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Cover Stories by Jon B. Knutson
Jon Knutson presents comic book covers with a common theme
and relates any information and comments about them.

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COVER STORIES for 06/25/2006

Welcome to the 59th edition of "Cover Stories," in which I look at a number of comics covers with a common theme!

This week, as promised, it's "world-premiere" time, as I present another installment of...

Comics Never Made

This week is a first for several reasons... firstly, these are the first alternate-reality Charlton comics I've ever presented (all the previous ones have been Dell or Gold Key). Secondly, there will be a lot more than one, two or three of these!

So, let's engage the Kurtzberg Alternate Reality Device, and take a look at the first four issues of a comic book our reality never saw!

Drive-In Movie Classics

You can imagine my delight when, one day, I was at my local Alternate Reality Comics Shop, and the owner, Phil Serling (he claims to be a distant relative of Rod), upon seeing me, said, "Hey, Jon! I've got a box of stuff that just came in you've got to see!" Now, I haven't mentioned this store before, but that's where I always shop for my books from an alternate reality. Anyway, the owner pulled out a short box of books, and put them on the counter, lifted the lid, and invited me to take a look.

My hands shaking - I knew Phil wouldn't tease me unless it was something great - I reached in and pulled out the first four books whose covers I present here... Drive-In Movie Classics! These are some of the rarest books in the Overstreet Alternative Reality Comic Book Price Guide, and Phil told me he had the entire run, as well as the spin-off title. He had purchased the entire lot of them from the son of the writer of the series, and promised he'd put me in touch with him to learn more about this title.

But first, this first issue! "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is truly a classic science fiction film. As noted on the cover, it was released in 1951 by 20th Century-Fox, and was directed by Robert Wise (who would later direct "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"). This adaptation was a fairly straightforward adaptation of the movie, although for the most part, the characters only vaguely resemble their cinematic counterparts (there may have been issues with the likenesses). Some of the coloring was a bit on the fanciful side, perhaps (I'm not sure Gort was supposed to appear that bluish), but it's a good adaptation. By the way, this first issue was cover-dated March of 1963.

OK, a bit more history... you're probably surprised that the cover has the movie poster artwork on it, instead of something hastily drawn... well, there's a story behind that... but first, the cover of the next issue!

Drive-In Movie Classics

Yes, issue #2 featured "The Thing From Another World," released in 1951 by RKO, and is considered another classic SF movie! I think the colorist of this issue took the jokes about the Thing being a carrot monster a little too literally, as there's a distinct orange hue to his skin! This was the April 1963 cover-dated issue.

Anyway, I promised more history, didn't I? Charlton had some success a few years back with their ongoing series based on the monster movies Gorgo and Konga, and were considering trying to do something similar. Reptilicus didn't do so well for them, but the editor of the comics, Pat Masulli was still looking at genre movies to base a new title on. Recalling seeing Dell's Movie Classics comics on the stands, he decided that the way to go might be an anthology title, and featuring a different movie each time, he could look at sales figures to see which issues sold best, and then spin off that movie into its own title. Strangely, it never worked out that way for Charlton, though (although Dell would later spin off some of their Movie Classics into the super-heroic Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf books, and the less said of those, the better!).

Masulli was having dinner at a restaurant with Dick Giordano (Masulli's assistant editor and future Charlton editor) and talking about this new title when they were overheard by the two men at the next table, Joey Allen and Fred Michaels. Joey and Fred were major monster and sci-fi movie buffs, and in fact, they met and became friends when they were working at a movie theater near Derby, Connecticut (where Charlton was located), and their friendship continued when they were hired by a local TV station to host their monster movie program, "Frightening Films." Joey and Fred had between them a huge collection of movie memorabilia, which they'd accumulated while working at the theater. They were also comic book fans, and had published a few issues of their own monster comics fanzine (of which no copies exist anymore, apparently) before starting work at the TV station. Joey was the writer of the TV show, and Fred did artwork for the show - they did the same chores for their short-lived fanzine.

Naturally, they introduced themselves to Masulli and Giordano.

Drive-In Movie Classics

The third issue, cover-dated May 1963, featured, as you can see, "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," and the movie poster was itself fairly comic-booky, complete with word balloon! The art really started to take off with this issue (perhaps it was due to the giant monster).

Back to the history: Joey and Fred convinced Masulli to hire them to do the book, pending the preparation of a sample issue based on "The Day the Earth Stood Still," which was one of Joey's favorite movies. While the duo went to work, Masulli got the ball rolling on licensing movies for the comic book. He was amazed at how cheaply the licenses were able to be purchased - apparently, in that bygone age, once a movie had finished its theatrical run, the only money to be made off of them was in TV showings... and to help increase interest in their being shown on the TV, they practically gave away the rights (although some companies apparently decided to put a proviso that Charlton do issues based on newer releases, too, to help promote them).

Masulli picked the title "Drive-In Movie Classics" because he felt that some parents might buy the book for their kids to read when they went to the drive-in, so their kids would have something to do while waiting for the movie to start. Too, drive-in theaters were still very popular in the 60s, and he didn't like any of the other ideas he had.

Masulli liked the sample that Joey and Fred did, and the book was scheduled. A logo was created, and Masulli scheduled it for production. But as much as Joey and Fred enjoyed creating the interior pages, they hated creating artwork for the covers - they felt that the movie posters would work much better. And to make an even stronger case, they had the posters from their own collection (which continued to expand even after they stopped working for the theater, thanks to staying on good terms with the management there. They also maintained contact with friends at other theaters to get posters, lobby cards, stills and other promotional materials for movies that the theater they worked for didn't show).

Driven-In Movie Classics

The fourth issue, and the last one I'm presenting this time around, featured "Cat-Women of the Moon," which must've been a let-down for some readers who latched onto the book early on. The fact of the matter is, Sturgeon's Law (that 90 percent of everything is crap, not just science fiction) always applies, and there were way more cheesy sci-fi and monster movies than there were truly classic ones.

Still, Joey and Fred still put forth all their best efforts on this issue, and Fred got to show off his skill at drawing attractive women!

Final bit of history for this installment: When the first issue was being prepared for the press, Joey gave up his copy of the original poster to "The Day the Earth Stood Still" to Masulli to give to the production department. After the issue hit the stands, he asked Masulli for it back, he was horrified to find out that the poster was misplaced by Charlton's production department (or perhaps it was destroyed... the story seemed to vary depending on when it was told). Joey didn't want to lose any more of his precious movie memorabilia, so he had to come up with a way to safeguard his collection, while still providing them for the covers.

What that meant was a bit of expense, but one well worth it for Joey: He found a local photographer who could photograph his posters, and make color prints of them at the size needed for the covers, which could be cut apart as needed (some of the negatives of these photos were later found in a box at a garage sale, but most of them were damaged beyond use).

With that disaster averted, Joey and Fred were able to relax, and continue to produce the book month in and month out!

And with that, let's reset the Kurtzberg Alternate Reality Device, and return to our reality... but don't worry, there'll be more of these issues in future installments! A special thanks to Charlton Spotlight editor and head honcho Mike Ambrose for his help in researching this title!

Join me next time for another installment of "Cover Stories," and in the meantime, you can check out my blog at for other musings and ramblings by me, or email me with comments about this column at!

Jon B. Knutson

<< 06/18/2006 | 06/25/2006 | 07/02/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.

Recent Installments:
NEWESTInstallment 129: 1 - 10 - Cracked! (10/28/2007)
10/21/2007Installment 128: Clichés
10/14/2007Installment 127: Comics Never Made - Drive-In Movie Classics and Fantastic Film Classics
10/07/2007Installment 126: Circus Time
09/30/2007Installment 125: 1-10 - Challengers of the Unknown!
09/23/2007Installment 124: Ch-ch-ch-changes - And it's all Superman family titles!
09/16/2007Installment 123: Comics Never Made - Drive-In Movie Classics and Fantastic Film Classics
09/09/2007Installment 122: Reader Challenge - a reader gave me four comic book covers, and challenged me to come up with the theme!
09/02/2007Installment 121: Cartoon Stuff
08/26/2007Installment 120: Sports
08/19/2007Installment 119: 1-10 - Captain Marvel Adventures!
08/12/2007Installment 118: Comics Never Made - Five comics that never were!
08/05/2007Installment 117: Carnival
07/22/2007Installment 116: A G-g-g-g-g-ghost!
Archives >>

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