GASPAR SALADINO’S COMICS ADS 1981-1988

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #515, Jan 1981

In these years, Gaspar’s ad lettering was greatly diminished and eventually ended as far as I can tell, and I have some theories about why, but up front I have to say that scans of comics that include ads are very hard to find for these and later years, and I probably missed some. That said, here are some possible explanations.

First, there are almost no house ads in DC comics with 1981 cover dates, I found only two lettered by Saladino, including the one above. There were two other subscription ads for the entire line lettered by me, and that’s about all. Paid ads had increased to fill the ad locations in each issue, and there was a regular amount of those. DC had worked out a system where all or nearly all the ads were on one”flat,” or sixteen page sheet of paper (eight pages on each side) that could be the same in all the regular-size titles and save money on color separations. I think there were usually only six interior ad pages per issue, so only part of the flat was ads, but having that section the same on every comic saved time and cost. There are some variations in different months, but often the center-spread of a 32-page comic, pages 16-17 was a paid ad, and other common ad pages were 5, 6, 11, 22, 27 and 32, but only six per month, usually. The increase in paid ads left less room for house ads.

From DC COMICS PRESENTS #26, Oct 1980

Second, starting in 1980, DC began a different kind of promotion for new or revamped titles: sixteen page inserts in selected issues. The first of these was for THE NEW TEEN TITANS, and the insert ran in DC COMICS PRESENTS #26, Oct 1980. These previews gave readers a sample of the new product for free, a great marketing idea, and sometimes there was also a solo house ad in other comics promoting the project, but there weren’t any of those I could find for 1981 launches Dial H for Hero (in ADVENTURE), ALL-STAR SQUADRON and ARAK, SON OF THUNDER, nor for the first preview of 1982, a revamped WONDER WOMAN. Perhaps all the ad money was being spent on the previews, and DC did not want to do additional house ads, and again, perhaps there wasn’t room because of an increase in paid ads. DC may, instead, have been putting that money and effort into posters and other promotional material for direct market comics shops, and I’ve found one example, which I’ll include below. The last page of each preview (right image above) was essentially a house ad for the upcoming book, and I lettered those. They may also have run in other books.

Third, DC Comics had not had a real art director in its history, one who functioned like a typical art director for other publishers by creating advertising and setting the style for the line and its promotional material. From about 1950 to 1967, Ira Schnapp acted as the de facto art director, though he was never named or paid for that role. Carmine Infantino was briefly given the title Art Director when he was designing all of DC’s covers from about 1966 to 1967, but was then promoted on to Editorial Director and later Publisher. Gaspar Saladino filled the same role of de facto art director as Ira Schnapp from about 1968 to 1978, but only in some aspects. The general look of the line fell into disarray in the early 1970s, and was not really set on a better course until Jenette Kahn brought in design elements by the Milton Glaser Studio, and tried to modernize the company’s look with help from Neal Adams and others starting around 1977. Artist Vince Colletta had the title of Art Director for a few years, but he did little art directing, mostly he sat in his office and inked late pages. Finally, Jenette hired a real art director, Neal Pozner, early in 1982 according to then marketing staffer Mike Flynn. I remember working with him in the late summer and fall of 1982 before the DC offices moved from 75 Rockefeller Plaza to 666 Fifth Avenue in November 1982. By 1983, Neal was asserting more influence and control over the look of the line and its advertising, and even though Neal was a comics fan, his training was type based like most art directors in publishing at the time, and he moved DC’s ads toward type and away from hand lettering. Mike Flynn confirms that was their intention, they wanted DC house ads for new titles to look more like movie posters. That’s another reason why Gaspar’s ad lettering declined in these years and stopped in 1988, as far as I can tell. Neal was replaced by other art directors and cover editors at DC such as Richard Bruning, Keith “Kez” Wilson and Curtis King, all comics fans, but all often in favor of type over hand-lettering for ads as a visual indication that DC Comics was becoming more adult and sophisticated, and ready to match the rest of the publishing world in that area. Thus, Gaspar’s unique talents were largely put aside in favor of other ideas.

Finally, I have to acknowledge that, of the hand-lettered house ads from 1982 to the early 1990s, and there were some in each year, I was assigned to letter many of them. So, I too contributed to the decline of Gaspar’s fine hand-lettered ad work, but not intentionally or even consciously. They also had pretty much vanished by 1994 in favor of all-type ads being produced by DC’s art directors using desktop design software. Gaspar continued to letter some of DC’s covers during that time, but much of that work was also gradually assigned to me, and even more once I began doing it on my first desktop Mac computer in 1995. At least Gaspar was still able to letter story pages for DC in his later years until 2003 when the entire lettering process went digital at DC. Considering that Gaspar turned 76 in 2003, and always seemed to be busy until then, I think he had a pretty good run, and when I got to know Gaspar better a few years later, he always seemed to be in a good place as far as his career and work goes, and was enjoying his retirement.

From BATMAN #338, Aug 1981

Here’s the other house ad for 1981 lettered by Gaspar, and it’s a fine one for the entire line that ran on back covers, where printing and color looked best. It does give some extra promotion to new projects like THE NEW TEEN TITANS and Dial “H” for Hero, as well as ALL-STAR SQUADRON and a sword and sorcery book not yet named (ARAK). The design of the ad, and Saladino’s lettering are appealing and interesting, at least to me, especially the Art Deco style in the smaller letters of the blue caption. The tagline that Gaspar had designed in the previous year is still running at the bottom of this one.

Recently Benjamin Le Clear, the DC Comics librarian, put this image of a 1981 DC promotional poster on Facebook. I’d never seen it before, and it was definitely lettered by Gaspar, though I did the logo. It promotes the revamp of Wonder Woman beginning with the January 1982 issue, and this large poster was meant for comics shops. The blank space has spots at each corner that can be cut so that a WONDER WOMAN issue could be inserted, and switched out when each new issue arrived. It’s a clever idea, and there could well be more marketing items lettered by Saladino that I’ve never seen. As I said above, this could be where some of DC’s ad budget was going instead of house ads for new projects.

From THE FLASH #305, Jan 1982

This standalone ad promotes both the new title and the preview for it in NEW TEEN TITANS. What a great variety of styles here from Saladino, and they all work well together. On the cover is a Captain Carrot logo he designed, but it was not liked by the creators, and I was asked to do a different version that was used instead on the book. The top blurbs are headline type, not by Gaspar.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #185, April 1982

These ads may always have run together, but they are potentially each a third-page ad that could have been used separately, and I will consider them three for Gaspar. The image is not very clear, partly due to the cheap newsprint paper I think, but all of Gaspar’s lettering is readable and appealing.

From DC COMICS PRESENTS #44, April 1982

DC had decided to bring back Swamp Thing, who continued to sell well in reprints, but with Len Wein as the editor instead of the writer. This ad is a departure for DC, more atmospheric and subtle, telling a wordless story until the final large panel. The display lettering is by artist Tom Yeates as part of his art, but Gaspar’s lettering at the bottom is all clear and familiar to Swamp Thing fans, as he had lettered the initial issues of the character’s fan favorite run.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #186, May 1982

Two half-page ads for new series. The title of the first one was expanded to SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING to set it apart from the original run, and Gaspar pushes the word SAGA to promote that. He did that addition to his original logo, and also the new FIRESTORM logo seen here. All this ad copy is well-written and interesting, much better than what they were doing a few years earlier. Perhaps DC had learned from Marvel’s successful ad copy. Possibly they were written by Len Wein, former Marvel editor.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #187, June 1982

Another cleverly written ad with fine Saladino lettering. This could have been reused with later covers.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #187, June 1982

As you can see, Saladino ads made a comeback in 1982, though not nearly to the degree seen in 1980. The top line here is reused from a 1980 ad.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #187, June 1982

Here Gaspar’s tagline is expanded at the top while five issues are promoted with arrow blurbs and bursts against a DC Bullet background pattern. A busy ad, but everything is clear.

From BATMAN #349, July 1982

While the Dollar Comics line was on the way out, DC revived the Annual concept with 48 pages for a dollar. The actual Annual covers were probably not ready yet when this ad was done, but Gaspar’s exciting lettering is enough to sell it in my opinion.

From BATMAN #349, July 1982

That huge, scary BEWARE is Saladino at his best. The rest of this ad is equally exciting. I find it odd that the title being previewed isn’t named, it’s NIGHT FORCE, but maybe that was done to get readers to pick up the issue and find out themselves. Below, my Raven logo never looked better than when surrounded by great Gaspar lettering.

From BATMAN #349, July 1982

This ad follows the same plan as the five title one above, but with mostly different lettering. In the top display lettering, the style of DAZZLING DOINGS FROM has a single thin line inside block letters. This is harder to do than you might think. DYNAMIC is Gaspar’s great dry-brush work, though when held in red it’s hard to see.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #522, Jan 1983

Moving on into years with only a few Saladino ads, here’s a paid one obviously produced by DC for K-Mart, and a toy I had and enjoyed. Gaspar’s title is perfectly appropriate.

From THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #197, April 1983

Another thing DC began at this time was books produced exclusively for collectors and sold only through the direct market and by subscription. The improved printing and paper were a big step up from other DC comics of the time. The price was also higher. The Comics Code was bypassed, and this series had plenty of gore and violence, at least in the early issues. It was the beginning of a growing trend that would include CAMELOT 3000 and other similar titles, and also the beginning of DC producing much better quality comics. It would take a few years, but cheap newsprint was on the way out.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #543, Oct 1984

To my mind, trying to sell cartoony characters like these with typeset ads wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as having Gaspar do his stellar work on them. I’m not sure the DC Digests really benefitted from the promotion, they seemed to fill their own niche, but it’s a fun ad.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #563, June 1986

As part of the deal DC made to buy characters from Charlton Comics, Blue Beetle, a hero with a long history during and before his time at Charlton, began a new series at DC, and proved to be a long-lasting character at the company. Gaspar may well have enjoyed Blue Beetle’s adventures as a boy himself, and he does a fine job lettering this ad. He also did the logo, based on what Charlton had been using.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #565, Aug 1986

Another success for DC was a relaunch of SECRET ORIGINS with two origins per issue, usually one from the past and one for a new character. I find this ad layout and lettering appealing and charming.

From SGT. ROCK #386, Oct 1986

Now we’re into the era of crossovers running through many titles, a gimmick that encouraged readers to buy issues of titles they normally didn’t read to get the full story. I always thought it was poor way to up sales, though it did work. Fans often disliked being manipulated that way, though. This ad is heavy on design and light on lettering, but that lettering by Gaspar works well.

From SGT. ROCK #386, June 1987

Here’s a late paid ad from Gaspar on what might be Neal Adams art, so perhaps Neal requested Gaspar as the letterer. Great work, and you might notice that Saladino’s balloon lettering had become a bit more angular by this time, also true in his story lettering. In a way it’s a throwback to his story lettering of the early 1950s. I don’t know how that came about, but a letterer’s style can change over time. The upper and lower case lettering reminds me of Gaspar’s signature and handwriting, which used a similar style, but italic.

From YOUNG ALL-STARS #8, Jan 1988

This is the last ad I’ve found lettered by Gaspar for DC, but as I’ve said, there could be more that I haven’t found. Again very design oriented with startling colors that would not have worked on newsprint, but the lettering looks as good as ever. Gaspars main ad lettering work spans 20 years, and as far as I’m concerned, it was all terrific.

To sum up, I found 23 ads lettered by Gaspar in these years, plus that one retailer poster that could be one of many. Adding up all the ads in this series, I come to a total of 406, lots of time-consuming and beautiful work that helped sell comics to generations of readers.

This wraps up my detailed look at the ad lettering of Gaspar Saladino. I hope this and the Saladino logo studies have helped you appreciate the work of my favorite letterer as much as I do. I will have more posts about his lettering soon. Other articles in this series are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog, and the series on Gaspar’s logos is on the LOGO LINKS page.

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