The history of comic books is filled with dozens of unique and idiosyncratic artists. Some are legendary, while others are mostly forgotten except by a small subset of fans. Tom Sutton is unfortunately one of those artists whose career seems to have quietly slipped into history. Not that his work didn’t have merit or his career wasn’t interesting. Far from it. Sutton had a very interesting career, and, more than that, was an fascinating character. Unfortunately for Sutton, he did work for so many different comics companies, and spent so little time on established characters, that he is much less well-known than his contemporaries such as Gil Kane and Wally Wood. Sutton, like Steve Ditko, spent many years toiling for Charlton Comics, a relatively small and obscure publishing house that was notorious for allowing their creators unparalleled creative freedom in exchange for the lowest pay rates in the industry.
Thankfully there’s a magazine like Charlton Spotlight to discuss Sutton’s career. This 72-page fanzine is a treasure trove of tributes and interviews by and about Tom Sutton. A Tom Sutton special (issue one was a similar tribute to the similarly underappreciated Pat Boyette), this issue contains a plethora of historical art, articles and interviews devoted to one of the most interesting personalities at Charlton.
Editor Michael Ambrose presents a wide diversity of content in this issue, from a wonderful eight-page interview with Sutton, where he shows himself to be as much a whoring artist as anything else. Several times in this interview, Sutton seems to talk about his creative impulses coming into conflict with his need to make money it’s exciting to hear his opinions and at the same time sad to think that his outrageous creative vision never really was allowed to flower.
Other creators weigh in on Sutton’s career. Writers Steve Skeates, Bhob Stewart, Jim Amash and Nick Cuti contribute wonderful reminiscences about their friend, while Stefan Petrucha presents some never-before-seen pages from their abortive collaboration on a second “Squalor” series from First Comics. What emerges from these reminiscences is a three-dimensional portrait of a man who was lonely and bored much of the time, who drank excessively but had a tremendously unique artistic vision, and who ultimately never quite produced as much brilliant work as his legion of fans would have wanted him to.
The Sutton section of the zine is rounded out by a reprint of a strip Sutton and Cuti did for Warren over layouts by Wally Wood, a Sutton checklist and a cover gallery that presents a wonderful portfolio of Sutton’s work – his covers for the romance comics are real treats.
Rounding out this issue are an interview with longtime Charlton and Wonder Woman artist Jose Delbo, a short interview with artist Henry Scarpelli, a long column by Ron Frantz and an actual real live letters column.
Charlton Spotlight treads a unique middle ground. It’s not as slick as something like Comic Book Artist and not amateurish, either. It is a devoted and professional fan effort that any fan of the medium will enjoy. Charlton Spotlight #3 is a bargain at $7.50 per issue from Argo Press, P.O. Box 4201, Austin, TX 78765-4201