GASPAR SALADINO’S COMICS ADS 1971-1972

All images © DC Comics. From FALLING IN LOVE #120, Jan-Feb 1971.

As we begin ads with cover dates in these years, we find DC giving a rare promotion for a romance collection that ran not only in romance titles but in ones from the regular DC line. Gaspar’s lettering and logo are modern and appealing, as is the cover art, but most of the book was reprints. Despite his fine work on ads, ones lettered by him began to decline in these years in favor of more that used type or were by others. I don’t know if this was a cost-cutting measure, but the trend became more pronounced through this decade. The Ira Schnapp DC Bullet symbol that had represented the company for decades was now gone, and in place of it were various corner treatments and logos like the one seen here.

From ACTION COMICS #396, Jan 1971

For instance, this two-page Superman promotional ad that ran in many titles is not lettered by Saladino, as one might expect, and as I thought initially. The first page uses large display lettering that I thought might be by Gaspar, but it didn’t seem quite right. The second page is definitely not lettered by him, I think it’s by John Costanza, whose presence at DC (and soon at Marvel) was growing. I think both pages are by him. John was never much interested in the higher profile lettering assignments like logo design, house ads, and cover lettering, though he did a few of each. Mostly he preferred to letter story pages, and he was prolific on those.

From FALLING IN LOVE #120, Jan-Feb 1971

A companion ad to the first one in this article, it promotes the entire romance line, which at this time was seven titles. All the logos shown here are by Gaspar Saladino, replacing ones by Ira Schnapp. Ads like this never appeared anywhere except in romance titles, DC almost always kept them separate from the rest of their line. I think by this time sales were fallling, as reader interests and the times themselves changed, and some of these titles would not last much longer.

From ACTION COMICS #397, Feb 1971

If you wanted lettering that grabbed reader attention, it was hard to beat what Saladino had to offer. You can’t get much more energy and excitement into a small space than this. The ad copy is kind of a look ahead to 1978 when the company’s big theme was the DC Explosion. That didn’t go well. It’s hard to see in this ad, but corner treatments were now often figures of the lead characters with DC in type and the book title.

From ACTION COMICS #398, March 1971

The Woodstock music festival was an unprecedented phenomenon, and afterward vendors tried to capitalize on it with products like these. The vendor must have contacted DC for a letterer, and Gaspar’s work on it is easy to identify. The only things he didn’t do are the Woodstock logo and areas of small type in the coupon and elsewhere. The ad ran for several months, and also in a half-page version. Note that the copyright is by Warner Bros., Inc. In 1967, National Periodical Publications was bought by Kinney National Company. In 1969, that company bought the movie and music company Warner Bros., and so in 1971, Warner Bros. and DC Comics were parts of the same company that soon became Warner Communications. Perhaps someone at Warner Bros. was behind this ad and tapped Gaspar to letter it.

From ACTION COMICS #400, May 1971

These ads are probably third-page size, explaining the large gap between them. They likely also appeared separately, and count as two ads. I’m not positive the lower one is by Saladino, but I’ll credit it to him.

From FALLING IN LOVE #123, May 1971

On the romance titles, where the Schnapp DC Bullet had been in use for a while, there was now a heart shape around DC in type. I like this upper and lower case lettering by Saladino. The end of each stroke had to be squared with a small pen point or made square with white paint, taking extra time, but I think the effort was worth it, as it looks better that way.

From ACTION COMICS #401, June 1971

Two more third-page ads that probably also ran separately. Requests for smaller ads might have come from DC’s advertising buyer who had smaller ads lined up that needed this size to fill out a page. The one at the top is generic, and could have been used with many covers. The one below is specific only to that particular issue.

From SECRET HEARTS #152, June 1971

This ad is in a half-page size, and specific, so probably needed to fill a particular gap. Many older stories were being reprinted now in the romance titles, and some of those were set up to end on a half page to leave room for an ad. I like Gaspar’s display lettering here, using a style similar to the one above without the stroke ends squared off, but the cover could have been larger.

From ACTION COMICS #402, July 1971

In addition to his comics series, Jack Kirby also wanted to try some magazine-size publications with color covers and black and white interiors. These were common at Marvel, but DC did not have a line in that size and style. That meant retailers weren’t expecting them, and probably weren’t sure where to put them when they arrived, and may not have put them out at all. None lasted more than an issue or two, and I never saw any of them where I lived. Nothing wrong with Gaspar’s lettering on this busy ad, it’s full of energy, though some areas use type.

From ACTION COMICS #402, July 1971

Another experiment for DC, this was a new idea for the romance line, trying to interest readers of gothic romance novels. A worthy idea, but probably those readers did not check the comics racks at retailers. Gaspar’s lettering sells it well, but the cover logo and cover lettering are all in type. By the time the book hit retailers, it was retitled with an even more gothic first line: DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE.

From ACTION COMICS #406, July 1971

The A.C.B.A. Awards was the successor to the Alley awards of the 1960s. The Alleys recognized and celebrated all the creative categories of comics EXCEPT lettering, including editing, inking, and coloring. I’m not sure why that was, but clearly lettering was not then considered worthy of an award by those involved. The A.C.B.A. awards, beginning in 1971 for work done in 1970, remedied that by including letterers, and in this first year of awards, Sam Rosen won. Gaspar Saladino did an excellent lettering job on this self-promotional house ad celebrating DC’s wins with great pencil portraits by Neal Adams, though the claim that DC “swept” the awards is misleading, there were winners from other companies too. Gaspar won his own A.C.B.A. awards for work done in 1971 and 1973. The last year these awards were given was for work done in 1974.

From ACTION COMICS #404, Sept 1971

Comics had been shrinking in page count from the late 1940s on, as publishers tried to hold the line on prices. This gained them some sales in the short term, but harmed them long term because as the prices of all other magazines rose due to inflation, the profit margin for retailers on low-priced comics shrunk, giving less reason to carry them. DC tried to buck the trend with larger issues such as annuals beginning in the early 1960s, and 80-Page Giants soon after that. By 1971 they were trying 100-Page comics for 50 cents at a time when regular issues were selling for 15 cents. Of course they were almost all reprints, but it was a lot of reading for the money, and offered more profit for retailers. Gaspar’s bold burst helps sell this one.

From DC SPECIAL #14, Sept-Oct 1971

Giant issues were also still coming out on a regular basis, this one sold for 35 cents. Gaspar’s lettering is simple and generic, leaving a lot of blank space.

From HOUSE OF MYSTERY #196, Nov 1971

Another ad with mostly simple block letters, some type, and a good deal of white space. The ad copy sounds like the work of editor Julius Schwartz.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #99, Dec 1971

The lack of color on this house ad suggests it was a last-minute addition to a book going out the door to the separator, and there was no time to do a color guide.

From BATMAN #238, Jan 1972

In this case, the blue tint missing from the G in BLAZING is simply a separation error by the color separator working on this page. Gaspar’s flaming letters were always good at attracting attention.

From ACTION COMICS #409, Feb 1972

This is an impressive subscription ad that ran across two pages at the center of many titles at this time, with art by Carmine Infantino and lettering by Saladino. Subscription ads were always present at DC from the mid 1940s on, and the reason is they made more money from them than from newsstand sales, even considering the costs of postage. The young man who filled out this coupon had big plans for his money, but perhaps $24 proved to be too steep a price to pay. I had a hard time finding comics where I lived, and I tried subscribing to JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA when it began, only to discover to my horror that each issue came folded in half in a plain brown paper sleeve. Condition was not a big deal to me at the time, but the fold creases in every page were still annoying, and I never subscribed again. At some point, DC began including the info in these ads that “copies are mailed flat.” Too late for me, though.

From ACTION COMICS #411, April 1972

Once Jack Kirby’s Fourth World titles were launched, they didn’t receive much promotion. This third-page ad was put together by someone in the DC production department reusing a Saladino BLOCKBUSTER from a 1969 ad. It doesn’t count as a new ad for him. Considering how important Kirby’s titles had seemed to the company when they were new, DC must have been disappointed by sales, but more promotion of them might have helped.

From FALLING IN LOVE #132, May 1972

This ad seems to be talking down to readers, and I don’t think it works well either from an ad copy or layout perspective. Perhaps it was meant to be generic so other titles could be plugged in.

From ACTION COMICS #413, June 1972

An interesting ad for an interesting product. I wonder if Kirby was given free ad space for this personal project? Perhaps Mark Evanier will know. Most of the ad uses type, but there are Saladino banners in the box at lower left, and part of the coupon is also lettered by him. This just barely qualifies as a Saladino house ad.

From BATMAN #245, Oct 1972

This generic ad was used with many covers.

From FALLING IN LOVE #137, Oct 1972

Contests in comics are usually a sign of falling sales and desperate attempts to send them up again. The script lettering in this ad by Saladino is charming, showing he could hold his own in that area even though he did it rarely.

From FALLING IN LOVE #137, Oct 1972

In the same issue, DC was still trying to get romance readers to try their female superheroes. This ad has the most text we’ve seen in a long time spelling out why these books might be appealing, with emphasis on romance of course, and Gaspar makes it all interesting.

From FALLING IN LOVE #138, Nov 1972

While promoted as a new title, LOVE STORIES was actually just a renamed one and contained the same sort of romance stories as the others in the line. This contest offer ups the game for readers, but did it help sales?

To sum up, I found 25 ads lettered by Gaspar in these two years, a considerable drop from his ad output in the previous few years. It’s hard to be sure why, but saving money on his fees could be a factor, and there may also have been less room for house ads because of a greater number of paid ones. More articles in this series and others you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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