In 1949, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz was handling all the company’s western titles. They were popular, but a new comics genre was selling well at other companies, romance comics, begun by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby with YOUNG ROMANCE and YOUNG LOVE at Crestwood/Prize. DC Editor Robert Kanigher started a line of them at DC with GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES, first issue dated Aug-Sept 1949, and perhaps Schwartz thought combining romance and western themes would work, hence ROMANCE TRAIL. It lasted six issues. Gaspar Saladino lettered stories for only the final two issues, but I’m giving them a separate entry because they included his very first published lettering work for DC, or for anyone. We can’t know what order they were done in, but all the stories show Gaspar’s lettering talent from the beginning on balloons, captions and sound effects. It took him a few years to master story titles. There’s nothing wrong with the story title in the first example above, but it’s rather bland. “A Molly Adams Story” is typeset. Saladino’s work on the poster at lower left is better. Chronologically, this is the first lettering by Gaspar to see print, along with another one-pager in the same issue shown below. I’ve written extensively about Gaspar’s earliest lettering for DC beginning with THIS article.
The writing style of the time meant many pages looked like this one, which is about half lettering. You can see why Gaspar told me he thought he’d done a good day’s work when he completed nine pages a day. He worked in the DC offices for the first few years, beginning in the production room next to Ira Schnapp, then at a drawing board in the office shared by Schwartz and Kanigher. On this over-written page, Gaspar has made the few emphasized words quite thick and not slanted, a style that would soon change to bold italic and not as thick as this.
When Gaspar was hired by DC, he was also rejoining some of his former classmates from high school, then known as the School of Industrial Design, later the High School of Art and Design. On these early stories he was working with former classmates Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella (on the Molly Adams one) and here Alex Toth. This illustrated poem gave Saladino a chance to try out some upper and lower case lettering, a style that he developed further in coming years, and used effectively, often in captions.
Another story lettered by Saladino and pencilled by Carmine Infantino in the following issue. They would become good friends, with Gaspar sometimes working in Carmine’s home to help him meet deadlines. Saladino met his future wife Celeste there. Later, Carmine would become Gaspar’s boss at DC for a few years. On this page, note the small zig-zags in the border between the caption and balloon in the first panel, something Saladino sometimes did early on to add interest. The burst balloon at lower left does that too.
Another style point from Saladino was an open letter over a black shape at the beginning of a caption, as seen in the first one here. His open lettering at lower left is also effective, though somewhat inconsistent. Gaspar probably also added the little coffee pot and cup in the caption for the fourth panel to fill the space.
Another busy page where Saladino used several of the same style points, extra things he added that weren’t required, but ones he felt made the work look better. In addition to ones I’ve already mentioned, the caption in the second panel is in a scroll, something Gaspar developed and did much better later. This one doesn’t quite work. Though the book was cancelled with this issue, Saladino was soon working on other western stories for Schwartz in titles like JIMMY WAKELY and ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN, and then all kinds of stories for both Schwartz and Kanigher.
Here are the details of Saladino’s story lettering in these issues:
#5 March-April 1950: Romance By Mail 11pp, Western Serenade 1pp
#6 May-June 1950: Defeated Romeo 11pp, Ridin’ Pretty 8pp, Heart in Exile 8pp
That’s 39 pages in all. More articles in this series and others you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.