ED HAMILTON – Letterer Part 2

From ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #1, Fall 1948. This and all following images © American Comics Group

In Part 1 of this article I looked at Ed Hamilton’s comics work for Ben Sangor and Ned Pines, among others, showing how he became their go-to person for logos and house ads as well as lettering many of their stories. By 1948, ACG was co-owned by Fred Iger, who may have been a stand-in financially for his father-in-law Harry Donenfeld, owner of National/DC Comics. Be that as it may, Iger was a smart businessman, and he expanded the company’s titles into new genres. The one that proved most successful for them was horror, and this was their first such title. The logo uses wavy letters for the main word, similar to what Artie Simek was doing at Timely/Marvel for scary comics, though Hamilton’s shapes are more angular, including the script top line. This title is considered the first ongoing horror comic, an anthology of short stories to send chills up readers’ spines, though it was quickly imitated by other publishers, some of whom went much further with blood and gore, like EC Comics. The ACG horror comics were scary, but not bloody.

From ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #1, Fall 1948

Ed Hamilton lettered every story and house ad as well as the covers, it’s as though he was taking charge now of the company’s entire lettering output for this kind of comic. For the first few issues he went back to a wedge-tipped pen for the regular lettering, then reverted to his usual style, at times smaller and more condensed than in the past to fit in large amounts of text. The book must have sold well to garner so much competition, even DC copied it with titles like HOUSE OF MYSTERY and HOUSE OF SECRETS. At first pulp writers like Frank Belknap Long were scripting, but eventually, as with all the ACG comics, most stories were written by Richard Hughes. The book ran 174 issues, until ACG stopped publishing newsstand comics in 1967.

From SHMOO HARD CANDY #8, 1949?, front and back covers

Fred Iger had other ideas about expanding ACG’s business, he began doing custom comics to be used as premiums or giveaways by any company who wanted to pay for them. This is an early example clearly lettered by Ed Hamilton, one of 24 similar mini-comics included in candy packages. The candy was one of many licensed products spun out of Al Capp’s comic strip LI’L ABNER and his stories about The Shmoo. The comics had nothing to do with that as far as I can tell. By about 1950, Iger had set up a Custom Comics division of ACG, and they produced all kinds of product or service-related comics, some small like this, others regular comics size. Clients included the A. C. Gilbert toy company, Montgomery WardTupperware, and the United States Air Force. After ACG stopped publishing newsstand comics in 1967, the Custom Comics division continued into the 1980s. While I haven’t been able to find scans of any inside pages, Hamilton probably lettered many of the stories.

From ROMANTIC ADVENTURES #1, March 1949

ACG next expanded into the romance comics genre, begun by Simon and Kirby at Prize in 1947 with YOUNG ROMANCE, and as usual quickly imitated by other publishers. As always, Ed Hamilton designed the logo. I think he was probably looking at Ira Schnapp’s romance comics logos for DC like GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES, and doing his own version of Ira’s flowing script. It’s not as good as Schnapp, it’s too inconsistent and doesn’t flow well, but it works fine. Again every story and house ad in this title is lettered by Hamilton, at least in the first few issues I checked. With a title change to MY ROMANTIC ADVENTURES for issue #68, the book lasted 136 issues to 1963.

From ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #5, June 1949

With covers dated on or close to June 1949, ACG finally gained a company symbol designed by Hamilton, seen here at lower left on this cover with a revised logo.

From ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #7 & 12

Here are the largest versions I could find from the early uses in this title. The first one had thinner letters, the second had thicker ones for ACG, and a more hand-lettered style above. Both use a shield shape. There might have been other versions later. Soon they were appearing at the top of the covers, giving readers another clue about books they might like.

From LOVELORN #1, Aug 1949

The second ACG romance title, which also did pretty well, and has a better logo. With a title change to CONFESSIONS OF THE LOVELORN with issue #76, it lasted 114 issues to 1960. Hamilton’s thought balloon border here is different than most, alternating very small and very large loops.

From SPY AND COUNTERSPY #1, Aug 1949

With the cold war on between the Soviet Union and the United States, spy stories were all the rage, and ACG tried this title. I like Hamilton’s bold title with thin telescoping and effective shading in an energetic burst. The other lettering is great, too, including the bolder than usual central caption.

From SPY-HUNTERS #3, Dec 1949–Jan 1950

With the third issue, the book became SPY-HUNTERS and ran for 24 issues. Interesting that the perspective and burst go in the opposite direction this time.

From FUNNY FILMS #1, Sept 1949

Another popular genre was comics about cartoon characters, but licensing those cost money, and the best ones were all taken, mostly by Dell, so ACG simply made up their own and presented them as if they were on film. Ed Hamilton might have designed the entire cover except for the character art. Inside he lettered some of the stories, not all. The book ran 28 issues.

The 1950 federal census finds Ed and Alice still living in the same apartment in Queens as in the 1940 census. No other family members are listed. Ed’s job is Commercial Artist with his own business, so a freelancer. I had wondered if perhaps he was on a salary at ACG, but that suggests he wasn’t, even though the company kept him very busy.

From SEARCH FOR LOVE #1, Feb 1950

A third romance title was tried, with I think the best Hamilton logo of the lot, but it only lasted two issues. The ACG company symbol is now at the top twice.

From OPERATION: PERIL #1, Oct 1950

This looks like a fun anthology, long-time ACG artist Odgen Whitney was allowed to sign his name on the cover, something rarely seen at the company to this point. I’m not sure what the blob behind OPERATION is meant to be, oil? PERIL is the selling point, and much larger. It lasted 16 issues.

From SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE #1, March 1951

Another adventure anthology, this is about as close to the war genre as ACG got, and it’s not very close, despite the title. Ogden Whitney again signs the cover art. I like the fencing sword piercing the logo by Ed. One thing to notice about Hamilton’s cover lettering, it’s generally done with thin strokes and outlines compared to the bolder, thicker shapes used at other companies like Marvel and DC. Somehow that gives it less impact, but it does make it stand apart from the crowd.

From FORBIDDEN WORLDS #1, July 1951

The second “horror” title from ACG was similar to the first, and did equally well, running 145 issues to 1967. The ACG horror titles are the ones I remember seeing as a child. I found them interesting, but usually opted for superheroes with my money. I like the rough bottom edges and texture in the logo. Note that first issues rarely had “No. 1” on them. Newsstands were already overcrowded, and owners were reluctant to put out new titles. Companies hoped that by not putting the issue number on first issues, they might get some owners who weren’t paying attention to put them out. It must have worked.

From FORBIDDEN WORLDS #1, July 1951

Hamilton continued to letter and probably design all the ACG house ads like this one, but the lettering lacked the variety and impact of those done by Ira Schnapp at DC, perhaps partly because there was too much text.

From FORBIDDEN WORLDS #1, July 1951

On story pages, Hamilton’s lettering was often condensed and small to get the large amounts of text into the panels while leaving room for the art, by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta in this case. The serif lettering in the first panel would have taken extra time.

From OUT OF THE NIGHT #1, Feb 1952

This horror title has what I think is Ed Hamilton’s most effective logo of the line. The black background fading away in a dot pattern and the wavy letters seem pretty creepy to me. It lasted 17 issues.

From DIZZY DAMES #1, Sept 1952

I’m not sure who this was intended to appeal to, seems like girls would have found it offensive, and boys uninteresting. It lasted six issues. I consider the logo to be Hamilton’s worst.

From SKELETON HAND IN SECRETS OF THE SUPERNATURAL #1, Sept 1952

This book has a much too long title, but Hamilton wisely emphasized the first two words. I think he missed a good idea by not making the words look more like bones, or putting a skeleton hand in the logo, though. It lasted six issues.

From THE CLUTCHING HAND #1, July 1954

Someone at ACG found hands scary, apparently. The words around the logo are all ones used by EC Comics titles that would soon be banned by the new Comics Code. I don’t like this logo much, but it would work better if it was larger.

From COMMANDER BATTLE AND THE ATOMIC SUB #1, July 1954

Another ACG title that skirts the edges of war comics, and I think their only attempt to join the fad for 3D, though it wasn’t really that, just drawn with lots of depth, and kind of a cheat. Ed Hamilton’s logo and cover lettering with deep telescoping is effective and uses gray tones well.

From BILLY AND BETTY, PILOT JIM AND MISS SUNBEAM IN ADVENTURES IN SPACE, no number, 1955

This is the kind of comics size giveaway produced by ACG’s Custom Comics division. Generally the covers were printed on the same newsprint as the interiors to save money, and page counts are often unknown, but I would say eight or 16 pages were likely. Kids probably enjoyed them, no matter how odd. Ed’s logo mimics the Sunbeam bread logo.

From YOUNG HEROES #35, Feb 1955

ACG was dipping their toes in action hero comics with this title, and started with issue #35 to fool retailers into displaying it. It only lasted three issues. I like Hamilton’s logo, but whoever pasted it on the cover mistakenly cut out the opening of the O so the art showed through. It should have been part of the telescoping.

From YOUNG HEROES #35, Feb 1955

Ed did a nice Old English character logo and some fine lettering on the lead story. In the indicia we see the ACG business office is at 45 West 45th Street, Manhattan. The editor is Richard E. Hughes, and the business Manager is Frederick H. Iger, who bought out Ben Sangor some time in this year and became the sole owner of the company, though perhaps Harry Donenfeld was a silent partner. Fred was related by marriage to both Harry and his business partner Jack Liebowitz, and his uncle was DC letterer Ira Schnapp. Jay (Schnapp) Emmett, founder of the Licensing Corporation of America division of Warner Communications, was a cousin. More about all that in THIS article.

From THE HOODED HORSEMAN #21, May 1955

This western title seems like an attempt to imitate The Lone Ranger. It lasted five issues. Hamilton’s logo style is an interesting choice, more heroic than western with block serifs on some parts of the letters. I like the mask around THE.

From UNKNOWN WORLDS #1, Aug 1960

It took a while for ACG to launch a third horror title, which was packaged more like science fiction. I like the side banner lettering. One thing about the logo that always puzzled me was the strange shape of the telescoping behind the right legs of the K and R. It looks completely wrong. Why did Ed do that, I wonder? The cover art is signed by Kurt Schaffenberger, who did a lot of work for the company in the 1960s before going exclusively with DC. ACG had joined the Comics Code late, and perhaps reluctantly, but I don’t think their books changed much because of it. This is the first ACG title to have an issue #1 label.

From MIDNIGHT MYSTERY #1, Jan 1961

This horror/science fiction title lasted only seven issues. I like Hamilton’s logo and cover lettering, he saves space in the bottom banner with lower case.

From MIDNIGHT MYSTERY #1, Jan 1961

Inside, perhaps influenced by credits sometimes appearing at DC (in editor Julius Schwartz’s books), the company tried having the writer and artist introduce each story. The artists were real, but all the stories were written by editor Richard Hughes, so the writers were made up, all with different names and appearances. Hughes used the Shane O’Shea pen name in other places too.

From MAGIC AGENT #1, Jan 1962

ACG put out this attempt to join the superhero revival, but it lasted only three issues, and was more of a spy story mixed with magic and horror, perhaps ahead of its time. The Vertigo imprint at DC in the 1980s would have gone for it, I bet. The logo is simple but effective, with the angled bottom ends of each A adding interest.

From HERBIE #1, April 1964

The company never seemed to know what to do with the superhero idea until Richard Hughes came up with this satirical approach. Herbie was the opposite of everything heroic, but his power was vast. He was the secret dream of every nerd reading comics, and his stories were clever and funny. After a run in FORBIDDEN WORLDS, his own title launched, running for 23 issues until 1967, when the company stopped doing newsstand comics. Ed Hamilton and artist Ogden Whitney teamed on the logo, creating perhaps the best and funniest one the line had seen. It’s the title and character that ACG is best known for.

From HERBIE #9, April 1965, original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The book did make fun of Herbie’s fatness, but the character always got his revenge by saving the day and being excellent at everything he tried, even if he was barely trying. Richard Hughes wrote all the stories, Ogden Whitney drew them, and Ed Hamilton lettered them, here using a wedge-tipped pen again for the first time in a while.

From GASP! #1, March 1967

This final new horror title lasted just four issues, and in 1967, Fred Iger decided to stop publishing newsstand comics and concentrate on custom comics, which we must assume were making more money for him. The business was changing, Marvel was on the rise with a wave of new popular superheroes, and ACG didn’t seem to have creators who could do that, or perhaps Iger just wasn’t interested in trying to follow that trend.

Iger’s Custom Comics continued to put out promotional books like these from the late 1960s through the 1970s and into the 1980s. Most had logos by Ed Hamilton, as these do, and probably lettering by him inside. I’m guessing Ed was fine with his reduced workload, he turned 67 in 1967 after all, and his very busy years with ACG had probably left him able to at least partially retire, with the custom comics as his only work.

Ed Hamilton died Dec 1, 1979, his last residence is given as Long Island City, Queens. He’s buried in Flushing, NY, sharing a tombstone with his parents and sister Catherine. Alice died in 1989, she had been living at the same address. As far as I know they had no children. Ed will be remembered by comics fans for his many fine efforts for ACG, where he lettered and designed just about everything, setting the style for the publisher as few letterers have been able to do.

More details on Hamilton’s life and his 1930 newspaper strip are on Alex Jay’s Blog, thanks Alex!!

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

2 thoughts on “ED HAMILTON – Letterer Part 2

  1. James Ladd

    An enjoyable series, Todd! I detected some non-DC Kurt Schaffenberger art in the final couple of panels above. I remember seeing the Herbie title in the early sixties and wondering what kind of character he was…I regret not buying an issue! Thanks for giving us some fascinating looks at the comics industry through your blogs!

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