DETECTIVE COMICS is one of the longest-running titles at DC, having begun as the third title under original publisher Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson in 1937, and running uninterrupted for over 800 issues until 2011. It may also be the title with the longest span of work from Gaspar Saladino, beginning with a story in 1952, and ending with a cover in 1990, a length of almost 40 years. Gaspar was not a regular letterer on the covers until his predecessor Ira Schnapp left the company in 1968, but thereafter he lettered most of the covers until the late 1980s. Inside the book, Gaspar did only one early story, but became a regular letterer when editorial reins were handed to Julius Schwartz in 1964, along with Batman’s own title. From then until early 1968, when he got too busy with other work, Gaspar lettered at least one of two stories for the series, and often both. I will begin with his cover lettering, then move to stories. This will be a long post. I considered breaking it into two parts, but decided to keep it all in one. Before 1968, Gaspar occasionally filled in on covers for Schnapp when Ira wasn’t available, and the one above shows his typical balloon lettering and a blurb using his story title styles, more angular than Schnapp. On some early fill-in covers, Gaspar seemed to be trying to match the Schnapp style at least a little, but not here. The treatment of the words BATMAN and ROBIN is almost a parody of Schnapp, but the rest is all Saladino.
Julie Schwartz wanted a more realistic look for the art on his issues, and that’s evident on this cover compared to the previous one. Gaspar did fine on the top blurb, but the caption is poorly organized with too much white space. It would take him a while to get used to doing cover lettering, some early examples like this one are not so good.
The Saladino caption at the bottom of this cover is a little better, but the word COMEDY doesn’t look right in this context, the letters are too thin in places and too thick in others, even allowing for the intended humorous style.
Gaspar’s large lettering on this cover, probably worked out with artist Carmine Infantino, looks much better than the previous effort and adds excitement to the cover, though the style of the words BATMAN and ROBIN again seems like a poor imitation of Ira Schnapp’s Art Deco style as seen in the Batman logo. It’s interesting that the two titles are visualized as hardcover books, something that wouldn’t really happen for decades.
With Saladino now lettering most of the stories, it made sense for him to be on the covers too when possible, and this one is full of cover text probably written by Schwartz. The large word balloon is a bit uneven, and might have worked better split into two balloons. The question-mark caption is great, though, and shows a good use of the space available.
The lettering on this cover is all well done, and I like the unusual rounded rectangles of the balloon shapes, something Saladino would try off and on for a few years. The caption shows a good use of the space, and of different styles that work well together. Around this time Carmine Infantino had joined the DC staff as Art Director, giving him more say in who lettered what, and over the next year he would gradually shift the more important lettering tasks—logos, covers and house ads—from Schnapp to Saladino. It makes sense that covers he drew himself might be among the first to see this change, but Schnapp did still letter some of them for a while until he left the company.
This issue was again planned out by Infantino and Saladino I think, and each did stellar work on it. I particularly like the rough brush-like treatment of the word STORM in the blurb. Notice that Gaspar is now using his own block letter style for the words BATMAN and ROBIN and not trying to imitate Ira.
With this issue, Saladino became the regular cover letterer of the series, though Schnapp did letter issue #373, his last. Gaspar had been given the mandate of providing a fresh approach to DC’s public image through his cover lettering, logos and house ads, and he rose to the challenge with fine work like this. The subject is humorous, but his word balloons manage to make it exciting anyway, and the blurb is full of interesting shapes and energy. The series was still feeling the influence of the camp comedy of the Batman TV show (1966-68), subverting editor Schwartz’s preference for a more serious approach.
That serious approach is evident on this cover. Saladino’s display lettering in the balloon is now masterfully adding to the drama, and I love the dry-brush story title on the wall.
The book would try to hover on the cusp of humor and drama for a while until the boost in sales from the TV show faded. This one is leaning toward humor again. Fine lettering in the balloon, though.
By this issue, under a new Saladino logo, the balance is leaning toward drama (or melodrama) again. Another example of Saladino’s experiments with rectangular balloons, and I like the style of SHE in the caption.
This charming cover seems to suggest the book is refocusing on its roots, though the villains might be right out of the TV show.
One way the book could return to its roots was for the Batman and Robin team to split, as it began to do here. Soon Batman was solo in most of these stories with Robin sometimes in his own backup stories or teamed with Batgirl. Did that large Saladino caption intrigue buyers enough to make the sale?
The dramatic but more realistic art of Neal Adams on covers further signaled that the comedy was over and mystery and intrigue would increase. I don’t know whose idea Man-Bat was, perhaps Julie, perhaps writer Frank Robbins, but Gaspar’s scary treatment of his name helped make him more menacing.
In this era of the title, almost anything might happen as long as it was scary and dramatic. Saladino’s lettering helps sell it in this unusual multiple panel cover.
Perhaps having Batman appear helpless so often was not such a good idea, but that was definitely a theme at DC at this time. The company was trying to figure out a formula that would work against the rise of Marvel Comics, and they thought this was it. Lots of fine Saladino lettering adds to the drama.
With this issue, the series became more of an anthology again, though with the backups being reprints. A new Saladino logo and sidebar made the cover busier, but the image is still effective. The old logo is present small, and would soon vanish.
By this issue the size was again smaller, and there was only one backup, but it was not a reprint. Gaspar’s sidebar lettering makes it seem like more, though the story title is type. The style of STOP gets attention, and perhaps some sales.
With this issue, editorial duties passed to Archie Goodwin, and the title returns even more to its roots by going back to the original logo. Gaspar’s bottom banner is excellent, and the new Manhunter series was perhaps the best thing in the Goodwin issues, but notice that the book is now bi-monthly, a sign of slipping sales.
By this time, the book was back under Julius Schwartz with help from E. Nelson Bridwell and Bob Rozakis. It had returned to monthly publication, a sign that sales had increased, and the caption by Saladino is creative and exciting. I love his version of THE BATMAN, notice the importance of THE.
This era of the series, with scripts by Steve Englehart and soon art by Marshall Rogers, was one I loved. The cover would not work nearly as well without Saladino’s explanatory balloons. Sorry to skip ahead a lot now, but I have to get to the end of this article somehow!
At this time, the series had become a large Dollar Comic featuring the entire Batman supporting cast, and even Jack Kirby’s Demon. A very busy cover, but Saladino’s labels, balloon and captions help make sense of it.
A simpler layout on this cover makes room for dramatic Saladino lettering that adds excitement and mystery.
I’m not a fan of the busy and fragmented layout on this cover, but it does have lots of great Gaspar lettering.
There’s only room for one small cover blurb here, so it needs to be distinctive and intriguing. Saladino succeeds on both counts, with texture adding grit to the character name.
Saladino not only did the top caption on this cover, but also the one-use Art Deco logo treatment, which I love and think should have been used more. He probably just did it as part of his cover lettering, perhaps from a layout by cover artist Klaus Janson.
As we get into the late 1980s, more and more DC covers used type for cover blurbs, and I did a lot of the ones that were hand-lettered. This is one of the final examples by Gaspar, who adds interest by giving the letters a slight up and down bounce and a rough outline.
Saladino’s final cover lettering was for this cover by Dick Sprang, one of the first Batman artists (working as an uncredited ghost artist for Bob Kane). Clearly, Gaspar had lost none of his skill for dramatic balloons. It’s too bad that changing styles prevented him from doing more.
Now, on to story lettering. The only story lettered by Saladino before 1964 was this one early in his career, probably a fill-in he was asked to do. Gaspar’s wide, angular lettering stands out from the crowd, and this page features some of his early style points: an open letter beginning the first caption with a black shape behind it, and captions with organic edges and small notches.
Editor Julie Schwartz’s approach to Batman and Robin was completely different from his predecessor Jack Schiff, and I found it a welcome change. Julie also brought in Elongated Man as the regular backup, a popular character from his THE FLASH title, as detailed here with handsome Saladino lettering. Gaspar was soon assigned as many DETECTIVE stories as he could handle. At least one story in each issue, and often both, featured his work.
Occasionally all three characters worked together in one book-length story. Carmine Infantino’s pencil art was often seen in the book, as here.
By this time, Saladino’s story titles were much improved from his early work, and his captions were well designed too, like this scroll.
Like the art, the lettering was confident, bold, energetic, and appealing.
It was a winning combination, the art and lettering played on each other’s strengths.
Then the Batman TV show hit the airwaves and was a big success. Editor Schwartz was pressured to make the comics more like the TV show, including the giant sound effects. Fortunately, Saladino was perfect for that. His were better than the TV ones.
Elongated Man had always had elements of humor, but they were now played up to a somewhat absurd degree, like the weird waggling nose on this page.
Both the stories and art were pushed toward the camp humor of the TV show, and the old Bob Kane style of art (usually by others) returned at times, as in this depiction of The Joker. Great story title by Saladino, but in a few months he had to give up his regular story lettering on the Batman titles. He was too busy doing logos, house ads, and cover lettering for the entire DC line.
This was Gaspar’s last regular story lettering on the book. He did more story lettering, but only occasionally, and others took over the bulk of it. Julie Schwartz turned to staffers like Milt Snapinn and Joe Letterese, and soon new freelancers Ben Oda and John Costanza were doing a lot too.
Gaspar found time to letter this Batman story. I like the brushed borders on the bottom caption.
Beginning with this issue, Saladino lettered the contents pages of some of the longer issues with an impressive variety of styles to make each feature unique.
This filler was probably a Julie Schwartz idea, Gaspar lettered a few of them at the time.
Another rare late Saladino Batman story. Note the addition of creator credits by this time, but he did not include his own name, though he could have. Perhaps he wasn’t used to doing that yet.
This was the last Batman story lettered by Gaspar in this title, and here he does include his lettering credit. The style of OLYMPUS suggests Greek carvings.
The last Saladino story lettering in DETECTIVE was for this insert promoting a toy line. His lettering is still creative and full of energy, and I like the connection of GF in the story title. This story also appeared in other DC titles, but I will only count it here.
To sum up, these are the covers with Gaspar Saladino lettering: 262, 329, 341, 353, 357, 364-365, 371-372, 374-411, 413-441, 443-447, 449, 451-452, 456-457, 464-467, 470-471, 482, 484-501, 503-504, 506-516, 518-525, 527-529, 533, 535-536, 538, 541-543, 545, 548-551, 553-555, 557, 559, 562, 564, 566-567, 573, 584, 624. That’s 159 in all.
Below are the stories lettered by Saladino. Features are abbreviated after the first appearance.
#190 Dec 1952: Pow-Wow Smith 8pp
#327 May 1964: Batman & Robin 15pp, Elongated Man 10pp
#328 June 1964: B&R 15pp
#329 July 1964: B&R 15pp
#330 Aug 1964: B&R 15pp, EM 10pp
#331 Sept 1964: B&R 24pp
#332 Oct 1964: B&R 15pp, EM 9pp
#333 Nov 1964: EM 10pp
#334 Dec 1964: EM 9pp
#335 Jan 1965: B&R 15pp
#336 Feb 1965: B&R 15pp
#337 March 1965: B&R 15pp, EM 10pp
#338 April 1965: B&R 15pp, EM 10pp
#339 May 1965: B&R 16pp, EM 9pp
#340 June 1965: B&R 15pp, EM 10pp
#341 July 1965: B&R 16pp, EM 9pp
#342 Aug 1965: EM 10pp
#344 Oct 1965: B&R 14pp
#345 Nov 1965: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#346 Dec 1965: B&R 14pp
#347 Jan 1966: B&R 14pp
#348 Feb 1966: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#349 March 1966: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#350 April 1966: EM 10pp
#351 May 1966: EM 10pp
#352 June 1966: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#353 July 1966: B&R 15pp, EM 9pp
#354 Aug 1966: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#355 Sept 1966: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#356 Oct 1966: B&R 15pp, EM 9pp
#357 Nov 1966: B&R 14pp, EM 10pp
#358 Dec 1966: B&R 15pp, EM 9pp
#359 Jan 1967: B&R 16pp, EM 8pp
#360 Feb 1967: B&R 14pp, EM 9pp
#361 March 1967: B&R 14pp
#362 April 1967: B&R 14pp, EM 9pp
#363 May 1967: B&R 15pp, EM 8pp
#364 June 1967: B&R 14pp, EM pp 2-9 (8pp)
#365 July 1967: B&R 14pp, EM 9pp
#366 Aug 1967: B&R 14pp
#367 Sept 1967: B&R 14pp, EM 9pp
#368 Oct 1967: B&R 14pp, EM 9pp
#370 Dec 1967: B&R 14pp
#371 Jan 1968: EM 8pp
#373 March 1968: EM 9pp
#414 Aug 1971: Batman 15pp
#442 Aug-Sept 1974: Contents 1pp
#443 Oct-Nov 1974: Contents 1pp
#444 Dec 1974-Jan 1975: Contents 1pp, Comedy Covers 1pp
#445 Feb-March 1975: Contents 1pp
#463 Sept 1976: Batman 11pp
#484 June 1979: Contents 1pp, Batman 16pp
#485 Aug-Sept 1979: Contents 1pp
#486 Oct-Nov 1979: Alfred 7pp
#487 Dec 1979-Jan 1980: The Odd Man 7pp (already listed under CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE in the article OTHER C TITLES, but the Grand Comics Database says heavily rewritten, so I will count it here too.
#496 Nov 1980: Batgirl 10pp
#544 Nov 1984: Flash Force 2000 14pp
That’s a total of 951 pages on this series, a solid body of work. Other articles in this series and more you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.