GASPAR SALADINO in ALL-AMERICAN MEN OF WAR

All images © DC Comics. From ALL-AMERICAN MEN OF WAR #104, July 1964

When National (DC) Comics merged with its sister company All-American Comics in the mid 1940s, All-American’s titles continued as before, but as interest in superheroes waned after World War Two, some titles changed genre. ALL-AMERICAN COMICS became ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN, and when that genre did not perform as well as hoped for the company, it changed again to ALL-AMERICAN MEN OF WAR, joining a throng of newly popular war comics that were selling well for all companies. The war itself had faded just enough to make soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting in it role models for young male readers, and editor/writer Robert Kanigher at DC proved to be a master at editing and writing stories that appealed to them.

Gaspar Saladino had been hired by DC editor Julius Schwartz in the fall of 1949 to letter his stories. At first, Gaspar told me, he sat in the production room between veteran letterer Ira Schnapp and production artist Mort Drucker, but soon he was given a drawing board right in the office Schwartz shared with editor Kanigher, where he was always handy to letter stories for either. Gaspar seemed to have a liking for Kanigher’s new war books, and he lettered most of the stories in them. His angular style and large titles and sound effects worked well with the art and stories. Ira Schnapp lettered nearly all the DC covers in these years, and I’ve written about his lettering on this title HERE. Ira lettered only a few stories, though, and a few were lettered by others, especially in the last year, but most are by Saladino. This was the kind of steady work that allowed Gaspar to marry his wife Celeste in 1957, buy a house on Long Island in 1959, and raise a family. He and Kanigher made a good team, and they were joined by some fine artists including Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Jerry Grandenetti, Ross Andru and many more. While superhero fans might not have paid much attention, a great deal of fine work appeared for years in this and other DC war titles.

The cover above is the only one lettered by Gaspar, filling in for regular cover letterer Ira Schnapp. While I like Ira’s cover lettering, I think it’s kind of a shame that Gaspar wasn’t given more of it for the war titles, as his style suits the art so well.

Continue reading

GASPAR SALADINO in ADVENTURE COMICS

All images © DC Comics. From ADVENTURE COMICS #255, Dec 1958

As I looked through all the issues of this title that might have cover or story lettering by Gaspar Saladino, I was heartened to see that the Grand Comics Database has a much more complete listing of his credits for this title than they did for ACTION COMICS, the first one I indexed. I decided to go ahead and index this title anyway, for completeness, in my new ongoing series of cover and story lettering work by my favorite letterer. The main cover letterer for DC from the late 1940s to about 1967 was Ira Schnapp, but when he wasn’t available others were assigned the work, and above is the first one by Saladino. Compare it to any contemporary Schnapp cover and you’ll see that the style is quite different, with wider and more angular balloon lettering, thinner balloon and caption borders, and a different approach to open lettering. Cover lettering was generally done on separate art paper after the cover art was finished, and then photostatted to the desired size and pasted in place by someone in the DC production department. Here it looks like Gaspar made the tops of his balloons flat to fit under the logo, but the slight tilt to that logo made it unclear where it would fall, so some of the balloons look a bit squashed. Other letterers in this position tried to copy Ira Schnapp’s style as closely as they could, but Gaspar stuck to his own distinctive style, which I think makes the work better.

Continue reading

GASPAR SALADINO in ACTION COMICS

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #308, Jan 1964

After writing a series of blog articles about the logos and another about the house ads of my favorite letterer, Gaspar Saladino, I thought I had written enough about his unknown work, since many of the covers and stories he lettered were already credited in the Grand Comics Database, the best source for creator credits in comics. And, nearly all the stories lettered by Saladino from mid-1977 on were credited on the title pages, so that meant much more of his work was already known to readers who were paying attention than was the case with his predecessor, Ira Schnapp, who received only two printed story credits in his long career. That’s what I thought, but as a test, I decided to do a list of Gaspar’s work in this seminal and important DC Comics title to see what was actually in the GCD. I was dismayed to find that few of his covers were credited (at least the ones I spot-checked), and of course none of the stories he lettered before 1977 were either. Superman stories were never a regular assignment for Saladino, so there weren’t a lot, but I still wanted to get his credits reported so that eventually they can be added to the GCD. Over time I plan to work on indexes of Gaspar’s lettering work in all DC titles. I’ll discuss covers first, then stories in each of these articles.

Above is the first ACTION cover lettered by Saladino at a time when Ira Schnapp was doing almost all of them, but occasionally he was not available, and Gaspar was assigned the work. By comparing this cover lettering to others of the period, you can see that the balloon letters are wider and more angular than Schnapp’s, and his title and display lettering, as in the bottom banner, is also more angular. The outline around the word SUPERMAN is thinner than what Schnapp usually did, as are the balloon borders. Gaspar had been lettering stories for DC since late 1949, and he had plenty of experience doing balloons and story titles. He was a talented letterer whose work stands above many others, but it did take him a while to get comfortable with high-profile assignments like covers. I think this one is quite good.

Continue reading

Rereading: SEVEN-DAY MAGIC by Edward Eager

Cover and illustrations by N. M. Bodecker

The final seventh book of what is now known as the “Tales of Magic” by Edward Eager returns to the plan of the first four, and is just as charming as delightful.

The children in this one are new, from two families. John and Susan are twins, and are the tall blond type that are successful in school, confident in what they can do, and calm in the face of trouble. Their main trouble is their Grannie, who is technically raising them, but in fact is more often treated as the child by John and Susan, as she is likely to get into all kinds of trouble if they don’t keep an eye on her. Grannie was raised to be independent and resourceful too, but sometimes forgets she can’t do everything she once could.

Next door are Barnaby, Abbie and Fredericka. Their father works in New York as a singer and performer, but in the background. With others he sings commercial jingles and backs up stars on variety shows. He also acts when he can, and keeps hoping for a big break to stardom, but meanwhile supports his family well.

As in other Eager books, these children love to read, and the book opens in their local library where they’re discussing favorite books about children having magical adventures and wishing they could have some. As they’re checking out their choices, Fredericka is drawn to a small red book with no visible title, and adds it to her stack. The librarian tells her it’s a seven-day book that must be returned by then. On their way home, Fredericka begins to read the book and finds it’s about them, and everything they’ve said and done in the library and since. Clearly it’s a magic book! The children argue about what they should wish for, but as often happens, Fredericka gets impatient and just makes her wish that they would have a magical adventure starting right away. In a few minutes it does when a dragon appears, grabs Fredericka, and flies off.

One of the best things about this book is that most of the adventures have a literary flavor, tying into other books including The Wizard of Oz, The Little House on the Prairie, and even Half Magic, the first book in Eager’s series, where we find out what happened next to the magic coin from that story. There’s a good dose of humor, and there are also more personal adventures for each family that go deeper than just having fun.

Eager died too young at age 53 two years after this book was published in 1962. His widow reported in one article I found that he had begun an eighth book that would have brought together all eight children from the first four books, and while I would have loved to read that, this one seems to make a good capper for the series, especially as it returns for a time to the events in the first book. It’s a fine story, and stands on its own, but would be improved by reading it after the rest. Highly recommended.

GASPAR SALADINO’S COMICS ADS 1981-1988

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #515, Jan 1981

In these years, Gaspar’s ad lettering was greatly diminished and eventually ended as far as I can tell, and I have some theories about why, but up front I have to say that scans of comics that include ads are very hard to find for these and later years, and I probably missed some. That said, here are some possible explanations.

First, there are almost no house ads in DC comics with 1981 cover dates, I found only two lettered by Saladino, including the one above. There were two other subscription ads for the entire line lettered by me, and that’s about all. Paid ads had increased to fill the ad locations in each issue, and there was a regular amount of those. DC had worked out a system where all or nearly all the ads were on one”flat,” or sixteen page sheet of paper (eight pages on each side) that could be the same in all the regular-size titles and save money on color separations. I think there were usually only six interior ad pages per issue, so only part of the flat was ads, but having that section the same on every comic saved time and cost. There are some variations in different months, but often the center-spread of a 32-page comic, pages 16-17 was a paid ad, and other common ad pages were 5, 6, 11, 22, 27 and 32, but only six per month, usually. The increase in paid ads left less room for house ads.

From DC COMICS PRESENTS #26, Oct 1980

Second, starting in 1980, DC began a different kind of promotion for new or revamped titles: sixteen page inserts in selected issues. The first of these was for THE NEW TEEN TITANS, and the insert ran in DC COMICS PRESENTS #26, Oct 1980. These previews gave readers a sample of the new product for free, a great marketing idea, and sometimes there was also a solo house ad in other comics promoting the project, but there weren’t any of those I could find for 1981 launches Dial H for Hero (in ADVENTURE), ALL-STAR SQUADRON and ARAK, SON OF THUNDER, nor for the first preview of 1982, a revamped WONDER WOMAN. Perhaps all the ad money was being spent on the previews, and DC did not want to do additional house ads, and again, perhaps there wasn’t room because of an increase in paid ads. DC may, instead, have been putting that money and effort into posters and other promotional material for direct market comics shops, and I’ve found one example, which I’ll include below. The last page of each preview (right image above) was essentially a house ad for the upcoming book, and I lettered those. They may also have run in other books.

Third, DC Comics had not had a real art director in its history, one who functioned like a typical art director for other publishers by creating advertising and setting the style for the line and its promotional material. From about 1950 to 1967, Ira Schnapp acted as the de facto art director, though he was never named or paid for that role. Carmine Infantino was briefly given the title Art Director when he was designing all of DC’s covers from about 1966 to 1967, but was then promoted on to Editorial Director and later Publisher. Gaspar Saladino filled the same role of de facto art director as Ira Schnapp from about 1968 to 1978, but only in some aspects. The general look of the line fell into disarray in the early 1970s, and was not really set on a better course until Jenette Kahn brought in design elements by the Milton Glaser Studio, and tried to modernize the company’s look with help from Neal Adams and others starting around 1977. Artist Vince Colletta had the title of Art Director for a few years, but he did little art directing, mostly he sat in his office and inked late pages. Finally, Jenette hired a real art director, Neal Pozner, early in 1982 according to then marketing staffer Mike Flynn. I remember working with him in the late summer and fall of 1982 before the DC offices moved from 75 Rockefeller Plaza to 666 Fifth Avenue in November 1982. By 1983, Neal was asserting more influence and control over the look of the line and its advertising, and even though Neal was a comics fan, his training was type based like most art directors in publishing at the time, and he moved DC’s ads toward type and away from hand lettering. Mike Flynn confirms that was their intention, they wanted DC house ads for new titles to look more like movie posters. That’s another reason why Gaspar’s ad lettering declined in these years and stopped in 1988, as far as I can tell. Neal was replaced by other art directors and cover editors at DC such as Richard Bruning, Keith “Kez” Wilson and Curtis King, all comics fans, but all often in favor of type over hand-lettering for ads as a visual indication that DC Comics was becoming more adult and sophisticated, and ready to match the rest of the publishing world in that area. Thus, Gaspar’s unique talents were largely put aside in favor of other ideas.

Finally, I have to acknowledge that, of the hand-lettered house ads from 1982 to the early 1990s, and there were some in each year, I was assigned to letter many of them. So, I too contributed to the decline of Gaspar’s fine hand-lettered ad work, but not intentionally or even consciously. They also had pretty much vanished by 1994 in favor of all-type ads being produced by DC’s art directors using desktop design software. Gaspar continued to letter some of DC’s covers during that time, but much of that work was also gradually assigned to me, and even more once I began doing it on my first desktop Mac computer in 1995. At least Gaspar was still able to letter story pages for DC in his later years until 2003 when the entire lettering process went digital at DC. Considering that Gaspar turned 76 in 2003, and always seemed to be busy until then, I think he had a pretty good run, and when I got to know Gaspar better a few years later, he always seemed to be in a good place as far as his career and work goes, and was enjoying his retirement.

Continue reading