This past Thursday, Oct. 9th, I arrived at the Jacob Javits Center on the west side of New York City around 1 PM and got my pro pass to the New York Comic Con. I’d hoped to get there sooner, but traffic delays between my home in southern New Jersey and my mom’s place closer to the city held me up. Another hour by train from her place brought me to New York’s Penn Station, a 20 minute walk from the con. Before even entering the show I needed to meet Shelly Bond and others for lunch at a nearby restaurant to discuss an upcoming project. That was fun, but got me back to the show around 3 PM. Then I was able to do some scouting and planning for the primary reason I was there: meeting up with my friend and inspiration, lettering master Gaspar Saladino on Friday.
I hadn’t seen Gaspar in person for about 30 years, but we keep in touch by phone, and last August he called me with surprising news. He had decided he wanted to attend the New York Comic Con this year, which would be his first comics convention EVER after more than 60 years in the business. Gaspar began working for DC Comics as a letterer in late 1949. Gaspar always tells people he started in 1951, but in a three-part article beginning HERE I believe I tracked down his first DC lettering work in ROMANCE TRAIL #5 cover-dated March-April 1950, which must have been done in 1949. His most recent work for DC was some cover lettering for the BATMAN ’66 title in 2013. I was surprised Gaspar wanted to go, I know he’d been invited to other cons and turned them down, but when he said he wanted to meet me there so we could go through the con together, I was delighted. I told him I’d see if I could get us passes. In a few days I had pro passes for Gaspar, his son-in-law Mitch, and myself courtesy of Andrew Marino at DC Comics Talent Relations, and as the show was already mostly sold out, we owe him thanks for that! Gaspar is elderly and not in the best of health, though he still sounds great on the phone and his mind is sharp. He told me his son-in-law Mitch would drive him to the show, and after some discussion with Mitch, we agreed they would bring a wheelchair for Gaspar, as we weren’t sure how much walking he could do. So, on Thursday at the show, I scouted out where the wheelchair elevators were, and planned out several places in the show where I thought Gaspar could meet people he knew and that knew him. I also put the word out among fellow letterers from my generation and later, ones I knew were fans of Gaspar’s work, to see if they’d like to join us. Many wanted to, and a half dozen planned to be there Friday.
One person I ran into at the show Thursday was Alex Jay, a terrific logo designer in the 1980s-90s for DC, Marvel, and other companies, another person I hadn’t seen in person in decades, though we also keep in touch mainly by email. In addition to being a top-notch designer, Alex is an excellent researcher, and he’s often helped me with my blog posts covering comics history, so it was great to reconnect in person. Alex wanted to join our Gaspar group on Friday, too.
I did a quick walk around the show, enjoying displays like the Weta Smaug sculpture towering over the 35th street entrance…
…and chatted with friends and work partners like Charlie Kochman at Abrams. He and art director Chad Beckerman (above) had hired me to letter the cover titles on their handsome new book “The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio,” and they had early samples on display. Looks great. That’s Joe Simon’s son Jim in the background, nice to meet him, too.
It took a while to find the DC Comics area, it was on the lower level at the southeast corner, outside the main exhibit hall. The large bat in the window was my first clue…
…and DC’s display focused on the 75th anniversary of Batman with statues of the various Batman movie costumes. Unfortunately I could only find one DC staffer I knew there, though I did chat with Andrew Pepoy and other friends.
Next to DC’s area was Bob Chapman’s Graffiti Designs. It was kind of odd to see Bob in New York, as I usually see him in San Diego, but he wanted to show me a new book he’s produced collecting Batman stories with art by Kelley Jones, in the very large size pioneered by IDW’s Artist Editions, and reproducing detailed scans of the original art for as many pages as could be found. It looks terrific, and as I lettered the stories, I’ll be getting a copy when it’s released, thanks to Bob. Then I had to leave the show at 5 PM to get back for a dinner date with my Mom in New Jersey.
I arrived back at the con Friday around 11 AM. The first person I met up for our Gaspar group was letterer Clem Robins, at left above. Clem also keeps in touch with Gaspar regularly by phone, and like me, cites Gaspar as a major influence in his work. Soon we were joined by letterer Tom Orzechowski, next to Clem above, another veteran (in the business since 1973) and David Marshall. David has only lettered his own self-published work, but we’ve become friends on Facebook, and he wanted to join us. Clem and Tom traveled from Ohio, and David from Boston to join the group of Gaspar admirers. Oh, and that’s me at the right. We spent some time talking and looking around the con until I heard from Mitch by phone that he and Gaspar were parked and on the way to the show. Then we went outside to meet them.
When Gaspar (at right) arrived, we shared warm greetings and brought he and Mitch inside to get their show passes. Gaspar was in good spirits and glad to see us. He was able to walk with a cane some of the time, and when he got tired, he used the wheelchair Mitch had brought. (And I don’t seem to have a photo of Mitch, sorry to say.) We brought Gaspar to the DC area, but again I wasn’t able to find any DC staffers I knew to introduce him, so we continued on to the main exhibit hall.
There was one person in the main hall that I knew would enjoy seeing Gaspar, and that was Neal Adams. Gaspar worked with Neal on many projects for DC and elsewhere, and they saw each other often in the early days at the DC offices. Neal had some good stories for us. He said, when he was first at DC around 1967 they wanted him to do Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis stories, and to letter them “I wanted that Gaspar guy.” He felt Gaspar’s work had the bounce and personality that would work best for humor. In a few years Gaspar was lettering most of the covers for DC, including Neal’s, and plenty of stories like Neal’s “Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali” tabloid comic. Then Neal told us there was one job he did with Gaspar that the lettering master DIDN’T want his name on, and asked if we could guess what that might be. We couldn’t, so he told us. It was the “Son O’ God” stories for NATIONAL LAMPOON, a hilarious but shocking send-up of Jesus and Christianity. Neal said, “everyone involved with those stories was Roman Catholic,” and he finally talked Gaspar into putting his name on the work.
We made our way to Artist’s Alley, where Gaspar enjoyed talking to writer Denny O’Neil about their work together…
…and artists like Joe Rubinstein, above, Joe Staton and others.
Howard Chaykin enjoyed seeing Gaspar, and quickly got into stories about Gil Kane and Alex Toth, both of whom Gaspar worked with in their early days at DC.
We found letterer Chris Eliopoulos at the table he shared with artist Erik Larsen, and Chris was thrilled to meet Gaspar, as I think you might see in his expression here. We stood there for a while chatting and getting pictures.
Soon we’d added a few more to Gaspar’s Posse, and here’s a photo of the entire group: Chris Eliopolous in front, and lined up left to right are Alex Jay, Clem Robins, Gaspar Saladino, Todd Klein, David Marshall, another lettering veteran Janice Chiang, and Tom Orzechowski. We had such a great time that the con staff had to eventually come and tell us to stop blocking the aisle.
While we were in Artist’s Alley I chatted with writer Kurt Busiek about an upcoming project, and he also enjoyed meeting Gaspar. In the background of this picture is Len Wein who was about to pass us by when I called him over to say hi.
A moment later Len’s jaw dropped when he saw the man with us who had lettered his legendary first run on SWAMP THING. It was really funny was when Gaspar started berating Len for all the extra work Len had given him on that book, the first one where the main character had not one but several special balloon styles. But they were both surprised and glad to see each other, as I think you can see in the photo.
By around 4 PM we were tired and we left the con to get a meal at a nearby diner I had checked out Thursday as a likely spot. Seven of us: myself, Clem, Gaspar, Mitch, Tom, Alex and David enjoyed another hour of stories, conversation and laughter before I had to head back to New Jersey and everyone went their separate ways. What a wonderful day, never to be forgotten. Thanks to everyone who participated!