More 1980s Letterers Part 2

From JUSTICE #23, Sept 1988, image © Marvel

Continuing with more letterers who began in the 1980s, Michael Heisler first found work at Marvel in 1987, above is one of his earliest stories. The balloon letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen, probably the Marvel letterer favorite Hunt 107, and I like the organic and thick-bordered sound effects.

Michael Heisler by Chris Provinzano, 2011

Michael Heisler was born Oct 22, 1962 in Pittsburgh, PA. He studied art at Carnegie Mellon University there, graduating with a double major in drawing and painting in 1985. After about a year of low-paying jobs, Mike decided to try comics lettering, something he felt he could do, but early attempts to break in at First Comics in Chicago didn’t pan out. In March, 1987, Mike showed his comics art samples to then Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter at a store signing in Pittsburgh. Shooter told him his art needed more work, but he could probably get hired as a letterer at Marvel. He brought his samples to New York and showed them to then Marvel production manager Jim Novak, and was offered a job in the Marvel Bullpen. Heisler told me:

Practically from my first week in the Bullpen I was picking up lettering jobs, and for the entire time I lived in the NYC area I was never out of work.

From THOR #420, Aug 1990, image © Marvel

On this handsome splash page, Mike’s story title reminds me of the work of Joe Rosen, and the title lettering is classic Marvel work. In 1990, Heisler moved over to become an assistant editor, while still doing lots of freelance lettering. When Image Comics was formed in the early 1990s, Michael joined Homage Studios to letter and eventually write comics for Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri. From 1995 to 1997 he was editor-in-chief at Lee’s WildStorm division of Image.

From BATMAN: LEGEND OF THE DARK KNIGHT #51, Sept 1993, image © DC Comics

Heisler also found time to letter for other companies like DC Comics, as seen here. Later he became a busy letterer at Dark Horse where he was the sole letterer on Star Wars titles for eight years.

From LADY MECHANIKA FCBD #1, Aug 2021, image © Joe Benitez

Michael’s skills as a digital letterer have kept him in demand from many publishers, as seen in this example with lots of creative variety. He lives and works today in Pittsburgh.

From GRIMJACK #4, Nov 1984, © 1First Comics

Steve Haynie is a letterer who worked his way up through the smaller companies, and his first published story, above, shows a professional mastery of balloon lettering, and effective display work in the title and sound effects.

Steve Haynie, 2023

Steven Patrick Haynie was born April 16, 1964 in Quantico, Virginia. His family moved to South Carolina when he was a few months old, and Steve continues to live there. When asked about his art training, Steve told me:

A lot of art paper and sketchbooks were filled with drawings. My notebooks in school were full of drawings. Like others, I wanted to draw comic books or a comic strip. In junior high I took a mechanical drawing class, and that included proper lettering. A few years later I had a mechanical drawing class at the tech school I attended after high school. I had to use an Ames lettering guide. My samples went with me to conventions. Dick Giordano spent time with a lot of aspiring artists who presented their work. He spent time with me. You would give me reviews, too. Fandom friends who were trying to created their own comics let me work on their projects. Of course, I was sending out samples to different publishers. 

The first pro job I did was on a story for Pacific Comics’ ALIEN WORLDS. At the same time I got a phone call from Joe Staton at First comics offering me work on an eight page back up story that appeared in GRIMJACK # 4. Getting that phone call was one of the most incredible moments in the life of a comics fanboy! First gave me more work, and I gained a friend out of it, Mike Gold.  Around that time I got more work from Comico and a few other companies as I sent out more samples. 

From NEXUS #19, April 1986, 1First Comics, image © Mike Baron & Steve Rude

Steve went on to other books at First Comics, like NEXUS, where his titles were strong and effective.

From SECRET ORIGINS #50, Aug 1990, image © DC Comics

Steve worked his way up to DC Comics by 1990, here’s a closer look at his lettering. It’s made with round-tipped pens, is easy to read, and looks good.

From THE NEVERMEN #3, July 2000, © Dark Horse

Steve was a busy letterer for many companies, including Dark Horse, Disney, Image, Marvel, Acclaim and Valiant. His work on this story shows the influence of Artie Simek in the balloon shapes, and has a great sound effect. Steve’s comics work ended around 2001.

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

Kurt Hathaway’s first few lettering jobs were for DC Comics, he began freelancing there in 1985. The sample above has fine balloon lettering made with round-tipped pens, and the balloons are wide ovals with flattened tops and bottoms. The story title is excellent.

Kurt Hathaway on a film set

Kurt Hathaway was born June 9, 1960 in Providence, RI. At age six, his family moved to Narragansett, where he grew up. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, and transfered to the New York University Film School in 1980, graduating with a BA in 1982. He pursued a film career in New York, then in Hollywood starting in 1989, but Kurt told me:

Getting into comics was kind of a way to have bargaining power on film job offers. Since we’d work 6 to 9 months (or whatever) — then be out of work until the next job was found. The idea was not only to have work going in between film jobs — but to have the ability to turn down low-paying job offers even if out of work for three months. I’d have a choice, and not have to grab whatever came along. But it was kind of a double-edged sword. I couldn’t really NOT do comics work when I was on a film — I had to do both to maintain client continuity. I was always an artist, but didn’t have the chops or desire to be a real comics artist, so I turned to lettering. I started in 1983 or so, turning pro in 1985…?

After breaking in at DC, Kurt became a busy letterer for many smaller publishers including Eclipse, Eternity, Malibu, First, Now, Comico, and Dark Horse. He also did sporadic work for Marvel. When Image Comics began in 1993, Kurt was hired as the main letterer, and soon a writer and editor, for Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios division.

From YOUNGBLOOD #4, Feb 1993, © Image

In this example, Kurt’s hand-lettering is enhanced by some effective special balloon styles. He would soon be working digitally for Image, and turning out an incredible number of pages.

From HOURMAN #22, Jan 2001, image © DC Comics

Kurt returned to letter for DC in the late 1990s, where his digital fonts and scary styles were put to good use, as seen above. He also developed a parallel career as a filmmaker in Hollywood. Kurt wrote:

My first Hollywood job was on “Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5.” I met my wife on “Pump Up The Volume,” she was my assistant in the cutting room. I still have my hand in film work operating a teeny-tiny production company called VikingDream7 Productions. Most of the work I do is for comics clients, making Kickstarter videos.

From ALAN MOORE’S CINEMA PURGATORIO #18, April 2019, © Avatar

More recently, Kurt worked with Alan Moore on Avatar’s CINEMA PURGATORIO, as seen above, and he has also worked recently for Zenescope. Kurt continues to be busy as both a letterer and filmmaker.

From ARAK, SON OF THUNDER #26, Oct 1983, image © DC Comics

Bob Lappan was hired by DC Comics to work in the production department in the early 1980s, and he was soon also doing freelance lettering. His first published story is above, and note his distinctive lower-case credit. His balloon lettering was always small, and on this page leans slightly to the left, but it’s clear and readable. The lower case lettering in the quote is well done, as is the story title.

Robert Lappan, 1968, Princeton High School Yearbook

Robert Lappan was born April 1, 1951 probably in Princeton, NJ, where he went to high school. I haven’t found out anything about his art training, but I remember from our time working together that he spent some time working as a book binder, and as far as I know, continues to live in Princeton.

From UNDERSTANDING COMICS, THE INVISIBLE ART, 1983, Tundra, © Scott McCloud

Another production worker at DC in the early 1980s was Scott McCloud. While doing his day job, Scott was also working on two projects, his comic ZOT!, and his amazing exploration of the comics medium sampled above. To letter it, he chose Bob Lappan, who did an equally amazing job on the many lettering challenges. Here you can see Bob’s own lettering style developing, with small letters that mostly fit into a square, and strokes that are a bit uneven, which adds interest.

From ZOT! #4, July 1984, Eclipse Comics, image © Scott McCloud

Lappan also became the regular ZOT! letterer with issue #4, and again had plenty of opportunity for creative styles, as on this page. McCloud and Lappan’s work together was an excellent creative partnership.

From JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #24, Feb 1989, image © DC Comics

Bob lettered lots of comics for DC, where his small letters made him a favorite on team books like this one. Bob didn’t seem to mind the extra work of many balloons per page. I believe his last DC lettering work was in 2005.

From WONDER MAN #1, March 1986, image © Marvel

Many young letterers were shown the ropes in the Marvel Bullpen in the 1980s, Ken Lopez was one, and his first work at Marvel was as a high school intern in 1980. By the mid 1980s, he was working in the Bullpen, and landing freelance assignments like the one above. Ken’s letters are made with a Hunt 107 wedge-tipped pen, and probably other pens as well. Some of his letters lean slightly to the left. By 1986 he was the regular letterer on books like THE PUNISHER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY due to his speed and creativity. He also designed logos for Marvel, and later for DC.

Ken Lopez, 2023

Kenneth Lopez was born Sept 4, 1963 in Brooklyn, NY. After high school, he studied art at Pratt Institute, and then took a staff position in the Marvel Bullpen for a few years, while also doing lots of freelance Marvel lettering.

From ROBOCOP #15, May 1991, image © Marvel

Ken went freelance full-time in 1989, and continued to letter books for Marvel and other publishers. The sample above shows his style had developed wider letters that now lean a bit to the right, and his sound effect works well. From 1992 to 1994, Ken lettered for Valiant Comics.

From SUPERMAN, THE MAN OF STEEL #37, Sept 1994, image © DC Comics

In 1994, Ken began regular freelance lettering for DC Comics on books like this one, and his style brought a Marvel look to DC that I think works fine. He was tapped for important projects like SECRET IDENTITY.

From YOUNG JUSTICE #29, March 2001, image © DC Comics

Ken’s lettering appeared on many DC titles. I like the larger lettering in the lower balloons on this page and the angular sound effect. In 2003, Ken joined the DC staff as Art Director of Digital Lettering. He created digital fonts for the company, and helped set up DC’s in-house lettering department, which lasted for about ten years. Lopez moved to Burbank, CA with the company, and his current title is Design Director — Periodicals.

From WHAT IF…? #25, Feb 1981, image © Marvel

Another letterer who began as an intern at Marvel in the fall of 1979 is Jack Morelli. He was soon also given freelance lettering jobs. Jack told me his first was for Marvel’s STAR TREK #14, cover dated June 1981 over Gil Kane art. The example above came soon after, and was printed first. Jack said in the beginning he was using a filed-down Speedball B-6 for the regular letters and an A-5 for bold (if I have that right, or it might be the reverse). In any case, the regular letters have the look of a wedge-tipped pen that was popular at Marvel at the time. The balloons are well-made and easy to read, and the title has fine telescoping on the larger word.

Jack Morelli around 1979, image © Eliot R. Brown

John Morelli was born Oct 26, 1962 in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood at the southern end of Brooklyn, NY, to a family of fishermen, and one of his earliest jobs was helping out on their boat. Jack told me he thought that would become his career, but he loved to draw, and an aunt convinced his parents to send him to the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, where he studied art. His internship at Marvel in 1979 went well, and immediately after graduation in 1980, he was hired full time to work in the Bullpen. He and Rick Parker were regular Bullpen letterers and production artists together, and Jack was there for 20 years. Jack learned lettering from the old guard at Marvel: Danny Crespi, Morrie Kuramoto, and Marie Severin. After a while he was convinced by other Marvel letterers to switch to a Hunt 107 pen, but told me he never felt comfortable with the smaller point holder, and many years later, he went back to his original pen points.

From FORCE WORKS #13, July 1995, image © Marvel

I like the angular title on this page, and the mixed-case display lettering in the balloon. Jack’s caption lettering has become wider, and has that Hunt 107 look common at Marvel.

From SUPERGIRL #33, June 1999, image © DC Comics

Jack told me that when digital lettering became the norm at Marvel, he began to have trouble getting work, even though he did develop his own font, as I described in THIS article. He left his Marvel staff job and began freelance lettering for DC Comics, as seen above. I think the story title is type, but the rest is hand-lettered, including the effective mixed case captions. Jack had married Marvel colorist Christie Scheele in 1987, and they moved to Chichester, NY, near Woodstock, by 1993. When DC also went to all-digital lettering, Jack had to take other kinds of work like driving a tow truck.

From ARCHIE #576, Aug 2007, image © Archie Comics

Then around 2004, Jack was contacted by Victor Gorelick at Archie Comics, who offered him lettering work. At first Jack did that part time, but when Archie’s main letterer, Bill Yoshida, passed in 2005, Jack was given the chance to take over as much of Yoshida’s workload as he could handle. Morelli quit his other jobs and became the new regular Archie letterer. Some of that work was done by others like Janice Chiang and John Workman, but Jack did the majority. And at Archie, hand lettering was still the main method. I love Jack’s story title and balloon lettering on this page, though the credits use fonts.

From JUGHEAD #5, May 2016, image © Archie Comics

Jack also sometimes did digital lettering, as seen here, but he told me in our recent conversation that new stories in the many Archie digest-size comics are still being lettering by him with pens and ink. That could make him the last man standing from the hand-lettering days at the older companies. He won a Harvey Award for Best Letterer in 2015 for his work on AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE. I hope he continues to do work he enjoys at Archie for many years.

From MAGE #1, May 1984, Comico, image © Matt Wagner

Bob Pinaha is a letterer who, like Steve Haynie, worked his way up through small publishers and became a regular at DC Comics. His first lettering was for Americomics, closely followed by work like this for Comico, where he became the regular letterer on MAGE. In an interview with Bill Chadwick published in Comics Interview #9 (March 1984, Fictioneer), Bob said:

When I did the first issue of MAGE for Comico, Matt Wagner, the artist, had all the balloons inked in when he sent me the artwork, so all I had to do was place the lettering in the balloons according to the script. But he’d have enormous balloons where maybe four or five words went, and in another panel have twenty-five words in a tiny balloon!

Bob Pinaha, 1984, from the estate of David Anthony Kraft, courtesy of Shaun Clancy

Robert M. Pinaha was born July 26, 1953 in South Amboy, NJ. He studied at the Pan-American Art School in New York. Bob was an avid comics reader and collector, and while working as a freelance graphic designer in New Jersey, he began sending out lettering samples to all the comics publishers, having his first success in 1983. He also became friends with comics artist Rudy Nebres, who encouraged him to try lettering.

From POWER GIRL #1, June 1988, image © DC Comics

After working at publishers like Comico and WaRP Graphics, Pinaha landed his first assignment at DC in 1985. The lettering in the example above shows much improvement in size and style, and works well.

From HAWKMAN #27, Dec 1995, image © DC Comics

This page from 1995 shows fine examples of special balloon styles, and is competent and professional. Bob’s hand-lettering for DC continued until the company moved to all-digital in 2003. His wife Agnes was also a letterer for Defiant and DC from about 1993 to 1996.

From FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #16, 1981, image © Marvel

Another veteran of the Marvel Bullpen, Ron Zalme came to Marvel as an early graduate of the Joe Kubert School in the late 1970s, and by 1980 was beginning to land freelance lettering assignments like this one. I like his title and credit scroll, and the lettering works fine, though it’s uneven.

Ron Zalme from Rick Parker’s Facebook page

Ronald Zalme was born July 11, 1954? (year uncertain) in The Hague, Netherlands. His family moved to West Orange, NJ when he was two, and Ron attended school there. His college years began at Upsala College, where he graduated wth a BA in 1976, and he then attended the Joe Kubert School, and joined the Marvel Bullpen in 1978. On his Facebook page, Rick Parker wrote:

I was especially glad to have Ron around, because his interests in comics seemed more akin with mine. By that I mean his drawings were more cartoon-oriented than super-hero related. Ron was put in charge of setting up the covers — an important job in comics. Making sure everything was right. A lot goes into a cover. Not only do you have the art, but then the title of the comic book has to be added and any cover blurbs and word balloons and sound effects as well as the corner symbol and the UPC barcode and most importantly the price.

Ron soon became the Assistant Production Manager, and then the Production Manager until about 1985.

From MARVEL FANFARE #6, Jan 1983, image © Marvel

Another story lettered by Ron with an excellent title. In addition to his staff job and freelance work for Marvel, Ron built up a freelance design business, and went freelance full time in 1985.

From TABOO #1, 1988, image © Steve Bissette

While his later work in comics was not widespread, Ron did a few excellent logos, like this one for Steve Bissette’s horror anthology TABOO. Ron married Linda Welsh, a sculptor, in 1977, and they have three children. They live in Stillwater, NJ, and Ron’s WEBSITE lists a wide range of clients, publishers, and projects he’s worked on, largely for the children’s market.

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

3 thoughts on “More 1980s Letterers Part 2

  1. Steven Gauthier

    Todd, I love your careful and in-depth look at letters so it’s with great trepidation that I point out a niggling error or typo: if Steven Patrick Haynie was born April 16, 1984, he was only 17 when he ended his career in 2001. 1974 or 1954 for his birth, mayhaps?

  2. Scott Millen

    In the mid-80s, I somehow became pen pals with Bob Lappan. An aspiring writer/artist/letterer, I probably wrote to him c/o DC Comics, and the letters got to him. He was SO generous as a pen pal and long-distance mentor to a 13-year-old in Oregon City, OR. One of my prized possessions (which I have no idea what to do with) is an annotated copy of Atari Force, a couple of mix tapes of music that he liked, and a letter on his personal letterhead. Someday, I’ll scan it all in for sharing. Thanks for highlighting him! He and you were my favorite letterers (always so well designed, so easy to read!).

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