Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

September 14, 2020


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Charlton Comics was always a major force in western comics, having (in my opinion) the strongest offerings in the field and staying with westerns until Charlton’s final days (in the last years of the early-mid 80’s, via re-prints….they certainly had enough content in the can from all those 50’s and 60’s comics to pump out re-print material for decades, had Charlton not folded….after all, it’s not like westerns date). Charlton was always ready to stick the ALL-NEW tag on the BILLY THE KID comics from the 70’s that actually were new because people were so used to recycled material—it was an event when you did get something new!

Charlton had its share of licensed western titles based on characters/real people such as Lash LaRue and Tex Ritter, characters with a pre-sold audience. Characters who were historical figures, such as Billy The Kid, a Charlton mainstay for decades, were also popular, but did not require any payment to anyone as they were in the public domain. In 1955, the TV series with Hugh O’Brian THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF WYATT EARP premiered and became a smash hit, running six seasons and generating a massive amount of merchandizing. It’s still being re-run today, and although Hugh O’Brian did a lot of other things later in his career (a favorite of mine is the Harry Alan Towers-produced 1966 remake of Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS, with an outlandish cast including Shirley Eaton and Fabian, a film perhaps best known for having a gimmicky “whodunit break” right before its climactic reveal), he was never really able to go beyond the Wyatt Earp identity in the public mind, something I’m sure he eventually came to terms with. Someone at Charlton had the brilliant idea of piggybacking on the success on that show without having to pay anyone a license fee because Wyatt Earp was a public domain historical character. Change the title a bit, create a depiction of Wyatt that echoes Hugh O’Brian without looking too much like him, and you’ve got a western comic book that can ride the coattails of the TV series without costing a cent for licensing. That’s the kind of thinking I admire (and which I admire in the so-called “mockbuster” straight-to-video films of recent years which have a title echoing a hit film but just different enough to avoid a lawsuit—I’m a huge fan of the productions of THE ASYLUM and other mini-studios working in that vein).

Fortunately, Charlton’s artists and writers brought their A-game to the Wyatt Earp comic book, which ran for 61 issues, from 1956 to 1967. The plots are not as outlandish as those given to Billy The Kid, as the Earp persona in popular culture (the real Earp is a subject for another article) was always the “gentleman gunfighter,” and that identity is respected in these stories. Also, although Wyatt is a marshal, he is able to travel, to assist friends, and to be hired by those who need him elsewhere, so the stories can be set in any number of different locales and situations. It’s not like, say, the 1930’s Bob Steele films (which I love) where at least half the time (or so it seems) Bob is out for revenge after his father is killed.

I’ve read this collection twice (I probably read some of these issues in original copies way back when too), and it holds up very well. One reason I am reviewing it here is that it would be a good example of western comics for someone not into western comics to read. The five issues here run from 1960-61 (and as the cut-off for Public Domain status in comics such as this, where the copyright was not renewed, is 1963, Gwandanaland could potentially issue at least two, if not three, more WYATT EARP volumes of PD material—I hope they will!), and that was a Golden Age for the western. Dozens of comics were being published, hundreds of paperback-original western novels were being churned out and actively consumed, and westerns were dominating the TV airwaves. The pacing of these stories is excellent, there are colorful and interesting antagonists/villains as well as supporting characters, and the scenes are framed in a way that brings to mind some late 50’s B-western starring, say, Audie Murphy or Rory Calhoun or George Montgomery (to name three actors who were still working in that vein in the late 1950’s). Earp’s character is not only mature and somewhat realistic, but he’s actually somewhat cerebral and complex, no doubt echoing the qualities that Charlton saw as attractive about the Earp TV show.

I am at work while they are on, but I notice that ME-TV is running something like four hours of old-school 50’s and 60’s western TV shows, in black and white, every weekday, for retirees to relive their childhood days of watching GUNSMOKE and WAGON TRAIN. Personally, I’ll take the comic books over those TV shows, but if you are in the mood for, as the cover puts it “GUN-QUICK WESTERN ACTION” that’s well-paced, well-written, well-drawn, and features an interesting and somewhat complex main character, Gwandanaland’s collections of Charlton’s WYATT EARP, FRONTIER MARSHAL are a great buy with clearly presented and sharp scans of the original pages. No recoloring of the originals here—it’s like getting mint copies of these on the newsstand the day they were released, but on quality paper and bound into a book that won’t yellow and “roll” as the original comic would.

NOTE: Gwandanaland has three earlier volumes of Charlton Wyatt Earp…..AND a collection of the Dell Wyatt Earp comics, where ARE directly based on the TV show and licensed (Dell liked to do licensed adaptations of TV properties) from the producers of the Hugh O’Brian TV series. I have not read those yet, but I’m sure I’ll get around to them. Until then, the Gwandanaland Charltons are waiting. And as they remind you at the top of nearly every page,CHARLTON COMICS GIVE YOU MORE!

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.

charlton more

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!

gunfighters 2

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!

gunfighters 3

June 9, 2020

BATTLEFIELD ACTION #75 (June 1982, Charlton Comics)

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battlefield 75

BATTLEFIELD ACTION #75 (June 1982, Charlton Comics)

BATTLEFIELD ACTION began at Charlton in November 1957 (“Rip-snorting Combat Tales,” the cover of that issue read) with issue #16—-prior to that, the numbering sequence had been used for FOREIGN INTRIGUE, and before that JOHNNY DYNAMITE. It went on hiatus in 1966 with issue 63 and was revived again in 1980 with issue 64 as a home for war-comic reprints from earlier Charlton publications. Charlton fans knew that if you did not see the ALL-NEW designation at the top of a Charlton comic in the late-period, it was a reprint. This reprint series of BA continued until issue 89 in November 1984, as Charlton was desperately trying to change its business model. Issue 89 was the only one sold at a cover price of 75 cents (previously, it had been 60, but Charlton decided to use higher quality paper and thus took a gamble by raising prices), and it turned out to be the final issue.

Followers of Charlton Comics who were around in the early 80’s will tell you that Charlton product became much harder to find with each passing year. Living in Oklahoma in 1982, when BA 75 was issued, I’m not sure I knew any outlet that sold Charlton comics new off the rack. I would find them maybe 6 months or a year after the cover date in the cheap pile at a comic shop in Tulsa or OKC, or at flea markets/junk shops in the area of Northern OK where I lived, usually for a quarter or so. When I moved to Virginia in 1985, it was much the same situation, although Charlton had pretty much gone under by then. Charltons were not hard to find, but only in the secondary market. Comic shops rarely bagged and boarded them (unless they had some 1950’s item that was considered collectable)—they’d be in the “loose” sections. Even today, in 2020, one can find a relatively good VG copy of many 70’s and 80’s Charltons for a dollar or two, even less when dealers decide to cut back on old stock and you’re willing to buy a quantity. Back in the 80’s, I had a small notebook (small enough to fit in a shirt pocket) with Charlton titles alphabetized and with the numbers I owned of each title listed on that particular page, and I’d bring that with me so as not to buy duplicates….because after all, the particular issues of these western and war comics I specialized in kind of blurred together. This was my pre-computer, pre-internet way of organizing the collection. I still use a similar method, actually, a hard copy, not something in a computer file.

When I was in high school, I remember some fellow students who wanted to join the military when they graduated, and some of them read war comics. Others were the kind of people who read military-oriented fiction and enjoyed B-war movies. I also used to travel by bus (Continental Trailways, usually) in the 70’s and early 80’s when travelling through the Midwest/Southwest, and there were a number of poorly-paid recent recruits on those buses, travelling back home to visit their wives or girlfriends after finishing their basic training, and I remember seeing some of those E1 and E2 soldiers reading war comic books while travelling by bus. My guess is that after a few years in the real military, they stopped reading BATTLEFIELD ACTION or WAR or FIGHTIN’ MARINES.

This issue contains three stories, and as the text among the indicia at the bottom of page on states, “all editorial material herein contained was originally published in, and is reprinted from, publications copyright 1972 by Charlton Publications Inc.” Thanks to the essential website (as 1972 content is not PD, this material would be found at, I can see where these piece come from:

SOMEONE HAS TO DIE comes from ATTACK #6 (July 1972), A MARINE IS ONLY ONE MAN comes from ATTACK #5 (May 1972), and THE LAST KILL comes from ATTACK #6 (July 1972).

Checking my records, I don’t have either of those issues among the 14 issues of ATTACK in my collection, although they have the familiar quality of a good B-movie. If you don’t like that, you’d call it cliche-ridden; if you do like it, you’d call it “archetypal” or “using common tropes of the genre.”

One quality I always appreciated about Charlton Comics was the grungy inexact Warhol-esque appearance of the actual product. As with a record from a small label where the label is applied off-center or there is a typo in the credits or an artless splice is audible to even the casual listener, these qualities (to me) give Charlton a “real” and non-slick quality….and you don’t even have to open my copy of this book to get that. The cover image here is from online–I don’t presently have a scanner, so I can’t scan my own copy–but the top 25% of the Charlton logo and the soldier’s face  are cut off on my copy (see pic for what my copy DOESN’T look like). Then when you open the book, the pages are awkwardly cut with some pages being about 1/2 shorter than others, and other pages have the printing running a bit high or low….or off-center. Actually, the lining-up of the color with the lines of the images is relatively good, by Charlton standards, throughout, though not on the level of a DC or Marvel (thankfully!). For me back then, it was like going to the drive-in and seeing an Al Adamson film that had been shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm. It was proudly a non-corporate product, and that slight taste of outsider flavor made all the difference.

No story has an art or writing credit (although there are informed online speculations)–no auteurs here! We’ve got World War II (the most popular war in comic books) covered in the first story, Korea in the second story, and a novel merger of WWI and WWII in the third story. SOMEONE HAS TO DIE has the well-worn story of a young father in Europe fighting the Nazis who has not yet seen his newly born daughter (who incidentally was named after the unit’s tank!) and the trials he goes through in merging his duties as a soldier with his role as a father figure, both in the present and in the big picture of future influence; A MARINE IS ONLY A MAN has a somewhat confusing narrative of a WWII GI who was injured in the War, went to college after the war, and became a journalist who is then embedded with a Marine unit in Korea–it’s one of those stories that hangs on a seemingly clever play on words that’s later given an ironic re-wording; THE LAST KILL (clearly the work, on some level, of San Antonio’s own Pat Boyette) is a story of the links between the people fighting the war on both sides and has an ending I’d call a twist if it were not telegraphed so clearly throughout, and it neatly combines WWI and WWII (and by extension, the post-WWII era on the homefront in its final scenes). In their own way, each story is somewhat thoughtful and not the usual “kill as many Krauts and/or Commies as we can” found in other war comics, but then the talent providing the stories for these comics was from the generation that fought in WWII and/or Korea, so even if they themselves were not veterans, they knew many of them, and thus had, even if second-hand, the painful wisdom of those who’ve been at war.

Advertisements tell a lot about the assumed readership of the specific comic book. During the Vietnam era, many war comics would have ads for affordable engagement rings which could be bought on time-payment plans by anyone in the military for that special gal back home. In 1982, with Vietnam long over, the ads suggest a sad kind of unhappy/unsatisfied (whether he knew it or not) reader with a “world I never made” kind of vibe. 6 of the 8 full-page ads (not counting the obligatory “Sea Monkeys” ad on the back cover) are for products that are aimed at bringing someone luck or changing one’s streak of bad luck or changing one from a weakling to a winner. Ads cost money, so someone must have been responding to these ads for the companies to keep running them (they are seen in western comics too, though not this high of a percentage). Someone with credentials in psychiatry and a specialization in the post-Vietnam comic-book-reading male psyche could no doubt provide us with an insightful commentary on what’s being signified here, but honestly, it does not take a genius to see what qualities are being played upon here. It’s a kind of primitive comic-book-level variation on the same audience-baiting, playing on fears and supposed inadequacies one sees in classier form in ads for erectile dysfunction and baldness-cure advertising.

It might be just a throwaway 80’s reprint comic from a bargain-basement publisher to some, but it’s actually much more, a kind of smeared-newsprint message in a bottle from a world long gone while at the same time keeping its value as pulp entertainment.

As the slogan used to say, CHARLTON COMICS GIVE YOU MORE!


battlefield 75

September 7, 2019

book-length collections of PD Charlton Comics

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I’ve written extensively about Charlton Comics (1945-1986) over at Blog To Comm (just do a search there of BILL SHUTE, CHARLTON) in past years, and I usually save my writing about vintage comics for BTC instead of posting it here, but I wanted to alert everyone about some reissue projects over at Gwandanaland Comics.

navy war

Gwandanaland has been putting out publish-on-demand books of vintage Public Domain comics for a number of years and have now topped the 2400 mark.  In that time, they’ve brought many many Charlton comic books back into print, usually in volumes that collect, say, six or seven complete issues. The most rabid comics fans often tend to be superhero fans, though I’ve never much been into that myself, so Gwandanaland Comics (we’ll call them GC from here on out) first went after PD superhero properties from Charlton (Blue Beetle, etc.). My own interests are in Western and War comics, and Charlton was IMHO the King of both genres. Not only did Charlton have all four branches of the US Military covered with their own comics (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force), but each branch had multiple titles devoted to it (even the Air Force had two!!!), and there were also titles such as ATTACK and WAR AND ATTACK which potentially could cover all the military branches.

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Charlton also stuck with Western comics longer than the other majors, and never succumbed to the “weird western” fad which western comics fell into in the 70’s and 80’s. Charlton was dutifully pumping out BILLY THE KID comics until March 1983 (although many of the later issues were reprints….it was always exciting to see an issue with ALL-NEW! at the top of the cover. Many Charlton western titles have been reprinted so far, with more to come. Of course, only titles from 1967 and prior could potentially be Public Domain, but that still leaves hundreds of issues.


Charlton also had some of the strongest entries in the horror/supernatural area, as well as being the Kings of the curious HOT ROD comics genre.

During my days of buying new comics (I still pick up old ones cheap) from the 60’s through the 80’s, Charlton was always my favorite publisher, by far. They were the indie upstart, the little company that could, and like a PRC or Monogram Pictures, they created a product cheaply that fit well into established genres, and if the budget was kept down (Charlton paid less than other publishers, and used their own grungy printing presses, which tended to have the coloring not matched up with the lines and produced odd Warhol-esque images that would never have passed muster elsewhere, but were one of the many “special” qualities to Charlton), and the distribution was wide enough, a profit could be made. It was said that at PRC Pictures, if you could work quickly and cheaply and would be willing to give your film an exploitative title, you’d be given a lot of freedom, as no one really cared about the small details of your project. The same could be said for Charlton. Everyone knows about how certain comics visionaries who were always bursting with ideas such as Steve Ditko and (San Antonio’s own) Pat Boyette could pretty much do what they wanted at Charlton, and turned down better-paying gigs at other publishers in return for that freedom.

If you’d like to explore what CHARLTON comics have been reissued by GC and are presently available on Amazon, here is a link to a Charlton-specific search:

Charlton comics collections at Amazon

hot rod

GC has been in overdrive recently researching in a thorough and methodical (and time-consuming) manner exactly which pre-1968 comics are PD from Charlton and Dell and a publisher whose most famous character rhymes with Starchie. For the latter publisher, they’ve been issuing multiple books A WEEK, and they’re also getting ready many more volumes of Charlton and Dell PD material. I provided them with a list of titles in the areas of interest to me—-Westerns, War, and Hot Rods—-and these too will be released in the coming months.

The work being done by GC in turning old PD comic books into handsome print-on-demand volumes is important and making comics history….most importantly, it’s making life more enjoyable. I can’t be reading THE ICEMAN COMETH or the works of Celine or Dreiser all the time–I KNOW that’s the way life is because I live it every day. At the end of a long and grinding work day, nothing satisfies like a Charlton BILLY THE KID comic book. And if we can’t defeat evil in our everyday lives, at least we can read about battles which were won and enemies that are defeated in a Charlton WAR AND ATTACK comic book. Like a solid crime or western programmer from Monogram Pictures, it delivers the goods and is created by professionals who are good quality storytellers and don’t waste your time. Like a good hamburger joint, they give you what you want the way you want it, no frills, no pretensions…just solid (and delicious) enjoyment.

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