When Charlton Comics Hit the Bullseye With Steve Ditko

In 1970, Jack Kirby famously left Marvel Comics for DC Comics. It was a huge deal, with DC Comics plastering ads all over their comics announcing Kirby's imminent arrival. However, four years earlier, when Steve Ditko similarly left Marvel Comics, there was little fanfare, as Ditko did not go to DC Comics at first, but rather to Charlton Comics, the company where Ditko started his career.

Ditko would work at Charlton Comics off and on until the company went out of business in 1986, but it was during his period right after he left Spider-Man that Ditko made his biggest mark at the company, as they built an entire superhero line of comics around him, including the introduction of the Question and the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle.

RELATED: How Steve Ditko Defined Spider-Man for a Generation

Ditko first found regular comic book work at Charlton Comics in 1954 (he had done some previous irregular work for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon at Crestwood). Charlton was a small comic book company that was mostly built around material that was packaged together by Al Fago, brother of the only other person to be Editor-in-Chief of Timely/Marvel Comics during Stan Lee's time there (Lee had to step down as Editor-in-Chief while he was in the Army during World War II. Vincent Fago, who was in charge of Timely's funny animal titles, took over as interim Editor-in-Chief). Comic book packaging studios were big in the early days of the comic book industry. They would put together comic book stories and then sell them to comic book publishers. By the late 1940s, most of these packaging studios had fallen by the wayside as it was just cheaper for comic book companies to do their comics in house. That is ultimately what Charlton did in 1951, when they hired Fago to be their Editor-in-Chief.

In the early 1950s, Charlton went in big on then popular horror market. However, when the institution of the Comics Code put a bunch of comic book companies out of business, they swooped in and bought the intellectual property of the comic book companies that were closing down because of the Code. For instance, they bought a Fawcett horror comic and then saved money by using the inventory of stories from Fawcett. Charlton ran a tight ship, money-wise. However, that was not much different than most of the non-major comic book companies at the time. Pretty much only National Comics (DC Comics) and Dell were really doing well in the latter half of the 1950s. The other companies like Charlton and Atlas Comics (formerly Timely Comics and later Marvel Comics) were barely hanging in there. In the case of Charlton, they owned their own printing presses, which were designed to print cereal boxes. The comic book line was almost sort of like a side business to make use of the printing presses. So they paid the lowest rates in the business.

However, because they paid such low rates, they also were more willing to give their creators freedom to do what they wanted, as, again, they weren't paying them enough to demand a lot of oversight.

In any event, Ditko began at Charlton right before the big Comics Code crackdown, with the cover of The Thing #12...

Plus a vampire story in the book...

Ditko came down with a case of tuberculosis and had to take a hiatus from comic book art. When he recovered, he moved to New York City and got a gig at Atlas Comics, which became his main employer during that period. He would still manage to do some work for Charlton on the side, though.

When Atlas Comics had to nearly fire its entire staff at the end of the decade, Ditko did more work for Charlton (while being one of the few Atlas artists who Stan Lee made sure to find work for still).

In 1960, at Charlton, Ditko co-created Captain Atom with writer Joe Gill...

Then Atlas Comics became Marvel and they blew up in popularity and Ditko worked pretty much solely for Marvel for the next five years.

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