GASPAR SALADINO in BLACKHAWK

All images © DC Comics. From BLACKHAWK #131, Dec 1958

Blackhawk and his band of air fighter pilots began at Quality Comics in 1941, largely the creation of Chuck Cuidera, and it quickly became the company’s best-selling title, at times rivaling Superman. When Quality decided to get out of comics in 1956, they sold or leased many of their properties to National (DC) Comics. DC knew a good thing, and they not only continued BLACKHAWK as a monthly comic, and there were only a few of those at the time at DC, they kept the creative team as well. Whether they also kept the letterer I don’t know, but Ira Schnapp was soon lettering all the covers, with Gaspar Saladino occasionally filling in for him, as on the one above. This cover lettering is more like what Saladino was doing on stories that anything else, and his wide, angular balloon lettering is clear and readable. Sometimes he tried harder to imitate Schnapp on covers, but not here. In the story title the word BLACKHAWKS has the top of each K angled, like the first K in the Quality logo by Al Grenet that DC continued to use for many years, but the bottoms of each K are horizontal like the second K.

From BLACKHAWK #185, June 1963

For some reason, and it may just be coincidence, Gaspar lettered more fill-in covers on this series than most. Here the word balloon is definitely by Saladino, but the story title is type.

From BLACKHAWK #187, Aug 1963

Two issues later, another fill in by Gaspar has him giving the word balloons more of a special treatment, as Schnapp always did. The letters are thicker and the end of each stroke is squared off probably with a small pen point. The story title on this one has the Ks in BLACKHAWK copying the first one in the logo more closely.

From BLACKHAWK #193, Feb 1964

The story title here is similar to the previous one in approach, while the top blurb is taking cues from what Ira Schnapp often did in similar situations.

From BLACKHAWK #198, July 1964

This cover lettering is similar to the last two, I see it as Saladino trying to conform to the styles of Schnapp, but with his own distinct approach peeking through in the wider letters.

From BLACKHAWK #205, Feb 1965

Much the same here, and you can see the book was drifting further and further from its World War Two roots and becoming more like other DC mystery, adventure, and science fiction titles.

From BLACKHAWK #210, July 1965

The last of the Saladino fill-in covers is looking less like Schnapp and a little more like what Gaspar would be doing a few years later on all the covers. Again, I don’t know why he did so many on this title.

From BLACKHAWK #239, Feb-March 1968

Some time in 1967, Gaspar was given a mandate by Carmine Infantino, who had moved from freelance artist to management, to take over Ira Schnapp’s role as the style setter for the company on logos, covers and house ads. Ira was still doing some of each, but on books with 1968 cover dates, their roles had switched, and Saladino was doing the majority of them. Schnapp was retired some time in 1968, and for the next decade Gaspar was the main DC style setter. He rose to the challenge with more energetic and creative cover lettering, but it took him a while to settle in. This cover is getting there, but still a bit uneven. Notice the blank space in the center of the caption, for instance.

From BLACKHAWK #240, AprilMay 1968

The following issue shows Saladino getting more creative and diving into the psychedelic styles that were popular at the time. Note that the frequency of publication had dropped from monthly to bimonthly, usually a sign of falling sales, so everyone on the book would have been trying hard to grab reader attention.

From BLACKHAWK #241, June-July 1968

This one-off logo treatment certainly grabs attention! I’m sure Gaspar lettered the handsome scroll caption on top of it, the logo might have been pencilled by cover artist Dick Dillin and inked by Saladino, it’s hard to say. Lots of drama here!

From BLACKHAWK #242, Aug-Sept 1968

Mark Evanier and I disagree about who designed this one-off logo, it might be by cover artist Pat Boyette, but certainly the large cover lettering at the bottom is by Saladino. The perspective on the first four lines is effective, too bad the story title doesn’t match it, but I think Gaspar felt it wouldn’t fit that way.

From BLACKHAWK #243, Oct-Nov 1968

Another one-off logo embedded in the Pat Boyette cover art, and probably Saladino was not involved. Did he do the cover blurb at the bottom? The block lettering is rather far from his usual styles, and somewhat uneven, so perhaps Boyette did that as well, and I won’t count this for Saladino. DC added the series name at the top in type so buyers wouldn’t miss it. This was the final issue of this series for a while.

From BLACKHAWK #249, Nov-Dec 1976

The book returned in 1976 for seven more issues, all with story lettering by Saladino except this issue, for which he did only the cover lettering. With eight more years of experience under his belt, Saladino’s work shows his confidence and established styles. This revival must not have sold well enough to continue.

From BLACKHAWK #251, Oct 1982

In 1982 there was another relaunch with writer Mark Evanier and artist Dan Spiegle on interiors. This one did better and lasted two years. The series went back to its roots in World War Two, with the original uniforms and a logo based on the Quality Al Grenet one by Tom Orzechowski. Saladino lettered some of the covers, including the burst on this one touting it as a first issue, though the original numbering was continued.

From BLACKHAWK #252, Nov 1982

One of the most visually frightening threats in the series was the War Wheel, and Gaspar’s weathered, bullet-ridden display lettering on this cover sells it well.

From BLACKHAWK #254, Jan 1983

Here’s a good example of working the logo into the cover blurb. More effective textured lettering on the final line.

From BLACKHAWK #262, Sept 1983

Putting Hitler on this Howard Chaykin cover upped the ante, and Saladino’s caption adds to the tension with his version of German Blackletter style in the last line.

From BLACKHAWK #271, July 1984

Dan Spiegle’s own cover art is a perfect choice for this title, and perhaps it should have been used more. I think I lettered the Evanier-Spiegle credits above the logo (picked up from previous issues), but the caption is by Gaspar.

From BLACKHAWK #244, Jan-Feb 1976

As I said earlier, Saladino lettered the interior stories of most of the 1976 issues beginning with this one, and it’s fine work with an exciting title. The second word balloon is almost a rectangle, a style more often seen from Artie Simek at Marvel. Partial credits were now common at DC, but did not yet include colorists and letterers.

From BLACKHAWK #245, March-April 1976

This page has an amazingly energetic sound effect, and the character name burst in the second panel is great, too.

From BLACKHAWK #247, July-Aug 1976

More dynamic sound effects on this page that add a lot to the storytelling.

To sum up, I found Gaspar Saladino lettering on these covers: 131, 185, 187, 193, 198, 205, 210, 239-242, 250-252, 254-256, 258, 262, 271-273, a total of 22. He also lettered the following Blackhawk stories:

#244 Jan-Feb 1976: 18pp

#245 March-April 1976: 18pp

#246 May-June 1976: 17pp

#247 July-Aug 1976: 17pp

#248 Sept-Oct 1976: 17pp

#250 Jan-Feb 1977: 17pp

That’s 104 pages in all. Other articles in this series are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog along with more you might enjoy.

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