The original artist and co-creator of Challengers was Jack Kirby, but by the time Gaspar Saladino began working on the title, he was long gone, having reimagined his team of daredevil adventurers with Stan Lee as The Fantastic Four. Gaspar was never a regular story letterer on this book, though he did letter four stories. Mainly he was the cover letterer, filling in often for Ira Schnapp in the mid 1960s, and taking over from him as the regular letterer with issue #62 in 1968. There were two earlier fill-ins by someone else in my opinion, the cover above is the first one that I believe is by Saladino. It features his wide, angular balloon lettering and his square title lettering that set it apart from the work of Schnapp.
On these early examples, Gaspar’s cover lettering works fine, but the captions are still somewhat tentative, as he was not yet used to doing them. The layout in the caption box tends to leave open spaces rather than filling it evenly.
A better example of that is on this cover, where the caption has lots of empty space that could have been filled with better-arranged lettering. It still reads fine and adds excitement.
There are so many early Saladino covers on this title, I have to think editor Murray Boltinoff preferred him to Ira Schnapp, and used him as often as he could. This one shows Gaspar getting a better handle on caption layout, and adding interest with an arrow caption.
Saladino really ramps up the energy in this burst caption with the emphatic WOW!, though the burst border is not as well done as later ones. He hasn’t yet hit on the correct idea of having all the inward points aiming at the center. It was around this time the title was recognized with an Alley Award for “Best Non-Superhero Group.” I have to wonder why DC didn’t give them powers, but it did make them unique.
This cover lettering is looking more tentative again, not filling the caption well, and with shapes that seem too uneven.
This was the point where Saladino took over from Ira Schnapp on most of the DC covers, and Schnapp left the company soon after. Gaspar’s open lettering here is more creative and typical of his preffered styles, no longer trying to fit in with Schnapp’s traditions. I think it adds a lot to the cover, and gives it a fresh feel.
By issue #66, Schnapp’s logo had been replaced by a Saladino one. Not his best effort, but certainly adding energy with the textured letters of UNKNOWN. Gaspar’s open story title floats over the art, feeling more integrated.
The lettering on this cover shows Saladino adding more diverse display lettering in the balloons, and effective textured lettering in the story title.
This is an interesting combination. By this time slipping sales had turned the book to a reprint title filled with early Kirby stories from the SHOWCASE tryouts. The cover art and balloon by Saladino are new, but the caption is by Ira Schnapp from the original issue, SHOWCASE #12. The book ended here for about two years…
…then came back with a few more issues of Kirby reprints under new covers. Gaspar lettered the handsome burst balloon on this one. Compare the burst here with the one on issue #54 to see how much he’s improved his technique.
In 1977 the book returned again with a new logo and all new stories. Saladino did cover lettering for this and the following issue, and I think it’s excellent, though the placement over the figures is not ideal. On the other had, where else could it go? If I were in charge, I would have dropped the top caption, shortened the bottom one and put it where the top one is now.
At this time, Challengers stories were being lettered by Stan Starkman and others. When I came to this splash page for issue #47, the obvious creativity and style of Saladino’s story title jumped out at me. It really is excellent!
Saladino’s sound effects were also far superior to what others were doing on the book. His years of war comics experience paid off here. notice how he adds a thicker outline around all the letters in some to make them bolder.
The title on this issue is wacky, but works for the odd creatures in the story.
Gaspar’s final story lettering for the series has another energetic title, though I’m not sure the mix of styles is as successful here. I do like the texture in THING, though.
In 1997 DC launched a new Challengers series that ran 18 issues. Gaspar lettered two stories, the first is above. It’s a different, muddier look, but the lettering is great.
Here’s the other story with another fine title.
To sum up, I found Gaspar Saladino lettering on these CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN covers: 36, 39, 45, 53-54, 57, 62-77, 80, 86-87, that’s 25 in all. He also lettered the stories below:
#47 Dec 1965-Jan 1966: 11pp (first story)
#52 Oct-Nov 1966: 23pp
#54 Feb-March 1967: 24pp
#60: Feb-March 1968: 24pp
#12 Jan 1998: 22pp
#17 June 1998: 22pp
That’s 126 pages in all on this title. Other articles in this series and more you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.