Leroy Lettering by Jim and Margaret Wroten

Wonder Woman lettering

Image © DC Comics, Inc.

I’m often asked about the style of lettering used in the Golden Age Wonder Woman stories, the same style used in many of the EC horror comics of the 1950s. It has a mechanical look, but is actually pen and ink, made with the Leroy lettering system of scriber and templates manufactured by the Keuffel and Esser company, and created for comics almost exclusively by Jim Wroten and his wife Margaret. The Leroy system was intended for technical artists doing things like machine parts diagrams and architectural drawings. I got one years ago, before I started working in comics. Here’s what mine looks like:

LeRoy set 1

The scriber holds a technical inking pen on one arm. A second arm has a pin that follows letters on the template. A third arm has a pin that slides along the bottom groove to help keep the letters aligned horizontally. Templates come in different sizes, and you can make vertical letters or slanted letters, with the angle changed by adjusting the pin arm of the scriber. Thickness of the letters can be changed by using different size pen points. When lettering you would place your comics art on a drawing board, taped in place and made level using a t-square. Then you would place the Leroy template against the top edge of the t-square. While holding the t-square with one hand or arm to keep it from sliding vertically, you would form one letter at a time with the scriber, pen and template, sliding the template horizontally to get the correct letter in the correct spot, and of course shifting the scriber’s pin to the right letter on the template.

LeRoy 2

It all sounds more complicated than it works in practice, but in fact it’s a monstrously difficult and time-consuming way to letter a comic. I tried lettering a 6-page SUPREME story with it once, and it took me about three hours per page, more than five times my usual speed for hand-lettering. As with all things, I’m sure you’d get faster with practice, but I vowed to never do it again, and made a computer font from my Leroy letters for any future need. But the Wrotens must have become quite facile with it, as they lettered thousands of comics pages that way.

It’s interesting to see that on the early Wonder Woman effort above, they only had one size template and pen, and for larger words had to use hand-lettering. All the lettering is slanted to the right, the style used for all the WONDER WOMAN stories I looked at. Some words are emphasized by underlining, something you almost never see in comics. Perhaps Wroten was a friend of Wonder Woman artist H.G. Peter and got started in comics working with him, I don’t know.

frazetta-squeeze-play-panel-art

Image © EC Comics, Inc.

By the time of their work in EC Comics, the Wrotens had a variety of Leroy templates to use for different size lettering. They used vertical letters for regular text and a larger size slanted to the right with a thicker pen point for emphasized words. I believe the Wrotens did only the actual lettering, leaving the balloon and caption borders for the artists of the stories. This accounts for the wide variety of balloon shapes and styles at EC in particular. Some EC artists, like Wally Wood, hated the mechanical look of the Leroy lettering, and Wood was a fine letterer himself, so when he had time he lettered his own stories, or tried to get them lettered by pros like Ben Oda.

After the demise of the EC horror line, comics work for the Wrotens seems to have dried up. At least I haven’t seen any examples of their Leroy lettering at other publishers from after the EC work. Not much is known to me about the Wrotens, but I imagine they found other jobs, perhaps in areas where Leroy lettering was still being used like architectural drawings.

6 thoughts on “Leroy Lettering by Jim and Margaret Wroten

  1. Kabe

    I had always been curious about this lettering style. I blamed the lack of uniformity in the letters to shoddy printing or bad repro work. Never even thought it was hand made. It was extensively used in México and Spain’s adaptations of comics, too.

  2. Steven Rowe

    The 1940 census has James Wroten as a salesman, which is what he was at the time. Working for Keuffel & Esser, and selling and demonstrating drafting tools – including equipment for Leroy Lettering.
    Per in an interview with Margaret Wroten by Bhob Stewart, they went into comics full time in 1945 to 1955, with clients being DC, EC, Fox, Hillman, and Post-Hall Syndicate. After 1955, she says “He went into doing charts, badge cards, formulas for chemical houses and floor plans for trade shows all over the country. “

  3. Martin Gray

    Cheers for that fascinating look at a style that always looked curious in US comic books. British comics I grew up with in the Seventies used a similar style, especially the DC Thomson titles. Maybe it was Wroten, or a similar system/British knock-off).

  4. Clem Robins

    i made a faux-Leroy font myself a few years back, for a Vertigo OGN called “A Death in the Family”. it was a lot of fun to use, although the critics hated the lettering on that book.

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