It’s no secret that my favorite letterer and role model in lettering is Gaspar Saladino, and lately I’ve been talking to him about his early days in comics. Gaspar has said in past interviews that his first work for DC was lettering western romance stories for editor Julius Schwartz. Creator credits for comics are usually a matter of guesswork for stories of that era, and educated guesses can be found on the Grand Comics Database, I checked under “Letterer” and “Gaspar Saladino” and “sort by date.” The chronological first lettering credit they have for Gaspar is for ALL-STAR COMICS #33 cover-dated Feb.-March 1947. That’s way too early, Gaspar was in the service then, so it’s a wrong guess. The next listing is for issue 7 of the comic JIMMY WAKELY that ran for 19 issues, cover-dated Sept.-Oct. 1949 to July-Aug. 1952. The series is about a singing cowboy, so I surmised that might qualify as a romantic western. I thought it might be interesting to see if I could identify the first work by Gaspar on the title.
ADDED: Thanks to Ralf Haring, Gaspar’s listings on the GCD have been updated to reflect the research in these blog posts, which I appreciate. If you’d like to follow my line of research, please read on rather than checking the GCD!
Gaspar was born September 1st, 1927 in Brooklyn, NY. For his high school education, he attended the School of Industrial Art (later the High School of Art and Design) in Manhattan, commuting by subway from Brooklyn. The school was attended by a number of other artists who made careers in comics including Bernard Krigstein, Carmine Infantino, Joe Orlando, and Gaspar’s classmate in the class of 1945, inker Joe Giella. Later graduates included Sy Barry, Alex Toth, John Romita Sr. and Dick Giordano. While in high school, Gaspar did a some inking for the Lloyd Jacquet studio, a packager of comics for various publishers, though he doesn’t remember any specific titles or features. Jacquet was clearly looking for new talent at the school, and was helpful to Gaspar in getting him a desk job in the Army when he enlisted after graduating. That experience provided Gaspar with some familiarity with several aspects of comics work, including the lettering, as in those days (and for many more decades) the lettering would have been already on the pages when he inked them. He says he didn’t do any lettering at that time, though.
Gaspar was in the service about two years, stationed in Japan in a public relations job that didn’t involve art at all. When he got home in 1947, Gaspar told me he was out pounding the pavement looking for work. At some point he put together sample comics pages that he drew, lettered and inked and took them to DC Comics, hoping to find work there. This seems like a natural idea, as several of his high school classmates were already working for the company. Sol Harrison, then in charge of production, showed the samples around to the editors. Julie Schwartz said that, while he didn’t like Gaspar’s art enough to hire him for that, he did like his lettering, and offered him regular lettering work. Gaspar was happy to get it.
When he started, Gaspar told me, they sat him in the Production room between logo and cover lettering man Ira Schnapp and then production artist Mort Drucker (later of MAD fame), and he began lettering work for Julie, and soon other editors like Robert Kanigher and Mort Weisinger. It was freelance work paying $2 a page, but he did it in the office five days a week, lettering about nine pages a day on average, or 45 pages a week. At the end of the week he’d fill out a voucher for the work and get a check. Gaspar said $90 a week pay was good money in those days, and he was quite happy with his new job.
I’m still researching the role of staff letterers at DC Comics in the early years. When Gaspar started, Ira Schnapp had not been in his staff job for long, but was now busy doing most of the company’s logos, cover lettering, house ads, and story pages as well. Gaspar told me there were two students from his old high school that were also coming in to do lettering, probably after school. One was a young man named Artie Secunda, the other was a young lady, he doesn’t remember her name. From the early days of comics and in comic strips, lettering was usually provided by the artist, or more often an assistant, but it was part of the product delivered by the artist. Some comics packagers or “shops” had guys specializing in lettering, like Howard Ferguson at Joe Simon’s shop and Abe Kanegson at Will Eisners, but in general lettering was seen as an entry level job one would do on the way toward inking and eventually pencilling. Many artists who came into the comics business in the early days followed that route.
If there were errors or changes needed in the lettering, staff production folks (like Mort Drucker) could do them if there wasn’t time to send it back to the artist, but I can see how editors would benefit from having the lettering done in-house where they could read over it and have changes made on the spot either before or after the art was inked. At DC the inker was often NOT the penciller, further breaking up the art chores into different assembly-line jobs. In essence, DC was creating a production shop of their own, along the lines of those run by Lloyd Jacquet, Joe Simon and Will Eisner, among others. The difference was, DC had more control over the process by hiring each individual worker in the assembly line. Gaspar doesn’t recall anyone else doing freelance lettering at the time he started, though there would have been some working for other editors, and not in-house.
Knowing the time period and the title, I thought I should be able to identify Gaspar’s seminal lettering on JIMMY WAKELY. First I had to find scans of the comics. Some were available online, but not all the issues, and the scans were of varying quality. Of the issues I could view that way, the earliest pages that looked like Gaspar’s work were indeed from issue 7. Wanting a closer look, I ordered a well-worn and not very collectible copy on eBay, above.
Here’s a detail from the first story in the issue, clearly NOT by Gaspar. The letters are all quite narrow, the S is curved throughout, the G has a serif on the bottom, and the letters are generally not very even.
The title page is also not him, nor does it look to me like the work of Ira Schnapp, a possible candidate. GCD lists the letterer as Morris Waldinger, but that seems very unlikely, as he hadn’t started working for the company yet, I believe, so I’d call that a wrong guess.
The detail above, and the one at the top of this article are from issue 7’s second story, “Desert Justice,” with art by Alex Toth and Bernard Sachs (all art credits here are from the GCD) and clearly look like Gaspar to me. The letters are wide and even, well formed. The S has a long straight central stroke, the G is squared on the right side, the U is square at the bottom, the loops of the P and R are narrow, the question marks and exclamation points are large. Those are just some of the clues that I look for in Gaspar’s work. In the first example above there’s a scroll caption with a notched end. The radio balloon has large straight points. In the second example, the thought balloon has large loops and a trail of oval pointer bubbles. The other balloon tails are wide. Above all, I was impressed with how consistent and professional this work is! My earliest lettering is pretty awful even compared to what I did a year later, so to see Gaspar starting out at such a high level made me admire his talent all the more. I asked Gaspar if he had studied lettering in high school or later, and he said no. “It was just something that came naturally to me,” he told me.
Another detail from the second story shows an open initial capital that sits on what look like black strokes made with a square-tipped brush, though I’m sure they’re actually outlined in pen and filled in. This is one of the characteristic initial capital styles I found in Gaspar’s early work, another is in the open letter B above, though that’s more typical of all lettering for the time.
Story three was probably lettered by the same person as story one, not Gaspar, but story four, “The Stranger from Sunburst Bend” with art by Gil Kane and Bob Lander, again looks like Gaspar’s work, including the story title in a handsome scroll.
The above example from that story even has some upper and lower case letters on a map that I find very convincingly Gaspar.
Story five again looks like Saladino lettering. There’s the same initial cap style, and sound effects very familiar to me from his later work. So, even though I hadn’t seen all the issues yet, I was pretty confident issue 7 had three early examples of Gaspar’s lettering.
The only problem was the story titles. Except for “The Stranger from Sunburst Bend,” they didn’t look like Gaspar’s work. This is quite puzzling. Possibly editor Julie Schwartz didn’t have confidence in Gaspar’s title work and had someone else letter them. Or perhaps Gaspar was still finding his way with lettering styles for titles on this western comic.
So, with this much knowledge, I emailed scans of a few of these full pages from issue 7 to Gaspar to see what he thought. “Parts of it do look like my work,” he told me, “but those titles are definitely not my style. No, I don’t think I did these stories.” And when I told him the date of the issue, Sept.-Oct. 1950, he thought it was too early. He remembered starting at DC in 1951. This set me back a bit. More research was needed, and I’ll continue with that next time.
Other similar articles can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.