Treasured Stories: “The Locked Door!” (1973)

« Man’s constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you suffer that you really understand. » — Jules Verne

For my final post of the year (my co-admin ds yet holds one more Tentacle Tuesday instalment), I turn to crusty Joe Gill and a surprisingly cheerful tale of elder abuse (one of his pet topics, see The Night Dancer! for another example). Herein, a quite horrifying situation is leavened by Gill and his Billy  the Kid acolyte Warren Sattler‘s graceful, humorous handling… with the moral still clear. This is one of Sattler’s few forays into the spooky at Charlton, and I hope you’ll agree it’s worth the detour.


Despite the mere six pages allotted, The Locked Room! features a lot of story. Joe Gill typically wrote pages comprising five panels, which would translate to 30 panels for a six-pager. Sattler breaks down the script into 43 panels, so it could have been far longer. A jewel of elegant compression!
Tom Sutton’s humdinger of a cover gives away the plot, but no matter — it’s a striking, beautifully-coloured image. The rest of the issue’s nothing special: Joe Gill, Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia’s The Truth in the Fire is yet another spin of the stale greedy-explorer-versus-native-god plot; Gill and Wayne Howard‘s Bury Me Deep! is saved by its light tone; Gill and Steve Ditko‘s Let the Buyer Beware, despite featuring Ditko in full-on goofy mode, is more-or-less standard voodoo stuff; but the humdrum outing is largely redeemed, in the end, by the cover tale. This is Ghost Manor no. 17 (January 1974, Charlton).

I love Gill’s use of the principle of communicating vessels as a means of poetic retribution. Or is it a feedback loop? I’m also very fond of Agatha’s characterization: she’s hardly the picture of evil, blandly accepting each new bend in the road as if morals never entered into the equation. But you just know that, once Jerome is laid to rest, she’ll simply find another man to feed and breezily carry on. In a sense, she’s the main character: doesn’t the whole thing hinge on her fine cooking?


Warren Sattler’s Travels With El Chivito

« They’re drinkin’ red-eye, playin’ stud poker, and havin’ a high old time! I’ll just hang around awhile… »

In the mid-1970s, thanks to Pat Boyette’s connections in Texas, Charlton Publications found themselves able to affordably produce painted covers, a development that several members of their iconoclastic stable of artists took full and glorious advantage of. Tom Sutton, Don Newton and Boyette were naturals, but Warren Sattler often gets unfairly sidelined from that esteemed lot… perhaps because he rarely worked for Charlton’s ghost books. Each of his cover paintings was produced for the publisher’s western / martial art adventure series, Yang, House of Yang, and Billy the Kid. And he alone worked in that most unforgiving of media, watercolours, wherein, unlike oils or acrylics, one requires unerring confidence and dexterity if you’re aiming to come up with anything above a muddy mess.

Today, Mr. Sattler (born September 7, 1934, in Meriden, Connecticut, where he resides to this day) celebrates his eighty-fourth birthday. Let’s wish him all the best!

Over the years, I’ve become quite enthused with Charlton’s long-running Billy the Kid series (1957-1983!), which featured over the years the artwork of such luminaries as John Severin, Maurice WhitmanRocco “Rocke” MastroserioJosé Delbo and of course Mr. Sattler. As far as I know, Joe Gill just about wrote the entire series, which is one of its chief pleasures: over a hundred issues of consistent characterization of young Bill Bonney as a peace-loving, unprejudiced champion of the underdog whom his amigos in Old México fondly nicknamed « El Chivito ». I know, hardly the real-life Bill Bonney, but what could one expect under the Comics Code Authority‘s heavy thumb?

Several of Mr. Sattler’s cover paintings have, thank goodness, survived destruction. They have to be viewed in person to be fully appreciated. For the nonce, we’ll make do with mere digital reproductions.

For his first painted comic book cover (or second, Yang no. 7 appeared that same month), I believe Mr. Sattler got the proportions slightly wrong, so the cover art was cropped fairly tight horizontally, which still made for a striking, action-packed cover, but since we’ve got the original…
Two Billy adventures appear in this one: the cover-featured “The Good Life” and “The Spoilers!”
This one was featured as the cover of Billy the Kid no. 114 (Oct. 1975), illustrating Gill and Sattler’s “Killers in the Shadows!”
I’m sure Billy would be admiring the lovely light of dusk if he wasn’t being ambushed. Such a splendid and unusual (for comics) palette!
The printed version of this painting, which appeared on the cover of Billy the Kid no. 116 (Feb. 1976), lost quite a bit of its subtlety in translation, so I’m happy to show you the original. I love that bit of yellow in the clouds, echoed in the bushwhacker’s shirt. For the first time, a solo Sattler Billy the Kid tale, “The Treasure”.


Beautiful composition, and an effective and economical way to convey height and distance. Note the cattle horns in the artist’s signature.
This one’s mood and palette bring to mind the work of Doug Wildey. A good thing, you understand. Excellent use of the « dry brush » technique for texture.
After several issues’ absence from the insides, Mr. Sattler reunites with Joe Gill on “Three for the Money!”
One final painted cover before Charlton rode off into the sunset…. for the first time.


Mr. Sattler, a true prince of a man, created this piece especially for me a few years ago… without any request on my part! But you can bet I’ll always be grateful for this touching act of generosity and kindness.

As El Chivito’s many friends across the border would surely say, « ¡Que cumplas muchos más! », and thanks for everything!