The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 2

charlton_vari-typerImage from the website of Mark Simonson.

Some time in the 1950s Charlton Publications bought this or a similar model of Vari-Typer, a machine designed for small businesses to set their own type. It worked like a typewriter, and employed a single-use carbon ribbon that left a very clean impression on paper as large as 13 inches wide. The machine could hold two fonts on the central “Type Shuttle,” and many interchangeable fonts were available from Vari-Typer. In an article about Charlton In COMIC BOOK ARTIST #9, author Christopher Irving writes:

One unique aspect of the Action Hero books was in the lettering, often credited to “A. Machine.” In reality, the rather constipated lettering was done on a large comic-font typewriter called the typositor machine.

“Pat Masulli designed a comic typeface for a large typewriter,” [artist Frank] McLaughlin said. “The comic pages would fit in the typewriter and the copy would be typed right on the artwork. The results were a complete disaster that caused many more problems than it solved. It was a typical attempt to cut corners, but the finished product suffered greatly.”

Thanks to Scott Dutton who wrote about this on his blog. I think Irving has the Typositor machine (which produced large type for titles on a roll of photographic paper) confused with the Vari-Typer, but the idea of someone at Charlton having a font made for the Vari-Typer brings us a step closer to the perennial wish of being able to create comics lettering by typing. Pat Masulli was a comics artist who had begun working for Charlton in 1950 as a colorist, but by 1955 he was the executive editor. I think it’s likely he created the font for the Vari-Typer some time in the mid to late 1950s. Continue reading

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 1

The-US-ConstitutionSince the invention of written language, people have tried to find ways to reproduce it more quickly than the age-old method of copying with pen in hand. Writing is made of alphabets or glyphs that repeat in a myriad of combinations. The quest was to reproduce those glyphs reliably to order without having to create each one anew. This seven part series will explore that quest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALeft, replica of the Gutenberg printing press. Right, the Sholes-Glidden Typewriter, the first commercially available model.

The first attempt was the printing press, and as that evolved, it gradually replaced the creators of hand-lettered book manuscripts —often monks in monasteries — with a new technology. Many things still needed to have hand-made copies, though, as in the case of the U.S. Constitution, above, lettered by Jacob Shallus, and many other kinds of legal documents. In the early 1800s the job of “engrosser,”  “penman,”  “scrivener,”  or “copyist” was filled by legions of such letterers keeping records of all kinds for businesses, courts, and governments. The invention of the typewriter began to gradually replace those jobs with typists in the later 1800s as commercially successful machines were released. By 1900 or so, the majority of written documents were being typed rather than hand-copied. This undoubtedly put many scriveners out of work and was probably a source of tumult and outcry at the time. Continue reading

Incoming: 75 YEARS OF MARVEL

MarvelTaschenImages © Marvel.

YEESH! This fershlugginer book is gigantic, and it comes in a cardboard carrying case with built in plastic handle that’s even bigger! The book is 12 by 16 inches, and 3 inches thick. I’m not sure how I’m going to read it, it weighs over 14 pounds. In small amounts, I imagine! I was asked to submit a design for the cover titles, but Taschen went with something else, so my only involvement is a few small year titles on the included but separate Marvel timeline:

MarvelTimelineThis one folds out five times to 55 inches wide! Cat for scale. I appreciate Taschen sending it to me, but I have no idea where I will have room to put it! A quick look through the book reveals all kinds of over-the-top design extras like foil printing and heavy cardstock on some pages. Who knew, when I was buying those cheap, poorly printed comics in the early 1960s it would come to this? Not me, that’s for sure!

Incoming: The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio


Image © estates of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

I had it in my hands at the New York Comicon, now I have one to read and enjoy. I did the title lettering, so editor Charles Kochman was kind enough to send it to me. A few hundred pages of stories scanned from the original art, with commentary by Mark Evanier? Can’t wait. The pages are 9 by 12 inches, and I like the fact that they used the actual paper and ink colors rather than trying to make it look more like printed comics. Well done.


STA3Image © DC Comics, Inc.

Writer Charles Soule makes good use of the Annual format here to focus on one character’s story, specifically the end of it. He introduced Capucine, the 1,000-year-old assassin and self-appointed bodyguard to Alec Holland in SWAMP THING #20 released in May of 2013, expanded on her life story over time, made her come to life and grow as a character, and now oversees her final adventure in this world. The story involves The Demon, Etrigan, created by Jack Kirby, and Soule’s handling of the hellish rhymer is the best I’ve seen in a long time. The art on the book is all excellent, with the main story by Javier Pina and Carmen Carnero, and chapters of Capucine and Swamp Thing’s pasts by Ryan Browne, Dave Bullock and Yanick Paquette (nice to see him back on this book briefly). A fine comic, satisfying and rewarding to read.