More 1950s Letterers Part 2

From KID COLT, OUTLAW #137, Nov 1967, image © Marvel

Continuing with other lesser-known letterers whose main work began in the 1950s, with research help from Alex Jays blog. This staff letterer at Marvel Comics in the 1960s and 1970s, Morrie Kuramoto, rarely got his name into print, and seemed to avoid it. When he lettered stories, he usually used the pen name Sherigail, combining the names of his wife and daughter. His story lettering was done with a wedge-tipped pen, and is similar to that of Sam Rosen. Most of what Morrie lettered at Marvel were things that had no credits: cover lettering, house ads, title pages, and occasionally logos, and when he wasn’t lettering, he was doing art and lettering corrections on stories and preparing them for printing. Like his fellow staffer, Danny Crespi, Morrie had a long history at Marvel, but few fans and readers knew his name.

From Marvel Bullpen photo, about 1954: Joe Letterese, Morrie Kuramoto, Danny Crespi, Herb Cooper and Artie Simek, F.O.O.M. #17, 1977, image © Marvel

Mamoru “Morrie” Kuramoto was born May 28, 1921 in Fresno, CA to Japanese parents. He lived in Pasadena later, and enlisted in the Army in 1942. He was discharged in 1943 for medical reasons not related to combat. His art training isn’t known, nor when he came to New York, but one report says he started working in the Marvel Bullpen in 1946. If so, he may have been laid off in the staff purge of 1949, but was soon hired back, as seen in the photo above.

From HOMER THE HAPPY GHOST #1, March 1955, image © Marvel

This is one of many 1950s stories with lettering credited to him in the Grand Comics Database. It’s a bit rounder than the first example, but appealing and professional. I like the large open BOO! in the last panel.

From DAREDEVIL #23, Dec 1966, image © Marvel

Morrie was probably laid off again in the 1957 staff purge at Marvel, then rehired in 1966 when the company was on the rise. He’s credited with cover lettering on quite a few issues, even though the main cover letterers were Artie Simek and Sam Rosen. When the work doesn’t look like either of theirs, it’s likely to be by Morrie, as on this caption. In the sixties, Morrie was often described as a funny and entertaining member of Marvel’s small staff. In an interview with Daniel Best on his website, artist Dave Hunt remembered:

The classic picture I have of Marvel comics was one room in which you had Morrie Kuramoto, Danny Crespi, Frank [Giacoia], Mike [Esposito], myself and a round robin of other people. So within that small room we were talking all the time and I would come home and my teeth would be hurting from laughing. I loved it so much because it was not like going to the office. It was like going to the circus every day. It was like a dream.

From THE SILVER SURFER #6, June 1969, image © Marvel

Here’s a page from another story lettered by Kuramoto using the pen name Sherigail. Very professional work that again I might have attributed to Sam Rosen. THE END? is in the style of Artie Simek.

From MILLIE THE MODEL #172, July 1969, image © Marvel

The balloons on this cover are attributed to Morrie, and here he uses thicker balloon borders, perhaps imitating that style by Artie Simek, though the letters aren’t at all like Artie’s work.

Morrie Kuramoto, 1975, from the Mighty Marvel Convention Program Book, image © Marvel

Morrie passed March 14, 1985 of a heart attack at age 64. An obituary in the Comics Buyers Guide from April 19, 1985, reads in part:

Officially, he was a letterer, though according to Danny Crespi, art and production coordinator, he was able to perform any production job that was tossed his way. “He’d break in every raw recruit who came in here,” Crespi said. “He broke Jim Shooter in. He taught Shooter how to do production work.” Kuramoto was known affectionately as “The Old Man of the Bullpen” and “The Ancient One.” “Morrie and I go back about thirty years,” Crespi said. “He got me my first job at Marvel.”

From COMBAT #2, July 1952, image © Marvel

Another member of the Marvel Bullpen in the 1950s was Joe Letterese (pronounced letter-easy), a fine name for a letterer. I can only be guided by the Grand Comics Database for his Marvel lettering credits, as on the page above. The style is very even, having regular letters made with a wedge-tipped pen, emphasized words with a round-tipped one, as was usual there at the time. The top line is type, the title is in the style of Artie Simek, and the open sound effects work well.

Joe Letterese at DC Comics, 1959, photo by Raymond Perry

Joseph F. “Joe” Letterese was born on June 14, 1917, in the Bronx, New York to Italian emigrant parents. For high school, he attended the School of Industrial Arts (founded in 1936), and joined the Army in 1942, serving as an aircraft identifier in England. He was injured in the bombing of London, and discharged in 1943. After some time on the staff of Parents magazine, Joe was hired at Timely/Marvel as a production artist and letterer in the mid 1940s. He was probably laid off in the 1949 staff purge, but soon hired back, as seen in the staff photo above with Morrie Kuramoto. Joe and his wife Katharine lived in Ridgewood, NJ. He was laid off again in 1957 when Marvel publisher Martin Goodman had to cut staff drastically due to distribution problems. Joe moved over to DC Comics, where he became a long-time production staffer and letterer there starting around 1958.

From ADVENTURE COMICS #267, Dec 1959, image © DC Comics

At DC, Joe again did lots of uncredited story lettering, according to the Grand Comics Database. In the example above, the letters are all made with round-pointed pens, which were more in favor at DC. Joe made the first letter of each caption a little larger and bolder, and his open letters at bottom left add interest.

From G.I. COMBAT #123, April 1967, image © DC Comics

Another story credited to Joe on lettering, the title of this one is large and effective. The uneven fill on some balloons and captions suggest they were drawn in by artist Russ Heath before Joe lettered them, some artists preferred to do that.

Image found online, © DC Comics

Perhaps Joe’s most famous work in the 1960s, though few knew it was his, was drawing the sound effects used in the Batman TV show. I don’t know if these are all by him, or if others were also doing them, but Joe was proud of this assignment and often talked about it.

From WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #239, July 1976, image © DC Comics

By the mid 1970s, Joe was more often lettering covers than stories. Gaspar Saladino was the main cover letterer at the time, but when he wasn’t available, covers were handed to other production staffers as freelance work, and this is one by Letterese.

From SUPER FRIENDS #2, Dec 1976, image © DC Comics

Another cover with lettering by Joe, and he also told me he designed this Super Friends logo. Joe once showed me some Marvel logos he designed in the 1950s, but sadly, I don’t remember what they were. Nothing related to superheroes. When I started in the DC production department in 1977, Joe sat two seats in front of me, with Morris Waldinger between us. Joe and Morris had been there together since 1958, and were pals. Joe was friendly, but I can’t say we were friends, perhaps too much of an age difference and interest difference between us. All three of us spent most of our time doing art and lettering corrections on interior pages, as well as things like pasting together letter columns. As a comics fan, I found it thrilling, but to Joe and Morris, it was just a job, it seemed to me.

From JONAH HEX #60, May 1982, image © DC Comics

Joe still occasionally lettered stories, this is one where he received a printed credit. The letters are a little looser than in the earlier examples, but it works fine. I like the Chinese calligraphy.

As I recall, Joe retired from DC in 1982, soon after the offices moved to 666 Fifth Avenue. Joe passed on June 3, 1991 in Wyckoff, NJ, survived by his wife and son, Joe Junior.

From YOUNG LOVE #63, Dec 1954, © Prize

At first glance, this story’s art might seem the work of George Tuska, but it’s actually by Pete Morisi. Pete had been told by an editor he should imitate Tuska’s art, and he liked the idea, but before he started, he asked Tuska if it was okay. Surprised, George said it was. That gives you an insight into Morisi’s moral view, one that would perhaps contribute to him becoming a New York City policeman for twenty years. Morisi sometimes drew stories written by others, but often wrote and drew them, and he’s generally credited with lettering them as well, as in the example above. The lettering has a somewhat blocky look that goes perfectly with the art, and I can see it coming from the same hand. There are a few odd spaces between words where I think a name was replace by the personal pronoun I later by someone else.

Pete Morisi, 1956, image found online

Peter A. Morisi was born Jan 7, 1928 in Brooklyn, NY. He attended the School of Industrial Art and the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, both in Manhattan. His first comics work was in the 1940s assisting on comic strips Dickie Dare and The Saint, and he had just been hired by Fox Comics in 1948 when he was drafted into the Army. He served in Colorado and managed to continue writing stories for Fox, and also drawing a few. Once back in New York, he worked for many comics publishers, but Charlton Comics eventually became his main employer.

From FIGHTIN’ MARINES #18, April 1956, © Charlton

For Charlton, Morisi did lots of war and western stories, above is an example. The lettering looks similar to the previous page to me, except for the rectangular balloons, which blend well with the art style. Morisi was finding comics work hard to get in the mid 1950s, and decided he needed a more dependable salary, so he studied for and joined the NYPD in 1956, working there until retiring in 1976. He continued to do comics, but always signed his work with the pen name PAM to keep his side job from the notice of his bosses.

From THUNDERBOLT #51, June 1966, © Charlton

Perhaps Morisi’s best known creation as writer and artist was Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt for editor Dick Giordano at Charlton. The book was popular, but Morisi couldn’t keep up with the workload, and after a handful of issues had to give it up to others. This page from his first issue might be lettered by him, but the style is rather different, and I think it was lettered by Jon D’Agostino, allowing more time for Pete on the art. Thunderbolt later appeared from other publishers.

From VENGEANCE SQUAD #5, March 1976, © Charlton

Morisi also worked on Vengeance Squad, and the more blocky lettering on this page looks like his style to me.

Pete settled on Staten Island with his wife Louise in 1973, and did some cartooning for local papers, but did not do much comics work after the 1970s. He passed on Oct 12, 2003, survived by three sons. Mark Evanier posted a fine memorial to him.

From TOM & JERRY COMICS #136, © Western/Dell, Nov 1955

According to the Grand Comics Database, this story and hundreds more were lettered by Rome Siemon, a staff letterer at the California offices of Western Publishing, whose comics came out under the Dell brand name. In an article about him by Mark Evanier, Mark says Rome began lettering for Western in the late 1940s, and was the main letterer at the Los Angeles comics division through the early 1960s, first on staff, then as a freelancer. Other than Carl Barks, who lettered his own stories (or had his wife Garé Barks letter them), and a few other artists who did their own, most of the comics stories from that office have his lettering. Siemon’s letters mostly fit in a square, are narrower than most comics lettering, and they have appealing curves.

Rome Siemon from Mark Evanier’s blog, date unknown

Jerome Emil “Rome” Siemon was born on August 8, 1900, in Rock Island, Illinois. In newspaper articles from his childhood, he was called Romie, so had already shortened his name. In his teens and early twenties, Rome worked at mundane jobs while playing the piano in jazz bands on the side, and he also did live piano accompaniment for silent films. He married Beatrice Vogel in 1923, and the couple relocated to Chicago, then Moline, IL, where he worked as a hotel manager. A few years later, the family moved again to Los Angeles. Rome’s art training is unknown, but his goal was to become a cartoonist. He drew the single panel Collection Day Chuckles from 1948 into the 1950s, and the strip Little Moonfolks, also known as the Little Folks of Circleville starting in 1949, but neither lasted very long. His staff job at Western was mainly lettering the work of others, but he may have also done some art there.

From WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #219, Dec 1958, Western/Dell, image © Disney

A later Western/Dell page lettered by Rome in the same style. I don’t know if the character logo is his, but the names over the door would be, and they’re nicely done.

In his article, Evanier writes:

Western operated out of two offices, one in New York and one in downtown L.A., but as the line expanded, they moved into their own building on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills on the same block as the local branch of the Friar’s Club. Later, when the company downsized a bit, they moved into the Max Factor Building on Hollywood Boulevard, directly across from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. When the company got even smaller, they moved into a building in Burbank right across from the Forest Lawn cemetery…which is where Rome Siemon was buried.

Mr. Siemon probably worked in a staff capacity at the building on Santa Monica Boulevard and went freelance, working from home, when they moved to Hollywood. He eventually became the main letterer of comics produced out of that office which included all the Disney books, the Walter Lantz books, the Edgar Rice Burroughs comics, and many others. There were also non-licensed comics produced out of the L.A. office including Magnus, Robot Fighter and Space Family Robinson.

There were a few artists who worked for Western’s L.A. office who usually lettered their own work, including Alex Toth, John Carey, Mike Royer and Warren Tufts. Most did not letter their own work and I would venture that in the sixties, about 80% of what came out of that office was lettered by Siemon.

From BEEP-BEEP #7, Nov 1960, © Western/Dell

Another story lettered by Siemon with delightful rounded sound effects. In the first panel, he uses parentheses, the old style of indicating breathy words, around GULP!

Rome passed on Oct 6, 1969, in Los Angeles. Mark Evanier wrote:

The editors I worked for [at Western] starting in 1971 spoke glowingly of his skill and reliability. A guy who did as much work as he did deserves to be a little better known.

I couldn’t agree more.

From THE FLASH #265, Sept 1978, image © DC Comics

When DC Comics began adding full creator credits to all their stories in the fall of 1977, one of the letterers readers could now name was Milt Snapinn. What they didn’t know is that he’d been a DC employee for more than three decades already. His lettering on this story is competent and professional, with some variation to the letters that adds interest. The story title does the job, but is less accomplished.

Milt Snapinn from a 1948 National/DC Comics staff photo, image © DC Comics

Milt Snapinn was born Milton Snapinsky on Nov 3, 1927 in Manhattan, New York to Russian emigrant parents. The family later moved to The Bronx. Milt’s art training is not known. In Nov 1945, he filled out a draft card giving his employer’s name as Detective Comics at 480 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, another name used by DC, the year he started at the company. In his DC Profile, Milt said he intended to replace a stockroom worker for two weeks, but it became seven years. Milt served in the Army from 1946 to 1947, but otherwise spent his entire long career on staff at DC Comics. In March, 1949, he married Adele B. Schaffer in The Bronx. Some time in the early 1950s he changed his last name to Snapinn.

In 1952, Milt moved over to the DC production department for a while, then was asked to help prepare material for foreign publishers. Editorial director Irwin Donenfeld had found out that the film negatives used to make printing plates for all the comics were being melted down to recapture the silver in them. Irwin put a stop to it, demanding that all the negatives be sent to the DC offices, and Milt was soon put in charge of keeping them organized, filling requests for reprints, and later preparing them for foreign reprints by painting over the English lettering in the balloons with red opaque paint. That allowed other countries to add their own lettering in the empty balloons and captions, and if the film was needed for a reprint by DC, the opaque paint could be washed off. In time, this film library grew to a massive size, and Milt was busy enough that he had assistants. Until comics began going all digital and the old film was converted, which took years, the film library was an essential part of the company’s resources.

From WESTERN COMICS #56, March 1956, image © DC Comics

At some point, like most DC employees, Milt wanted to do some kind of freelance work to supplement his staff pay, and he chose lettering. He began doing showcard lettering and sign painting as a side job, then was able to land freelance comics lettering work. The Grand Comics Database has lettering credits for him beginning in 1948, but after looking at many of those early credits, I think they’re by someone else. The earliest story I found that matches the style of Snapinn’s later credited lettering is above. The letter shapes, the balloon shapes, and the story title look right for Milt in my opinion. He might have used another style at first, I could be wrong, but I put his earliest DC lettering at 1955, published in 1956. Most of his credits from the 1950s are on titles edited by Julius Schwartz, and when I knew them starting in 1977, Julie and Milt were pals, and often played cards together at lunchtime, so that sounds right. In his profile, Milt said he also lettered newspaper strips The Phantom and Abbie & Slats, as well as filling in for Ira Schnapp on Superman and Batman. I don’t know when he did those.

From WESTERN COMICS #60, Nov 1956, image © DC Comics

Another example from a few months later with similar story title, balloon, and lettering styles.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #482, Feb 1979, image © DC Comics

My favorite story lettered by Milt, for obvious reasons, is “Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure.” The page above is from my collection. Written by Bob Rozakis, art by Michael Golden and Bob Smith, lettering by Snapinn, color by Anthony Tollin, edited by Al Milgrom, and production work by me, we’re all in the story! It’s a classic that’s been reprinted and collected several times.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #482, Feb 1979, image © DC Comics

This detail gives us a good look at Milt’s lettering, as well as Golden’s spot-on depictions of him and Anthony Tollin. As was common at DC, Milt used a round-tipped pen rather than a wedge-tipped one, and it looks to me like he did the slanted emphasized words by simply pressing a little harder with the same pen.

From SECRET ORIGINS #19, Oct 1987, image © DC Comics

Here’s late lettering example from Milt, the lettering still looks about the same. Milt retired from DC some time in the early 1990s, when he was in his sixties, and he passed on March 31, 1999 in Mount Holly, NJ at the age of 71. While we worked together for ten years, I never knew Milt well, but I liked him, and found him friendly and sometimes funny. I liked his lettering, too.

From THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #93, March-April 1966, image © DC Comics

It was rare for a letterer to receive credit in a DC Comic in the 1960s, but several have one like this for Stan Quill. This was the pen name of Stan Starkman, who had been working for Marvel and DC Comics since the early 1950s, and perhaps earlier. By 1966, there were several distinctive things about his lettering that make it easy to identify even when he wasn’t credited, which was most of the time: his titles are very angular, and his balloon shapes are too, having many angular loops that sometimes go well beyond the letters. Those letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen, and are wide and well-formed in the classic shapes used in comics.

From Alter Ego #49 (TwoMorrows), the only photo I’ve found of Stan Starkman

Stanley Keith Starkman was born on May 16, 1927, in the Bronx, New York. His father was a Polish emigrant, his mother was born in New York to Russian parents. The family lived in The Bronx at least into the 1940s. Stan served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946. Nothing is known about his art training. He found work as a letterer at Timely/Marvel and DC Comics possibly as early as 1948, but the Grand Comics Database has no credits for him at Marvel, only at DC. Stan is not in the famous Marvel Bullpen photo from about 1954, but perhaps he was out that day. Stan married Suzanne L. Blau in June, 1951 in Manhattan. By that time, Stan’s parents were living in Bellerose, Queens, NY, and Stan and his wife moved to a house next door to them, and raised their family there. In Alter Ego #134, (TwoMorrows, July 2015), Richard J. Arndt interviewed Marvel staff colorist Stan Goldberg, who said:

Socially we’d go out and do stuff together [in earlier years]. Stan [Lee] and his wife, Carl Burgos and his wife, Stan Starkman—he was a letterer who went to DC, and Herbie Cooper, another letterer who formed his own printing company. These were all guys from the old bullpens. 

From WESTERN COMICS #14, April 1950, image © DC Comics

One of the earliest lettering credits for Stan in the GCD is this story, which does have letter shapes made with a wedge-tipped pen that are similar to his later work. The balloons, while less angular, also have lots of large loops, so I think this could be his work.

From CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN #11, Dec 1959 – Jan 1960, image © DC Comics

Many of Starkman’s lettering credits from the late 1950s on are for DC books edited by Jack Schiff. At the time, editors tended to have their favorites, and Stan must have been one of Jack’s, or perhaps a favorite of one of his associate editors, Murray Boltinoff or George Kashdan.

Superman postcard, image © DC Comics

Stan may have been working in the DC production department in 1964 when visiting fan and later comics pro Pat McGreal received a signed postcard from him, as described in THIS article. Or, possibly Starkman was simply finishing up some freelance work in the production room that day.

From BATMAN #145, Feb 1962, image © DC Comics

This Batman story from the Jack Schiff era is lettered by Stan, his balloon shapes are not as angular as they would become in a year or two, but they do have large loops.

From TEEN TITANS #8, March-April 1967, image © DC Comics

One of the latest examples of Starkman’s lettering I could find at DC, this one has balloons with large loops that are again not as angular as on his Stan Quill-credited stories, but the lettering matches his other work.

On the Digital Webbing website, now offline, Stan’s son Mark wrote:

After his lettering career ended, he worked in advertising typography for a time but his real passion was photography. His photos won numerous awards. He even started a company, PicTours, where he took a group of amateur photographers on a photo trip and gave a photo workshop (in a specially equipped van) on the way to the site.

Mark reported his parents had retired to Coconut Creek, FL around 2001. Stan passed on Jan 22, 2011 in Pompano Beach, FL at age 83.

From ADVENTURE COMICS #454, Nov 1977, image © DC Comics

Like others in this article, Morris Waldinger’s lettering first became known to readers when DC Comics started adding full creator credits to all their stories in the fall of 1977. Like Joe Letterese, Morris worked in the DC production department, and I believe he started around 1953. His lettering followed the general style at DC, using round-tipped pens, but was more uneven than that of Letterese. In the 1950s, he was also an artist on dozens of full and half-page fillers used when not enough paid ads were sold. He may also have done art for a few longer stories at DC and elsewhere.

Morris Waldinger in the DC Comics production department, 1959, photo by Raymond Perry

Morris M. Waldinger was born July 9, 1928 in Manhattan, NY to Polish emigrant parents. Later the family moved to Queens. In 1946, Morris graduated from the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan with a major in cartooning. Two of his classmates were Sy Barry and Alex Toth. Later in 1946, Morris filled out a draft card giving his employer as Centry Kiddie Togs, probably a clothing manufacturer. It’s unknown how and when he landed at DC Comics. When I started there in 1977, Mo (as his friends called him) sat in front of me, with his pal Joe Letterese in front of him. Joe and Mo often talked to and laughed with each other, but I found Morris not very interesting to converse with, as he didn’t seem interested in comics except as a way to make money.

From MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY #35, Sept-Oct 1953, image © DC Comics

This is the kind of filler that Morris is credited with penciling and inking in the 1950s and early 1960s, often for editor Julius Schwartz, but also for others. I would call his art skills passable but unexciting. The lettering on this page is also credited to him, and it does seem similar to his later work. It’s possible Morris was doing this kind of thing on a freelance basis before taking the staff job.

From SUPERMAN FAMILY #188, March 1978, image © DC Comics

Another story with a printed credit for Waldinger, this one has an interesting alien balloon style, and the lettering is generally good.

When the DC Implosion hit the company in 1978, some staffers were let go. Only one production staffer met that fate, and it was Morris. Sadly, the company had celebrated his 25th year on staff not long before that, putting his start date at 1953. I never knew what Morris did after that, and I never saw him again. I imagine he found other kinds of commercial art employment.

Morris passed on Jan 2, 2006 in Long Island City, Queens, NY. I haven’t found any other information about him, I don’t know if he was survived by family. I hope so. His comics career may have been unremarkable, but he did his best, as we all did.

Continue to next article. Back to The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

2 thoughts on “More 1950s Letterers Part 2

  1. David Rutman

    I enjoyed reading about Morrie Kuramoto and Danny Crespi. Nora Maclin introduced me to them when I wanted to be a letterer. Every other week for several months they gave me pages, comics, pens and ink, and told me to copy the comics. They would critique my work and encourage me. I never worked for Marvel or DC but I did do one Yosemite Sam story for Gold Key

  2. Michael Gallaher

    Those jagged caption boxes of Starkman’s instantly evoke Silver Age DC for me, in particular the 2nd tier features like Challengers, Doom Patrol, Sea Devils, Mark Merlin, etc., which I guess is actually the result of those kinds of titles being in the Schiff/Boltinoff/Kashdan lineup. A good example of how lettering can contribute to the feel of a house style, or at least a “wing of the house” style.

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