Category Archives: Lettering/Fonts


From DETECTIVE COMICS #27, May 1939, this and all DETECTIVE images © DC Comics

There are many early comic books where the letterers are unknown. Credits for lettering were unheard of at the time. In many cases the artist did his own lettering, but if an artist was successful enough to hire someone else to do it, those names are often lost to comics history.

Bob Kane, 1940s, image found online

One exception is in artist studios where the assistants are partially or fully known, and that was true with Bob Kane’s studio in the early years of Batman. Some of Kane’s assistants had careers in comics long after they stopped working for him, and several were around long enough to supply information to comics historians about what they did. The Grand Comics Database has a lot of that data, where it’s known, and I’ve used it as a resource here. Robert Kahn was born October 24, 1915 in New York City. After high school he changed his name to Kane and studied art at Cooper Union before working at Fleischer Animation Studios in 1934. He began selling humorous and funny animal stories to comic book publishers in 1936, including National Allied Publications, the company that became DC Comics. With the success of Superman, DC was looking for more heroic adventure features, and in 1939 Bob Kane sold them Batman, which he co-created with writer Bill Finger.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #27, May 1939

Bob Kane is notorious for hiring other artists and writers to produce Batman work for him and taking all the credit, but at least in the first few years there’s now a pretty good record of who did what. I’m going to focus on DETECTIVE COMICS, for which Kane’s studio supplied Batman stories to National/DC Comics from 1939 to 1943, and possibly later. Stories done for BATMAN and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS follow a similar pattern. In the beginning, before Batman was a hit, it’s safe to assume that Kane did everything himself, including the lettering. Looking at the first page of the first Batman story, above, the lettering is uneven, but easy to read, and fairly typical for the time. Let’s compare it to other examples of early Kane comics work that came before Batman.

Continue reading


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.

Continue reading


From THE SPIRIT Sept 5, 1948, “The Story of Gerhard Schnobble,” this and all Spirit images © Will Eisner Studios, Inc., original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

In 1936, Will Eisner, one of comics’ most innovative creators, began working in the new field, first partnering with Jerry Iger to form one of the earliest packagers of comics, providing material for publishers that didn’t have their own creators. The studio was a financial success, but in 1940 Will sold his interest in it to launch a new type of comics project. It was a sixteen-page supplement (later eight pages) inserted into Sunday newspapers known as the Spirit Section for its lead feature and character, Will Eisner’s The Spirit, a masked man who was legally dead and lived in a hidden lair in a graveyard, from which he fought crime. The Spirit had no super-powers, but was amazingly tenacious and able to take all kinds of physical abuse while pursuing criminals, helping his friends, and aiding the police. Each of his stories ran seven pages, and they formed a wonderful and influential body of work for many years. The series had several letterers, including Sam Rosen and Martin DeMuth, but in 1947, Will hired Abe Kanegson. In the example above, one of Eisner’s favorite stories, Kanegson has added a great deal to the page through his creative and energetic lettering, as he always did. In an interview with Cat Yronwode published in The Comics Journal nos. 46-47 (1979, Fantagraphics), Eisner said about Kanegson:

“He was the best letterer I ever had. He worked with me from 1947 to about 1950. I don’t know what happened to him after that, but I miss him sorely. He brought far more to The Spirit than many of the background people ever did — he was very responsive to ideas and he added a creative dimension to comics, which I always thought was important. He’s the only one who ever really understood. I had other letterers before he came in, but he helped me reach out. Sure, I had certain standards I wanted him to follow—for instance, I did Old English before he came in, but he would take that Old English and really do it — his skill was enormous — even more, he understood the function of lettering in comics. He regarded it as something important. Everybody before him regarded it as a chore.”

Continue reading


From FANTASTIC COMICS #10, Sept 1940, Fox Publications

In Part 1 of this article I outlined Howard Ferguson’s life and career as a comics letterer. In this part I’ll look more closely at the lettering itself to see what’s distinctive about it, and then list all the examples I could find, and there are plenty. I’ve arranged them by company roughly in chronological order. Some companies have multiple entries when Howard worked for them at different times.

On the early page above, the title is well-crafted, with touches of Art Deco, like the A in Saunders. AND THE below that uses an angular style of lower case block letters that Howard often returned to. The credit in a scroll is artfully done, and the A in KARL is another style Howard often used especially on credits. He liked wavy lines, you can see them on the outlines of WHEEL OF DEATH, and on the first caption. Decorative first letters in captions or text are something that have been used for centuries, very elaborate ones were featured in medieval manuscripts, and they can be found in many older printed books at the beginning of each chapter. They were sometimes also used in comic strips and comics stories before Ferguson got started in lettering. His are simple but effective, often open letters with a black shape behind. This style was imitated by other letterers who liked it, notably by Gaspar Saladino early in his career. In fact, many of Howard’s “creative extras” were imitated by other letterers. Howard wanted his work to stand out and be noticed. Other letterers tried to up their game by following his lead. You would think this would make identifying his work harder, but to my eye, no one else did them quite like Ferguson.

Continue reading


From CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1, March 1941, image © Marvel, image courtesy of Michael J. Vassallo’s BLOG

In the early days of comics, lettering was often done by the artist himself, but in a few cases success meant an artist or studio could hire someone just to do the lettering. That was the true for the studio of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, which began in 1940, doing work for Fox Publications and then Timely/Marvel Comics, among others. In his 2011 autobiography, Joe Simon, My Life In Comics (Titan Books, 2011), Simon puts the date at 1939, but elsewhere he says he began working at Fox in December 1939, where he met Kirby, so 1940 seems more likely. Joe wrote that as they gained clients they hired Charles Nicholas to work for them as a penciler, inker and scripter, and soon “…we brought in a letterer, too. The letterer’s name was Howard Ferguson, and he was the best ever in the business.” Howard is probably known today (if at all) as the letterer of most of the original ten issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS, as seen above. Howard’s balloon lettering developed and grew more confident over the first year with Simon & Kirby, but right from the start he was trying to add extra creative touches: variety in styles, special treatments for the first letter or word of a caption (as shown), special caption styles, and more. I call these things “creative extras,” and they were almost always present in his work except in the last few years. Clearly he wanted his lettering to stand out from the crowd, to be noticed and appreciated, and it certainly was by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

This article is in two parts. In Part 1 I’ll outline Howard’s entire life and career, with the help of research done by Alex Jay and myself and information from his granddaughter, who I recently contacted online. Part 2 will focus on his lettering work in detail, and include as complete a list of it as I can manage.

Continue reading