When I Lettered DC Covers By Hand

Images © DC Comics, Inc.

For many years all the display lettering used on DC Comics covers (and there was tons of it) was lettered by hand. Ira Schnapp did almost all of it from about 1949 to 1967. Gaspar Saladino took over the lion’s share of that work from 1967 through the 1970s, and continued to letter many covers for DC into the 1990s. When I started working on staff in DC’s Production Department in 1977 I began to slowly pick up some of this freelance work. My cover lettering workload gradually increased through the 1980s, and by the 1990s I was doing the majority of it.

In late 1994 I got my first Apple desktop computer (the first Power Mac) and scanner. Through the next several years I was developing my own fonts, including display fonts I could use for cover lettering. I also gathered up many commercial fonts I thought would be useful for this. As early as 1995 I was producing some cover lettering completely on my computer, and by the late 1990s it was nearly all done that way.

The delivery system was also going through changes then. For decades, the lettering was hand-drawn on one-ply Strathmore Bristol Board art paper, usually with a plate or smooth finish, and then physically delivered to the DC offices where it was photostatted to the correct size to paste onto the cover art. When I moved to southern New Jersey, weekly trips to the office became unfeasible and I would then send in work by FedEx. Once I had my own scanner, I convinced DC to let me scan my hand-lettering (and early computer lettering) and email it to them. We worked out the kinks of this new system, and it went okay most of the time. By the late 90s I was sending them the digital files of the cover lettering, which they combined with the cover art and other elements to create a composite file. In other words, the entire cover process went digital. That’s the way it’s been done since.

So, while I don’t have a lot of my hand-lettering for covers, during that period when I was still creating it by hand, then scanning it myself, mid 1990s mostly, I have some originals in my files. Thought you might enjoy seeing examples, and here they are.

While I became pretty facile creating cover lettering on the computer, it never quite matched the energy and style of my hand-lettering, which of course owes a great deal to Gaspar Saladino, the man whose work was my main inspiration. Working on the computer had many advantages too. For instance, making changes was much easier. But I do kind of miss the creativity of the old hand-drawn work.

3 thoughts on “When I Lettered DC Covers By Hand

  1. David Marshall

    Much respect for your skills, young man. I’ve recently failed at drawing a comics logo by hand. French curves are as alien to me as Ames Guides are to everyone else. Haven’t given up, thanks in no small part to you reminding us how things got done before vector.

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