Feb 9, 2016

Charlton Comics: More Gay Subtexts than Casper

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my staple was Harvey comics: gay-vague pacifist Casper the Friendly Ghost saving the world from science-fiction threats.  I liked the Gold Key jungle comics, Little Lulu, Archie, and occasionally a Marvel or DC title, but I hated the bottom-of-the-barrel Charlton comics: cheaply printed on bad paper, amateurish illustrations, horrible dialogue, stupid stories.

Until one day my boyfriend Bill  suggested that I take another look: "They're all full of best men."

That was our word for gay romantic partners.

I wasn't convinced.  "No way.  Harveys are lots better."  I picked up the first on the pile.  "Abbot and Costello?  My Grandma talked about them -- they were on tv like a thousand years ago."

"The big guy has to rescue the little guy all the time."

A same-sex rescue was our main test of whether two guys were friends or "best men."

"What about Timmy the Timid Ghost? It's stupid!"

It was a blatant knock-off of Harvey's Casper the Friendly Ghost.  There was even a tough derby-wearing ghost, Manny, a blatant knock-off of Harvey's Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost

"Do Casper and Spooky live together?" Bill asked pointedly.

No.  Casper lived with his uncles, and Spooky lived alone.  Their paths rarely crossed in the vast Enchanted Forest.

Domesticity -- male characters living together -- was our second test of best men!

The only original characters made no sense, like Surf n' Wheels: good surfers vs. evil motorcyclists in one issue, then crime fighting surfer-motorcyclists in the next.

But Bill pointed out that they had their shirts off for about half of every issue, more than you ever got with Harveys.

Beefcake -- guys taking their shirts off, or even better, wearing only underwear or swimsuits -- was our third test!

Bill pointed out that some Charlton titles, like Hercules, Jungle Jim, and Robin Hood, were even more beefcake-heavy than the Gold Keys.

Beefcake, same-sex rescues, and domesticity.  What else could you ask for in a comic book?

Good stories, interesting artwork, and dialogue that made sense.  I still didn't like Charlton.