My friend and fellow comics historian Alex Jay writes on his blog, “Raymond K. Perry was born on September 16, 1876, in Sterling, Illinois. The birth date is from his World War I draft card and Social Security application. (Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 has Perry’s middle initial as W and the birth year 1883, both are incorrect. There was an artist and educator named Raymond Wilson Perry who was born in 1883.) For more on Perry’s life and full career, I highly recommend Alex’s blog post. To summarize his early career, Perry attended the Chicago Art Institute and began working as an illustrator for books and magazines there in about 1898. By 1905 he was living in New York, where he married his first wife, a professional musician and singer, in 1907.
Raymond had a successful and celebrated career as a freelance illustrator and fine art painter from that time on, with many gallery exhibitions, and he also did newspaper and book illustrations. He moved in fine art and high society circles, painting the rich and famous and traveling to Europe from a home he and his wife built on Long Island. That life was greatly curtailed when the Great Depression hit in 1930. The Perrys returned to a rented apartment in Manhattan where Raymond advertised as giving private art lessons and did painting demonstrations at schools. It’s likely the market for his paintings had largely vanished.
Raymond entered the comics business in 1935 when Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson hired him to illustrate a comics version of Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe from a script by the Major for the first comic book series from his company National Allied Publications, NEW FUN COMICS, sample above from MORE FUN COMICS #19 dated March, 1937. Perry took over from artist Charles Flanders with part 4 in NEW FUN #4 and continued on the feature when the series title changed to MORE FUN COMICS, doing 23 two-page chapters, finishing the story, which ended in MORE FUN #27 dated Dec. 1937. The story of knights in medieval England was probably also lettered by Perry, and the strip is similar in some ways to Hal Foster’s PRINCE VALIANT, though that did not begin until Feb. 1937. Perry’s skill as an illustrator is obvious, though somewhat hampered by the many small panels of the script, and the low-quality printing and paper did not help.
Wheeler-Nicholson’s company added titles NEW COMICS and DETECTIVE COMICS, but struggled with mounting debt, and by the time another title, ACTION COMICS, was launched in 1938, the Major’s company had been taken over by pulp magazine publishers Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. That company, of course, became DC Comics. Several accounts have Raymond Perry employed by DC as a staff colorist and “art editor” from 1940 to his death in 1960, making him the earliest production staffer at the company I have a name for. Comics pioneer Jerry Robinson told Robert Greenberger that Perry was the colorist on most of the covers for the company in the early 1940s. What his other duties were I don’t know, but I think he sometimes did spot illustrations for text pages. Comic books could qualify for lower second class mail rates if they included at least two pages of text, and that saved the company money when they mailed subscription copies. Many early text page stories were simply set in type, but sometimes they included a small illustration with the title. By 1948, spot illustrations on them were common, and as in the example above, Ray Perry began not only doing an illustrated title but also the title lettering for many of them. Perry’s illustration style shows much more skill than others doing the same kind of thing, though his linework was sometimes lost in the color and crude printing. His titles were excellently crafted. Some readers then and now might assume they were set in type, but a close look reveals that each letter is different, and in his early years of doing this, Perry used a variety of styles.
Another early example, above, has Perry doing the title in outline form, a signal it’s not set type. Too bad the linework in his illustration is hard to decipher. From this point on, Perry did hundreds of text page illustrations and hand-drawn titles like this across the entire DC line until the late 1950s. I suspect this was mostly a freelance job for him, something to do at home for a little extra money, but that’s just a guess. Raymond also continued to work as a painter, and did portraits of some of his fellow employees, though I don’t have any examples. A search online will turn up many of his paintings. Below are some of his text page illustrations, mostly from 1949-1951, though I close with one late example from 1959.
Like his fellow DC employee Ira Schnapp, Raymond Perry drew on lettering styles learned in his earlier career, but while Schnapp embraced the Art Deco styles of the 1920s and 1930s, Perry seems to have stopped well before that, drawing on magazine and newspaper title styles from the 1890s to 1910s. Perry was most active as an illustrator then, so it makes sense.
Perry did sometimes use more stylized ideas for his drawings, like this one, but the titles stayed rooted in his past. He was 72 years old in 1948, so that’s not surprising.
Like Ira Schnapp, Perry drew on older styles like this one suggesting Old English. Both men handled them skillfully.
Another one based on Old English and Celtic styles with a fanciful scroll caption. I have a feeling Perry and Schnapp had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company and work as they sat together in the DC Comics production department from 1949 to the late 1950s.
Some of Perry’s illustrations were simpler, and therefore easier to understand. This title style is one he often used.
Perry’s script lettering was quite different from Schnapp’s, but equally appealing.
Another script style, and notice how well Perry uses white space.
The text stories themselves were probably often written by the editors, though few have recognizable author credits. The silly title of this one about the origins of chewing gum is made elegant by Perry’s title lettering.
Perry was sometimes called on to do caricatures of popular entertainers, and did a fine job with this one, which appeared in several DC issues.
Perry’s design and illustration skill, as well as his fine lettering, gave otherwise dull text pages something to catch readers’ eyes, and a way for Raymond Perry to use his talents. Comics creator Jerry Robinson was interviewed by Jim Amash in Alter Ego #39, August 2004, and recalled Perry at DC.:
…One other guy I should mention who should be remembered—and was a wonderful man—was Raymond Perry, though I just called him “Mr. Perry.” He was the colorist who worked in the bullpen. He was a fine, old illustrator; a white-haired man that I really looked up to. I felt terrible that someone of his age and illustrious past should be reduced to coloring comics.
Robinson may have forgotten or not known about Perry’s work on DC text pages like this one.
A nice combination of lettering styles here, though the details of the fox are hard to make out.
A fine example of title, spot illustration and color, all probably by Raymond Perry. Many more examples can be found through the 1950s.
By 1959, most generic text stories had been replaced by letters from readers pages at DC, which not only fulfilled the second class mailing requirement but actively engaged the fans. That meant fewer chances for Perry to use his skills, though he did a few letter-column headers like this one at the end of his time at DC. Perry died in November of 1960, age 84. His work is little remembered, and I hope this post will change that for those of you who read it.
More articles like this are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.