More 1970s Letterers Part 1

From RED SONJA #1, Jan 1977, image © Marvel

While some comics publishers in the 1970s were hitting setbacks, others like Marvel were increasing output regularly, making room for new creators of every kind, including letterers. In this two-part article, I’ll look at a few creators who lettered as well as doing other things, and letterers who are less well known. Frank Thorne was a writer, artist, and letterer when he had the chance, but for Marvel he was working as an artist, and was usually able to letter his own work. That made things easier for everyone, as he could turn in finished pages that were inked and lettered already. His lettering for RED SONJA was excellent, it used a wedge-tipped pen for the balloon letters, along with a round-tipped pen for emphasized words, and the organic caption borders went well with the organic panel borders. His title has beautiful lower case script for UNICORN, too bad the dot over the I wasn’t colored.

Frank Thorne, early 1970s, image found online

Benjamin Franklin Thorne was born June 16, 1930 in Rahway, NJ to a working-class family. He loved Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comic strip, and that sent him on a path toward comics, though he also pursued careers as a jazz trumpeter and a stage magician. He began getting work in comics in 1947 at age 17 while attending Manhattan’s Art Career School. In 1952 he married his wife Marilyn, and they remained together the rest of their lives. Also in 1952 he drew a Perry Mason comic strip for King Features that lasted less than a year.

From FOUR COLOR #496, Sept 1953, The Green Hornet, © Western/Dell

He moved on to comics for Western/Dell where he often penciled, inked, lettered, and colored, one source says. The story above might be lettered by Frank, but I can’t be sure, so I’m starting my look at Frank’s lettering career in 1971, though he was likely lettering long before that.

From THE FAR OUT GREEN SUPER COOL #1, 1971, © Social Welfare Research Foundation

This rare annual series was written, drawn, and lettered by Thorne for distribution to schools and social agencies in Newark, NJ. The goal was to familiarize children in the fourth through sixth grades with the laws governing juvenile deliquency. I found no inside images, but the logo and lettering here are by Frank.

From RED CIRCLE SORCERY #8, Aug 1974, image © Archie Comics

In 1974, artist Gray Morrow edited a few horror/mystery titles for Archie under the Red Circle logo. Thorne did several stories for it like this one. His lettering, using wedge-tipped and round pens, is professional, consistent, and has just enough organic bounce and variety to be appealing. Frank was a frequent visitor to comics conventions in the 1970s in costume as The Wizard, usually with one or more women portraying Red Sonja. He and comics creator Wendy Pini put on regular shows at cons in those roles. Frank did comics work for DC and other publishers, and starting in the 1980s, found a lucrative niche for himself producing soft porn comics stories for Playboy, Heavy Metal, and other slick magazines. In the 1990s he did more of that for Fantagraphics, all lettered by him as well. Frank and Marilyn both died on the same day, March 7, 2021. I met them in the 2010s, and they were charming and fun to talk to.

From THE RAWHIDE KID #103, Sept 1972, image © Marvel

Marvel welcomed several new letterers in the early 1970s, one was Denise Vladimer (later Denise Wohl), whose work on this story is credited. The story title reminds me of Artie Simek, but the balloon lettering, made with wedge-tipped and round-tipped pens, is more like that of Gaspar Saladino, though not as consistent. It looks good.

Denise Vladimer from The Mighty Marvel Comic Convention Program Book, 1975, image © Marvel

I haven’t found out much about Denise Vladimer Wohl. Ancestry suggests she was born July 1952, and she attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn in 1970. Denise worked in the DC Comics production department for a few years in the early 70s. She may well have done freelance lettering at the time, but there’s no record of it. It was after moving to Marvel that she began to get printed credit. Denise married Larry Wohl in 1975, and her lettering credits reflect that change. The story above is the first one credited to her, and her lettering at Marvel runs to 1979.

From POWER MAN #39, Jan 1977, image © Marvel

A later story credited to Denise Wohl, and the regular letters are a little smaller, perhaps to get everything in. The sound effects are well done.

From MARVEL TEAM-UP #80, April 1979, image © Marvel

Another page from near the end of her Marvel lettering with handsome signs and fine lettering that’s unfortunately printed too heavy, making parts of it run together. I don’t know where Denise went from here, but she made a surprising return to comics in 2007 as the publisher of SEVEN, which had only one issue. It was written by Jim Shooter, who Wohl might have met at Marvel, and THIS site has photos of the release party, which include Denise and her family. I’m guessing it did not sell well. I don’t know anything else about Denise Wohl’s life and career after that.

From THE OUTLAW KID #13, Dec 1972, image © Marvel

Marvel hired June Braverman as a letterer in the early 1970s, and she lettered for them from 1972 to 1974. The story above is the first one with her printed credit. Both the title and lettering are in the style of Artie Simek, and they work fine.

June Braverman from her high school yearbook, 1965

June H. Braverman was born in 1948 on Long Island, New York, I haven’t found the exact date or place. By the 1960s, she and her sister Lynn and their parents were living in Hewett, Long Island, where June went to high school, as seen above. Note she was in the Art Club. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with an art degree around 1971, and then went to grad school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she met Rick Parker. Rick doesn’t know how or when she began working at Marvel, but that must have been at the same time she was at Pratt.

From IRON MAN #68, June 1974, image © Marvel

A closer look at June’s lettering, though I think the last three lines in the bottom balloon are by someone else. The rest of this lettering is wider and a bit looser than the first example, suggesting Braverman was getting more confident and working faster.

From MAN-THING #20, Aug 1975, image © Marvel

The style is much the same in this later example. I like the wobbly balloon at the bottom and the sound effect. This story may have sat for a while before being published. June seems to have done fine at Marvel as a letterer, but perhaps decided it was not the career she wanted.

June Braverman by Rick Parker, from memory, 2023

Rick Parker and June were dating, and she introduced him at Marvel so he had an in when he decided to try to get work there. Rick told me she left Marvel in 1974 and moved to Tuczon, Arizona. June’s parents announced her engagement to Joel Greenspan on July 7, 1974. Joel was an intern at the Tucson, AZ Medical Center. Today, June Greenspan has a photography business in Armonk, NY.

From GHOSTS #13, March 1973, image © DC Comics

If you were reading DC’s war, mystery, and western titles in the early 1970s, you witnessed the introduction of artists from the Philippines, which had its own robust original comics at the time. Tony DeZuniga was the first, beginning in 1970, and in 1971 DC publisher Carmine Infantino and editor Joe Orlando traveled to the Philippines on a recruiting trip. Soon many other Filipino artists were working for DC, including Alfredo Alcala, Mar Amongo, Ernie Chan, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, and Gerry Talaoc, who drew and inked the story above. At first they worked in their home country, and they needed a local letterer so they could send in finished work. They hired Esphid Mahilum, and his lettering was excellent. I’m not sure if he was an English-speaker, but I never saw any mistakes in his lettering, so he probably was. The title of this story may have been penciled by Talaoc, but it’s well-inked by Mahilum, and the balloons have an appealing organic edge.

Esphid Mahilum, 2020, from his Facebook page

Esphid Mahilum, often credited as Esphidy, was born Oct 2nd 1952 in Escalante, Negros Occidental, Philippines. I don’t know his lettering history before it began appearing at DC in 1973, when he was twenty-one years old, but at some point he was part of the Nestor Redondo Studio. It’s not clear if he came to America with other Filipino artists, but he might have. If so, he probably moved back later.

From THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER #246, Dec 1980, image © DC Comics

The Filipinos were used in various ways by DC. Here, the story was penciled by Dick Ayers, then sent to the Philippines, where Esphid lettered it and Talaoc inked it. The lettering is now wider and very regular, with rows that are close together, and it reads fine. The thought balloon has lots of small loops.

From SGT. ROCK #416, June 1987, image © DC Comics

A closer look. Here some of the vertical strokes lean slightly to the left, and the R and B have very narrow loops. The display lettering at the top is excellent. The balloon shapes are thicker than earlier examples. Mahilum’s lettering seems to have ended around this time. He also lettered a few stories for Marvel and Eclipse. Toward the end of the 1980s, Filipino artists were seen less often in mainstream comics, but the best of them had fans here who continued to follow their work. I don’t know what Esphid did after 1987, his Facebook page, or perhaps that of his son (it’s not clear), suggests he passed in 2021, leaving behind children and other family.

From CHARLTON BULLSEYE #4, March-April 1976, Charlton Comics, E-man © Joe Staton

Peter Iro was born Nov 14, 1967 in Sarasota, FL, and seems to have lived there most of his life. That’s all I’ve been able to find out about him. His career as a comics letterer begin with this story, as far as I can tell, and he lettered for Marvel, DC, and other publishers into the 1990s. The lettering here is lively, with a cartoony bounce that goes well with Joe Staton’s art.

From MS. MARVEL #13, Jan 1978, image © Marvel

The lettering is a bit more regular on this example for Marvel, but still with appealing bounce and variation while being easy to read. Some letters lean slightly to the left. I like the rough double border on the bottom balloon.

From ELVIRA’S HOUSE OF MYSTERY #1, Jan 1986, image © DC Comics

A closer look at Pete’s lettering for this DC title. The regular letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen, and there are a few changes from the examples above, as in the more curved right leg of the R. The letters here are also more regular. I don’t know what Pete Iro did after he stopped lettering comics, but he did that well.

From CHAMBER OF CHILLS #3, March 1973, image © Marvel

In August of 1972, Dave Hunt answered a want ad and began working in the Marvel Comics bullpen, where he did art and lettering corrections, and probably other work like putting together covers. The Grand Comics Database has possible credits for Dave on cover lettering as early as the fall of 1972, and that could be so, but I’m not sure about them. I do know that Dave was willing to try any kind of freelance work for the company, and he did lettering, coloring, and inking, the latter being the skill I think he did best. Above is what I believe is Dave’s first story lettering, which would have probably been done in late 1972, and is not credited, but Dave’s own records, published in his autobiography Dave Hunt An Artist’s Life (ComicArtAds, 2018) include it. The title and lettering are similar to that of Artie Simek, though a wedge-tipped pen was used for the regular balloon lettering.

Dave Hunt and Todd Klein in my studio, 2013, photo by Ron Jordan

David Victor Hunt was born Aug 2, 1942, in Newark, NJ. His father worked in the automotive industry, and had some cartooning skills. Dave loved comics from an early age, and he was able to keep and reread the ones he was given. He started drawing at a very young age, encouraged by his parents and teachers. He went to college at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, where he took science and drafting classes, but found more pleasure in a few art classes. He married at age 21 in 1963, and his son Ben was born in 1967. He also studied art at Kean College, and graduated there with an art degree. His first job was in the art department of publisher Macmillan in New York, where he learned the production skills that proved useful at Marvel. He was also painting in his spare time, and continued to do so all his life. Once he got in at Marvel, comics became his main career. Dave’s autobiography tells interesting stories of working in Marvel’s very small Bullpen in 1972, and a larger one a year or two later.

From MARVEL TEAM-UP #19, March 1974, image © Marvel

This story from about a year into his Marvel time has an interesting title with almost cloud-like shapes for STEGRON and rougher ones for the bottom line. The balloon and caption lettering works well.

From DAREDEVIL #117, Jan 1975, image © Marvel

This page has some fine bursts and sound effects. I like the rough-ended letters in the first burst. Perhaps because he was also on staff every day, Dave doesn’t seem to have usually done more than one kind of freelance work at a time. On other stories he was the colorist, and eventually mainly an inker.

From X-MEN #96, Dec 1975, image © Marvel

Near the end of Dave’s time at Marvel, he was working on X-MEN, and Dave later told me if he’d stayed longer, he might have become the regular inker, but DC Comics offered him a better deal with a higher page rate and regular inking assignments, and Dave made that move. He was living in Piscataway, NJ at the time, and when I started at DC in 1977, we became friends. We visited each other’s homes, and I did some background inking for Dave a few times before deciding I was happier lettering. Dave went on to many years of fine inking at DC and other companies. We saw each other occasionally, and I was sad to learn of his passing on March 5, 2017 at the age of 74. I recommend his autobiography if you’d like to know more about him.

From National Lampoon #35, Feb 1973, image © National Lampoon Inc.

Alan Kupperberg is another creator who broke into comics in the early 1970s, and who was willing and able to do any kind of freelance work, including lettering. His first credited lettering is on this comics story about President Taft, and it was difficult to find an excerpt I felt comfortable showing here because of the content. The lettering is well done, using a round-tipped pen and having very regular letters and horizontal rows that are close together.

Alan Kupperberg by Jack Adler, 1972, image found online

Alan Kupperberg was born May 18, 1953 in New York City. His younger brother is comics writer Paul Kupperberg. He graduated from the High School of Art and Design in 1971, and was in the DC Comics production department for a year or two after that. Alan then worked at Neal Adams‘ Continuity Associates and was a member of the Crusty Bunkers, a group of artists who assisted Neal on art assignments for comics publishers, often to get rush assignments finished. He started freelancing for Marvel Comics in 1972, and DC Comics soon after, in various creative roles: penciler, inker, letterer, and later as a writer.

From THE INCREDIBLE HULK #172, Feb 1974, image © Marvel

Here’s an early story at Marvel with Alan’s lettering credit. The title is well done, as is the balloon and caption lettering. One difference from the earlier sample is the letter S is more angular with a wide center stroke.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #441, June-July 1974, image © DC Comics

At DC, Kupperberg lettered this chapter of Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s Manhunter, though the sound effects and probably the balloon shapes are by Walt. Fine work by everyone!

From OBNOXIO THE CLOWN #1, April 1983, image © Marvel

While Alan could do any kind of comics, as a writer I think he was best at sarcastic humor, and this is a prime example. Alan did everything except edit the book and create the character. The character logo, title, and lettering all look good, and I like the smaller lettering in the balloon at bottom right.

Alan continued to work mainly as an artist at DC and Marvel through the 1990s, as well as a comic strip artist on Howard the Duck, The Incredible Hulk, and Little Orphan Annie. He wrote and drew some interesting autobiographical stories about his early years in comics that I first saw when he posted them on Facebook. I had met Alan a few times at DC, but got to know him better on Facebook, where he helped me with information about the DC offices for my blog. Late in life he moved to Rancho Mirage, CA, where he died of cancer on July 16, 2015 at the age of 62, too young.

From FRANKENSTEIN #11, July 1974, image © Marvel

Annette Kawecki is another letterer who began at Marvel in the early 1970s. The title on this example is well designed telescoped letters, and the balloon lettering seems to be done with round-tipped pens in the style of Artie Simek. The balloon shapes are also like those of Simek.

Annette Kawecki, 1970s, image found online

Annette Renee Kawecki was born in Syracuse, NY in May of 1952, and went to Nottingham High School there, graduating in 1969. I haven’t found out anything about her art training, or how she came to Marvel Comics as a letterer. I do have information about where she went after comics, more on that later.

From POWER MAN #49, Feb 1978, image © Marvel Comics

By 1978, Annette was lettering many issues for Marvel, and doing it well. I like the titles on this story, and all the lettering is professional and easy to read, even where poor printing has caused some letters to run together.

From ROM #15, Feb 1981, image © Marvel

There’s an excellent sound effect on this page that’s full of energy and excitement. The balloon lettering is narrower than earlier examples, and the regular letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen.

From CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW #6, Aug 1982, image © DC Comics

Kawecki also lettered for Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach, Atlas/Seaboard, Eclipse, and DC Comics, as seen above, where she again uses telescoping in the story title. Lots of balloons and captions on this page, but it all works fine.

In the mid 1970s, Annette must have felt she needed a career change, and she returned to school to get a medical degree. She attended Hunter College in New York while continuing to letter for Marvel and other clients. She then went to the State University of Buffalo, graduating in 1982. Annette began practicing as a Psychiatry Specialist that year, and has done so ever since. A bio on this medical site lists practices in Kingston, NY, Burlington, MA, and Holyoke, MA. Though her lettering was good, Annette’s second career is probably more lucrative and perhaps more fulfilling for her.

From DAREDEVIL #118, Feb 1975, image © Marvel

One more letterer hired by Marvel in the early 1970s was Karen Mantlo, who first worked under the name Karen Pocock, as seen above. The title of this story has great work on the word CIRCUS, but the rest is poorly laid out. The balloon lettering reminds me of Artie Simek’s work, but the regular letters are done with a wedge-tipped pen.

Bill and Karen Mantlo, 1970s, image found online

Karen Subek Pocock Mantlo was born Oct 28, 1945, though I haven’t found out where. She was living in Manhattan by 1965, when she married Jeffery Pocock. That marriage did not last, though she kept the Pocock name when she started working at Marvel around 1974. At some point she met writer Bill Mantlo, and they married in 1974, with Karen thereafter lettering as Karen Mantlo. Possibly Bill brought her in at Marvel, perhaps she worked in the Bullpen.

From MARVEL TEAM-UP #50, Oct 1976, image © Marvel

A closer look at Karen’s lettering, it’s a bit uneven, but reads well and works okay. I like the unusual radio balloon tail in the second panel. All the lettering is now done with round-tipped pens.

From THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #4, March 1977, image © Marvel

A page from near the end of Karen’s time as a letterer at Marvel. She got the job done, but her sound effects aren’t so good here. Karen and Bill Mantlo had a son and a daughter, and she may have given up lettering to raise them. Bill continued to write for comics into the mid 1980s, then started a new career as a public defender. Sadly, he was struck by a car while rollerblading in 1992, and suffered severe brain damage, now requiring constant care. I’m not sure whether he and Karen are still married, but she did no more work in comics after about 1977.

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

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