ED HAMILTON – Letterer Part 1

From FORBIDDEN WORLDS #114, Sept 1963, © American Comics Group

From the 1940s to the 1960s, a small comics publisher, American Comics Group, had a presence on newsstands alongside bigger publishers like DC, Marvel, Dell, and Archie. One thing that was different about ACG was their lettering. Nearly every cover and many of the stories were lettered by Ed Hamilton, who also designed all their logos and house ads. As with Artie Simek at Marvel and Ira Schnapp at DC, Hamilton’s unique lettering gave ACG a house style that readers could recognize and follow, even if they never knew who created it. In this two-part article I’ll look at what Alex Jay and I have been able to find out about Hamilton, which isn’t a lot, and I’ll examine his work before ACG and many of the titles he did there. Herbie, a satire of superheroes, was probably the company’s most memorable and funniest character, his first cover appearance is above, and he went on to his own title. Notice how everything on the cover except the Comics Code seal is drawn by Hamilton: the logos, the company symbol, the date and issue number, the price, and of course the caption. This helped give his covers an organic feel different from other comics, at least until undergrounds began doing the same thing in the 1960s.

Ed Hamilton 1925, courtesy of relative Colleen T. Fay

Edward Thomas Hamilton was born in Port Washington, NY, on the north shore of Long Island, on Nov 11, 1900. In early census records he’s listed as Edwin, but claimed the name Edward beginning in the 1925 NY State Census. He was the oldest of four children, he had a sister and two brothers. His father was a carpenter. Ed served overseas in World War One, we don’t know when he enlisted, but he returned from France in June, 1919. In the 1920 census, Ed’s job is a clerk in an office, but in the 1925 state census, his occupation is cartoonist.

© The Nassau Daily Review, Freeport NY, Oct 9 1930

Alex Jay found examples of his cartooning in a small Long Island paper, a weekly strip along the lines of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but focused on local history and personalities. The first one is above, it continued at least into 1931. Both the art and lettering are on the rough side, but the strip worked well enough to run for a while. I don’t know what other cartooning Ed might have been doing, but this is prime practice for lettering comics.

© The Nassau Daily Review, Freeport NY, Feb 12 1931

Here’s the latest strip Alex found, both the art and lettering are slightly improved to my eye. By the 1940 federal census, Ed had married Alice Masset, a Queens native of the same age (her father ran a bronze factory), and they lived in an apartment on 21st Avenue, Queens. On his 1942 draft card, Hamilton lists Dura Products Mfg. Co. as his employer, they were a sign-making company, great training for designing comics logos, but by then he was already getting work in comics.

From SPEED COMICS #10, July 1940, © Brookwood Publishing

In 1940, Hamilton placed two short comics stories he drew and probably wrote and lettered in issues 10 and 11 of this title. The signature matches the one in his newspaper strip. It’s the only example I’ve found of art signed by him. The lettering is different from his strip, more regular, but I can see similarities in style.

From REAL LIFE COMICS #1, Sept 1941, © Pines

In 1941 Hamilton was working for the Sangor Shop, a comics packager, and Ned Pines. Pines was the son-in-law of Ben Sangor, and he began putting out comics in 1939 under several publisher names including Standard, Better and Nedor. By 1943, many of the same creators were working for Ben Sangor’s American Comics Group. In this title, some of the ACG regulars were already there, including writer/editor Richard E. Hughes (born Leo Rosenbaum). Ed Hamilton may have done the logo and scroll captions on this cover…

From REAL LIFE COMICS #1, Sept 1941, © Pines

…and he lettered this lead story written by Hughes. The title has style elements that Ed would use for decades, including block letters with thin outlines, script letters with sharp angles like OF in the title, and the angular banner. His lettering here is different from what he did earlier, I would say he’d been studying the lettering of Howard Ferguson, and is doing his best to imitate it. The regular letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen, the balloon shapes are flat on the bottom with sides probably made with an ellipse template, and even the letters are like those of Ferguson.

From REAL LIFE COMICS #1, Sept 1941, © Pines

In this closer look, Hamilton has picked up Ferguson letter shapes like the round G with a serif at center going both ways, and a small downward serif at the top of the C. If the story title was more like Howard’s work, this might have fooled me into crediting him.

From AMERICA’S BEST COMICS #1, Feb 1942, © Pines

I see lots of superhero stories lettered by Ed in his Howard Ferguson style in other Pines comics, another example is above. He may have also been doing the cover logos, I’m less sure about most of those. Note the whisper balloons with dotted outlines, and a radio balloon in the second panel with a zig-zag tail but shaped like a thought balloon.

From COO COO COMICS #2, Dec 1942, © Pines

Pines put out titles in several genres, including patriotic heroes like FIGHTING YANK. This house ad for him is by Hamilton, and I think he designed the bottom logo, which was used on the book’s cover. I’m less sure about the top logo.

From THE BLACK TERROR #1, Feb 1943, © Pines

Another house ad by Hamilton, again following styles used by Howard Ferguson in his Timely/Marvel house ads, but with Ed’s own personal style present as well, like the character names at the bottom whose letters seem to bulge out at the middle and have extra side angles. He might have designed the EXCITING COMICS logo, that’s one I’m not sure about.

From COO COO COMICS #6, July 1943, © Pines

Funny animal comics were a staple at Pines, this one is trying to cash in on the popularity of Superman. Hamilton’s lettering is still influenced by Ferguson here, but heading slowly toward his own personal style. Ed only lettered a small number of funny animal stories like this, ones produced in New York. Others came out of the Sangor Shop’s California division from animation artists, who either lettered their own stories or used letterers there.

From CAPTAIN BATTLE JR. #1, Fall 1943, © Lev Gleason

Here’s something I can’t explain. Lev Gleason comics in 1943 usually had covers, logos, and cover lettering by Charles Biro, but this one has cover art by Don Rico, who also drew the main feature inside, and the impressive logo and lettering is by Ed Hamilton. Perhaps Rico brought Ed in, but I’m not sure how they would have known each other, as Hamilton was otherwise working only for Sangor and Pines, and I don’t see any work by Rico for them.

From CAPTAIN BATTLE JR. #1, Fall 1943, © Lev Gleason

Only the first chapter of the Captain Battle Jr. story inside is lettered by Hamilton in his Howard Ferguson style, the rest is lettered by at least two others. The lead story in the second issue is also lettered by Hamilton. I don’t see any other lettering by Ed at Lev Gleason, though Don Rico did work for them on other things. The title lasted two issues, the second issue has a different (and poorer) logo.

From GIGGLE COMICS #1, Oct 1943, © American Comics Group

One of the earliest ACG titles, this is still essentially a product of the Sangor Shop, but the covers were always put together in New York with logos by Ed Hamilton. He’s already following his style of drawing in the price, issue, and date, though the ACG symbol is not yet present. Rounded letters that are broken up into angled sections are something Ed often did, as in the G’s here, and COMICS is all angles.

From HA HA COMICS #1, Oct 1943, © ACG

Another early ACG humor title out the same month. The Grand Comics Database credits the logo to cover artist Jim Tyer, and he could have designed it, but the other lettering on the cover is by Ed Hamilton. Perhaps Tyer pencilled the logo and Ed inked it.

From COO COO COMICS #10, March 1944, © ACG

By this time, Hamilton’s story lettering had lost all the Howard Ferguson imitation, and this is getting close to the style he would use for the rest of his career. Many of the letters are more angular, especially the S. The balloon shapes are now done freehand rather than with a straight edge and oval templates. The Supermouse character logo is full of Hamilton detail and personality, and the curves are mostly broken into angled sections, as he liked to do.

From CHUCKLE (no number) 1945, © ACG

Sangor put out several funny animal one-shots like this full of material from his west-coast animators. Only a few of the stories are lettered by Hamilton, and therefore probably done in New York, but the logo and cover lettering are his. I think Ed’s humor logos have an underground comics feel, this one would seem at home on an R. Crumb comic.

From CHUCKLE (no number) 1945, © ACG

Ed did letter this story by Carl Wessler, an east coast animator out of the Fleischer Studio. Premonitions of MAUS in the last panel!

From FUNNYBONE, HI-JINX and MERRY-GO-ROUND, all no number, 1945, © ACG

Three more of these double-size collections of funny animal stories for 25 cents with logos and cover lettering by Hamilton. I think HI-JINX is particularly creative and clever.

From TOPSY-TURVY #1, April 1945, © ACG

It’s interesting that even without a company symbol, these comics all have an identifiable brand because of the similar lettering. This one falls somewhere between kid humor and teen humor, and despite the issue number, went no further. ACG had yet to come up with a continuing title, but Cookie led the way to that.

From COOKIE #1, April 1946, © ACG

COOKIE is the first continuing series from ACG, it ran 55 issues. It was kind of in its own niche, the characters acted like teenagers, but looked younger. The logo is by Ed Hamilton except perhaps for the character head by cover artist Dan Gordon.

From COOKIE #1, April 1946, © ACG

This promotional house ad has lots of great lettering by Hamilton, and shows his versatility with script and styles other than typical comics letters. Those letters have changed a little, the S is rounder, and most letters would fit into a square, including the M, which has more vertical sides.

From THE KILROYS #1, June-July 1947, © ACG

Another teen humor book, this one ran 54 issues. The characters are drawn more like actual teens, similar to series like LEAVE IT TO BINKY at DC Comics. There is a DC connection, in 1947, Fred Iger bought into the company, becoming co-owner with Ben Sangor. Iger was the son-in-law of Harry Donenfeld, owner of National (DC) Comics, and the buy-in was probably made with Donenfeld’s money. Iger was strictly on the business side, he was never a comics creator, but he steered the company for the rest of its existence, buying out Sangor’s share in 1955. At the time of Iger’s buy-in, and probably no coincidence, ACG began distribution by Independent News, also owned by Harry Donenfeld. In this logo, Ed Hamilton shows his fondness for very angular script in the subtitle. I don’t see any lettering by him inside the first few issues other than house ads and title pages.

From HI-JINX #1, Sept 1947, © ACG

This name was reused for a new funny animal series that ran seven issues, combining funny animals with teen humor. The logo and cover lettering are by Hamilton except perhaps the figures in the logo. Again, he did only title page and house ad lettering inside.

From MOON MULLINS #1, Dec 1947, © ACG

Something of a departure for ACG was this six-issue title reprinting a popular newspaper strip, along with other features, perhaps a deal worked out by Fred Iger. The logo again shows Ed’s fondness for angular block letters, and it’s not like any of the strip logos.

From BLAZING WEST #1, Sept 1948, © ACG

Perhaps with Fred Iger’s guidance, ACG began to put out books in other popular genres like westerns. This Hamilton logo suggests to me he was looking at logos by Ira Schnapp at DC and Artie Simek at Marvel for ideas. It works fine, but has little Hamilton style.

From BLAZING WEST #1, Sept 1948, © ACG

Inside, some typical Ed Hamilton story lettering, which has now reached the style he would use for the rest of his career. It’s lettered with round-tipped pens that make consistently sized lines, and is very consistent, with a slight lean to the left on the regular letters.

I’ll continue the ACG story in Part 2, as the company was about to begin their longest-lasting and most memorable genre, horror comics, and Ed Hamilton was there for every title and cover.

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

2 thoughts on “ED HAMILTON – Letterer Part 1

  1. Steven Rowe

    Thanks for this. The west coast Sangor Shop (run by Jim Davis) letterer was Tuby Millar, and I hoped I spelled that right.
    The first 2-3 issues of Giggle and Ha Ha were done in both NY and Miami. In the west coast, Jim Davis sent his Fox and Crow stories for DC to Richard Hughes, along with the comics for both ACG and Standard-Pines. I’ve seen records of Hughes inventory and where he sent the stories.

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