When you consider picking up a horror comic, what’s the first thing that comes to your feverish little mind (after the title character, of course)? Probably who wrote it. Does the writer have a good track record of spine-chilling, blood-curdling tales of menace and mayhem? If so, you’re more likely to give it a read then if the author is a total unknown or he has turned out some clunkers in his time.
That’s all well and good. I’d be the last to say the author and his track record isn’t important; I started out writing horror comics for the late, lamented Charlton Comics line some 40 years ago, and here I am, delving into the same subject matter now (I gotta get a real job someday).
But let’s be honest–comics is a VISUAL medium and the quality of the artwork can ruin a good script or make a star out of a pedestrian writer. Especially in the horror genre, where strong emotions–fear, hate, mood-setting–must be portrayed on the four-color page.
With that in mind, I’d like to give you an unofficial list of my favorite Charlton horror comic artists, since that’s the stable I’m most familiar with. Forgive my bias if the top two artists in the group happened to draw a few of my scripts decades ago. Just a coincidence.
1) Actually Numbers 1a and 1b, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Tom Sutton was the top Charlton horror artist. Best known as a stellar inker, Sutton’s other-worldly elongated pencils suited the horror genre perfectly. The man was born to draw the creepiest people and backgrounds.
2) Steve Ditko is a close second. Everyone knows Ditko as the magic behind Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but his horror stuff was almost on that level. Check out early Dr. Strange stories in Marvel’s classic Strange Tales title and you can see how Ditko could create his own distinctive, eerie universe with a stroke of his pencil.
3) The name Sanho Kim might take you aback, but this artist’s very unique style brought its own elegance to horror scripts, numerous covers and the kung fu title House of Yang Once you saw his work, you’d recognize it anywhere.
4) Mike Zeck is perhaps best known for his smooth storytelling on Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu and Captain America, but he cut his eyeteeth on some dynamite Charlton horror anthologies. The man could flat out draw a werewolf, believe me.
5) Don Newton is another artist more closely identified with super-hero books with both DC and Marvel (he could draw a mean Aquaman back in the pre-Jason Momoa days). But teamed with inker Dan Adkins, Newton contributed some of Charlton’s best horror covers and inside artwork of the group’s too-short existence. Also, his rendition of The Phantom (one of my all-time favorite comic book characters) was the industry standard.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two standout artists who got their big breaks at Charlton, but not necessarily on horror comics: John Byrne and Joe Staton. You may have heard of these gentlemen.
So that’s my “Rogue’s Gallery” of horror artists. Trust me, these were men who never met a monster they didn’t like.