I’ve already written about some letterers who were busy in the 1950s, this two-part article will cover others who were not as well known. Once again, much of the research and many of the images in these articles are through the kind courtesy of Alex Jay, and found on his blog. Links in the letterer names will take you to his articles about them.
Readers of Marvel Comics in 1963 were beginning to find out who did the lettering on Marvel stories, thanks to printed credits campaigned for by Artie Simek, who was doing much of that lettering. But Marvel started crediting all their letterers, as on this famous story, and readers might have wondered, “Who is Johnny Dee?” It was a pen name used by Jon D’Agostino, who had been working in comics in a variety of roles since the late 1940s, including coloring, penciling, inking, and lettering. Perhaps he used the Dee pen name to fit in better with writer/editor Stanley Lieber’s pen name Stan Lee. His lettering for Marvel at this time was professional, but not flashy, much like that of Artie Simek, and he did a fine job.
John P. “Jon” D’Agostino was born Carlo D’Agostino on June 13, 1929, in Cervinara, Italy. He and his older siblings and their mother arrived in New York City in 1931, where their father was already living in Brooklyn. Jon attended high school at the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan, along with many others who would enter the comics business. One of his classmates was future DC and Marvel artist John Romita. He graduated in 1947, and soon found work as a colorist at Timely/Marvel comics. In a 2011 interview, Marvel/Archie artist and colorist Stan Goldberg remembered:
I found out there was an opening in the coloring department at Timely Comics, so I went up there. They needed another body to be in the room that handled the coloring, and that’s where I worked…The man who was in charge of the coloring department is still a dear friend of mine, Jon D’Agostino.
It’s unclear if D’Agostino survived the 1949 staff purge at Timely by publisher Martin Goodman, but I suspect he didn’t, as a year or two later, Stan Goldberg had become the main colorist at Marvel. Jon was freelancing as an artist for various comics publishers by 1951, and by 1950, he had become friends with Pat Masulli, who worked at Charlton Comics as a colorist, and would be their executive editor by 1955. D’Agostino worked as an artist and letterer for Charlton starting in the early 1950s.
There are many early 1950s stories credited to D’Agostino as a letterer, but I see several different styles in those examples, so I’m not sure about them. Above is the earliest story with lettering I think is probably by Jon. It’s professional and lively, with wide letters. There aren’t many distinguishing style points other than that. The letters lean just slightly to the left, the G is round with a central serif that usually extends both inside and outside the curve. The S has a wide central stroke that descends left to right, and is usually closer to the top curve than the bottom. The J has a serif , and the Y is wide and tends to lean more to the left than the other letters, but there’s quite a bit of variation in all the lettering.
This example is similar in many ways, but made with a wedge-tipped pen, and the W now also leans more to the left. Is it also by D’Agostino? I think so, but I’m not positive. The same is true of many stories with lettering credited to him at Charlton from 1958 to 1961 or so. Thankfully, I can now move on to credited work.
D’Agostino’s first marriage was to Jean D’Onofrio in 1955. She passed away in 1992. D’Agostino married Vivi Testa in 1995. Interestingly, Jon shared a studio with Dick Giordano in 1965, Dick was then the executive editor at Charlton.
Here’s a page from the earliest story with a Johnny Dee lettering credit, an Ant-Man adventure. The lettering is made with a wedge-tipped pen, and is a little smaller than the Charlton examples, but that may have been necessary to fit it all in. The S shapes are similar to earlier examples, the J has a serif, and the Y still seems to lean to the left, though the W does not. It’s fine lettering work.
Panels from another Johnny Dee story published the same month as THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1. The style is about the same with one change. The exclamation points after bold, emphasized words have a triangular top, ones after regular lettering are single strokes.
Jon was still doing lots of work for Charlton, and they may have been influenced by Marvel to add credits to at least some of their stories, as here. D’Agostino’s lettering is much the same as on the previous example, and it’s interesting to see that his story title is similar to what Artie Simek was doing at Marvel.
In 1965, according to Archie Comics, D’Agostino was hired away from Marvel to become one of their busiest inkers and letterers, and he worked at Archie for the rest of his career. For a long time his work was again often not credited, this page looks like his lettering to me. The S and G are similar to what he did at Marvel, the Y continues to be wide and lean a bit to the left, and exclamation points are now all triangular at the top.
It took a while, but by the 1980s, Archie was finally giving full creator credits on their stories. D’Agostino is credited with inking and lettering here. His lettering seems a bit rounder to me, and the exclamation points have reverted to single strokes, but otherwise it’s much the same.
Another story with credited inks and lettering by D’Agostino is above. The lettering has gotten larger again, and a bit looser, reminding me of the work he was doing in the 1950s. I think after this he often worked on covers rather than stories.
Jon continued to work for Archie until his death on Nov 28 (or 29), 2010. In a memorial article, Archie said:
In June 1965, Jon was hired away from the competition to join Archie Comics, where he was affectionately known as “Dag.” He continued here for over 40 years. Jon will be missed at the Archie Comics offices. Jon D’Agostino’s last interior work will be published in December 2010 in JUGHEAD DOUBLE DIGEST #166, as part of the four-part “Cyrano Jones” story. Jon’s work on covers will continue to be seen throughout 2011.
One of the letterers at Marvel in the 1950s was Herb Cooper, but I have no identified work by him from that time. In 1968, Herb returned to lettering at Marvel, where his name is on this landmark Steranko story in X-Men. The balloon lettering is done with a wedge-tipped pen like Sam Rosen, but his letters are narrower, more like Joe Rosen. It looks fine here, the larger lettering is well done.
Herbert Arthur “Herb” Cooper was born on February 16, 1927 in either Manhattan or Brookyn, NY to Russian emigrant parents. Herb attended the Mannes School of Music in New York, and also studied lettering and calligraphy. He served in the Army from 1945 to 1946. He married Marilyn Rapport in 1951. Herb probably joined the Marvel Bullpen lettering staff around that time. In an interview in Alter Ego #134 (July 2015, TwoMorrows), Marvel staffer Stan Goldberg said Cooper left (or perhaps was laid off in the 1954 staff purge) and formed his own printing company. An obituary said he had been a self-employed calligrapher for 40 years.
Another title page with larger credits for everyone, including Herb. The style is one I would have a hard time picking out if it wasn’t credited.
Cooper’s return to story lettering at Marvel lasted about five years, this is from close to the end of that time. Here his balloon lettering is a bit wider and closer to that of Sam Rosen, while his story title reminds me of ones by Joe Rosen. The bolder and slanted first letters on each name in the credits is interesting.
Herb passed April 23, 1991 at his home in Fords, New Jersey at age 64. His obituary said was an actor with the East Brunswick Community Theater, where he played many leading roles, and he also acted in off-Broadway productions. He was survived by his wife Marilyn and three daughters.
Here’s a story credited to Martin Epp from 1943, when he was seventeen. He did pencils and inks and probably also the lettering, according to the Grand Comics Database. Perhaps I should have included him in my articles on 1930s-1940s letterers, but Marty was mostly an inker in the 1940s, and he didn’t do a lot of that. The lettering here is made with a wedge-tipped pen, and is a bit uneven, but certainly works fine.
Martin Henry Epp, Jr. was born July 10, 1926 in New Hyde Park, New York. It’s not known how he came to work for Harvey Comics, but after high school, he joined the Army Air Corps and served in the Pacific Theater as a crew chief. By 1949, he was back in New York attending Pratt Institute, and on June 8, 1950, he married Pratt student Greta Helbig, and they lived in Huntington, NY. Marty’s occupation was listed as commercial artist. By 1951, he was working as an assistant to artist Bob Powell.
Among the stories credited to Epp as a letterer on the Grand Comics Database is this one with art by Bob Powell. The Old English story title here is beautifully done, and I like the rest of the lettering as well.
By 1963, Epp was lettering for Marvel, and benefitting from the new policy of crediting letterers. I like the serif story title and all the lettering on this page.
Marty lettered this superhero story, where the title letters have interesting overlaps. He also did inking and lettering for Archie comics in the 1960s, and then seems to have moved on to other kinds of commercial art, including set design. He passed July 30, 2000 in his home in Cooperstown, NY. His wife had died in 1998. He was survived by siblings, a son, and grandchildren. My favorite line in the obituary found by Alex Jay is: Above all else, Marty enjoyed being the life of the party.
Another veteran letterer benefitted from the Marvel credit policy, Ray Holloway. His work on this story is professional and appealing, with a fine title, well-made balloon shapes, and lettering I might have guessed was by Sam Rosen if his name wasn’t on it.
Raymond Alphonso “Ray” Holloway was born on June 8, 1920, in Columbus, Ohio. Ray enlisted in the National Guard in 1941, and in 1942 he married Gladys Mitchell in Manhattan, NY. They were divorced in 1944. In 1948, Ray married Thelma Equiller DeWitt in New York, where he had found work as a letterer at Timely/Marvel comics. In the 1950 census, he and his wife and three children were living in Manhattan, and his occupation is listed as letterer.
If Ray was laid off in the 1949 staff purge at Timely, he must have soon been called back, as he appeared in this staff photo. Probably he was laid off again in either the 1954 staff purge, or the one in 1957, but Ray did come back to work at Marvel as a letterer in the 1960s, and was probably freelancing for Marvel again a few years before that.
One of the stories crediting Ray as letterer on the Grand Comics Database, this is pretty generic work done with a wedge-tipped pen, but it certainly could be by him.
Once he had the chance to letter his own name on the stories, there’s no doubt about Ray’s work, as on this page. His character logo and story title are quite different from those of Artie Simek and Sam Rosen, but his balloon lettering is close to that of Rosen.
A closer look shows the somewhat irregular shapes of the open letters and the very consistent and well-made balloon lettering, with perfect verticals and horizontals, and even curves on the round letters.
Holloway continued to get work at Marvel through the 1970s, though not as much as some of the other Marvel regulars. His work remained consistent and appealing.
Ray also lettered for DC Comics in the 1960s and early 1970s according to the Grand Comics Database, including this first full-length story about Deadman.
In 1975, Ray became the regular letterer on SPIDEY SUPER STORIES after the death of Artie Simek, who had been doing most of it, an assignment he kept until 1982. Holloway passed away on May 21, 1989 in Jamaica, Queens. Like many comics creators, he found work and friends in an industry that valued his talent above anything else.
Another letterer whose work I know mainly from credited stories at Marvel is Charlotte Jetter, though her career goes back well before that. On this example, her display lettering in the titles and balloons is nicely done, using rough lines rather than ruled ones to add interest, and probably to save time.
Charlotte Haecker Jetter was born November 20, 1914, in Stuttgart, Germany. She came to New York in 1925 with her mother to join family. Some time after that she met Albert S. Jetter, born January 7, 1913, in New York. Their art training and the date of their marriage isn’t known, but by the 1940 census they were living in Flushing, Queens, and both are listed as commercial artists. Al found work at Fawcett some time in the early 1940s as an artist and letterer, and he taught Charlotte to letter as well. Both worked at Fawcett for a number of years. Al became an editor there.
Above are two panels from a Nyoka the Jungle Girl story with art credited to Al Jetter, and lettering by either Al or Charlotte. Note the color indications in blue, usually done on a copy of the art, not the original.
Charlotte is also credited as letterer at other publishers including Charlton, example above. The lettering here is narrower than in the previous panels, but otherwise similar.
I also find this lettering credited to Charlotte in the Grand Comics Database to be similar to the previous examples, though it’s lettered with a wedge-tipped pen. She’s credited as letterer on quite a few DC stories in the later 1960s.
When Charlotte was finally listed in the credits at Marvel, readers like myself were able to put a name to her work, as with all the Marvel letterers of the time.
In this closer look, the regular letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen, while the emphasized ones are made with a round-tipped one, and a thicker round-tipped point is used on the title. There are several revisions probably by a Marvel production artist.
Charlotte in a picture she must have submitted for this convention book, looking happy in a kayak.
Charlotte’s comics lettering work seems to have ended some time in the late 1970s, this is the last credited example I see for her at Marvel. She and Al may have continued to do other kinds of commercial art. Charlotte passed on September 2, 1990, and Al on March 5, 1997, both in New York.
Another husband and wife team in comics were artist Warren Kremer and his wife Grace, who lettered most of Warren’s stories for Ace, Harvey, and Marvel. Grace was already a letterer when they met at Ace, and her style is clear, professional, and has a friendly roundness, as seen above, perfect for the stories Warren often illustrated aimed at young readers.
Grace Callori Kremer was born on March 16, 1924, in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was on the art staff of the school yearbook, The Scroll, and contributed unsigned drawings. At some point after graduating in 1941, she found work in New York City at comics publisher Ace Magazines, where she became a letterer.
Also working at Ace was artist Warren Kremer, born June 26, 1921 in The Bronx, New York. They dated, and worked together on at least one Ace title, HAP HAZARD, above. The lettering on this example is very similar to the earlier one from 1987, suggesting Grace’s style was already set by then. Grace and Warren married in Oct 1947, and were living in Harrison, NJ by 1948.
In 1948, Warren and Grace began working for other publishers, including Harvey Comics, which soon became their main employer until the company closed in 1982. At first Warren was drawing all kinds of features, from war and horror to humor, but he eventually settled on Harvey’s cartoon character line, which became their main focus in the 1960s. He drew stories about Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Richie Rich, and many others, and Grace was there with him as his letterer. Meanwhile, they had four children, two boys and two girls, and raised them in New Jersey.
After Harvey stopped publishing comics in 1982, Warren and Grace moved to Marvel, where they worked on similar books for young readers. Here, at last, they were both given printed credits for the first time. I particularly like Grace’s scroll caption on this page.
There’s lots of fine lettering on this page, including song lyrics and open titles, but the best thing is the crunched credit for Tom DeFalco.
Warren had a stroke in 1989, leaving him unable to draw. Grace continued lettering at Marvel for about another year, and then also stopped. The team had done fine work for over 40 years, and perhaps it was time to retire. Warren passed on July 24, 2003, and Grace followed on Aug 5, 2012, at the age of 88, survived by children and grandchildren. Their work was enjoyed by generations of children.
More 1950s letterers in Part 2!