THE DANNY CRESPI FILES Part 3

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Danny Crespi in the Marvel offices, 1982, photo © Eliot R. Brown.

Here’s an excerpt from the Danny Crespi interview conducted by D. Jon Zimmerman in David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW #9, dated March 1984:

DANNY: I used to collect lettering assignments from different places and go home and do them. But for presentation work, you’re supposed to wait around by your phone ’til they call you, then go over to the studio to work. I don’t like that. I don’t like to wait around for people to call me. I like to belong to one place. Well, about twelve years ago I called up Morrie Kuramoto — I don’t talk to him that often and once every twelve years is enough. (Laughter.) I didn’t even know if he was still working at Marvel, but I heard he was. I asked if he had any work for me. He said, “Hey, man, I can use a hand. Come on down!” Then he told me to bring my own pen-holders! I said, “What kind of a place is this?” Apparently they never had any spare fountain pens or anything.

ZIMMERMAN: What was it like?

DANNY: It was real small. there was no room. In fact, to get me a spare seat, I had to wait for when Marie Severin was working at home. They didn’t even have shelves for supplies. Morrie gave me things to do. The pay was low — all the comics companies paid low wages in those days. But it was steady work. I wasn’t on staff, but I felt I belonged there. I came to work every day. I would do corrections, paste-ups — everything the Bullpen does now. After I was freelancing there steady for a while, John (Verpoorten) offered me a job, and I said, “Yeah, sure,” even though the wages were too low. It cost me money to work there!

One day John asked me why I was going to other places to get extra work when Marvel had plenty of extra work to give me, if I wanted to work at night. He would go around to everyone and say, “I’ve got Crespi staying here at night and I want you to have your work ready for him to finish by the time you go home.” Eventually, I helped him run the bullpen. John used to stay at night when I was working until seven or eight o’clock in the evening, doing cover-lettering and cover copy for nine-tenths of the covers. (End of interview excerpt)

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PAGE 9. This and all following images © Marvel.

This time I’ll be looking at pages 9 to 12 of the photocopied lettering collected by Phil Felix.

All the lettering on this page looks like the work of Danny Crespi to me. I remembered the one at upper right, and was able to find the rest with help from Kurt Busiek and Michael Styborski. Danny’s regular letters are very wide. His open letters are generally somewhat rounded. His balloon and caption borders are thick and distinctive.

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“BLACK KNIGHT” and “SLITHEROGUE” from SKULL THE SLAYER #5, May 1976. Note that the tails were added when the cover was assembled, as was the standard procedure.

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“Gorko, the Man-Frog” from GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4, May 1975. The EXTRA looks like a style Danny picked up from Gaspar Saladino, the other main cover letterer at Marvel then.

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“Golden Archer!” from CAPTAIN AMERICA #179, Nov. 1974.

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“ODIN!” from THOR #249, July 1976.

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“The Valkyrie shall DIE!” from MARVEL TEAM-UP #35, July 1975. Parts of the balloon above it are there but covered by another piece of lettering.

“Eaten Alive” from POWER MAN #31, May 1976.

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“Stolen” from MARVEL DOUBLE FEATURE #14, Feb. 1976.

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PAGE 10. All by Danny Crespi except “SNOW VAMPIRES,” which is not from a cover, and I believe lettered by John Costanza, as several people suggested.

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“WESTERN ACTION” from KID COLT OUTLAW #195, June 1975. A burst from this cover was on a previous page of the collection.

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“AVENGER is coming THRU!” from THE AVENGERS #137, July 1975. The alternate spelling of “through” is interesting. We don’t know who wrote the cover copy for any of these, but it was most likely the editor or assistant editor in most cases, carrying on from the previous decade when Stan Lee was probably writing most of them.

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“DOOM!” from X-MEN #92, Feb. 1975. Note that most of the open lettering from this page was filled with solid red (100% magenta, 100% yellow), which always stands out and reads well.

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“TRAP!” from TOMB OF DRACULA #34, May 1975.

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“SNOW VAMPIRES” is from this house ad appearing in VAMPIRE TALES #3 dated Feb. 1974. Many thanks to Bob Heer for finding it. Other than the logos, this is probably all by John Costanza, a prolific story letterer for both Marvel and DC. His lettering has more curves and bounce than either Danny Crespi or Gaspar Saladino. He didn’t like to letter covers, so it’s nice to see his work represented by this interior example.

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“HAMMERHEAD” from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #158, July 1976.

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“ALONE!” from CAPTAIN AMERICA #197, May 1976.

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PAGE 11. OZ is from a logo possibly by Danny Crespi. “CHAMPIONS” and ‘RAMPAGE” are not by Danny, and I think “DOWN!” is by Gaspar Saladino. The rest is by Crespi, I believe.

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OZ is from this MARVEL TREASURY OF OZ #1, 1975. That and the rest of the logo could have been lettered by Danny Crespi. The cover lettering looks more like the work of Gaspar Saladino. A very similar OZ is on the Marvel/DC tabloid adaptation of MGM’s “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” but that one has a wider O.

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“ATOM-SMASHER” and “DIE!” from BLACK GOLIATH #2, April 1976. The closeness to the character’s head has made the added tail barely noticeable, but you still get the idea of who’s talking.

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Balloon and burst from TWO GUN KID #130, June 1976.Three balloons from ADVENTURES ON THE PLANET OF THE APES #5, April 1976. (A comic title which is too long!)

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“WEBBING” from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #154, March 1976. You rarely see thought balloons these days, this is a nice one.

“Doc Samson” from THE INCREDIBLE HULK #199, May 1976.

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“CHAMPIONS” and “RAMPAGE” from THE CHAMPIONS #6, June 1976. None of the lettering on this cover looks like Danny Crespi to me. Notice the thinner line weight on the regular letters, the very different burst style, and the uneven open letters. I don’t know who it is by, though.

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“Sweet sister” from POWER MAN #26, Aug. 1975.

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PAGE 12. The two bursts at bottom right are by Gaspar Saladino, I think the rest is by Danny Crespi. I’ve found most of them.”Night of the Gargoyle!” from GIANT-SIZE CHILLERS #3, Aug. 1975. Often Danny Crespi’s open lettering loses impact when the shape behind it is filled with black, but in this case they put the heavily-textured and thick outlines in red, which looks great. My favorite Crespi cover burst so far. Influenced by Gaspar Saladino, but definitely Danny.

“Welcome to your Death!” from AMAZING ADVENTURES #32, Sept. 1975.

“Savage Time!” from THE DEFENDERS #26, Aug. 1975. Again, Crespi’s open letters lose impact on the black background.

“Biggest Blazing Battle” from MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION #29, May 1976.

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“YETIGAR!” from GODZILLA #10, May 1978. Another black burst with all white lettering this time. Negative or “reversed” photostats could be made in the Bullpen on their photostat camera and pasted in place, or the same effect could be done by the color separators.

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“EVEL KNIEVEL” from a Marvel toy-based custom comic created for Ideal Toys. The shape of the C and S in EXCLUSIVE are very Gaspar Saladino, as is the burst shape. The smaller burst was likely done for this cover, but not used, or is on the back cover. The caption is probably by someone else, the S in TRAPS is unlike anything Gaspar ever did. Perhaps it’s picked up from the story title inside.

More of these when I have time. Other articles you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

4 thoughts on “THE DANNY CRESPI FILES Part 3

  1. MICHEL FABER

    Hello Todd,
    You note the alternative spelling of “thru”, which appears not only in the cover of AVENGERS #137 but also KID COLT #195 and SPIDER-MAN #154. As I recall, the spelling “thru” was very common in 1970s/1960s Marvels — so much so that, as a kid growing up in Australia, I assumed that this must be an accepted American spelling. However, on a purely financial level, it may have been convenient for Marvel’s notoriously low pay rates, as also referenced in the Crespi interview. Letterers were paid by the letter, not by the hour or the issue. You might consider doing an article about the brief but fascinating phase of Marvel’s evolution when an editorial edict was passed down that sentences should no longer be ended with periods. Exclamation marks were allowed, but periods suddenly vanished, giving the utterances a weirdly unfinished feel inside their balloons. I’m really sorry, I can’t cite any examples — the experiment was short-lived — but I do know that it happened. I assumed it was because the bean counters felt they could economise on payment to letterers by not having to pay them for periods, but maybe there was some other reason. (You’d think that a more sensible place to economise would’ve been on the scripts themselves, which, in the hands of verbose over-writers like Stan Lee often ran to far more words than were needed.) Anyway, if you are aware of this ‘no periods’ experiment, I would be interested in any light you can throw on it.
    Best wishes,
    Michel Faber

  2. Todd Klein Post author

    I’m unaware of any comics letterer being paid by the letter, and the idea is kind of silly. Who could be bothered to count letters? They are paid by the page except in cases where a letterer is on staff with a salary, and that doesn’t happen often. Periods were frowned on in the early days of comics because they tended to either fall off the printing plate or be removed as “dirt” by the plate makers. That’s why so many comics from the 1930s to the 1970s have few periods and lots of exclamation points.

  3. MICHEL FABER

    Thanks for your clarification on this, Todd. My speculation that letterers must’ve been paid by the letter rather than per page does indeed seem silly in retrospect. I couldn’t think of another reason why the periods were removed.

    I get the impression that the specific period I’m talking about in Marvel’s history doesn’t ring a bell with you. So, I’ve just rummaged through my collection and found some issues where this experiment was tried. FANTASTIC FOUR #111 (June 1971) was business as usual — lots of exclamation marks, lots of dashes, some periods. By next issue, FANTASTIC FOUR ##112 (July 1971), starting on page 2, the periods abruptly disappear, and not only that, but the use of exclamation marks is reduced to an absolute unavoidable minimum, ie, when characters are actually shouting. So, the majority of panels contain just the text, sitting inside the word balloons and finishing on… nothing. Blank space. Balloon after balloon. Most odd. Ditto FANTASTIC FOUR #113 and #114. Then, with FANTASTIC FOUR #115 (October 1971), the practice is abandoned and everything is back to normal — lots of exclamation marks, etc. (The letterers are Sam Rosen and Artie Simek but there is no pattern to which issues they appear in.)

    If the motivation was not financial, I still can’t imagine why this experiment was tried. Any ideas?

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