films THE SAME DAY. And for most people back in the pre-Internet age, it would all have been new to you. My, what a satisfying day that would have been! Also, all of those things would have been relatively “off the radar” in terms of the gate-keepers of popular culture, and you could have experienced all of these from your small-or-medium sized town in Western Kansas, or Central Pennsylvania, or the Texas Panhandle. All you needed on top of that for a perfect day was a ‘Big Plain’ from your local Burger King and an oversized can of Big Cat Malt Liquor to wash it down.

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Long before people attempted to document everything via the internet, daily life had a pleasurable randomness factor to it and a sense of the unknown. Things were thrown at you in the course of your everyday routine that could not be looked up on your smart-phone. When you found for a quarter a used copy of some odd paperback book from a publisher you’d never heard of, you could not look it up and get its backstory–you had to read it, and even then, you might not have a handle on where it came from and what was its context. You could stumble across an obscure film at 3 a.m. on the UHF station, something that did not appear in your local newspaper TV supplement or TV Guide, which just had LATE MOVIE listed, see it once, mention it to people afterwards and no one would have ever heard of it, even though it may have had a name star in it such as Rory Calhoun. After a while, you wondered if you were the only person anywhere who saw this….and did you REALLY see it, or was it all just a dream as you were dozing off (I have seen non-existent European movies starring Guy Madison in my dreams, and heard non-existent Kim Fowley albums in my dreams, undoubtedly constructed from known elements in my brain) and the station was in reality running an ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW re-run? It’s hard for people who were born into the internet age to understand that, the way it was difficult for me as a child to grasp the concept of life before electricity, which my grandmother who was born in 1896 lived through for her first few decades (women did not even have the vote when she turned 21!). The important thing to remember about these eras is that people got along just fine, and in some ways life was more pleasurable, or perhaps the proper term would be MORE INTENSELY AND DIRECTLY EXPERIENCED. That’s true whether we are talking about 1979, 1896, or any other random date you want to mention….1733, 1142, 212 B.C.

One thing that has always annoyed me is people who look at the past through the lens of the present and view themselves and the present age as being superior. Anyone with a sense of history, and a sense of modesty, and a sense of perspective, knows that many aspects of present-day life and society circa 2019 will make future generations cringe! I would hazard to guess that many  are already cringing today, as these things are happening! We’re no better than previous generations, and in many ways we’re probably worse. Oh, but you can watch a shitty sit-com on your phone rather than talk to the person sitting next to you, and you can find out in three seconds who led the American League in home runs in 1981….and you can take a picture of your meal and post it so people on another continent can see your tedious dinner. How advanced we are!

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Fortunately, we can escape this world of people watching corporate infotainment on portable devices they are addicted to as much as (or even more than) any drug addict they’d look down upon….by picking up a cheap and unwanted late-period Charlton Comic, still available for a dollar or so in unread condition.

As with most Charlton product, I did not get this new at full price–I picked it up later (though not much later, maybe 8-12 months) in the secondary market. Many convenience stores had a used or remaindered magazine section back then (you still saw this in rural areas until a few years ago, particularly in non-chain Mom’n’Pop stores), where something like this 60-cent comic would have a 25-cent sticker on it. That section was often beside the full-price section or in a corner (or on a separate rack). I’d learned by 1982 that if a Charlton comic did not have the words ALL-NEW in big letters at the top, then it was recycled material from their archives. You could also tell that from the masthead, which did not hide the fact that the material was old. This magazine reads “all editorial material herein contained was originally published in and is reprinted from publications copyright 1960, 1961 by Charlton Publications Inc.” There was certainly no problem with that, as far as I was concerned. It was unlikely that I’d have had many 1960 comics in my collection, and if I did, I’d probably have vaguely remembered the stories. And if I didn’t, then I would not mind re-reading them. Considering that the late 50’s and early 60’s were a Golden period of westerns on TV and in comic books, I was actually happy to be getting vintage material. And Charlton had been pumping out so many series of western comics for so long that whatever this magazine contained, it would surely be worthwhile, and well worth a quarter. A broad title like GUNFIGHTERS could cover pretty much any western comic material–it would be hard to find a vintage story that did not have a gun drawn by someone somewhere in it.

What makes this issue so appealing is exactly the wide variety of material and the various “big names” of western lore who are represented: ANNIE OAKLEY, WILD BILL HICKOK, WYATT EARP, KID MONTANA….and checking out the Grand Comics Database on this issue, I see that even the cover was re-cycled from an old TEX RITTER magazine (and if you look at the cover pic we provided, you can see that yes, it does resemble the comic book version of Tex….as much as any Charlton comic “resembles” a real-life model!).

I can remember sitting on my front porch in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with the porch light on and a citronella candle burning to keep the mosquitoes away, at about 2:30 a.m. reading this.

The bar/club/restaurant I worked at closed at 1 on weeknights, we usually had it closed up and ready to go for the next morning’s day shift by 1:45-2:00 a.m. As I would walk home in the middle of the night, I would savor the silence….it provided a blank canvas on which whatever minor sounds were out there would stand out in contrast to the silence (when I met John Cage 6 or 7 years after this, I mentioned this image to him and brought up his citation of Thoreau’s line about sound being “bubbles on the surface of the silence”–Cage smiled like an uncle proud of his nephew graduating from high school, and said something along the lines of “that’s it”). After I got home, washed up, and took my copy of GUNFIGHTERS out on the porch (probably sipping one of those Big Cats), I would relax—-no more dishwashing, marinating and cooking cheap steaks, preparing plates full of nachos, and doing inventory of kitchen supplies until tomorrow….which was actually TODAY since it was after 2 a.m.!

Annie Oakley took on and defeated a sleazy and corrupt faux-Frenchman who was trying to control the entire valley, steal her ranch, AND force himself upon her. As I tuned into the middle-of-the-night silence, and looked out toward the dimly-glowing horizon west of town, I could imagine all this being played out just a few miles from where I sat.

I would come out on the main street from the frontier café where I worked as cook and bottle-washer, and I would wave at and applaud Annie Oakley as she rode down the street after gunning down the Frenchman and turning him over–wounded, bloodied, and defeated, with his head down in shame– to the Sheriff. I could then go back to my daily life–in the Old West or in Oklahoma circa 1982–and feel a sense of victory. Thank you, Annie Oakley….thank you, Charlton Comics….thank you, Big Cat Malt Liquor!

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