By Michael Walsh / Asst. Entertainment Editor
Well before the characters of Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen were chosen to be turned into a live-action film, they were a part of a minor comic book publishing house located in Derby, Conn. called Charlton Comics.
Charlton Comics’ main secret of early success was keeping the costs low.
Part of its Connecticut connection was an integral part of this process. According to Donald Markstein, creator of the cartoon encyclopedia website toonopedia.com, operating out of Derby was much cheaper than operating out of New York City like giant comic book companies of the time did.
In addition, Charlton Comics, which closed its doors in 1986, used an in-house second-hand press originally used for printing cereal boxes.
The minor comic book company was the original owner of the characters DC Comics eventually acquired in 1983 while Charlton was on its last breath. DC Comics commissioned Moore, giving him free reign to disguise and transform them into what we now know as the characters of Watchmen.
Watchmen, heralded as one of Time’s 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present, has been skyrocketing upwards ever since the trailer for the Zack Snyder-directed film debuted before The Dark Knight last summer. Amazon.com has Watchmen in their top spot for bestsellers in books while book giant Barnes & Noble lists the graphic novel third overall in sales rank among books.
Most people, readers or not, know that the Watchmen film is an adaptation of the legendary DC produced graphic novel. What many might not be aware of is where the inspiration for these famous characters came from.
In the mid-1960s Steve Ditko, listed as one of the co-creators of Spider-Man, returned to Charlton Comics to create a few of the characters that would serve as the basis for some of the most popular Watchmen characters.
Before Jackie Earle Haley put the ink blotted mask on and became the live-action Rorschach in the big budget motion picture, Ditko created The Question, the mysterious, merciless and faceless vigilante who also wore a brown trench coat and fedora.
Ditko and Charlton Comics co-worker Joe Gill were responsible for the inspiration of Watchmen’s big blue hero, Dr. Manhattan. Captain Atom first appeared in Space Adventures #33, a March 1960 comic book. Both Captain Atom and Dr. Manhattan received their powers from a similar scientific mishap. The main difference in these two characters lies with Dr. Manhattan having much greater powers than the original incarnation of Captain Atom.
In a 2000 interview in the publication Comic Book Artist, Moore confirmed the fact that the Charlton Comics characters were indeed inspiration for his Watchmen characters.
“The Question was Rorschach, yep. Dr. Manhattan and Captain Atom were obviously equivalent. Nite-Owl and the new (Ted Kord) Blue Beetle were equivalent,” said Moore.
Nite-Owl I and II were both inspired by the two versions of the Blue Beetle with Dan Garrett inspiring the original Nite-Owl (Hollis Mason) and Ted Kord inspiring the second Nite-Owl (Dan Dreiberg). The Comedian was The Peacemaker. Ozymandias was Thunderbolt. Silk Spectre had correlation with the original character Nightshade.
More than 60 years after Charlton Comics became Charlton Comics, a film with a budget of $150 million has been made. And it all came from comics that used to cost 10 cents a pop.