Readers of Marvel Comics in the 1970s probably thought they knew the names of all the Marvel letterers because they were listed in the story credits. There was one busy letterer who remained anonymous because his work was mainly on the covers, and therefore not credited: Danny Crespi. The cover above has an early example of that lettering in the bottom blurb, and I suspect he might also have designed this title’s logo, though I have no evidence for that. It’s not by the other frequent Marvel logo designers of the time: Artie Simek and Gaspar Saladino, and it has a style that reminds me of Danny’s cover lettering.
Daniel “Danny” Crespi was born on February 13, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Nissim Crespi, later known as Sam, was born in Turkey and arrived in New York as an immigrant in 1911. In 1920 he married Sarah Asher, and they lived in Brooklyn, where a girl, Rachel, and Danny were born. Some time after 1935 they moved to The Bronx. In 1944, during World War Two, Danny enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and served until 1946. Returning home, in 1947 he was able to use the G.I. Bill to enroll in Burne Hogarth and Silas Rhodes’ new Cartoonists and Illustrators School, later the School of Visual Arts. Thanks to Alex Jay for much of this information, more in his article on Danny HERE.
Around 1948, Danny was hired as a letterer by Timely, as Marvel Comics was then called, and according to an interview by Jim Amash with John Romita Sr., he worked in the Timely offices in the Empire State Building, but in 1949, Timely owner Martin Goodman ordered editor Stan Lee to lay off most of the staff, and in 1950 relocated the offices to 655 Madison Avenue. Gradually the comics staff was rebuilt by Stan, and some former staffers were rehired. I’m not sure if that happened to Danny, or if he was one of the few, like Artie Simek, who was able to stay through the purge, but by about 1954, when the photo above was taken, he was again on staff at Marvel, now often known as Atlas Comics. Danny married Rosalyn Jaffe in 1952. In 1957, comics distribution problems caused Goodman to again lay off nearly all the staff, including Crespi. In an interview by D. Jon Zimmerman published in Comics Interview #9 (March 1984, Fictioneer Books), Danny remembered what he did next:
I began doing freelance lettering in advertising. I told myself, “To Hell with comics — it must be dying if a big company like Timely can close up.” I went to art studios doing board work and paste-ups, then went to the presentation department of BBD&O and did Speedball lettering for them for twelve years. Money-wise it was okay, but I didn’t like freelancing per se. I used to collect lettering assignments from different places and go home and do them. But for presentation work you’re supposed to wait around by your phone ’til they call you, then go over to the studio to work. I don’t like that. I don’t like to wait around for people to call me. I like to belong to one place.
Well, about twelve years ago , I called up Morrie Kuramoto. I didn’t even know if he was still working at Marvel, but I heard he was. I asked if he had any work for me. He said, “Hey, man, I can use a hand. Come on down!” It was real small. There was no room. In fact, to get me a spare seat, I had to wait for when Marie Severin was working at home. They didn’t even have shelves for supplies. Morrie gave me things to do. The pay was low — all the comics companies paid low wages in those days — but it was steady work. I wasn’t on staff, but I felt like I belonged there. I came to work every day. I would do corrections, paste-ups — everything the Bullpen does now.
Danny became good friends with John Verpoorten, then the head of Marvel’s production department. John offered him a staff job, and Danny accepted, even though the pay was poor, and he continued to pick up other freelance work to do at home in the evening. In the interview, Danny said:
One day John asked me why I was going to other places to get extra work when Marvel had plenty of extra work to give me, if I wanted to work nights. He would go around to everyone and say, “I’ve got Crespi staying here at night and I want you to have your work ready for him to finish by the time you go home.” Eventually I helped him run the Bullpen. [John] used to stay at night when I was working until seven or eight o’clock in the evening, doing cover lettering and cover copy for nine-tenths of the covers.
Until about 1964 most of the Marvel cover lettering was by Artie Simek, but then Sam Rosen began gradually taking over, and was doing most of it by 1968. Sam stopped working for Marvel suddenly in 1972, and the company had to find others to do it, like staffer Morrie Kuramoto and freelancer John Costanza. In 1973, Gaspar Saladino began doing much of the Marvel cover lettering as well as most of DC’s. There are a few examples earlier than this that might be by Danny Crespi, but the first ones I feel sure about are cover-dated January 1974, and were probably done in the fall of 1973. That makes sense if Danny started working on staff that year. Gaspar continued to do some of the cover lettering through the 1970s, but from 1974 to 1978, most was by Crespi. His style has a softness to it that Gaspar’s does not, and his regular lettering, like the top line here, is very wide. His balloon and caption borders tend to be thick, making for easier paste-up on cover art.
Another example I think is by Danny. Note the serif on the R in MONSTER, like a kicking shoe, something he often did, and the scribbly heavy border around TABOO is also a style he used. Again the regular lettering is very wide, but more rounded than Gaspar’s, and there’s a thick panel border.
Crespi did not often do logos, but this one is attributed to him. There are two versions, the first has round tops on the MA. Letterer Tom Orzechowski, who was working on staff at the time, told me: Danny created this, considering it to be a rough. It was approved and put into use, as the person (Roy?) who made the approval didn’t recognize that it was a rough. The second version has squared tops on the MA, and it lasted a while. In addition to lettering many covers, Danny also did letter column headings, character intro logos (used at the top of the first story page), and occasional house ads, all things that were not credited, just as his lettering in the 1940s-50s wasn’t credited. I don’t think he did any story lettering in the 1970s.
In 2015, I received a package in the mail from letterer Phil Felix containing about 100 photocopies of lettering and logos from the Marvel offices. Phil wrote:
Here’s the “Danny Crespi Lettering Book” I promised you. I put this together during my time in the Marvel Bullpen as reference for myself, never thinking anybody else would be interested. All these pieces came from Danny’s stash (a giant manila envelope) that he gave me, (except the logos), and all the pieces had the letterer’s name or initials. I never thought to keep a record of those, but I’d say this book is at least 80% Danny Crespi. When he passed, I returned the originals to his family.
Thanks to Phil, I was able to study the many examples of Danny’s cover lettering until I felt I had a handle on which ones were his, and Phil was right, at least three quarters are by Crespi himself. Above is the second page of the collection, I believe all by Danny. These are burst captions, and there are several style points to notice: the thick burst borders, open lettering with a generally rounded look, foot-kick serifs on the R and K of GROTESK, and very wide (beautifully lettered) smaller regular lettering that’s also a bit rounded. In two places there are sections that were cut out and replaced with different lettering, probably last-minute changes. These bursts are similar, and by the same hand, but incorporate a variety of styles, as cover lettering should. Another thing that sets them apart from Gaspar Saladino’s bursts is the random angles of the points, which go in all directions. Gaspar usually did them with all the ends pointing away from the center of the burst.
The lettering in the copies is grouped somewhat by style, but not by date, and the lettering was for covers dated from 1974 to the early 1980s. This cover uses the burst at the upper left from the page above. When it was prepared for the cover, the open letters were filled around with black and a reverse photostat was made of the top line to produce white letters on a black background, something Marvel often did at the time on covers. It works fine here, and may have been done by Danny himself. The second rectangular caption at the bottom, also by Crespi, has white letters on a red background, which was done at the color separators following a color guide by Marie Severin, or whoever did the guide at the time, but a reversed stat might also have been pasted on the cover art for that.
More captions by Crespi, and on some of them, notice how he’s extended the straight border lines beyond the corner. When the blurb was resized and cut out to paste on the cover, it was then easy to give it sharp corner points. I like the texture in the open letters of SHOOT and the rough caption border around it, things Danny may have copied from Saladino.
This cover uses the BLOOD CHURCH caption from the page above, with the top line held in red on the yellow background by the color separator. Crespi also did the balloons, which might appear on another page of the collection, or not.
Captions and blurbs by Danny, with one word balloon at lower right. Note that it doesn’t have a tail, those were added after the lettering was pasted on the cover. There’s lots of variety and texture here, and you can find a few foot-kick R’s. SHOWDOWN DAY is in a style often used by Artie Simek, who was still at Marvel until his death in 1975, but not doing new cover lettering in the 1970s, as far as I can tell.
That FEAR IN FUNLAND burst from the page above appeared on this cover with the lettering reversed. Danny probably planned it that way, as he used a double border to give space for a color there. The texture in FEAR is more impressive on the original, but it works fine here.
Five wide blurbs by Danny on this page, with a few different border treatments. Again, a nice variety of styles and textures, I particularly llike the bullet holes in SHOOTOUT. Crespi was working quite large if these are same-size photocopies. Gaspar generally worked smaller than this, as did I when I did cover lettering at DC. Working larger meant a greater reduction in size for the final use, and that helped cover any flaws in the linework, though I don’t see any here. The top blurb has been cut and pasted, perhaps to change the dimensions of the caption to fit the art better.
That SHOOTOUT blurb is used on this cover with a caption box added to read better against the cover art. AT is reversed white by the color separator, but otherwise it’s unchanged and looks great.
Crespi didn’t use round captions as often as bursts, it’s harder to get the words to fit in them, but the one at upper left works fine. I like the lettering in the middle right box with squared corners on TEAMS WITH, another thing Danny didn’t do often. The serifs at the top of KARA-KAI add the look of forward motion and perhaps Japanese style.
The KARA-KAI caption appeared on this cover along with a different round blurb. Small words in each are color holds. The colorist would indicate that in the color guide, often by running a colored pencil over it with a note of the color percentages, or at least that’s how it was done at DC.
Another good variety of styles and shapes on this page, all by Crespi. Tom Orzechowski described Danny’s cover lettering as fitting between that of Artie Simek and Gaspar Saladino, and I think it was influenced by both. The very angular EXTRA is similar to Gaspar, while LAST STAND is very Simek.
That bottom blurb appeared on this cover, and it just barely fits in the only space available, the sign of a good cover letterer. Danny would have been looking at the cover art and mentally gauging that space after the logo was in place.
Four more large blurbs by Crespi. in the second he’s given DEAD emphasis by adding a second outline, but he didn’t do that in the open centers of the D and A, which looks a bit odd here, I would have filled them in, but Saladino also did this. No open centers in UNLIVING, which has an even thicker scribbly outer border. There’s a foot-kick R on TIGER.
The last blurb appeared on this cover unchanged, along with another with reversed letters on black.
More wide captions by Crespi, all hand-lettered except MAKE WAY FOR…THE in the second one, which is headline type from a machine Marvel had that set single lines of large type like this, or so I think, as DC had one. Part of the top line in the next to last caption is missing, probably a pasted-on piece that fell off. You can see other pasted-on pieces below that.
The top caption appeared on this cover with another round one. Some of the lettering has been reversed white on black, but the remaining texture around CORNER suggests the open lettering was filled around with black. It’s not as effective this way, but does add a little interest. In the round blurb, SCAVENGER is allowed to overlap the circles, one way to get it larger.
Also included was a photocopy of this open letter alphabet that Crespi did so his production staffers could cut and paste together a word or two if something was needed quickly and no one was available to letter it. Headline type could also be used the same way, but Danny’s alphabet is better, as it’s clearly hand-lettered and more like other cover lettering. My own open lettering was not too different.
For much more about these files, see these posts on my blog:
In 1985, when I was on staff at DC, I made a similar collection of Gaspar Saladino’s cover lettering, which begins HERE. Interesting that Phil and I had the same idea at almost the same time.
When John Verpoorten died suddenly in December 1977, Danny took over as Production Manager at Marvel, a position he held until his own death on May 30, 1985. In a Bullpen Bulletins article running in Dec 1985 issues, Jim Shooter said:
“The Model Manager” he wasn’t. Oh, he worked hard. Too hard, I always used to tell him. He should have relaxed, put his feet up on the desk and just managed. But, no, he was always running around trying to touch every base at once. Of course, if you really had to find him, you could just listen — wherever you heard people laughing he was probably there. He didn’t seem to mind being teased. He loved it. He laughed with you. Danny’s gone now. He died last week, of leukemia — which he’d had for eleven years, though almost nobody knew — plus complications. I thought nobody’d laugh around here ever again. But, nah, Danny doesn’t want us to mope. He wants us to go to lunch. To enjoy our health. To be happy. To laugh. We’re trying. It’s tough, Danny. We miss you, Danny Crespi.
Many people had warm memories of Danny, some are in the posts linked above. His daughter Susan joined the Marvel staff and became the Production Manager herself for many years, while also doing some lettering in the 1990s. His nephew, Nel Yomtov, was a Marvel editor and colorist. While fans didn’t know his name, Danny Crespi is well remembered by his fellow comics professionals and friends, and now, thanks to Phil Felix, you and I know more about him too.