Last week I received this question from Patrick Daniel O’Neill: “I recently saw the very first Sunday page of Edson and Hasen’s “Dondi”, and the logo looked to me like Ira Schnapp’s work. Would you know if he did it?” Irwin Hasen had been an artist for National (DC) comics and its sister company All-American Comics since the early 1940s, and in the 1950s, he was working on one-page humor and longer stories for many DC titles in many genres, including romance, western, science fiction, and war, where his stories were sometimes lettered by Ira Schnapp. I think Hasen visited the DC offices frequently, and the idea that he would have asked Schnapp to design the logo for his first comic strip, DONDI, in 1955, was an intriguing one. I located a large scan of the original art for the first Sunday strip, above, including that logo, and found something that surprised me. The strip was lettered by Gaspar Saladino! When I finished my overview of Gaspar’s career, I said there was bound to be more work by him out there not yet identified, and here was some!
Here’s a closer look at the logo and some of the art and lettering. Hasen’s work for DC, especially for the war titles, would have often been lettered by Gaspar, so it’s not a surprise that Hasen might have asked Saladino to letter DONDI. The lettering here has the wide, angular style of Gaspar’s work. As for the logo, I see some Saladino inking there, but the basic design is probably by Hasen.
This promotional piece from another paper is from an article on The Daily Cartoonist website by D.D. Degg. I think the DONDI logo is all Hasen, and it shows he knew what he wanted, but the execution is uneven, particularly the second D. I suspect he asked Gaspar to do an inked revision for the first Sunday strip, and it appeared as above for some time. The Saladino inking clue is the way the letters are first outlined with a thinner pen, which remains in some places, then the outer edge of the entire logo is gone over with a heavier outline to read better. The letter shapes are more consistent, too.
Here’s the first Daily strip broken into three sections so you can see the lettering better. Again, definitely by Saladino. If nothing else clues you in, look at the letter S with a wide central stroke that’s almost horizontal in many places. The character’s origin is kind of rushed through, but it works, and the strip proved quite popular. The syndicate licensed it to a growing number of other papers, and writer Gus Edson and artist Irwin Hasen must have been quite pleased with their success. At the time, strip artists usually ran their own shop and were expected to supply finished work, so Hasen would have subcontracted the lettering to Gaspar, and penciled strips would have passed from Hasen to Saladino, then lettered ones passed back for inking. This probably often happened at the DC offices. Now I needed to find out how much of the strip Gaspar lettered, as all the examples I’d seen (later ones) were lettered by Ben Oda. Thanks to Newspapers.com, I was able to look at all the printed strips from the beginning to find that out. They have good, clear copies of The Chicago Tribune. The paper helped promote their new strip by printing it larger than many of their other strips of the period, at least for the first few weeks. Daily strips are usually lettered a week at a time, with two strips on a page of comics art paper, while Sunday strips are much larger and often needed sooner so that color and separations can be done. I found Saladino lettering on both.
Here’s original art from an early Daily lettered by Gaspar, who I think also lettered the signs in the last panel, and maybe the signatures over Hasen’s pencils. As you can see, Dondi has arrived in America. Later he would always have black circle eyes, here they’re not quite that yet.
As I went through the newspapers, I came to this strip and recognized a different but equally familiar style. Perhaps Saladino was too busy at the time, and Hasen tapped veteran DC letterer Ira Schnapp to fill in for him. Schnapp’s letters are smaller, less wide, more rounded, and clearly different from Saladino’s. He had plenty of experience lettering comic strips, he was the main letterer of the SUPERMAN strip for decades, both before and after this.
Ira did two full weeks of the strip, Dailies and Sundays, which suggests that in the beginning at least, Hasen was producing them in date order. This is scanned from the color comics supplement, but in black and white, obviously.
After that two-week break, Saladino was back on the strip for many months, here’s part of the Christmas Day Sunday.
Here’s part of the original art for another Sunday. The lettering is right on the art, but it looks like the art was cut and pasted on the bottom two panels, perhaps an editing change made by Hasen.
Saladino’s lettering continued uninterrupted until the Daily above, which is lettered by Ben Oda. Ben was a very busy letterer who worked on many strips, and he did all the Dailies in this week and the following week, while the Sundays were still by Saladino. Ben’s style at the time is right between Schnapp and Saladino, with letters that fit mostly into a square like Schnapp, but larger and made with a wedge-tipped pen like Saladino. His work is so regular it can be hard to identify, the best clues are the letter C, which tends to lean forward a little, and the E, which has a slightly longer bottom leg.
This is the final Sunday lettered by Gaspar, and his final DONDI lettering as far as I know. Note that the second balloon in the large middle panel is by someone else, probably a last-minute correction. Saladino did two Sundays after Ben was lettering Dailies, suggesting Sundays were being done ahead of Dailies at the time. I spot-checked through the next few months and found only Ben Oda lettering. Ben was a workhorse, and once he was given a strip, he rarely let it go. Hasen is on record as loving Oda’s lettering, and has said that Ben would come to his studio and letter for him when deadlines were tight, sometimes in the middle of the night. That’s probably one reason why Hasen made the switch. Another might be that Gaspar was very busy at DC, and perhaps couldn’t always get to DONDI right away.
So, I have new work by Saladino and Schnapp to add to their career retrospectives, which I will do as soon as this article is published, you can find them on my COMICS CREATION page. I will also update the articles there about the comic strip work of both letterers. Here’s a summary.
Schnapp lettered these strips: Monday 11-21-55 to Sunday 12-4-55
That’s 2 Sundays and 12 Dailies.
Saladino lettered these strips:
Monday 9-26-55 to Sunday 11-20-55
Monday 12-5-55 to Sunday 8-12-56
Sundays 8-19-56 & 8-26-56
That’s 46 Sundays and 264 Dailies, a substantial amount of lettering.
Using the equivalent to comics pages I’ve been following, which is that 6 Dailies equal 3 comics pages, while 1 Sunday equals 2 comics pages, this will add roughly 224 pages to Saladino’s estimated career page total, and 10 pages to Schnapp’s. I’m glad I found this work by both of them, and I’m sure there’s more out there somewhere.
Great discovery work! And yes, traditionaly Sunday strips have to be prepared a few weeks earlier than dailies because of the time needed for color seperation wrok. Lastly, Irwin Hasen says that DC stopped giving him work in 1951, not sure if he meant regular work or any work, and says he was looking for assignments when Gus Edson came up with the idea for Dondi, on a USO type tour in Europe.
I seem to recall Hasen work in DC’s war titles in the early 1950s at least, but perhaps they were held in inventory for a while.
Just a personal correction: My name is Patrick Daniel O’Neill, not the other way around.
Sorry! I’ll fix it.