The daily newspaper comic strip Ghost Story Club appeared in newspapers nationally and around the world back in 1995-1998, and while it ceased syndication, GSC strip artist Dick Kulpa always viewed this as a temporary respite. Now, for all those thousands of members who actually joined the GSC Club via newspapers (as well as everyone else interested in ghost stories), digitally-remastered versions of this zany, cutting-edge feature have been posted online!
Originally crafted and written for 8 year old readers as a “learn-to-read” children’s feature, GSC fell far short of its potential, says the strip’s artist. “We had to be politically correct, and worked under a number of restrictions. Tribune Media Services, with top notch managing editor Mark Mathes and our GSC editor Eve Becker, (probably the finest newspaper syndicate bunch out there), did have to keep an eye on potential fallout,” he admitted. “In one case, some little old lady thought a monster looked too horrible, and nearly got us cancelled from the paper, so I easily understood the ‘why’ of it.”
“And my new sales hype stating that “Ghost Story Club signed on 500 new members this week, with only three little old ladies dead,” didn’t go over real well.” (GSC also offered an interactive club readers could join. Thousands did, and hundreds more wrote stories for the GSC contests.)
Ghost Story Club writer and creator Allan Zullo merged horror with humor — sometimes satirical — to create what really was an “ahead of its time” feature. “We were doing the witchcraft, creature fantasy thing BEFORE Harry Potter,” Kulpa said, ” and I wanted to take more of a “Dungeons and Dragons” approach, giving the established characters ghostly and witch-like powers. Unfortunately, we ran out of time.” (Those changes have since been effected on the GSC website.)
While reviewing some of the old syndicate mats and GSC originals, Kulpa caught himself laughing out loud over some of the strips witticisms, and decided to bring Ghost Story Club back from the dead. “There’s way too much good material here,” he said. But there remained one issue.
“While I was proud of my artwork on Ghost Story Club, ” Kulpa says, he admits that the ongoing pressures and constraints of producing a seven-day-per-week feature while working his full time job as senior editor/art director for supermarket tabloid Weekly World News took its toll. “In some cases, the art, eh, might have been a tad rushed,” he reveals. “Typically, I’d draw the Sundays first, then proceed to the dailies, which was editorially backwards. “When I first started this assignment my goal was to open GSC up to “guest illustrators,” to give other cartoonists a shot at the comics page,” he said. Four other artists eventually participated in GSC strip art chores, though via back-ending into it. “It got to the point my health was declining, so I had to be rescued,” Kulpa says.
In one surprising revelation, Kulpa says he was hesitant for some time before actually signing on to GSC. In 1983, while working as Graphic Arts Manager for the model kit/glue maker Testor Corporation, he illustrated a seven day Bruce Lee newspaper strip for 8 weeks, filling in for an ailing Fran Matera. But at the time he was also serving as an elected city councilman, with three-times-per-week meetings. “When Bruce Lee ended, I promised myself, “never again.” He would break that promise a month later when he was assigned the Star Trek comic strip (“no Sundays, that was good.”)
Upon starting work on the Ghost Story Club, Kulpa was hit with a bizarre affliction that forced him to draw the first 90 days’ worth “standing up.” “This was stress-related,” he reveals, “as if my body was warning me about taking on this kind of long-term project a third time. Unlike Testors, there was not a lot of support from my then WWN editor over my strip work,” he adds. Kulpa went on to institute a number of what he believes are comic page “firsts” . . . photo manipulation, digital drawing and even one strip featuring a naked female figure . . . on newspaper comics pages.
And now, subsequent experience and nearly 30,000 “real life” faces drawn during his ongoing stint as Captain Cartoon, caricature artist, showed
Kulpa some new tricks. “I’ve been able to fill in a few holes relative to my self-taught regimen,” he says. “I’ve learned how to draw. GSC can be even bigger than Potter, given its wider range — and we were here first,” he added.