BEN ODA – PROLIFIC LETTERER

From MAD #4, April-May 1953, EC Comics, © William M. Gaines Agent, Inc.

If you were a reader of comics and newspaper strips from the 1950s through the 1980s, you saw lots of Ben Oda’s lettering, even though most of it was not credited. Ben worked for everyone. He was the lettering star of many comics publishers and newspaper strips, the man they trusted to get things lettered professionally and on time. From his earliest days with the Simon and Kirby studio, to work at EC Comics, example above, through years at Western Publishing, Warren, and DC Comics, Ben worked hard and slept little to meet everyone’s deadlines, while at the same time juggling a half-dozen or more newspaper strips from Prince Valiant to Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates to Dondi. In this article I can only scratch the surface of the work he produced while outlining his life and career. I had help with that from my research partner Alex Jay as well as three of Ben’s children, Ken, Marcine, and Barbara, and couldn’t have done it without them.

From The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento CA, March 8 1937

Ben Hatsutaro Oda was born to Japanese parents in Florin, CA, near Sacramento, on Dec 21, 1915, the youngest of two children. His parents worked in a basket factory, and Ben’s father had passed by the time he was seven. Ben seemed to have two major interests growing up, art and sports. After high school, he was a student at The Sacramento Junior College, where he and four fellow students won first prize in an art competition among junior colleges across California, article above found by Alex Jay. For more on Ben’s early life and family, see Alex’s blog article HERE. As for sports, his son Ken wrote to me:

He was a very good athlete and competed in several sports when he was younger.  He played baseball, basketball and I believe some football. He also was a golfer and had a 180 plus bowling average even into his later years. 

Ben Oda as a member of the Fort Sheridan All-Stars baseball team, photo courtesy of Ken Oda

In 1940 at age 25, Ben attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and after graduation was hired by Walt Disney Studios, where he worked on Pinocchio, but he was not there long. In February, 1941, Ben was drafted and served in the Army as a medic until 1945. He was also trained as a paratrooper. Some months later the U.S. entered World War II and Ben found himself being transferred all over the country. His Army years provided Ben with an opportunity to further his education, and after a tour of duty in France he found himself attending classes at the University of Illinois at Champaign and later at Yale University in New Haven, CT, where he studied languages. While stationed at Fort Sheridan, Illinois with the First Medic Corps, Ben wrote and drew a comic strip called “Donald Doc” for the camp newspaper, The Fort Sheridan Tower. I haven’t found any examples of that, Ben’s first comics work. From the title, it may have been influenced by his Disney experience. Ben continued his sports activities at Fort Sheridan, playing on their baseball team, as seen above, and their basketball team. In a 1980 DC Comics profile, Ben reported his best accomplishment in those days was when the Fort Sheridan basketball team beat rival Camp Grant—just after that team had clobbered the number one college team in the country. Ben recalled:

It was my biggest thrill. The Camp Grant commander was so proud of his team—he made sure that any professional athletes who got transferred to his command stayed at Camp Grant and played on his teams. We showed him.

Ben and Michiko Oda about 1947, photo courtesy of Ken Oda

After getting out of the service, Ben moved to New York looking for work. At the home of a friend, he met Michiko Morita, his future wife. They married and were living at 601 West 110th Street, Manhattan in 1948, by coincidence, the same apartment building where DC Comics letterer Ira Schnapp and his family lived in the 1930s and early 1940s. I don’t know if they were there at the same time or met. By then, Ben had begun his busy comics lettering career.

The Joe Simon and Jack Kirby studio was supplying comics stories to publishers like Harvey and Prize after they returned from World War Two military service around 1945. Their main letterer was Howard Ferguson, but in early 1946 Ferguson’s wife died, leaving him with a daughter, Elsie, to care for. Some time in 1946, Howard and Elsie returned to Detroit, MI to live with Howard’s mother for about two years, and Simon & Kirby needed a new studio letterer. They found one in Ben Oda.

The Simon-Kirby Studio, 1949. Standing left to right, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Bill Draut, Marvin Stein. Seated, Ben Oda. From the Kirby Unleashed portfolio, 1971, © Jack Kirby Estate

In a 1998 interview with Mark Evanier at the San Diego Comic Con, Joe Simon said:

Howard Ferguson was the greatest letterer and Ben Oda was the second greatest letterer.

Like Joe and Jack, Ben served in World War Two, he was about their age, and he had at least some comics experience. I don’t know how the hiring came about, but it was a great move for everyone, and Ben proved to be a quick study and a hard worker.

From HEADLINE COMICS #26, Sept-Oct 1947, Prize

I feel the best way to find Ben’s earliest lettering work is to look at what came after Howard Ferguson from the Simon & Kirby studio. Ferguson lettered most of the stories in HEADLINE COMICS issues 23-25 dated March to August 1947, but comics were cover dated about two months ahead of when they were released, and work on them was done two months or more before that, so Howard may have completed his lettering in 1946. There are two stories in issue 25 and two in issue 26 lettered badly by someone else, but the other stories in issue 26, example above, have good lettering in a similar style to Ferguson. I think this is the earliest published lettering by Ben Oda, no doubt told to imitate Ferguson as best he could. On this title page, Joe Simon may have lettered or at least penciled the story titles, also true of other stories in this and the next few issues. The caption lettering in the figure is what I think is all by Ben. It’s a little small, and a bit stiff, but otherwise looks fine. I don’t know how far ahead of the printing schedule Simon and Kirby might have been on Prize stories, but this one may have been lettered in early 1947.

From HEADLINE COMICS #27, Nov-Dec 1947, Prize

A closer look at two panels I think are lettered by Oda from issue 27. It’s done with a wedge-tipped pen on the regular letters, and a thicker round-tipped pen on bold and slanted emphasized words like LOOK OUT! The letters are very even, the lines are very straight, all things Ben would have copied from Howard. There isn’t much here to identify a lettering style, the letters are close to perfect, but in a few places, like the word CAR in the second caption and CONTROL in the bottom left balloon, the letter C seems to lean to the right a bit. That’s the best way I know to identify Ben Oda’s early lettering, and he’s just beginning to do it here. Another tendency of his was to make the bottom leg of the letter E a bit longer than the other two, you can also see hints of that here in a few places. In general the letter shapes follow the style of Howard Ferguson, though Ben did not imitate two of Howard’s style points: a serif going both ways on the center horizontal of the G, and a small descending serif at the top of the C.

From HEADLINE COMICS #31, Aug-Sept 1948, Prize

By the time of this story, Ben had been lettering for Simon & Kirby about a year, and his work looks more relaxed and confident. Ben had settled in and was turning out fine work on nearly every story from the studio. Some of the C’s here lean right a bit, some don’t, but to my eye this is clearly the same style as the previous example.

From YOUNG ROMANCE #2, Nov-Dec 1947, Prize

Around the time Oda was hired, Simon and Kirby were launching a new genre, romance comics, beginning with YOUNG ROMANCE, but I don’t see any definite evidence of Ben’s lettering in the first issue, which might have been completed before he started. Two of the stories are lettered by Bill Draut, who often did his own lettering, the others are similar to both Ferguson and Oda, but not quite the same as either to my eye. By the second issue, sample above, I do see Ben’s lettering on several stories, similar to what he did on HEADLINE COMICS #26, still a bit small and stiff.

From YOUNG ROMANCE #3, Jan-Feb 1948, Prize

By the time he lettered this story in issue #3, it was looking more confident. Again there are just a few hints of Ben’s developing style points, the right-leaning C and the longer bottom leg on the E.

From YOUNG ROMANCE #11, May-June 1949, Prize

Another year or more later, and Ben’s lettering still has some right-leaning C’s, and just a few E’s with longer bottom legs. Interestingly, some of the G’s have a serif going both ways, in the style of Howard Ferguson, perhaps showing that Oda was still looking at Howard’s work for inspiration. There was plenty to letter on these romance stories, and Ben’s work made them look good and easy to read.

From BOY’S RANCH #1, Oct 1950, © Harvey Comics, original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Simon and Kirby were also doing work for Harvey Comics, including what they later called their favorite title, BOY’S RANCH, nearly all lettered by Ben Oda. Two panels from the original art, above, give an excellent clear look at Ben’s lettering. Some C’s lean right, some G’s have the extra serif, a few E’s have the longer lower leg. Note that Ben’s S is getting more angular and less rounded. Speed was important to meet deadlines, and Ben was getting busier, beginning to take on lettering at other comics publishers beyond his work for Simon and Kirby. By the time of the 1950 census, Ben and Michiko had been joined by their first son, Ken. Another son, Robert, and two daughters, Marcine and Barbara, would follow. No doubt supporting his family was a strong incentive for Ben to work fast and increase his lettering clients.

From TOMAHAWK #2, Nov-Dec 1950, image © DC Comics

Here’s part of a page from a rare story for DC Comics at this time with familiar Oda style points.

From TWO-FISTED TALES #18, Nov-Dec 1950, EC Comics, image © William M. Gaines Agent, Inc.

Ben found steadier work at a smaller company, EC Comics. Most of their lettering was done using the Leroy lettering system by Jim and Margaret Wroten, but artist Harvey Kurtzman disliked that more mechanical look, and he brought in Ben Oda to letter his stories and many of the stories in EC books he edited. The page above by Kurtzman has Ben’s style points like the right-leaning C.

From FRONTLINE COMBAT #1, July 1951, EC Comics, image © William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

A closer look at Oda lettering for a Kurtzman title shows his more angular letter S.

From MAD #1, Oct-Nov 1952, EC Comics, image © DC Comics
From MAD #23, May 1955, EC Comics, image © DC Comics

Kurtzman’s most famous title at EC was MAD, an irreverent humor and parody comic for which Ben Oda did all the lettering, though the story titles and sound effects may have been at least penciled by Kurtzman. A closer look at some of Ben’s MAD lettering is at the top of this article. While most of EC’s titles were forced out of business in the mid 1950s due to their over-the-top gore and violence, MAD survived for decades, though once it switched to magazine size to avoid censorship, most of the lettering was done with set type. When they did comic book parodies, though, Ben lettered many of them.

From BATTLEFRONT #32, June 1955, image © Marvel

Oda did a small amount of story lettering for Atlas/Marvel Comics in the mid 1950s, often war stories like this one. The last two examples, while cover dated 1955, were probably lettered in 1954. When Simon and Kirby started their own comics publishing business, Mainline, in 1954, Ben was the letterer. The company didn’t last long. Around that time, Simon and Kirby brought back Howard Ferguson to letter some of their romance and other stories until his death in 1957. I suspect that’s because Ben didn’t have time for it all, but Oda picked up those titles again after Ferguson’s work on them ended. The Simon and Kirby studio broke up around 1957, though Joe Simon continued to edit the romance titles for Prize, and he took an editing job at Harvey, where he used Ben Oda often. Ben also lettered for Ziff-Davis, Hillman, Stanley Morse, St. John, Quality, ACG, Farrell, Charlton, and other comics publishers in the 1950s. There were probably few where his work didn’t appear. After the 1950 departure of Will Eisner’s favorite letterer Abe Kanegson, Oda also lettered The Spirit for Eisner for its few remaining years.

From FOUR COLOR #1083, MEN INTO SPACE, March-May 1960, Dell/Western

Around 1958, Ben began doing lots of comics lettering for Western Publishing, released under the Dell name, and later Gold Key. They covered a wide range of topics, often adapting TV shows and movies, or using cartoon characters. The page above is one example.

Rip Kirby Daily newspaper strip by John Prentice, Oct 5 1956, image © King Features Syndicate, Inc., original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

In the mid 1950s, Ben moved into another area of comics lettering, newspaper strips, where he soon had lots of work. This example is the earliest I’ve found, there could certainly be earlier ones. Note the right-leaning C’s in some places. In the 1980 profile at DC Comics, Ben listed these strips as ones he’d worked on: Rip KirbyPrince ValiantFlash GordonDondiOn StageQuincyGil ThorpeDr. KildareThe PhantomSteve CanyonKerry DrakeSecret Agent X-9The DropoutsTerry and the Pirates, and Tarzan.

From Dondi Daily strip by Gus Edson and Irwin Hasen, April 19, 1958, image © Chicago Tribune, original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Ben took over Irwin Hasen’s Dondi strip in 1958 from Gaspar Saladino. Ben was often not the first letterer on a strip, sometimes he took one on when it changed artists, or when the previous letterer dropped out, but once he had it, Ben rarely let it go. Strip deadlines are relentless, worse than comics, which come out only once a month, and many strip artists relied on Ben to meet their deadlines. Hasen, in an interview with Mark Evanier for his Point of View column in The Comics Buyers Guide, said of Ben:

He was a Japanese-American who’d fought in World War II as a paratrooper. He was a wonderful person and a slave to several of us cartoonists. He lettered On StageThe Heart of Juliet JonesDondi, a couple of others…We would all give him the keys to our apartments and Ben would come in the dead of the night, like Santa Claus. He’d slip in and the strips were on the drawing board. He’d sit right down, and it didn’t matter how late he had to work…two, three o’clock in the morning, whatever. But he’d do the lettering and then he’d leave, as quiet as a mouse…

From On Stage Sunday by Leonard Starr, Aug 28, 1960, image © Chicago Tribune, original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

By 1960, Ben’s lettering had softened a bit, and become less angular and more rounded. This is most obvious in his letter S, but all the straight strokes are a little more curved and casual. This may have come from working as fast as possible. In another Point of View article by Mark Evanier, he tells this story about Ben:

The one time I met Oda, it was at a New York comic convention — either ’75 or ’76 — and he took the train in on a Saturday to deliver three (yes, three) pages to Paul Levitz so that Paul could get them to an inker who needed work on Monday. Ben was not there for the con; he intended to just drop work off and split…and he would have, had I not introduced myself, dropped the name of Kirby, and dragged him off for a cola and a chat.

I still have the notes I took at that impromptu interview. At one point, Ben demonstrated a point by taking my Flair pen and lettering a whole line of copy on my pad. Evelyn Woods couldn’t read a stop sign in the instant it took Ben to letter that sentence. The main thing I jotted down was what an enormous fan he was of all the artists whose work he lettered. He also said that, of all the varied employers he’d had, only one or two had ever treated him poorly. (Which I can believe. There are editors who would swap blood relatives for one letterer like Ben.)

Later on, I heard a wonderful story about him. Artists are forever cobbling up presentations for newspaper strips they hope to sell. Many of them wanted to hire Ben to letter their samples, but Ben felt bad about taking money from an artist, especially given how few of these submissions ever pay off. So he finally established a policy: As long as they didn’t need it A.S.A.P., he would letter samples free for any professional artist. If the strip later sold, he would expect the job of lettering it, but that was not mandatory. The artist who told me this said it was not a matter of Ben trying to drum up work. “Ben always had all the work he could handle,” he explained. “It was just his little gift to his fellow professionals.”

In 1960, Ben and his family moved to Englewood Cliffs, NJ, overlooking the Hudson River and northern Manhattan, and an easy drive into the city. Ben’s son Ken told me:

One thing that I remember most about my dad is that he was very dedicated to his work and his family. I can’t think of anyone who worked harder and longer than he did.  He worked from home most of the time and even on weekends. During the day after he finished his lettering, he would drive his car into Manhattan or towns in New Jersey and deliver his finished product to other artists. He usually left our house in the afternoon and didn’t get home until after traffic died down in the evening. So he avoided the morning and afternoon rush hour, that was a good thing. After he got home, he would eat and then go back to doing work that he picked up that day.

Ben’s daughter Barbara remembered:

Growing up in the household with my parents was very different than other families. My dad was always working! He would actually work 24 hours a day! Many times late at night, I would see him hunched over on his drawing board asleep! It’s ironic how he would letter Superman comics, I would consider him “Superman!” He would smoke cigarettes and drink coffee all day long. In the afternoon he would leave to deliver the “Pages or Strips” and would not come home until late evening. We did not sit down together during the week as a family for dinner since dad always came home late. It’s a shame because my mom was an excellent cook and she always had to warm up his food. Sometimes our outings on Saturday or Sunday with my dad would be to deliver his work to wherever he had to go, New York City, the Daily News Building, Long Island, etc. Then he would treat us to ice cream. Those were special times we spent with our dad. We really never went out dinner and never went on vacation as a family.

Ben’s daughter Marcine told me:

He was always busy, working 24/7. He had a love for sports, so on rare occasions when he had a little time he would take us to different events. I have wonderful memories of going to Yankee and Shea Stadiums, and Madison Square Garden for basketball games, the circus and the Ice Capades! Sometimes during the weekends we would take a ride out to Long Island where he delivered his work, and afterwards, we would stop to get ice cream. That was always a treat! I remember the times my dad took us to the movies…he would always end up falling asleep sometime during the beginning of the show! These are memories I hold dear to my heart, especially because I knew how busy and tired he was, yet he tried to make quality time for all of us. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the two days out of the year our dad didn’t have to leave the house, so we had dinner together as a family before he went back to work in his “workroom.”

From CREEPY #1, 1964, © Warren Publishing

In 1964, Jim Warren, the publisher of the horror film magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, began putting out horror comics like CREEPY and EERIE in a similar large magazine format. His aim was to recreate the horror comics from EC a decade earlier, and he hired many of the same artists as well as letterer Ben Oda, credited on the title pages, as seen above. This is likely Ben’s first published lettering credit. He also designed cover logos for the company.

From CREEPY #1, 1964, © Warren Publishing

By this time, Ben’s lettering had softened a bit more, and his letter C now sometimes had a downward curve at the top end, as seen here in a few places. It was still clear and easy to read, but had a more informal look. Ben continued to letter all the Warren comics for a few years.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #380, Oct 1968, image © DC Comics

In 1968, one of DC Comics’ busiest letterers, Ira Schnapp, was retired, and I think Ben Oda was brought in to help fill that lettering need. DC editor Joe Orlando would have known Ben’s work well from his EC Comics days, and really, everyone in comics knew his work, his speed, and his reliability. He was soon picking up more and more work from DC, and by 1980, was lettering comics exclusively for that company, doing top titles like SUPERMAN, BATMAN and THE FLASH, though Ben was still also lettering a number of newspaper strips. The page above is the earliest one I’ve found for him at DC. The story title is typical for him, he liked to do them freehand to save time rather than ruling them out with templates and a straight edge.

From THE FLASH #253, Sept 1977, image © DC Comics

In the fall of 1977, DC finally began crediting letterers on all their books, and readers could at last put a name to the work Ben was doing. When I started working in the DC production department in the summer of 1977, Ben was a familiar sight. He would come in most afternoons, smiling and greeting friends, weighed down with a giant portfolio full of work he’d done, or pages and strips he’d picked up that day to be lettered. I wish I’d talked to him more, I have to admit I wasn’t as much of a fan of his work then as I am now, I was busy trying to imitate Gaspar Saladino. After visiting his edtors, Ben often sat at an open desk or drawing board in the production room doing some of his work, and he would be there when I left for the day around 4:30. Sometimes he was there the next morning when I arrived about 8:30, either still working, or asleep with his head on the desk next to a pile of finished pages. I could see Ben was working too hard, but he loved what he did, and was committed to supporting his family.

From ACTION COMICS #514, Dec 1980, image © DC Comics, original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

By 1980, Ben’s lettering had softened further, but was still clear and readable. What readers didn’t see was the increasing number of mistakes, which if Ben saw them he would remove with an electric eraser and reletter. Ones he missed were fixed by production artists like me, and it was hardly surprising given his workload. On the rare occasions when he wasn’t working, Ben bowled with a team, and took part in tournaments that his team sometimes won. Occasionally he found time to golf. While he worked at home, he followed his favorite sports teams on TV. His daughter Barbara told me:

In 1984, I asked my dad to teach me lettering. How perfect that would be and I knew he would be proud that someone in the family would be able to take after him and follow in his footsteps! He bought me all the supplies, pens, inks, electric eraser, a portfolio briefcase just like he used to carry all his work in. We started from scratch with calligraphy, he was going to teach me his way of lettering. He had the biggest smile and gleam in his eyes. I would practice every night at home and come over on weekends to NJ from CT to show him my progress. I didn’t do so bad and Dad was very patient. If all worked out I could work at home and take the train into NYC. Well, things didn’t work out as planned…

Ben’s son Ken told he he sometimes helped out by doing things like inking panel borders, but all the actual lettering was by Ben himself. Ken also helped by making deliveries of finished work for his dad.

Oda family, 1979, courtesy of Barbara Hurd. Bottom row Ben’s son Ken and wife Liz, daughter Barbara, and Ben’s wife Michiko. Behind, son-in-law Larry and Ben’s daughter Marcine, Ben at right.

Barbara remembered:

November 20, 1984, was when my mom called me and said dad was having chest pains, he was in ICU for eight days in Englewood Hospital, NJ. Every day when I went to visit he asked us to bring work to him! How crazy is that? I said, “I cannot do that, you need a drawing board, pens, ink etc.” He told me he will never stop working until he dies…and that is definitely what he did. He dedicated his life to his work. Even though we did not get to spend much time with him as a family, we always knew he was home. He never scolded or yelled at us, he was a man of reason. He was honest, a caring, a very humble man. He always thought about others first and everyone that came in contact with him loved him! His dream one day if he ever was to retire  (which would never have happened even if he lived to 100 years old) was to move to Arizona. My mom eventually fulfilled his dream.

Ben died on November 28, 1984, a month short of his 69th birthday. In an article in The Comics Buyer’s Guide #585, February 1, 1985 (Krause), the DC staff remembered him. Anthony Tollin said, “None of us ever saw Ben cross. He would take huge amounts of work and be cheery the next day. The strongest epithet he used was ‘son of a gun.’” Joe Orlando, who had known Ben since the EC days, said, “He was an absolutely virtuous man. He was a hard worker and a consummate professional. He was also very thoughtful and kind. He would drive 50 miles to deliver a job. Ben was the one man who never treated me any differently from when I was a beginner to when I was an editor at DC. He had the same amount of respect for me throughout our relationship. And I had the same for him.” 

Mark Evanier reported in an article on his blog dated June 27, 2012: 

When Ben passed, DC Comics (and other clients) missed him in many ways, but one was the sudden crisis in production. Ben was a vital component in the assembly line of comics and now he was missing. DC editor Joe Orlando told me this story. Everyone had always assumed Ben had a staff of folks working with him. I don’t know where it came from, but the assumption was that Ben had trained his wife and kids and maybe even the family dog to letter just like him. Given his awesome output, that seemed logical. At Ben’s funeral, Orlando decided he should approach Ben’s family and let them know DC wanted them to keep lettering for the firm. Joe knew the production schedule would be devastated by the loss of Ben…but Joe was also concerned that the family had lost its main source of income. So he told Ben’s widow that she should send someone around to pick up lettering work. She looked at him funny and asked, “Who would do the lettering?” Joe stammered, “Don’t you all letter? Haven’t you all been doing a lot of that work?” She shook her head. “We helped with erasing pages and ruling pencil guidelines but Ben was the only letterer.” This was kind of like finding out that Walt Disney had animated Snow White all by himself. It eventually took about six people to replace Ben Oda at DC. But of course in a sense, no one ever replaced Ben Oda.

In a memorial column run by DC in June, 1985 titles, DC editor Andrew Helfer said:

You probably never thought twice about Ben Oda. He was never the guest of honor at a comics convention. Fans never begged him for his autograph. The spotlight never touched him. He was just one of the hundreds of people who put the finishing touches on comics. But Ben Oda had a fan club. An exclusive group. We kept its very existence a secret. Instead of calling it “The Ben Oda Fan Club,” we called it DC Comics. To us, Ben was not only our favorite comic book letterer, he was also our favorite human being. When Ben told a story, he became a kind of Japanese Will Rogers, a homespun humorist with a shy smile that could melt ice. Dozens of wrinkles etched into his face, laugh lines mingling with the ones that simply come with age, always aware of the humor in life, and enjoying every minute of it. And perhaps, when all is said and done, this was the most wonderful thing about Ben — his uncanny ability to make us smile, to make us laugh, to lift us out of our late-afternoon doldrums — to simply be Ben. These were his gifts to us, these were the things we took for granted, and these are the things we will miss the most.

From THE FLASH #345, May 1985, image © DC Comics

It’s impossible for me to take on the task of cataloging the comics and comic strip lettering work of Ben Oda, but he may well have been the most prolific comics letterer of all time in his 37 year career. He was so busy just for DC that his work was still being published months after his death. The story above is one of the final ones to see print. Ben made a giant impact on comics.

From ARCHIE’S GIRLS BETTY AND VERONICA #300 Dec 1980, © Archie Comics

One more act of kindness from Ben that changed the life of a friend. William Saburo (Bill) Yoshida was born December 2, 1921 in Brawley, California. During World War Two, he and his family were imprisoned in an internment camp for Japanese Americans. After the war, Bill had various jobs; singing in a nightclub, playing guitar, and working as a chef. He was in New Jersey in the 1960s, and bowled in an all-Japanese league in New York City. One of his friends and teammates was Ben Oda. Ben taught Bill to letter comics, and he was hired by Archie Comics in 1965. He worked there as a letterer for the next 40 years, averaging 75 pages a week. He was twice nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Lettering. His work was clear and readable, as seen above, and showed the influence of his teacher. Bill Yoshida passed on February 17, 2005.

Thanks again to Alex Jay and Ben’s family for research help and images.

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

2 thoughts on “BEN ODA – PROLIFIC LETTERER

  1. Benjamin Herzberg

    Thanks for this blog and for this so well-researched and beautifully written article. It is the loveliest of tributes. Well deserved for a lovely man who played a crucial role in (literally) writing comics history.

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