Going through issues of DC’s romance comics looking for the lettering of Gaspar Saladino, I found many examples of this feature, usually one page, but occasionally two, beginning in 1959 and running to 1966 in all seven titles in the DC Romance Group of the time. There’s no doubt the lettering is by Saladino, and he might also have hand-drawn the feature title, as some of the curved shapes seem a bit off model for type. Comparing the art to other romance comics art in the issues, I gradually came to focus on two unusual things. First, the style is not typical of romance artists in those books like John Romita, Tony Abruzzo, Bill Draut, Arthur Peddy and Jay Scott Pike. The art is very stylized, almost impressionistic, purposely exaggerated, but beyond that, the faces and and anatomy seem a little amateurish too, as if done by someone who was not as accomplished a figure artist as those men. Second, the inking is done with a dry brush almost exclusively, something rarely seen on other DC romance art. This made me wonder if Gaspar might be the artist as well as the letterer.
Saladino had studied fashion illustration in high school with the idea of pursuing that as a career. His plans were interrupted by service in the Army right after World War Two, but when he was back home in New York in 1947, he tried to get work as a fashion illustrator with little success, and finally gave up that idea and followed many of his high school classmates into comics, being hired by DC editor Julius Schwartz as a letterer in late 1949. Gaspar worked mainly in pen and ink, but on logos and titles he often used a dry brush with great effect. I wondered if someone at DC, or even Gaspar himself, had suggested he do fashion illustration art for the romance comics. It seemed a plausible idea.
I contacted Gaspar’s daughter Lisa, who thought it was an interesting question, and she looked around in her mother’s house, Gaspar’s home for decades until his death in 2016. In a closet she found a large pile of romance pages like this one, mostly Romance in Fashion. My theory was right! There’s no other reason Gaspar would have the original art for those pages than that he was the artist. She sent photos of a few like this one. I was hoping to get some of them scanned, but Lisa told me they’re too fragile, saying “the paper is yellowed and starting to shred,” so I gave up on that idea. (Note that I’ve brightened them in these photos.) Lisa added that Gaspar never protected anything, he just threw things in a closet. My guess is these art pages were returned to him in the early 1980s when DC was clearing out a large backlog of original art from storage and returning it to artists when they could identify and find them. These pages have likely been in that closet for about 40 years. In this photo, the dry brush line work is even more obvious, notice how all the lines are uneven and textured, and vary greatly in width.
This photo from Lisa shows an example with lots of detail and texture, and it must have taken a long time to do. Having no full figures left room for lots of items.
This closer look shows the dry brush line work, especially on the thickest lines, but also others, while the textures are a combination of pen and brush. I remembered seeing art like this in newspapers and magazines growing up, and I wondered if I could find examples that might have inspired Gaspar. I asked my friend and fellow comics historian Alex Jay to look, and among those he found, the work of one artist stood out.
Esther M. Larson was born in Connecticut in 1919. As a child she showed precocious art talent, and after graduating from high school in Greenwich, CT, she was awarded a scholarship at The American School of Design, where she studied fine art. Her professional career started in 1942 at “Women’s Wear Daily,” and after changing jobs a few times, she found a home with upscale department store Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, where she worked as their fashion illustrator for 30 years.
All of Larson’s fashion designs Alex found have a similar impressionistic look, and often use dry brush as seen in these examples. They appeared in many newspapers and magazines like “The New York Times,” “The New York Herald Tribune,” VOGUE, HARPER’S BAZAAR and TOWN AND COUNTRY. She also worked editorially for these and other magazines.
After Bergdorf Goodman was sold in the 1970s, Larson worked for Lord & Taylor and other companies, and she created unique fashion illustrations for stores throughout America. She was the highest paid fashion illustrator of her time. Larson died in 2015 at age 96, an obituary is HERE. I see a lot of her influence in Gaspar’s fashion art, from the dry brush line work to the loose, impressionistic figures and the detailed patterns.
These Romance in Fashion pages appeared often in all the DC romance titles from late 1959 to late 1966. In the beginning, as above, they were probably written by the romance editor or assistant editor with reference provided from current fashion magazines, probably editor Phyllis Reed at the start.
Readers must have liked the feature, and after a while they began mailing in their own fashion ideas. That made things easier for the editors and Gaspar, who only needed to adapt reader ideas in the style he was using, and perhaps he consulted fashion magazine photos or even Larson illustrations for poses. As you can see, the address for mailing in fashion drawings became part of the feature. Arleigh Publishing was the name DC used for the Romance Group at the time, but the address is the same as the one for National (DC) Comics, 575 Lexington Avenue, NYC.
Here’s an example offered as a coloring page, and the line work and textures are even more striking without color on them.
Examples of Romance in Fashion appear in all the romance titles in these amounts, FALLING IN LOVE (14), GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES (17), GIRLS’ ROMANCES (13), HEART THROBS (13 including one two-pager), SECRET HEARTS (15 including two two-pagers), YOUNG LOVE (14 including one two-pager), and YOUNG ROMANCE (11) for a total of 97 features and 101 pages.
After Romance in Fashion ended, a similar fashion feature began called Mad Mad Modes for Moderns. It was usually two pages, and the art was often by DC regular Jay Scott Pike, as in the signed example above, or by newcomer Elizabeth Berube. Notice how different the figures are, much more in the typical romance comic style. Like Saladino, Berube’s art was also very stylized, but in a different way, influenced by Peter Max and other 1960s pop art.
Gaspar did letter some of these, like this one also drawn by Pike, whose linework sometimes has elements of dry-brush similar to Gaspar, but most of his lines are smoother, and his faces are definitely more in the romance comics style.
A few of them from this title in 1969 again seem to have both art and lettering (except for the feature title) by Gaspar. Look how different the faces are from the one above, for instance.
These photos from Lisa of the original art from the Mad Mad Modes feature in GIRLS’ ROMANCES #144 confirm that he did do some of them. The brown square on the first page is where the pasted-on title was, it’s fallen off. I love the large music note with lettering in it in the second page, and Gaspar’s dry brush line work is even in use on the outer border. Gaspar was very busy at DC in 1969 doing logos, covers and house ads as well as story lettering, so he must really have enjoyed doing these fashion pages to manage to fit them in.
I believe Saladino did both the lettering and the art on these Mad Mad Modes two-pagers: FALLING IN LOVE #107-111 and GIRLS’ ROMANCES #144 & 147. It’s possible there are a few more, as I don’t have art scans for all of the 1969 Romance Group issues. ADDED: thanks to Jacque Nodell for adding two more of these from GIRLS’ ROMANCES 143 and 146, see comments for her excellent romance comics website. That’s nine features or 18 pages. Adding these to the 101 pages of Romance In Fashion, we have a total of 119 pages of fashion art by Saladino, a large body of work!
At least one two page Mad Mad Modes was completed by Saladino but not used, as this photo from Lisa attests. At the top are the reference number B370 and the note “Written Off 5/23/75.” Items that were written off were in inventory but never printed, and this one was returned to Gaspar.
The Grand Comics Database is the source of record for comics creator credits, and for most of these features they list either no credits, or just Gaspar as the letterer. A few have artist guesses with a question mark, regular DC romance artists like Jay Scott Pike. The GCD changes over time as new information comes in and new indexers take part. Some romance issues are more complete than others. For YOUNG LOVE, two of the Romance in Fashion features are credited to artist Jay Scott Pike with a source. #41 says “Pike listing from Nadle’s paybook,” and #44 says “Pike is the credit for this story in Miller’s paybook.” That refers to editors Larry Nadle and Jack Miller. I don’t know anything about their pay record books, but I think if they do show that, these are errors. The Romance in Fashion page from #41 was shown earlier in this article, and the one from #44 is above. Both are in the Saladino style and not in Pike’s style, as also shown above.
After reading this, Gaspar’s daughter Lisa wrote, “My dad’s first love was always fashion illustration. He is definitely smiling — and probably embarrassed over the attention (smile).” Gaspar Saladino has long been hailed as one of the best letterers in comics history, but his work as a fashion artist for DC has been unknown up to now. I hope he can be credited for these pages of art in the Grand Comics Database in the future, adding to his accomplishments listed there. Below are the art credits in detail.
Romance in Fashion feature, one page except as noted:
FALLING IN LOVE #31, 33-35, 37, 39, 49-51, 54, 72, 76-77, 81
GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES #84-85, 89-90, 96, 98, 101, 105-106, 108, 112-115, 117, 121-122
GIRLS’ ROMANCES #77, 82, 95, 99 (2 single pages), 100 (2 single pages), 103, 105, 109, 111-112, 117
HEART THROBS #63, 65-67, 69-70, 75, 91 (2 single pages), 94, 97, 98 (2 pages), 101-102
SECRET HEARTS #61, 63, 65 (2 pages), 70, 76, 78, 80, 85, 88, 96 (2 single pages), 106 (2 pages), 107-109
YOUNG LOVE #39 (2 single pages), 40 (2 single pages), 41 (2 single pages), 42 (2 single pages), 44 (2 single pages), 49, 52, 55 (2 pages), 58
YOUNG ROMANCE #126 (2 single pages), 127 (2 single pages), 128-129, 130 (2 single pages), 137 (2 single pages), 138
Mad Mad Modes for Moderns feature, all two pages each:
FALLING IN LOVE #107-111
GIRLS’ ROMANCES #143, 144, 146, 147
I’ll show more examples when I catalog Gaspar’s lettering for each DC romance title in the series of articles “GASPAR SALADINO in” on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.