ARTIE SIMEK (and Sol Brodsky) at Marvel Comics Part 5

From THE FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Nov 1961. This and all images © Marvel.

In 1961, Marvel began a superhero revival that changed the company’s fate forever. Martin Goodman had been noticing DC’s success with revamped superheroes like THE FLASH and GREEN LANTERN, and their new team book with a group of heroes, THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was selling well. He gave Stan Lee the okay to move back into superhero stories. Lee had become dissatisfied with his comics career and was thinking of quitting. His wife Joan suggested this was an opportunity to try something new in his comics writing, and Lee did that, creating more adult storylines with characters that were not the perfect icons of heroism. Instead they squabbled among themselves, had real world problems, and exhibited character flaws unseen in superheroes to that time. He had a great deal of help from artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who took on a major part of the visual storytelling to which Stan added the words lettered by Artie Simek and others. To help with the cover designs for his new approach, Stan called back one of his former Bullpen employees, Sol Brodsky. Here’s what Flo Steinberg recalled in MARVEL AGE #22, Jan 1985:

I came into Marvel in March of 1963. There was just Stan Lee and me in the office, which was two very teeny cubby holes. Sol [Brodsky] would come in a few days a week and help on a freelance basis, doing production work and stuff like that. Stan Goldberg would come in and do the coloring and Artie Simek would come in and do the lettering. At this time, Sol helped launch CRACKED, a humor magazine in the MAD vein. Unfortunately, he encountered personality conflicts with some of the staff members and left to take the position of Production Manager at Marvel in 1964.

Stan Lee was looking for a new direction, and perhaps he felt Sol could help him find one. Sol and Artie Simek had worked together in the Atlas bullpen starting in the early 1950s, so perhaps working together on the new look for Marvel comics was something they both enjoyed. The first title to hit newsstands was THE FANTASTIC FOUR, above, and the logo is unlike anything Artie had done for the company, so clearly the idea for it was Sol’s. Sol told Mark Evanier that he and Artie worked together on the new logos, but some are more clearly Sol’s ideas, like this one. Perhaps he pencilled it and Artie inked it, we don’t know exactly who did what, but that’s likely. To my eye the style is similar to advertising alphabets used in the 1950s, but nothing like it had been seen in superhero comics. Even the use of mixed case is unusual, and the bouncy serif letters almost seem more appropriate for a humor title. The balloons are by Simek, the caption is type. The book was a hit, and more would follow, though Marvel was limited to eight titles a month by their distributor, Independent News. They put out sixteen bi-monthly titles.

From THE FANTASTIC FOUR #3, March 1962

For the third issue, the logo is outlined rather than solid letters, as most comics logos are, to work against any kind of background art, though here only a new subtitle, “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!” is behind it, a good example of Stan Lee’s over-the-top enthusiastic promotion of the new line. The lettering is again by Artie. Marvel did not yet have a strong identifying brand, only a tiny MC for Marvel Comics at upper right.

From FANTASTIC FOUR #16, July 1963

With this issue, THE was dropped, and the logo gained a black drop shadow which was sometimes also outlined and used for a second color. By this time the new Marvel line was growing enough to have crossovers with other company superheroes like Ant-Man. Familiar Simek styles can be seen in the lettering, and I’m guessing Artie also did these revised versions of the logo, which from this point stayed the same until issue #94 dated Jan 1970. And note the much better brand identification at upper left, more on that below.

From AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7, Dec 1961

The second comic with a new look, and actually the same style logo as FANTASTIC FOUR, this one is often forgotten, but the blurb at lower right signals what Stan Lee was going for, even though the short fantasy/horror stories in this series were largely more of what the company had been publishing for some years. In the final issue, though, another landmark concept and character emerged.

From AMAZING FANTASY #15, Aug 1962

The book dropped ADULT for this last issue, and the logo and lettering are typical Artie Simek work that Brodsky may not have had a hand in, but the first appearance of Spider-Man by Kirby and Ditko is striking, and he would soon move to his own title and become perhaps the most popular Marvel character of all.

From THE INCREDIBLE HULK #1, May 1962

The third new title and concept was The Hulk. This one did not do so well at first, but later became a popular character. The logo on the first issue includes deep telescoping on the word HULK with a central vanishing point, which is something Artie Simek never did, so I think this was again Sol Brodsky’s concept and pencils inked by Artie. The letter shapes and rough outlines are typical for Simek, who probably interpreted the idea in his own way. The lettering, more of Stan Lee’s hype, is Artie’s work as well. I love the giant question mark caption, which serves not only as a container for the words, but as the final punctuation. Of course the art by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko on these covers was also a huge draw.

From THE INCREDIBLE HULK #2, July 1962

For the second issue, the telescoping was redrawn much shorter, and note the heavy Simek balloon borders held in red.

From THE INCREDIBLE HULK #3, Sept 1962

For the third issue the logo was redone again, replacing the central vanishing point with a more typical Simek style of extending the letters down and to the right with no obvious vanishing point. These changes took away Brodsky’s input and essentially made the logo a Simek one. The book only lasted three more issues with this logo, but The Hulk turned up in many other Marvel comics and eventually gained a popular series.

From JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83, Aug 1962

The next new Marvel superhero appeared in this title with no change of logo and typical Simek cover lettering. The energy and excitement was largely generated by the great cover art of Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott.

From JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #104, May 1964

A new Thor logo didn’t appear for almost two years. When it did, it looked very much like Artie Simek’s work, though the letter shapes of THOR, and having THE MIGHTY inside the T might have been Brodsky’s idea. It captured the majesty and power of the character better than any of the Simek cover lettering versions on previous issues. With issue #126, the book’s title became simply THOR, and this logo remained on it until issue #337 in 1983.

From TALES OF SUSPENSE #35, Nov 1962

Since Marvel was severely limited in being able to put out new titles, Stan used existing horror/mystery/science fiction titles as part of his new lineup. At first the only obvious change for this one was the logo. Again, this is unlike anything Artie Simek had done previously, so it’s safe to assume the idea was Brodsky’s. Probably he penciled and Artie inked. The soft and rounded frame again reminds me of 1950s ad work, though I can’t pinpoint anything specific. The letter shapes are less in line with what Simek usually did, including the longer top bar of the first S and the gentle curves in the letters.

From TALES OF SUSPENSE #39, March 1963

With this issue, the book truly entered the new Marvel era with the introduction of Iron Man. The lettering, including this first Iron Man logo, is all by Simek.

From THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1, March 1963

That same month, Spider-Man’s own series began after his tryout in AMAZING FANTASY #15. This was artist Steve Ditko’s first big success at Marvel, though this first cover is again penciled by Kirby. The logo design is unusual in that it’s almost triangular, receding in perspective to the upper left. The letter shapes are Simek block letters except for THE, but the layout is probably by Brodsky, who might have added the spider webs. Simek did the cover lettering.

From THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2, June 1963

The next issue had a revised logo that aligned with the top of the cover and included more interesting and complex spider webs which artist Steve Ditko added. Ditko also introduced the corner box with the character’s head in it at left. This was not a new idea, Otto Pirkola had been doing it at Harvey Comics since the late 1940s, but Sol Brodsky and Stan Lee loved the concept, and it was used on all the new Marvel titles going forward, helping to create the Marvel brand.

From THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #7, Dec 1963

With this issue, Simek added an open drop shadow to SPIDER-MAN, and this version of the logo lasted until issue 394 dated Oct 1994, a remarkably long time.

From SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #1, May 1963

This title is considered part of the Marvel revamp, even though it looks back to the past, taking place in World War Two. Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers made it exciting, and Stan’s dialogue and character development helped too. This logo is very much in Artie Simek’s wheelhouse, I doubt Sol Brodsky was very involved, but he may have provided a layout with slanted letters, something Simek rarely did. It lasted until issue #92 in 1971. Fury went on to appear in a more modern series as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Simek did the cover lettering.

From THE AVENGERS #1, Sept 1963

Following what DC Comics had done in their JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Marvel began putting their new superheroes together in team books, this being the first. It’s a smart idea, as fans of any of the characters’ own books might want to follow them to this one. The logo is again very different from anything Simek had done previously, and I feel it’s very much Sol Brodsky’s idea and pencils, probably inked by Artie, who also did the cover lettering, though the character names and tag line below the logo are type. The logo style again reminds me of 1950s advertising, and Sol was probably putting these covers together, so the type choice, which goes well with the logo, would also be his. The logo would remain until issue #60 dated Jan 1969. Later it was replaced by a memorable logo from Gaspar Saladino that’s still in use today.

From X-MEN #1, Sept 1963

Another superhero team debuted the same month, this one all new characters. It grew from humble beginnings to also become a popular franchise for Marvel. The letter shapes in the logo are typical for Simek, but the layout with the very large X is not, so I think this one was again penciled by Brodsky, and Artie interpreted it in his own way in the inks. The logo lasted to issue #41 dated Feb 1968.

From DAREDEVIL #1, April 1964

Another new superhero, and the logo has the fresh look of a Brodsky design, but the letter shapes are again typical of Simek. The square centers in the A’s of the subtitle are interesting. With a few exceptions, this logo lasted until issue #63 dated April 1970. Unlike all the others we’ve looked at, the cover lettering here is by Sam Rosen, a veteran who had worked for Atlas (Marvel) in the 1950s. He had been brought in as a second regular letterer to help Artie in the early 1960s, and was soon doing lots of cover lettering too. He also took over much of the logo work in the second half of the 1960s.

From TALES OF SUSPENSE #53, May 1964

With this issue, TALES OF SUSPENSE becomes a smaller top line to leave room for a larger IRON MAN logo in the curved frame. The letters of that are by Simek, probably from a Brodsky layout. Note the subtle rough ends on IRON MAN to add interest and texture. The word FEATURING in lower case script is similar to what Ira Schnapp would have done at DC, so perhaps Sol was looking at his work for ideas. The entire logo now fills the frame better. The other cover lettering is by Sam Rosen.

From TALES OF SUSPENSE #59, Nov 1964

A few months later it changed again when the book was shared with Captain America. Sol Brodsky might have provided the layout, but the new character logos are by Sam Rosen this time instead of Artie. There are subtle differences in the way they form some letters. The R in IRON and the C’s in CAPTAIN AMERICA look like Sam to me. He also did the other cover lettering. From this point on, sales were rising, fans were excited, and most of the logos remained the same for a while. Some time in this year, Sol joined the Marvel staff full time as Production Manager.

From STRANGE TALES #150, Nov 1966

Still chafing under the eight book a month limit, Marvel was doing more of these split books to get new characters and concepts out there. Doctor Strange was Steve Ditko’s second big hit for Marvel, and a long running backup in STRANGE TALES, but Ditko and Marvel had parted ways by this time, and here the cover and Strange story are by Golden Age great Bill Everett. The bigger story was the beginning of a new espionage series starring an older Nick Fury. The new multiple logo design is by Sol Brodsky, as confirmed on a Bullpen Bulletins page, but I think the inking is by Sam Rosen again. I don’t know who did the cover lettering at the bottom.

From SUB-MARINER #1, May 1968

When the book limit was finally lifted in late 1967, most of the books with two features turned into two titles, one for each feature. Most of the new logos that were created for those titles are by Sam Rosen (perhaps with Sol Brodsky), except for this one which looks like the work of Artie Simek (probably from a layout by Brodsky). Sol had also been an inker at times, this was his last cover inking job. Perhaps Artie was happy to pass the logo duties on to others and going forward he stuck mostly to lettering stories. Now that the company was growing and increasing their output, many new creators were hired to fill production needs, and other staffers sometimes did logos. In 1971, DC Comics’ best letterer, Gaspar Saladino, also starting working on logos for Marvel, and by the mid 1970s, he was doing many of them. Sol left for about two years to co-create a new line of comics for Skywald, but returned to Marvel when they didn’t sell well. Stan had replaced him with John Verpoorten as production manager, but Sol was given new duties handling British reprints and a line of black and white magazines, and he again often worked directly with Stan.

From THE FANTASTIC FOUR #9, Dec 1962

Artie Simek deserves to be remembered and celebrated by letterers and lettering fans for another reason: he was instrumental in getting printed credit for letterers at Marvel, and thereby eventually for almost all comics. Above is Artie’s first printed lettering credit, similar credits appeared in other Marvel books out that month, and in most issues that followed.

Comics grew out of newspaper strips, and in early days, many followed the same plan of giving a single creator credit, like “Prince Valiant by Hal Foster,” even though that strip was always lettered by Foster’s friend Charles Armstrong. Some comics creators signed the first page of each story they produced, and those signatures gave readers some idea of who did them if they weren’t removed, but an incomplete one. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had their names on much of their early work at least from the first Captain America stories on, though again the lettering by Howard Ferguson wasn’t credited. Ferguson did sometimes get his name in as letterer, his credit on the first page of TALLY HO (no number) dated Dec 1944 is probably the first ever lettering credit in comics, but that was a rare occurrence. Even writer and artist credits became uncommon in the 1950s, with DC editor Julius Schwartz’s science fiction anthologies STRANGE TALES and MYSTERY IN SPACE bucking the trend. At Atlas comics, Marvel’s previous identity, artists were sometime allowed to sign the first page of the stories they did, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s names often were allowed to stay, with Stan Lee sometimes adding his own name to theirs. When THE FANTASTIC FOUR began, Lee and Kirby’s names were on the first story page of each issue, though without an explanation of who did what. The same was true for other early Marvel superhero and western stories, but in letters pages and house ads, Stan began promoting his own writing and the work of his artists, so fans finally understood more about who was creating the comics they loved. Suddenly, in FF #9, as seen above, a credit box lettered by Simek made the division of work clear: script by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby, inking by Dick Ayers, lettering by Art Simek.

From JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #87, Dec 1962

Some credit boxes went into even more detail like the one above, breaking down the writing into plot by Stan and script by his brother Larry Lieber. Similar credit boxes were appearing in all Marvel titles, except for the teen humor ones, at the same time. How did this happen?

Stan Lee claimed the idea for the creator credit box innovation begun in 1962, but in the Academy of Comic Book Arts Newsletter Vol 2 #30 & 31 (1975), Marvel staffer Flo Steinberg, remembering Simek after his death that year, said:

Artie spoke often of his time in comics (over thirty years) and remembered well the “comics crash” of the 50’s, a memory which prompted him to frequent discussions of the freelancer’s uncertain future. An early member of the ACBA, he always spoke up if he sensed he was being overworked or underpaid. Artie demanded respect for the letterer’s craft, and it was given. He reminded editors, writers, and artists that the letterer is an equal member of the comics team, and we agreed. His forthright convictions were heard and led in no small way to letterers being accorded credit lines in Marvel books. He communicated the dignity of his profession, and we were all enriched by it.

Colorists were not credited until 1973, suggesting Simek’s continuing campaign for letterer credit had results ten years earlier. For the first time at any comics company, it was standard practice to list the letterer’s name on each story. DC Comics didn’t follow suit for more than a decade. Among Marvel fans, Artie Simek became a household name! Soon Sam Rosen and others were also getting lettering credits for the first time in their careers, and also benefitted from the attention.

Credit boxes from THE FANTASTIC FOUR #30, 32, 35 and 41, 1964-65

In his scripts, Stan began having fun with this idea, adding amusing or bombastic comments to each creator’s listing, and often making a joke in the letterer listing, as seen above. As a reader, I found this entertaining, and it increased my interest in letterers, who probably enjoyed the jokes too, or at least appreciated the attention and credit. Eventually other comics publishers had to follow Marvel’s lead in this area, though they did so reluctantly. At DC Comics, credits for writers and artists became a regular if small addition to most stories by 1971. Editor names were added in 1976, colorist credits in early 1977, and letterers in the fall of 1977. As readers and fans grew more knowledgable about who was doing what in the comics they read, they wanted to know more, and by the 1980s, hardly any comics were missing credits for everyone involved in making them. Artie Simek started that innovation for letterers, and we all benefitted, professionals and readers alike. Even his own daughter, Jean Simek Izzo, benefitted when she became a letterer at Marvel and DC in the 1960s and 70s. I began working at DC in the fall of 1977, and was unaware for years that letterers had only recently begun getting printed credit for their work there. It was always the case for me, and I’m grateful to Artie Simek for helping to make that happen so we could all take pride in our accomplishments. Thanks, Artie!

Continue to next article. Back to The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

4 thoughts on “ARTIE SIMEK (and Sol Brodsky) at Marvel Comics Part 5

  1. Haydn

    I’ve been enjoying this series. I saw and appreciated some of Artie’s last work when I started reading Marvel Comics in 1973-74. His Silver Age stuff (which I saw in reprints around that time) was great, and I see his hand in a lot of the 1950s Atlas display lettering.

    One small detail: Jean Izzo (whose work graced the first Hulk I bought: #173) started lettering for Marvel in late 1968, mainly on second-line titles. I see that she did a lot of uncredited work later on for DC. Her work certainly resembled her father’s!

  2. James Ladd

    I really enjoyed your blog post, Todd…I never knew this side of comics, but I remember with great fondness many of the titles you mentioned! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Nick Caputo

    Hi Todd,

    According to Steve Ditko in his essay “A Mini–History: The Amazing Spider-Man # 2 (The Comics! Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2002) he explained that the cover “contains my addition of spider webbing to the title..”

    I’m pretty much in agreement with all your credits on Simek lettering. It would have been wonderful to have first hand accounts by Simek on his work, It’s too bad he was never interviewed.

    Thanks again for this thorough overview.

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