GASPAR SALADINO in ACTION COMICS

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #308, Jan 1964

After writing a series of blog articles about the logos and another about the house ads of my favorite letterer, Gaspar Saladino, I thought I had written enough about his unknown work, since many of the covers and stories he lettered were already credited in the Grand Comics Database, the best source for creator credits in comics. And, nearly all the stories lettered by Saladino from mid-1977 on were credited on the title pages, so that meant much more of his work was already known to readers who were paying attention than was the case with his predecessor, Ira Schnapp, who received only two printed story credits in his long career. That’s what I thought, but as a test, I decided to do a list of Gaspar’s work in this seminal and important DC Comics title to see what was actually in the GCD. I was dismayed to find that few of his covers were credited (at least the ones I spot-checked), and of course none of the stories he lettered before 1977 were either. Superman stories were never a regular assignment for Saladino, so there weren’t a lot, but I still wanted to get his credits reported so that eventually they can be added to the GCD. Over time I plan to work on indexes of Gaspar’s lettering work in all DC titles. I’ll discuss covers first, then stories in each of these articles.

Above is the first ACTION cover lettered by Saladino at a time when Ira Schnapp was doing almost all of them, but occasionally he was not available, and Gaspar was assigned the work. By comparing this cover lettering to others of the period, you can see that the balloon letters are wider and more angular than Schnapp’s, and his title and display lettering, as in the bottom banner, is also more angular. The outline around the word SUPERMAN is thinner than what Schnapp usually did, as are the balloon borders. Gaspar had been lettering stories for DC since late 1949, and he had plenty of experience doing balloons and story titles. He was a talented letterer whose work stands above many others, but it did take him a while to get comfortable with high-profile assignments like covers. I think this one is quite good.

From ACTION COMICS #345, Jan 1967

Gaspar’s second appearance as cover letterer on this title came a few years later, and I think is less successful than the first one. The layout of the large caption box seems awkward, with white areas and uneven line spacing, and the balloon layouts and borders are also tentative and not as good as they could be. Saladino was still learning how to do this, and perhaps rushed here.

From ACTION COMICS #358, Jan 1968

By the fall of 1967, when this cover was lettered, Gaspar had been given the job of revitalizing DC’s style and design look by former freelance artist, now Editorial Director Carmine Infantino, who felt that Ira Schnapp’s work was old-fashioned and that the company needed a design face-lift. Gaspar rose to the challenge, and here you can see him approaching cover lettering with more confidence and style. His ragged letters on HOMICIDE add energy, and even the balloon lettering is more varied and emphatic than what Ira had usually been doing. The Neal Adams cover art doesn’t hurt!

From ACTION COMICS #383, Dec 1969

By 1969, Schnapp had left DC and Gaspar was lettering nearly all the covers. This one again shows a more confident approach, with well-designed balloons and caption that fill the available spaces without seeming cramped. Unlike story lettering, cover lettering was done separately from the art, usually on thinner art paper. In most cases it was resized by making photostats and cut out, positioned, and pasted on the art by someone in the DC production department, so those decisions were not in Gaspar’s hands, though he would have indicated where things should go if there was any question.

From ACTION COMICS #400, May 1971

By 1971, Gaspar’s energy and creativity were frequently on display on DC covers, and this is a good example. Everything about the lettering here adds interest to the art and the subject.

From ACTION COMICS #427, Sept 1973

Gaspar’s balloon borders on covers have been getting thicker, which not only helps them read well but makes cutting and pasting them easier. The burst does a nice job of drawing attention without covering the figure.

From ACTION COMICS #458, April 1976

By 1976, the overall cover design and trade dress at DC was kind of a mess, but Saladino’s caption for this cover is excellent, particularly the treatment of BLACKROCK with tucked letters and texture.

From ACTION COMICS #529, March 1982

The trade dress and DC bullet symbol are much improved by 1982, and Saladino’s cover lettering works well to enhance the action and excitement of the art and situation. The round inset for backup feature Aquaman works well too, I think.

From ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #608, July 1988

For a while in the late 1980s, ACTION became a longer weekly anthology, and Gaspar continued to contribute some fine cover lettering, though type was being used more often.

From ACTION COMICS #675, March 1992

In the early 1990s, the regular story letterer for ACTION was Bill Oakley, and I believe he also did much of the cover lettering that didn’t use type. This is the last cover lettering I think is by Saladino.

From ACTION COMICS #163, Dec 1951

In the 1950s, Mort Weisinger, editor of the Superman titles, had his regular letterers, and Gaspar was not one of them, but he did a few stories like this one. Saladino had been hired by editor Julius Schwartz in late 1949 to letter his stories, and soon was also lettering many edited by Robert Kanigher, who shared the office with Julie. For his first few years at DC, Gaspar worked in the offices every day, and was more likely to be asked to letter stories by other editors there who needed a quick fill-in. Gaspar’s balloon lettering was always unique and strong, but this page shows him still not quite sure how to handle the story title, and the balloon shapes could also be better.

From ACTION COMICS #165, Feb 1952

Gaspar was more often assigned backup features in ACTION like this one. He was already doing western stories for Schwartz, and seems more comfortable with Vigilante than with Superman. Note the open first letter with drop shadow in the top caption, something Gaspar was doing at the time.

From ACTION COMICS #172, Sept 1952

Science fiction was another story type Gaspar was doing for Julie Schwartz, so again Tommy Tomorrow was perhaps a more comfortable fit for him. These backups were also shorter, six or eight pages rather than twelve, so it would have been easier to fit them into his schedule. The story title is still what I’d call early Saladino work.

From ACTION COMICS #363, May 1968

After eight stories in the 1950s, we next find Saladino’s work on this Supergirl story from 1968, but he only lettered the first page, someone else did the rest. I’m not sure why that might have happened, perhaps the editor didn’t like what the other letterer had done, or perhaps there was a last-minute rewrite, and Gaspar was available. In any case, you can see his story title is much more accomplished now.

From ACTION COMICS #365, July 1968

In this issue, Saladino lettered both the Superman lead story and the Supergirl backup, perhaps filling in for whoever usually did them. In this story title, Gaspar goes his own way with the name SUPERMAN, and I like it.

From ACTION COMICS #413, June 1972

Gaspar continued to make occasional appearances in the 1970s as letterer on Superman and other stories in ACTION. I find the title on this one particularly amazing.

From ACTION COMICS #419, Dec 1972

Editor Julius Schwartz took over ACTION with this issue, and he tapped Gaspar to letter the first installment of a new backup feature by writer Len Wein and artists Carmine Infantino and Dick Giordano. Gaspar’s feature logo was reused on later stories, but he only lettered this first one. Note his creative sound effects.

From ACTION COMICS #443, Jan 1975

This was a 100-page issue, mostly reprints except for the lead story, and Schwartz had Gaspar do this handsome title page lettering. I hope he got a little extra money for all that labor. Lots of variety, but it all works together well.

From ACTION COMICS #449, July 1975

This was an odd idea for a filler page, perhaps Julie’s idea. Gaspar did a nice header and lettered the new “funny” balloons. These appeared in a few other places.

From ACTION COMICS #500, Oct 1979

By 1979, Gaspar had earned a reputation as the go-to letterer for high-profile projects, and this 64-page recap of Superman’s life to that point was one. I think it’s the longest Superman story ever to appear in a monthly comic, and the lettering is gorgeous.

From ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #601, May 24, 1988

With this issue, ACTION became a large weekly anthology for a while with a half dozen continuing series. Gaspar lettered all nine parts of Wild Dog’s first serial in the book, and it’s again excellent work, though I have to point out I did the feature logo. Sadly, the cheap newsprint paper did not help any of the lettering.

From ACTION COMICS #757, Sept 1999

Gaspar lettered only two Superman stories for ACTION in the 1990s, and this is the second and last one. His balloon lettering had changed some by this time, becoming even more angular, but I think it still looks great. Note the little feathers on the A in HAWK in the title. In a few years, DC would move to an all digital workflow and no longer employ any letterers like Gaspar who worked only with pen and ink, which is a great shame, but considering that he was a busy letterer from late 1949 to around 2003, he had a good run.

Here’s a list of the ACTION covers lettered by Gaspar Saladino:

308, 345, 358, 362-418, 420-423, 426-436, 438-449, 451-452, 455, 458-463, 467, 475, 480, 486-487, 491, 493, 495-498, 502, 504-505, 508-509, 512-514, 516-521, 523, 525-538, 542-554, 556, 558-559, 561-567, 569-587, 590-596, 602, 604-608, 612-615, 618-620, 624, 626, 637-638, 645, 668-669, 671-675.

That’s a total of 210 covers, a substantial amount of fine, creative work.

Below is a list of the story pages Saladino lettered for this title:

#163 Dec 1951 Superman 10pp

#165 Feb 1952 Vigilante 8pp

#169 June 1952 Vigilante 8pp

#171 Aug 1952 Vigilante 8pp

#172 Sept 1952 Tommy Tomorrow 6pp

#180 May 1953 Tommy Tomorrow 6pp

#187 Dec 1953 Superman 12pp

#189 Feb 1954 Tommy Tomorrow 6pp

#363 May 1968 Supergirl page 1 only

#365 July 1968 Superman 12pp, Supergirl 12pp

#367 Sep 1968 Superman 14pp

#370 Dec 1968 Supergirl 11pp

#391 Aug 1970 Superman page 1 only

#413 June 1972 Superman 14pp

#419 Dec 1972 Human Target 10pp

#443 Jan 1975 Contents 1pp, Sea Devils recap 2pp

#449 July 1975 Comedy Covers 1pp

#462 Aug 1976 Krypto 6pp

#500 Oct 1979 Superman 64pp

#569 July 1985 Superman (story #2) 8pp

#582 Aug 1986 Superman 24pp

#601 May 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#602 May 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#603 June 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#604 June 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#605 June 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#606 June 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#607 July 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#608 July 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#609 July 1988 Wild Dog 8pp

#749 Dec 1998 Superman 22pp

#757 Sept 1999 Superman 22pp

That adds up to 360 pages on this title, not a lot for Gaspar, but he was doing plenty of other things, with a focus on war stories and all the titles edited by Julius Schwartz.

From ACTION COMICS #51, Aug 1942, “Silly Willy” by Henry Boltinoff

One more thing I want to address. On the Wikipedia article about Gaspar it says, “He did much of the lettering for the humor strips of Henry Boltinoff in Action Comics.” I don’t know where that information came from, but I find no evidence of it. Above are panels from a Boltinoff strip from 1942. Henry was the brother of DC editor Murray Boltinoff. I don’t know if that’s why he was able to place so many short humor strips there, but he was already well established by this time. To me, it makes no sense for Henry to be getting someone else to letter his strips. He was clearly a cartoonist, writing and drawing everything, so why wouldn’t he also letter? This lettering seems in the same general style as his art. Second, the logistics of having someone else letter these short pieces is problematic. Too much back and forth for it to be profitable or time wise.

From ACTION COMICS #160, Sept 1951, “Little Pete” by Henry Boltinoff

Another sample from 1951 has lettering which is much the same. It’s somewhat larger, and more condensed, but the letter shapes are very much like those of 1942.

From ACTION COMICS #163, Dec 1951

This is a panel from a Superman story lettered by Gaspar Saladino early in his career. Compare it to the examples above, and you’ll see there’s very little similarity. These letters are wider, spaced more evenly, and look how angular the S is, with a straight central bar in the middle in most cases. I see nothing in the Boltinoff lettering that’s like this in more than a very general way.

From ACTION COMICS #201, “Shorty” by Henry Boltinoff

If Saladino was lettering for Boltinoff, that would surely have happened by 1954, the time of this example, but the lettering here looks just the same as the earlier Boltinoff examples to me. If the idea of Gaspar lettering for Boltinoff was a guess, I call it a wrong one. If anyone has evidence otherwise, I’d like to see it. Further, the Wikipedia article mentions only Boltinoff’s strips in ACTION, but he was doing them for every DC title. If Henry had a letterer who was not himself, it couldn’t have been Saladino, he was much too busy with his own DC work.

Look for more articles in this series in the future under “Gaspar Saladino In” on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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