Remembering Don Newton (1934-1984)

« Herbal tea. My own recipe.
It’s added years to my life.
May I offer you a cup? »

After producing some exceptionally solid fan art (chiefly for the long-lived Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (153 issues, 1961-1985), Arizona art teacher Don Newton made his jump into the pro leagues in 1974 with Charlton, where he got his chance to show off his considerable painting skills. After a handful of mystery stories, he took over Charlton’s version of Lee Falk and Ray Moore‘s The Phantom, which he drew for six issues (and one cover) before the title was cancelled… along with the rest of Charlton’s original comics line, really.

Newton’s original cover painting for issue 68 (December, 1975, Charlton) of The Phantom, illustrating the tale of The Beasts of Madame Kahn by Nicola Cuti and Newton.
Newton’s cover painting (in acrylics, if you must know) for the penultimate issue of The Phantom’s Charlton run, no. 73 (October, 1976), “The Torch”, written by Ben S. Parillo (alias Bill Pearson), pencilled and inked by Don Newton. The wizened mastermind is a fella who simply goes by the name of ‘Raven’.
« How could a snake be alive here, buried deep in the earth for thousands of years? » Don Newton’s painting (Ghostly Tales no. 115, May, 1975) depicts a scene from Joe Gill and Steve Ditko’s “Wings of Death!”
« Turn her loose, Pike… I want to road-test the new talent! » Mr. Newton illustrates the Unknown Scribe and Demetrio Sánchez Gómez‘s biker operetta “Running Wild!”, from Teen Confessions no. 89 (June, 1975, Charlton.)

Newton would go on to DC (and a couple of brief dalliances with Marvel), illustrating Batman, Captain Marvel (er, “Shazam!”), Aquaman, Star Hunters, and The New Gods for DC, before being, all too soon, felled by a heart attack at the age of 49. Most of the time, though, he provided great art to ho-hum stories.

Against all odds, around 1982, scripter Gerry Conway, a name synonymous with half-assed, content-free hackwork since the early ’70s, actually blossomed into a decent writer. Fortuitously, while assigned to pencil Batman’s adventures in Detective Comics, Newton was paired with prolific* Filipino legend Alfredo Alcala, and the stars were in proper alignment. You won’t have to take my word for it, however. Feast your eyes on the palpable ambiance from the Conway-Newton-Alcala trio.

Picking up strands from Steve Englehart‘s  run on the book (nos. 469–476, in 1977-78), creepy-but-buff scientist Hugo Strange returns to pester his murderer, crooked politician Rupert Thorne. Colourist Adrienne Roy’s hand is betrayed by the 100% magenta/30% black mix.
Well, I have to show Newton’s actual Batman, don’t I? His was one of the few characterizations that were physically believable. You could buy this guy as an acrobat, as a fighter *and* as detective. Alcala often overwhelms whomever he’s inking, but since Newton’s pencils were probably tight as a camel’s ass in a sand storm, both men’s contributions mesh splendidly with no loss of identity. Pages 2 and 7 from Detective no. 520 (Nov. 1982).

– RG

*How prolific was Alcala? « It is said that his fastest page rate was twelve pages in a nine-hour sitting. » And the scary thing is that it hardly ever looked rushed or less than committed, unlike the work of some other inkers we could name. What a guy.

9 thoughts on “Remembering Don Newton (1934-1984)

  1. Barney Dannelke November 12, 2017 / 18:28

    Great stuff! Loved his Phantom covers – and his Aquaman was way above the average for that character.


    • gasp65 November 14, 2017 / 00:08

      Thanks, Barney. On the topic of Aquaman art, though: are you saying that the character generally was underserved in terms of artwork? I always thought he got solid art and, with the notable exception of Steve Skeates’ run, ho-hum writing. For my part, aside from the Skeates-Aparo-Cardy days, with its oddly downbeat, end-of-the-world vibe, I never managed to get interested in Aquaman. Which dovetails into my theory of Newton providing quality visuals to illustrate mediocre stories… at DC.

      And yes, those Phantom covers were exceptional. Not every comic book artist could paint, but in Newton’s case, it’s a shame he never got the opportunity post-Charlton.


  2. John Ellis June 16, 2019 / 20:26

    Note that Don Newton was born on November 6, 1934, and there were 153 issues of RBCC from 1961 through 1983. Don painted 7 Phantom covers. Three strikes, yer out!


    • gasp65 June 16, 2019 / 23:11

      Not so fast with the count, John…

      You’re quite correct about the number of RBCC issues (I have *no* idea what happened there… I even own the last issue!) Anyway, I’ve made the correction, thanks for pointing that out!

      Now, as for Newton’s date of birth, GCD and Lambiek say November 12… Wikipedia says *both* the 12th and the 6th (in the sidebar). A case of an incomplete update, I assume. The November 12th date seems the more credible, gleaned as it was from the United States Social Security Death Index.

      On the other hand, the year of birth… yikes! And right in the title yet!

      As for the number of covers, you misread me when I said that “he drew for six issues (and one cover)”; that means six complete issues (including covers) *plus* the cover of issue 69, whose insides were illustrated by the Recreo Studio.

      All clear now? Thanks for dropping us a line!



      • John Ellis June 17, 2019 / 23:29

        Thanks RG! One never knows when commenting on older posts if anyone is actually keeping tabs.

        I was friends with Don and was also on staff on RBCC (1969-1976) so forgive me if I get a little worked up over both from time to time.

        Thank you for helping to keep Don’s name alive!

        John Ellis

        Liked by 2 people

      • gasp65 June 18, 2019 / 10:22

        John– there’s nothing to forgive… we should all have such dedicated, true and loyal friends!

        The days of such publications as the RBCC, Graphic Story/Fanfare, Squa Tront, The early Comics Journal, Cartoonist PROfiles, Funnyworld… were such a golden era of informed, passionate fandom. It’s that spark that I aspire to rekindle with this blog. It’s quite a treat to encounter one of the worthy participants. Take a bow!

        As for keeping tabs, I know all too well what you mean: the blogosphere often feels like an elephants’ graveyard.

        Thanks again for the corrections!

        Liked by 1 person

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