GASPAR SALADINO’S COMICS ADS 1978

Images © DC Comics except as noted. From ACTION COMICS #479, Jan 1978

Several things happened in the time books with 1978 cover dates were prepared (fall 1977 to fall 1978) that affected the house ad work of Gaspar Saladino. He continued to be called on for what I think of as the highest profile ads, and DC certainly knew the worth of his lettering skills to attract readers, but other letterers were also being used. John Workman left staff at the end of 1977, but some ads lettered by him were still appearing in this year. I joined staff in the summer of 1977, and by early 1978 I was also being assigned house ads as freelance work. I did about 6 that appeared in this year. A few ads were also being done by production staffer Joe Letterese or by other production staffers using all type. But the biggest change of this year was the DC Implosion. Publisher Jenette Kahn had ordered an increase in production that planned to add eight page backups to all existing titles and launch new ones as well, and it was promoted as the DC Explosion. Ads for that push (mostly by me), and early examples saw print, but Jenette’s bosses at Warner Communications had been looking at sales figures, which dipped in early 1978 partly due to a blizzard on the east coast, and decided to not only reverse this plan but to make further drastic cuts, slashing the line by 40 percent and cutting staff in editorial and production. I think this happened in late summer of 1978, and it meant less freelance work for everyone at DC, and of course no work for those let go. Gaspar survived the purge, he was still lettering stories and covers, but logo work and house ads for him were cut back, as new projects slowed to a near standstill. Only the success of the first Superman movie in December of 1978 brought some income and better times to the company in 1979. If not for that, I’m not sure it would have survived.

The ad above is for a new idea at DC that began in 1974, a sort of in-house fanzine put together by staffers and focused on company history and behind the scenes material. They were promoted in the comics with house ads, but this is the first one lettered by Saladino. As always, he did a fine job.

From ACTION COMICS #479, Jan 1978

In early 1978, DC was full of new ideas and new characters, including these two. As with many titles promoted in ads this year, they would not survive the Implosion, but the characters did, and have had long DC histories and successes since. Note that, as he often did, Gaspar essentially made new logos for the characters and titles just for this ad.

From ACTION COMICS #480, Feb 1978

Next to the Superman movie, this was the biggest news at DC in 1978. The tabloid had been in production for a while, and came out early in the year, promoted not only by this fine Saladino house ad but by an actual press conference with Muhammad Ali at the Warner offices in the same building as DC, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York. It truly is an amazing book, and featured wonderful Saladino lettering inside.

From KID COLT OUTLAW #222, Feb 1978, image © Marvel

As I said last time, it’s now hard to know if work at Marvel that looks like it’s by Gaspar Saladino is actually by him, or by his closest imitator Jim Novak, but I do think Gaspar was kept on these Simon & Schuster ads. It’s a busy one, but the lettering and layout with helpful arrows makes it clearer.

From ACTION COMICS #491, March 1978

Another all-new tabloid featuring one of DC’s most popular and long-lasting teams and franchises. DC was still looking to sell them through the mail, suggesting many retailers were still not carrying them. Notice how skillfully Gaspar’s display lettering guides your eye through this ad by placement and size. DC was now saying the size was 10 by 13 inches, while at Marvel they claimed 10 by 14 inches. As far as I can recall, all the tabloids were the same size, which makes sense, as they were printed on the same machines by the same printing plant.

From SGT. ROCK #314, March 1978

The 1977 calendar had apparently done well enough to be followed by this one. Gaspar’s lettering sells it well, and this time he got to letter the names of the creators. DC was finally finding value in promoting those creators, and treating them better under the direction of Jenette Kahn.

From ACTION COMICS #482, April 1978

This generic tabloid ad could have been reused with later ones, but I’m not sure if it was. I don’t know how DC’s mail order business worked, it was off-site as far as I recall.

From ACTION COMICS #482, April 1978

Part of the ramp up of comics production leading to the DC Explosion was more Dollar Comics with all new material like these. Characters that had not survived in their own titles like Jack Kirby’s The Demon and Steve Ditko’s Creeper found homes in them. the layout of this ad is more rectangular than usual for Gaspar, but it all works fine.

From ACTION COMICS #482, April 1978

DC was looking for ways to reach more readers at comics specialty shops, and this newsletter, distributed to those shops, was a great way to do it. If you didn’t have a comics shop near you, you could also get it by mail. I doubt DC was making money on this, they were probably losing money, but if it led to more sales, it was a good trade-off. I don’t think Gaspar did the Direct Currents logo, but I don’t know who did.

From ACTION COMICS #483, May 1978

One-shot Dollar Comics were also appearing as part of the DC SPECIAL SERIES line. DC’s regular freelancers were quite happy with all this new work DC was asking for, and it gave new ones a chance to break in as well. Gaspar’s treatment of Gorilla Grodd is cool.

From ACTION COMICS #483, May 1978

DC’s first and longest-running tryout title reached issue #100 in this year, and presented an extra-long story that included every feature who had appeared there to that point. A great idea, and Gaspar sells it well. The SHOWCASE logo is the original one by Ira Schnapp.

From AQUAMAN #62, June 1978

The top half-page ad here is a new one by Saladino promoting what would be the final issue of DC in-house fanzine. The lower ad I think just reuses Gaspar’s lettering for the full page version above, and will not count as a new ad. Ads were often resized this way.

From AQUAMAN #62, June 1978

DC was always ready to celebrate their own long history, but in the past that usually meant reprints. Now they were doing new stories, a direction I approved of. Gaspar’s exciting lettering and attention-grabbing bursts made sure no one missed the news.

From AQUAMAN #62, June 1978

It’s ironic that the original Captain Marvel published by Fawcett, who had been shut down because of a DC lawsuit, was now owned by DC and battling Superman in the comics instead of the courtroom.

From ACTION COMICS #485, July 1978

No one lettered war comics better than Gaspar, and the same is true for war comics house ads. I know, I tried, and my efforts paled by comparison. Notice the subtle variation in treatment between SOUND and FURY.

From ACTION COMICS #487, Sept 1978

Here’s part of the DC Explosion promotion. I lettered those words at the top, the rest of the ad is by Saladino. SUPERMAN FAMILY and ADVENTURE COMICS survived the DC Implosion, the others did not. This was the last issue of SHOWCASE, BATTLE CLASSICS and DYNAMIC CLASSICS lasted only one issue.

From ACTION COMICS #488, Oct 1978

All new, no ads, what a great selling point! And those new stories are being promoted with titles and creator credits in Gaspar’s lettering, was another fine idea. It had taken DC a long time and some staff changes to get to this point, but now they were really competing with Marvel in the creator credits area. Of course, those no ad titles meant no need for me to look through them for ones lettered by Saladino.

From ACTION COMICS #488, Oct 1978

Any readers who subscribed through this ad were likely to be disappointed. Many of the titles listed would be cancelled by the time the subscription order arrived, and other titles were probably substituted. That might be one reason why subscriptions were not more popular.

From ACTION COMICS #489, Nov 1978

Most of DC’s long-running superhero titles did survive the implosion, though sometimes at reduced sizes and without the promised extra backup features. It was a sad time for DC fans and staff alike. Gaspar does a fine job of promoting these.

From ACTION COMICS #489, Nov 1978

This Dollar Comic featured perhaps the most unusual western story ever from DC, Jonah Hex in old age. It was the kind of creative idea needed to attract readers, and the kind of thing the Implosion brought to a halt for a while.

From ACTION COMICS #489, Nov 1978

Even while the Implosion was happening, DC was doing their best to put out material that would resonate with the upcoming Superman movie, like this tabloid. DC was so proud of it, they showed that SUPERMAN #1 cover twice! Gaspar’s lettering helped make it exciting, and it was to long-time DC fans who had never seen this landmark book.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #145, Dec 1978

These titles survived the purge, and I like the fact that they are again using the creators to help sell them to readers, though Saladino’s lettering makes it more exciting too. I love his treatment of TRAITOR?

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #145, Dec 1978

The halftone gray photo of Christopher Reeve as Superman did not reproduce well on the cheap newsprint DC was using at the time, but Gaspar’s lettering does a fine job of making this idea exciting, in my opinion. Bleed through from the page on the other side of this one can be seen easily. Paper, ink and printing presses used to print comics at this time had continued to be downgraded to save money, and this was about the low point for paper and ink quality, with only the awful Flexographic process being worse as far as printing goes. Thankfully, things turned around in the 1980s.

From KID COLT OUTLAW #227, Dec 1978, image © Marvel

One final Simon & Schuster ad lettered by Saladino from Marvel, and after this I’m throwing in the towel on identifying ads he might have lettered for the company, as it’s equally likely they were lettered by Jim Novak or others. The top line on this ad is a fine example of Gaspar’s creativity and style.

To sum up, I found 24 ads in this period lettered by Gaspar, up from the previous two years. Other articles in this series and more you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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