All images © DC Comics, Inc.
When we spoke in mid December, Gaspar had put some doubt in my mind about JIMMY WAKELY being the first DC comic he worked on, so I did more research. I found a site that shows covers of all the comics published by the company in each month of each year. Looking through 1950 I came to this title, which I’d never seen or heard of before. It ran six issues from cover dates July-August 1949 through this one, May-June 1950. It’s DC’s first romance title, though just by two months, GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES came along shortly after. It was edited by Julie Schwartz, and is certainly a western romance comic, exactly what Gaspar had described. Issue 6 was published the same month as issue 5 of JIMMY WAKELY, where we’ve already seen Gaspar’s work. It looked like I’d hit the jackpot!
Perhaps because it covers two genres, inexpensive reading copies are scarce, but I was able to once again get scans from Michael T. Gilbert of splash pages and then full stories for issue 6, and I thank him for his help.
This splash page for the first story certainly has balloon and caption lettering that look like the work of Gaspar to me. Better yet, the art is by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia (as per the Grand Comics Database). Gaspar remembered his first story being drawn by Carmine, so perhaps this was it.
I’m not sure what’s going on with that triangle representing A as the first letter of the caption, I can’t see what it’s meant to be, but the remaining letter forms certainly look like Gaspar’s work, though perhaps just a little less even that what we’ve seen so far. The story title is rather bland, and looks more like something Ira Schnapp might do than Gaspar, but notice the way the R is designed, like a P with the right leg added. This is a characteristic element of Gaspar’s title lettering throughout his career.
A detail from page 5 has a typical Gaspar burst balloon with all straight lines. The one slightly odd thing is the squared letter A’s in the word AVALANCHE, a variation which appears in this issue but not later work, and only on emphasized words.
On page 7 we find the first of several initial capitals with black shapes behind them, a little more rounded than what we’ve seen before, but quite similar.
And on page 10 we have some very Gaspar-ish sound effects. In all, I’m sure this story was lettered by Gaspar. And it wasn’t the only one in the issue!
The second story also looks like it has Gaspar’s lettering. The art is again attributed to Infantino/Giacoia on the GCD, but with a question mark. Doesn’t look as much like their work to me, and I think it’s unlikely Julie would have run two stories by the same art team in the same issue and one after the other. Notice the R’s in the title with the same style as story one, and the black shape behind the initial capital.
This detail from page 3 has a very Gaspar sound effect and another of those initial capitals. It’s subtle, but I again see some slight unevenness in the letter forms perhaps suggesting that Gaspar was still learning to doing this.
Page 6 has this very typical Gaspar thought balloon and squared, bold I.
The next panel features one of those caption borders with zigzags, clearly tying the lettering style to examples we’ve looked at in earlier parts of this article. I don’t recall seeing anyone else but Gaspar do that, and it’s representative of the kind of energy he always adds to his work.
There was plenty of hard slogging for the letterer in those days, as Gaspar remembers. I believe the lettering on this page covers nearly 50% of the entire surface!
Here’s the third long story in the issue, once again I believe with Gaspar lettering. This title also looks like he was using the work of Ira Schnapp as a guide, but it’s not as well crafted as Ira’s work.
One more example of the zigzag caption line, and here I think the slightly uneven letter forms are more obvious. Don’t get me wrong, this is still great lettering, but I have to admit I feel a little better about my own early work after seeing that Gaspar didn’t lay pen to paper on his earliest stories with a fully developed professional lettering style. From this example, I think we can see him still working that out.
So, ROMANCE TRAIL 6 has three stories lettered by Gaspar, but are they the earliest? Michael T. Gilbert had sent me splash pages for all six issues, and while I didn’t see any sign of Saladino lettering in issues 1-4, there were two stories in issue 5 I thought might be by him. Michael was kind enough to send his largest scans of those stories, but unfortunately they aren’t as clear as the ones for issue 6.
I looked again on eBay, and this time found a low-grade copy of issue 5 with the logo stripped off, something done by newsstands to get credit for unsold copies. (They sent the stripped logos to the distributor for credit, and then sometimes still sold the defaced comics at lower prices, which must have happened here). As you can see, I bought it, and it arrived yesterday, just in time for me to make new scans for this article.
The first story in the book has art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella according to the GCD. It certainly looks like Infantino pencils to me. The story title is well done, if rather conservative. I think “A Molly Adams Story” is set in type.
A closer look at the caption shows a decorative T that is not as well done as later ones by Gaspar, but still has a creative approach, a black circle behind it. Again, the letterforms are a little uneven, perhaps a bit more so than the ones in issue 6. The handling of the emphasized DID is not typical of his later work, but many of the style points that indicate Gaspar’s letter forms to me are here.
We can certainly say the story had tons of “copy” or things needing lettering, as you can see on this page. There are some details to notice here. The first speech balloon has three quoted words underlined. No doubt they were underlined in the script, but in those pre-computer days that usually meant it should be lettered italic or slanted. I made a similar novice mistake once on an early job for Julie Schwartz, and he came to the production room at DC, where I was working on staff, to tell me “NEVER underline!” I’m not sure why these weren’t fixed before the pages went to the printer, either Julie missed it, or he wasn’t yet set on that rule. The words that are emphasized are uneven in size, look how big ACTUALLY is at lower left. The thought balloon border in that panel uses smaller ovals than usual for Gaspar, and they aren’t as well shaped as later ones, more evidence he was still learning.
Here’s what I’d call the “smoking gun” of my research: a zigzag caption line found on page 6, one of several in the story. If there was any doubt in my mind that Gaspar lettered it, this dispelled it. I’m convinced I’ve found the very first story lettered by Gaspar for DC! Because it’s not typical of his later work in some ways, I might have missed it if I hadn’t worked my way back like this, so my research has paid off!
The other piece in the issue I think Gaspar lettered is this one-page filler of illustrated verse with art by Alex Toth. There’s a very nice western title at the top, and then four sections of verse in all caps. then lower case.
The upper case letter forms are very much in Gaspar’s style, and the lower case, while less practiced, shows lots of promise, and puts him on the road to the signature upper and lower case handwriting style that Gaspar used throughout his career.
I called Gaspar again a few days ago to tell him about my new research. “See if this rings a bell,” I told him, “a comic called ROMANCE TRAIL, combining romance and western themes.”
With only a moment’s hesitation he replied, “Yes! That sounds like it. I think you’re right! And the art was by Carmine?” I told him it was on the earliest story. Gaspar agreed it all sounded correct. I said I’d be presenting my evidence in these blog articles, and he could see it there soon. “Okay, I’ll be interested to read that,” he said, and added, “and don’t be afraid to tear me apart, tell it like it is.” While I’ve tried to be honest in my comments here, even starting out I feel Gaspar was way ahead of all the letterers I’ve known. No tearing apart required!
One interesting thing to consider is the timing of this work. Issue 5 of ROMANCE TRAIL was cover-dated March-April 1950. Comics regularly hit the newsstands two months ahead of their cover date for two reasons. First, it would make them seem fresh and new longer, and second it told the sellers when it was time to take unsold copies off the stands. So, this issue would have appeared in January, 1950, and be pulled off in March or April, in time for the next bimonthly issue. I don’t know what the lead time was for separations, printing and distribution, but I’d guess the finished art had to be sent to the color separators at least one month before the on-sale time. That puts the date of actual work being done on the book back into November of 1949 or earlier.
So, if this evidence is accurate, Gaspar’s memory of starting work at DC in 1951 is off by about two years. It also means that the lettering legend, revered by so many of us who came after him, has now produced work in EIGHT decades, from the 1940s to the 2010s! And he’s not done yet. Gaspar told me he recently lettered a story for Dark Horse Comics. I’ll be looking forward to that, and will probably blog about it.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back into comics and lettering history, similar articles can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.