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Drag-Strip Hotrodders

Drag-Strip Hotrodders
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Magazine review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz.  December 2014.

Few people can grasp the huge amount of books, magazines, newsletters, newspapers and other written resources that have been published over the years.  Searching through used bookstores, yard and garage sales and other places reveals hidden treasures for the avid historian.  On one such foray my son Michael bought a box full of interesting gems, including three issues of DRAG - STRIP HOTRODDERS cartoon magazine, issues #2, #13 and #15.  DRAG - STRIP HOTRODDERS cartoon magazine came out in June of 1963 and published 16 issues with the last one coming out in August of 1967.  Then the title was changed to WORLD OF WHEELS and sixteen more issues were put out between October 1967 and June 1970. 

This cartoon magazine was one of about 215 separate cartoon issues published by Charlton Comics which began publishing around 1944 as T.W.O Comics and changed to Charlton Comics in 1946.  The key cartoonists were Al Fago, Pat Masulli, and George Wildman.  The founders were John Santangelo Sr and Ed Levy in Derby, Connecticut.  The company and all of its titles went out of business in 1986.  Just about every topic conceivable was published under the Charlton Comics name.  Some of the topics included sports, space, romance, superheroes, science fiction, horror, war, puzzle books, crime, animal, western and other subjects.  They published all their own work in-house, including editorial and distribution from their Derby office, bought up unpublished work cheaply, paid the lowest rates for material and work and kept their prices at 10 cents until 1962.

Santangelo was an Italian immigrant who spent a year in jail for publishing material he did not own.  While in prison, he met Ed Levy, an attorney, and they formed a legal publishing business; which they called after the names of their two sons, both of whom were named Charles, hence Charlton.  Their first title was Yellowjacket in September 1944, a series of plots based on superhero and horror tales.  Charlton competed with other comic cartoon brands such as Marvel, DC Comics and foreign competition.  Eventually the company went out of business and its titles were purchased by other companies.

In Issue #2, the only person listed is Pat Masulli as the Executive Editor.  None of the cartoonists are given credit.  DRAG - STRIP HOTRODDERS measures 7x10 inches in size and contains 32 pages of cartoon stories and intermixed with advertisements.  The paper is of poor quality that tends to yellow in sunlight, but can be preserved in a reasonable manner with acid free plastic sleeves.  Charlton Comics is on the low end of quality.  They chose to carve out a niche in the low-budget cartoon business.  However, the company was very adept at finding new and unproven talent and giving many cartoonists their first work in the business.  The drawings are very well done and the story lines clear, moralistic and directed toward young teenagers.

The first story was called “Tamed Tiger.”  The young boy had too much power and received another speeding ticket.  The policeman, drawn sternly, is giving the young man a lecture, well deserved, and he spends the day in jail.  The father leaves his son in jail overnight, has the 426 hemi removed and puts his son to work in the father’s store as punishment.  The young man is asked to deliver some life saving medicine and with a police escort he delivers the life-saving serum.  His father and the policeman see how well he has learned his lesson and allow the young boy to “soup” up his car provided he learns to drive safely on the public roads.

A one page cartoon tells the readers how to buy a good used car for $100 and what to look for.  The next cartoon is called Falcon Flyer and shows how an older boy can help the drag racing novice succeed.  Mom and Dad, with reservations, come with their son to the drag strip where the young man abides by all the rules and safely competes against the other car, winning the trophy and impresses his parents.  He is later seen racing his car at the Bonneville Salt Flats as the story ends.  In the middle of the comic book is a two page text story without drawings on “The pattern of accidents.”  There is no author mentioned and the article warns young people about the perils of accidents caused by carelessness.  A five page story entitled “Outlaw Rod” details how a young man was caught in an illegal street race and comes to realize how dangerous that type of racing can be.  Because he learned his lesson he was allowed to drive a qualifying lap in the local stock car race.  The last main cartoon tells the story of a hard-working young man who beats a loud-mouth racer at the drag strip.

The cartooning skills are of a high quality, though the text is rather out-dated by today’s standards.  This is more the fault of a jaded new generation that does not “get” the moralistic sermonizing of a past that is half a century removed from our present time.  There are collectors who specialize in cartoon magazines and even a Charlton Comics group.  I saw prices around the $15 mark, but it is impossible to be sure since the collectibles market can get very hot in a short time as money leaves other investment equities and looks for appreciation elsewhere.  That is quite an appreciation in price from the original 12 cents per copy.  The value in these early cartoon magazines is also based on the desire to relive an earlier time when America was the powerhouse of the world and manufactured goods created vast wealth.  The same was true with intellectual property like comic books.  For a time the world looked towards the United States, but today there are other areas of the world that lead the way, even in comic cartoon magazines.  If you find these magazines at garage sales for cheap prices, hang onto them as I believe they may appreciate in value.  And while you are waiting, read and enjoy them.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]