Charlton Reinvented: A Talk with Paul Kupperberg

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By Steven Pennella

After stopping the presses in the mid-80s and going out of business, Charlton Comics is back! It’s the comic company that will not die. Many of its characters have lived on, some through DC Comics, and others, solely within the hearts of the fans—at least, until recent events brought them back to life. Both fans and professionals joined in to revive the Charlton line with original concepts, as well as new takes on public domain characters that weren’t acquired by DC in the 1980s. It’s a labor of love with a truly independent vibe.

Paul Kupperberg was kind enough to take some time and answers some questions about the All New, All Different Charlton line of comics. Roger McKenzie and Mort Todd also helped set this up and provided artwork for our readers to enjoy.kupperburg10

IM: T. C. Ford attempted to reboot Charlton Comics with the Charlton Bullseye Special, which was to feature art by Amanda Connor. Unfortunately, it never happened and eventually, Charlton Comics went out of business. Did you reach out to Mr. Ford or any of the people involved with it? Did they offer any advice or want to join in?
PK: We didn’t set out to revive or reboot the old Charlton Comics. We’re all fans of the old comics, but I think we were attracted more to what the name represented to us as fans than for the actual material we wanted to publish. True, the very first story we published in The Charlton Arrow #1 was my script, which was a pastiche of the old Charlton Action Heroes, but we knew these characters, the strongest the company had had, weren’t available to us, so why not use the opportunity to create new material in the spirit of the original company? T.C. is, of course, a member of the Facebook fan page where the Charlton rebirth was born, and has been very supportive of our efforts.

kupperburg1IM: Now let’s talk about your efforts and publications. How did this come about in the first place? Is it true it all started with a Facebook fan page?
PK: Yep, a Charlton fan and blogger named Fester Faceplant started the Charlton Arrow Facebook page, which I and some other old-time Charltonites eventually joined—I made my first half dozen or so professional sales to Charlton in 1975, which makes me a vet. Anyway, somebody suggested that, with all the talent on the page, we should do a Charlton fanzine. I volunteered to write a story (the aforementioned pastiche) and then, others started jumping in with stories and ideas, and the next thing we knew, we had this little comic book publishing company.

kupperburg2IM: What’s the deal with Roger Broughton? He purchased the rights to publish Charlton Comics and published some reprints but not much else.
PK: You know as much about that as I do.  We haven’t heard jack squat from Roger Broughton… nor has anyone else for many years, from what I understand. We’re doing either original material or new stories using old and largely obscure public domain characters.

kupperburg3IM: You’ve got a plethora of material from Charlton that ended up in the public domain. Charlton was famous for producing romance, humor, mystery, horror, and westerns. What’s coming in the future? The Westerns are getting their own title so how about “Easterns” or Crime, Detective, or Noir stuff?
PK: Noir, Action, Humor/funny animal, Horror, all in the works.

IM: Charlton Arrow is available as a POD and digital publication. Where do you see this going? Is national distribution feasible via Diamond? Are there plans to make the titles available in comic shops and other brick and mortar retailers as well?
PK: Right now, we’re playing it by ear, with word of mouth and social media as our best friends. Thanks to digital publishing and POD technology, we can actually create comic books to sell and not have to sink a fortune into printing, storing, and in fulfilling orders ourselves. Diamond takes too big a bite out of the profits, so that’s not a direction we can afford to go in. Again, we’re winging it right now, trying to get the word out and keep this show going.kupperburg4

IM: Charlton was famous for adapting television shows in the 70s, like Emergency, Six Million Dollar Man, and Space: 1999. Would you like to see that happen again? What shows, past or current would you like to publish?
PK: No interest at all. TV and movie licenses cost big bucks and there’s no way to recoup those costs under our business model. Besides, why hassle with licenses and approvals and revisions and all the attendant headaches when you can create your own stuff and do what you want?

kupperburg6IM: Obviously you cannot do stories about the Action Heroes purchased by DC back in ’83, but have you considered using public domain superheroes from other publishers under the Neo banner?
PK: If someone comes up with a good revamp or re-imagining of an existing P.D. character from any company, we’ll be happy to take a look. But if you check what characters ARE in the P.D., you’ll see that they’re there because they’re largely lame and deservedly obscure. Again, we’d rather publish a completely new character than recycle someone else’s leftovers.

kupperburg7IM: This revival is attracting many big-name artists and writers that have worked for, or currently work for, Marvel, DC, and even Charlton in the past. What is it about Charlton that makes these artists want to work for fun versus a paycheck?
PK: Total freedom and creator ownership. You create it, we publish it—but YOU own it, lock, stock, and barrel, and no one at Charlton Neo is going to tell you what you can and can’t do with your creation.

IM: Do any of the contributing artists and writers see this as a way to get back into working for Marvel, DC, Image, or other larger publishers?
PK: Maybe, you’ll have to ask them that. But I think most of us are realistic enough to realize that the mainstream publishers are pretty much done with us and have moved on to other ways to make a living. If we like what you’ve come up with, what Neo offers is, again, the opportunity to do the comic books you want to do the way you want to do them.

kupperburg8IM: What does it say about the state of the industry when so many established pros cannot get the work from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc?
PK: It says that time moves on and older creators get pushed out by younger creators. It happened at DC in the mid-70s, when me and my peers entered the business and displaced guys like Bob Kanigher, Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, David Reed, et al. It says comics has taken on the ageist, “youth is good” mindset of its Hollywood corporate overlords and we either get on with our lives or become the bitter old farts yelling at those damned kids to get off their lawn. And the results of these policies are reflected in sales and other factors. I spoke at a friend’s comics writing class for seniors (as in freshman, sophomore, senior—not old people) at NY’s School of Visual Arts recently and, of the 15 or so students there, exactly NONE of them raised their hands when I asked who wanted to do comics for DC or Marvel. They all want to tell their own stories and create their own comics, outside of the corporate structure.

kupperburg9IM: You’ve released submission guidelines for artists and writers. Can you tell us about some of the new talent you’ve found?
PK: We’ve got a few new guys we’re working with, largely through assistant editor Dan Johnson, who screens the submissions and is in touch with the writers and artists and can probably talk more on what’s in the pipeline than I can. What really gets me is some of the guys getting back into comics because of us. Our own Roger McKenzie got involved after 20 or years away from the field after seeing that I was part of the fun… and artist Angel P.D. Gabriele is doing his first new storytelling art in I don’t know how many years, both on some short stories for the anthology titles and on the Pix-C Weekly Web Comics site strip I write, N.E.O.—and he is kicking ass all the way.

IM: What would you like to see done differently in the mainstream comics industry and can you give an example of how you would like to accomplish this with Charlton?

PK: There’s lots I’d like to see done differently in mainstream comics, but I’m not the audience they’re shooting for anyway, so I don’t really dwell on it. I can only control my own little corner of comics, and I’m not out to reform the industry, even if it could or should be reformed. There’s too much money at stake these days for the mainstream publishers to change in any way other than further in favor of profits. Just like it’s up to creators to watch out for their own asses. No mainstream company can even afford to really express gratitude to the creators anymore, out of worry that we’ll come back and want some part of their media and licensing money, except in the broadest, most general terms—and even then, usually only when bad publicity shines a light on the subject. All we’re trying to do at Charlton is make comic books we want to make, have some fun doing it, and give creators a place to showcase their work. If something we publish hits the big time, that would be great, but all the benefits of it being a hit belong to the creator, not Charlton.

IM: Social media is vital to Charlton’s continued success and you’ve started a Patreon.com campaign. Can you tell the readers how that works and how it’s working out?
PK: Supporting Charlton Neo, Pix-C, and ComicFix through Patreon is kind of like becoming a sustaining member of PBS. You pledge whatever monthly amount you’re comfortable with to support our creative efforts. For as little as a buck a month, you’ll have unlimited access to the Pix-C Webcomics site, which features a variety of (mostly) all-new color comic strips, updated every Sunday, by me, Angel P.D. Gabriele, Roger McKenzie, Sandy Carruthers, Mort Todd, Javier Hernandez, and others. For larger contributions, we offer discounts on our print books, posters and prints, and free stuff. They can check out a free preview and learn how to join by going to the website: http://morttodd.com/Pix-C.html.kupperburg5

IM: Can you tell our readers what to expect from the Pix-C Weekly Web Comics site the vs. the POD books?
PK: Hopefully we’re giving them good comics on the web and in print. The difference is the format: weekly installments versus complete stories done in one or, at least, in larger chunks. And we’ll be collecting the webcomics as print comics, once we have enough material gathered.

IM: Considering the costs of a single comic book do you think it makes sense to eventually go all digital and set up an online subscription service for your titles?
PK: You’d think, but comics is all about the collectables, the thing that can be sealed in Mylar or slabbed and displayed on the shelf. Can’t do that with digital comics, so I think there will continue to be a print component to comics for a long time to come.

IM: As a parent I find it hard to justify spending $4.00 or more on a single comic that seems to be serialized when I can purchase a learning app, a game, or even get a children’s book on sale for about the same money. How would you convince me to get my kids (all under 10 years old) into comics?
PK: I don’t know what to tell you. Comics don’t give the bang for the buck that they used to, especially in view of all the competition out there for that entertainment buck. And it’s going to take more than me to convince you to get your kids into comics. It’s going to take mainstream comics doing more than paying lip service to wanting to draw in young readers and actually publishing age-appropriate books that will be available, not just in comic book shops, but in retail outlets where parents who aren’t comic book fans might see them and be inspired to pick them up.

IM: What demographic is Charlton going after? Older fans, youngsters, or another target?
PK: Charlton doesn’t have a demographic in mind, but by the nature of our material, creators, and reach through social media, the majority of our readers are going to be older. We’re planning on material for younger readers, but one of the problems with that market, as I learned through a prose publishing endeavor aimed at the YA market, is that kids don’t have credit cards to order our books online for themselves. But these are the kinds of issues we face when you’re trying to publish good comic books on a shoestring. A really short shoestring, at that.

IM: A fan walks into a comic convention and asks you how to get into comics in any capacity. What would you tell them?
I tell them to plan on a day job. Breaking into any creative business isn’t easy and these days, I don’t really know what it takes. Yes, it requires talent—and none of us are ever really as talented as we, or our mothers, think we are. It requires persistence. It requires connections. Mostly, it requires luck. And if and when you do get lucky, it requires follow-through: the ability to do the job as promised, when promised. How do you get lucky? Practice, practice, practice. Most publishers don’t look at unsolicited submissions anymore (although Charlton Neo does), so if you want to get noticed, you need to get your work out there, publish your own webcomics, go to conventions, and make connections. And, yeah, plan for that day job as a back-up plan. These days, for every comic book story I write, I’m also writing half a dozen other things you never hear about or that don’t have my name on them, from coloring books, to kid books or Mad Libs, to commercial writing jobs.

IM: Last but now least, can you tell our readers where we can find you on the web (list all urls).
PK: You can find me at my website, Paulkupperberg.com, on Twitter at @Paulkupperberg, on Facebook, and at Crazy8Press.com for much of my prose work. You can follow Charlton Neo at Charltonneo.blogspot.com or on Facebook in two great fan groups: Charlton Neo Comics and The Charlton Arrow.


Learn more about our interviewer at: Steven Pennella

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