This will be an occasional series, perhaps a long one, examining pages of photocopies mailed to me recently by fellow letterer Phil Felix. Phil told me he put together this large collection of Marvel cover lettering during his time working on staff in the Marvel bullpen (1983-1987). It all came from a giant manila envelope of saved pieces of original hand-drawn cover lettering that Danny Crespi had kept. Phil estimates the collection is at least 80% the work of Crespi himself. There are about 80 pages of cover lettering from hundreds of covers that Phil assembled onto letter-size paper, and it was copied often by Marvel staffers and letterers over the years. Phil reports that Danny told him he could keep the originals, but when Danny died in May 1985, Phil decided to return them to Danny’s family. I’ll be looking at a few pages in each blog post. The piece above came at the front of the collection. Despite what it says, not everyone listed contributed cover lettering, as there were also pages of logos, and a few other related items. For instance, there’s no cover lettering from me in these pages, I didn’t do any for Marvel until 1988 or so.
There isn’t much information about Danny Crespi online, but he did an interview with David Anthony Kraft that appeared in “Comics Interview” #9, dated March 1984. I’m guessing the interview happened in late 1983. Here’s some information from it and from friends and family.
According to Social Security records, Danny was born on Feb. 13th 1926. He began working in comics in the 1950s in the Timely/Atlas bullpen, the company that would become Marvel. He lettered pages, and worked alongside Morrie Kuramoto, John and Marie Severin, Carl Burgos, Sol Brodsky, Bill Everett, Chris Rule, and Artie Simek. Stan Lee was the editor-in-chief, and Martin Goodman the publisher. Letterers were not credited at the time, and Goodman published hundreds of titles, so pinpointing any Crespi lettering from them is probably impossible. In 1957, distribution problems led to huge cutbacks at the company, and most of the bullpen staff were let go, including Danny. Unhappy with the comics business, Crespi went into advertising, doing freelance board work and paste-ups for agencies like BBD & O. He did that work, including lots of hand-lettering for about twelve years.
Around 1969, Danny was talking to his friend and former work-mate Morrie Kuramoto, now working in the Marvel bullpen, and found they needed help. Danny was tired of the freelance life, and was happy to take a staff job at Marvel, even though it didn’t pay well. (He may have begun as an in-house freelancer there at first.) Even once on staff, he continued to get freelance work from ad agencies. In the Marvel bullpen Danny did corrections and paste-ups, and became friends with the production manager, John Verpoorten. John began offering him freelance cover lettering work, I think in 1974 (from the evidence found in this collection so far, but perhaps earlier), and before long Danny was doing lots of it in the bullpen after his regular staff job hours. In the interview, Danny says: “I was working until seven or eight o’clock in the evening, doing cover lettering and cover copy for nine-tenths of the covers.”
In December of 1977, Verpoorten died suddenly. His assistant, Lenny Grow, was made Production Manager for a short time, then that position went to Danny. From what I’ve seen so far, Danny lettered many covers from 1975-1978, and then only a few here and there until the early 1980s. I’m guessing once Danny became Production Manager he didn’t do as much freelance, and was instead assigning cover lettering to others, as part of his new position.
PAGE 1. I was unfamiliar with Danny’s style when I started looking at these pages, but it’s a great help seeing copies of the lettering at original size, and in black and white.
Taking this one balloon as an example, I saw that Danny’s letters were wide and very regular, beautifully done. His open letters appeared slightly rounded, and he sometimes turned the right leg of an R up at the end. As I studied the page, including the piece at upper right where Danny lettered his own name, I decided it was all lettered by the same person, and that was Danny himself. This gave me a good starting point to become familiar with his style.
The other person doing a lot of cover lettering for Marvel in the mid 1970s was Gaspar Saladino. Above is some of his lettering from CONAN #58 cover-dated Jan. 1976. I was very familiar with Gaspar’s work from my time at DC, and I put together a similar book of HIS cover lettering when I was on staff there. I’ve posted a lot of that on my blog beginning HERE. Gaspar also has very wide regular letters. He works in a great variety of styles and is wonderfully creative. His lettering is full of energy. It all tends to be more angular than Danny’s.
The next challenge was finding printed sources for as much of the collection as possible, and for that I had help from friends on Facebook, including Danny’s nephew and co-worker Nel Yomtov, and comics historians and letterers like Patrick A. Reed, Gene Kannenberg Jr., Rodrigo Baeza, Nicholas Caputo, and Michael Styborski for which I thank them!First up are the top two bursts are from THOR #257 dated March 1977. Danny usually used thick caption and balloon borders, but these are thicker than usual, and help convey Thor’s shout.
Next is the burst at upper left from CAPTAIN AMERICA #208 dated April 1977. The lettering has been reversed photographically to create white letters on a black shape.
The balloon with a large open word PARTNER! is from FANTASTIC FOUR #187, Oct. 1977.
“SPACE GOD” from THE ETERNALS #7 dated Jan. 1977.
“Spider on the Moon!” (with SPIDER twice) from MARVEL TEAM-UP # 55 dated March 1977.
“Excaliber” and the balloon left of it from SPIDER-WOMAN #2 dated May 1978.
Two balloons for Luke Skywalker from STAR WARS #2 dated Aug. 1977.
“Night of the Dragon” from MARVEL TEAM-UP #63 dated Nov. 1977.
“Finished!” from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #174 dated Nov. 1977.
This leaves one item unfound, the word BETWEEN, which is similar to one on MARVEL-TEAM-UP #69, but not exactly the same. Perhaps it was an earlier version that was abandoned. From these sources it’s clear the lettering pieces were not in any kind of order, but just jumbled up. Still, these are all from 1977 and 1978. Moving on…
PAGE 2. Already I was seeing lots of style points in common among these examples, like the heavy-outlined burst borders, and the rough-edged open letters (on both pages 1 and 2). These again all seem to be by the same person, Danny Crespi. The style of NAZIS was new, and reminds me a lot of Gaspar Saladino’s work. I’m sure Danny was studying that, as we all did at the time. Notice there are two upturned right legs on the word GROTESK. Sources follow.
“Red Skull Returns!” from SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #10 dated Feb. 1977.
“Spitfire!” and the burst below it from THE INVADERS #12 dated Jan. 1977.
“To the Death!” from JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS #9 dated Feb. 1977.
“Grotesk!” from Ms. Marvel #8, Aug. 1977.
“Sinister Soofi” from HOWARD THE DUCK #21 dated Feb. 1978.
“Ulik” from THOR #252 dated Oct. 1976.
“Big One” from THE DEFENDERS #43, Jan. 1977.
It’s only a partial, but “Dies!” is from the burst balloon on CONAN THE BARBARIAN #69, Dec. 1976.
PAGE 3. Now getting more familiar with the style, I again feel these are all by Danny Crespi. There are some similarities to Gaspar Saladino’s work, but enough differences to make me sure these aren’t by him.
“Showdown” from TWO-GUN KID #124 dated June 1975. Notice how the original lettering has much more impact without the black filled in around it.
“Night of the Troll” from THOR #237 dated July 1975.
“Martial Arts Madness” from MASTER OF KUNG-FU #38 dated March 1976. By the way, in the interview it’s also said that Danny designed this logo.
“My deadly pets will!” from POWER MAN #31, May 1976.
“Bomb” from MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #10 dated July 1975.
“Human Prey!” from WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #31 dated July 1975. Most of this batch is from 1975.
“Infinitus” from MARVEL TEAM-UP #29 dated Jan. 1975. This must have been lettered in 1974, so an early one from Danny, and again notice how much more impact the original lettering has than the one on the cover with black behind it.
“Five super villains” from DAREDEVIL #123 dated July 1975.
PAGE 4. At first I thought this was all by Danny Crespi, but I’m now not sure about the circle with “BLACK SUPER-HERO.” That’s from early 1974, and could be by someone else, or it could be an early effort from Danny, still finding his way.
“Shatterstar” from THE INHUMANS #3 dated Feb. 1976.
“You shall DIE!” from CRYPT OF SHADOWS #17 dated May 1975.
“Battle” from DAREDEVIL #123 dated May 1975. The circular one was on page 3. Note: “Iron Fist Unmasked!” has not been found, but may be unused and intended originally for MARVEL PREMIERE #22, but replaced with a different caption.
“For the First Time” from MARVEL PREMIERE #27, Dec. 1975.
Here’s the circular one from POWER MAN #19 dated June 1974. It would probably have been lettered in April 1974 or earlier. The open letters are not typical of Danny’s work even a year later, so it may not be his.
Finally, “Wedding” from GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS #4 dated June 1975.
That’s all this time, more when I have a chance to research them. Other articles you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.