GASPAR SALADINO in SUPERMAN (1939)

All images © DC Comics. From SUPERMAN #76, May-June 1952

Here we go with one of the most important DC Comics series. I’m dating this post 1939 for the original run of 423 issues because there will be another for the 1987 revamp. The letterer most associated with Superman’s first few decades is Ira Schnapp, and he lettered many Superman stories and covers until 1968, but when he was unavailable, Gaspar Saladino occasionally filled in for him, and that happened on the cover above. This is very early for Saladino cover lettering, and it may be his first. Despite the fact that he’d been lettering stories at DC since late 1949, Gaspar was not used to doing covers, and made a rookie mistake on this one by underlining the emphasized words in the balloons. It may have been in the script that way, but in comics scripts, underlining is one way to indicate bold italic display lettering, and that’s what he should have done. In general the lettering is trying to imitate Ira Schnapp’s cover work, but Gaspar’s lettering is more angular and often wider than Ira’s. I don’t know what the editor thought, but his next cover lettering on this title was about 14 years later! When Schnapp retired, Saladino became the regular cover letterer for many years, and he also occasionally lettered stories and inside pages, but was never a regular. I’ll look at covers first.

From SUPERMAN #182, Jan 1966

When next asked to fill in for Schnapp, Gaspar’s cover lettering had improved greatly, and was now full of energy and appealing styles he had developed. The balloon shapes are a nod to Schnapp, but otherwise this is all Saladino’s style, angular and artful.

From SUPERMAN #188, July 1966

Editor Mort Weisinger’s opinion of Saladino’s cover lettering must have improved, as from this point on he was asked to do more and more of the covers, even though Schnapp was still doing some of them. Aside from the boot over the banner at the bottom, which I always find weird, this is all good work, adding to the drama, and showing why Gaspar was the successor to Ira Schnapp on covers. If anything, Saladino’s display lettering had more energy and drama than Schnapp’s in my opinion.

From SUPERMAN #191, Nov 1966

The round blurb at bottom right is by Schnapp, continuing from earlier covers, but the rest is by Gaspar. His caption is bold and intriguing.

From SUPERMAN #198, July 1967

The ideas in these comics were old, recycled, and tired, but Gaspar’s strong lettering makes them interesting anyway.

From SUPERMAN #204, Feb 1968

Though Ira Schnapp’s lettering made one final appearance on the next cover, I feel this is the beginning of Gaspar’s best work on the covers, under a mandate from Editorial Director Carmine Infantino to give DC’s style a more modern and exciting look. With artist Neal Adams, you can see a fresh approach taking hold. I’m not sure who did the giant LL, it could have been either of them, but my guess is pencils by Adams, inks by Saladino. The blurb lettering jumps out and grabs you.

From SUPERMAN #206, May 1968

Not every cover had room for such large lettering, of course, but Saladino’s work was always full of energy.

From SUPERMAN #207, June-July 1968

DC, and especially Weisinger, tended to look back rather than forward, often featuring reprints, as here. Mort thought that was the best way to celebrate an anniversary, instead of creating exciting new stories. Lots of fine Saladino lettering here.

From SUPERMAN #211, Nov 1968

I like the way the bottom blurb follows the curve and perspective of the floor, and Saladino’s version of SUPERMAN is modern and creative.

From SUPERMAN #213, Jan 1969

Another trend I think may have hurt sales was the tendency then at DC to show the hero defeated, in distress, or even dead, as here. The lettering is the best thing on this cover in my opinion.

From SUPERMAN #220, Oct 1969

This is a much more interesting cover idea, and one I would have picked up to read.

From SUPERMAN #228, July 1970

More defeat and punishment for Superman.

From SUPERMAN #233, Jan 1971

Finally, with this issue, and under new editor Julius Schwartz, Superman gets to be heroic again. We’re also promised NEW adventures by Gaspar’s lettering, and the end of that tired story gimmick, Kryptonite. Yay!

From SUPERMAN #247, Jan 1972

Well, here’s our hero in duress again, but at least the accusers are more interesting! Note also a reprinted story cued by the word “Classic,” to fill out the longer page count, but at least there’s also a new second feature.

From SUPERMAN #266, Aug 1973

I much prefer to see him in action, and Gaspar’s caption helps sell it.

From SUPERMAN #276, June 1974

The trade dress (all the stuff at the top) was often an awkward jumble in this period, but at least the art and lettering are exciting. Long-time readers might remember the character on the right as Captain Marvel, though in this story it’s not him.

From SUPERMAN #288, June 1975

Here’s something you don’t often see, a character speaking quietly on a cover, with appropriate small balloon lettering except for the last two lines.

From SUPERMAN #305, Nov 1976

My favorite thing in this cover lettering is the way the letters TH and TO are joined in THE TOYMAN.

From SUPERMAN #316, Oct 1977

Not all of Saladino’s efforts were equally great. Here the caption has too much open space, and could have been done with three lines of lettering instead of five. Perhaps it was, and it was rearranged to cover less of the figure.

From SUPERMAN #333, March 1979

On the other hand, the top caption here makes good use of several effective styles that work well together.

From SUPERMAN #352, Oct 1980

I love all the lettering on this cover. The special balloon style for Destiny is great, as is the inset blurb at right.

From SUPERMAN #370, April 1982

Four captions, two rectangles, a circle, and an arrow, and they all work fine and add interest.

From SUPERMAN #393, March 1984

Well-designed perspective block letters add depth to this cover.

From SUPERMAN #423, Sept 1986

And then, 34 years after his first Superman cover lettering, Saladino does a wonderful job on the final issue of this run, as the title and character made way for a revamp and new series. This cover is a nod to the early Superman annuals, and Gaspar’s lettering is a nod to the work of Ira Schnapp on them.

From SUPERMAN #278, Aug 1974

Saladino did not letter a story in this series until this one, for Julie Schwartz, the man who hired him in 1949. This faux western has display and title lettering that remind me of the work of Sam Rosen at Marvel.

From SUPERMAN #284, Feb 1975

On this issue Gaspar did only the contents page. I don’t know if he was paid extra for all that work, but he should have been.

From SUPERMAN #312, June 1977

Here’s another long story with a fine perspective title. Letterers were about to start getting credit along with the other creators in a few months.

From SUPERMAN ANNUAL #9, Sept 1983

I think I lettered the top blurb here, but the story lettering is all by Saladino, paired with his old work mate and friend Alex Toth. Some of the earliest work Gaspar did for DC was on Toth stories in westerns and science fiction comics.

From SUPERMAN #400, Oct 1984

This issue was another commemorative one, but this time with all new material by top creators. Gaspar lettered several sections of the multi-part story. Lots of year dates for him to do on this page.

From SUPERMAN #409, July 1985

Toward the end of the series, Gaspar found time to letter several longer stories, including this one. The title is excellent, and I also like the open YOU? in the caption.

To sum up, these covers have Saladino lettering: 76, 182, 188, 191, 198, 203-204, 206-239, 241, 247-251, 253-266, 268-288, 291-292, 294-296, 298, 302, 304-307, 314, 316-318, 324-326, 330, 333-335, 341, 346-348, 350, 352-354, 356-372, 374-376, 378-385, 387-390, 392-393, 395-399, 401-410, 412-417, 419-421, 423. That’s a total of 164.

Below are the inside pages lettered by Gaspar. All stories feature Superman unless otherwise noted.

#278 Aug 1974: 20pp

#284 Feb 1975: Contents 1pp

#312 June 1977: 17pp

#400 Oct 1984: 13pp (1-4, 31-33, 35-40)

#406 April 1985: 16pp

#409 July 1985: 16pp

#410 Aug 1985: 24pp

#420 June 1986: 24pp

Annual #9 Sept 1983: 30pp

That’s 161 pages in all. The numbering of this series was continued with the title THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, which I will cover in another article. More in this series, and others you might like are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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