Monday, January 23, 2012

Attention Paid: The Lettering skills of Artie Simek and Sam Rosen

An essential component of Marvel Comics’ distinctive appearance in the 1960s was the interior and cover lettering of Artie Simek and Sam Rosen - two of the finest craftsman employed by Stan Lee. Both men had worked in the business for decades: In the 1940s Rosen lettered for Will Eisner on his seminal Spirit comic strip; Simek worked on staff at Timely comics, the precursor to Marvel, and reportedly did some lettering for DC in the 1950s. Both men brought bombast and personality to Marvel's 1960s output. Guided by Editor/Art Director Stan Lee, who helped design the different bursts, balloons, captions and sound effects that Simek and Rosen brought to life, the Marvel letterers, through Lee’s promotional extravagances, began to gain unprecedented recognition, even if they were often the punch line to countless jokes in the credits.

Early Simek credit on billboard, possibly added by John Severin, from "A Dude There Was!" Lee story/John Severin art. Two-Gun Kid # 50, Oct 1959.  

Sam Rosen's bold title lettering, splash from Amazing Spider-Man # 17, Oct 1964, Steve Ditko art

Artie Simek's clean, attractive lettering (note the signature scallop style on "The Search for the...")
Fantastic Four # 27, June 1964 (Kirby/Stone cover art)

Besides contributing to a skillful product at Marvel for over a decade, Simek and Rosen designed eye-catching and attractive logos that drew the attention of those browsing the neighborhood newsstands.  The Fantastic Four, said to be designed by Sol Brodsky, with assistance from Artie Simek, had a fanciful, circus like style that was unlike more serious logos, the Amazing Spider-Man, possibly with the help of Steve Ditko, created a motif that held the lettering in an intricate web; Thor and Sgt. Fury had scalloped edges that were the motif of Artie Simek. The ragged, rough-edged look made the line stand out. Stan Lee, as art director, oversaw the finished product, as did publisher Martin Goodman. 

Sam Rosen lettering from Tales of Suspense # 51, March 1965, Kirby/Roussos cover. Stan sometimes wrote directly on the pencilled work, setting the balloon placement and type of  look he wanted (i.e. the arrow, burst) that Rosen skillfully rendered.   

Artie Simek lettering, splash to Journey into Mystery # 125, Feb 1965, Kirby/Colletta art

While other letterers were employed by Marvel in the 1960s, some quite good, especially the work of John Duffy, Ray Holloway (often incorrectly credited as the pen name of Sherigail; a study of the lettering styles shows that the name was used by production assistant Morrie Kuramoto, who often used an amalgam of his wife and daughters names) and Terry Szenics (actually the husband and wife team of Zoltan and Theresa, who worked for the Eisner-Iger studio in the 1930s), Simek and Rosen were the workhorses; their presence was anticipated almost as much as Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Colan or Romita's. Simek worked for Marvel until he died in 1975; Rosen’s last work appeared in 1972; he reportedly had a nervous breakdown and passed away in 1992. His talented brother, Joe, another prolific letterer for many companies, including Harvey, went on to work for Marvel from the 1970s into the 1990s.

John Duffy's attractive, low-keyed lettering seemed appropriate for Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man, from  # 3, July 1963. Incidentally (since this blog is entitled Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutia) Duffy would be reunited with Ditko in the mid-1970s, when he inked some of Ditko's stories for Atlas Comics. 

Timely-Atlas veteran Ray Holloway's splash to Journey into Mystery # 89, Feb 1963; Kirby/Ayers art, featuring one of my favorite titles. Lee would later reuse the phrase in another Thor story years later - "The Thunder God and the Troll!" Holloway worked for Marvel until 1966, his last credit appearing in the Hulk story in Tales to Astonish # 85. Holloway's lettering continued to appear in King Comics' The Phantom and in various DC comics until 1969. 

Terry Szenics quiet lettering set a proper mood for Dr. Strange. From the splash of Strange Tales # 111, Aug 1963. Steve Ditko art, of course!

Although rarely discussed in conjunction with the period of 1960s Marvel, Simek and Rosen’s talents were sorely missed by the mid-1970s, when quite a few less talented letterers were employed. Those less skilled at calligraphy made the finished package considerably weaker in appearance.Thankfully, a number of exceptional letterers continued to grace the Marvel line, notably Tom Orzechowski and John Costanza, but the professionalism of Simek and Rosen was a cut above, ranking highly with the best in the field such as Ben Oda, Joe Letterese, Howard Ferguson, Gaspar Saladino and Ira Schnapp, to name a few. Along with the coloring skills of Stan Goldberg (who rates his own blogpost, coming soon) Simek and Rosen gave the Marvel comics of the 1960s a distinctive and attractive look.     

For an informative study on Marvel's logo's (as well as other companies) go to lettering pro Todd Klein's blog:


Don Hudson said...

Sam Rosen. Excellent letterer and thanks for keeping his name out there. Also, a shout out to J. Morelli an old school letterer doing great work now at Archie Comics.

Kid said...

Artie and Sam were a cut above and no mistake. Another fine letter with a nice spontaneous style was Martin Epp, who lettered for Marvel and DC.

Nick Caputo said...

A few other letterers that come to mind are John Workman and Jim Novak. Novak did some fine work for Marvel in the 1970s.

Nick Caputo said...

..and Bill Spicer.

Doc V. said...

Nick, great post as usual. I love Artie's work. Kid, I'm recalling also that Marty Epp was Bob Powell's letterer, I believe, at Street & Smith and in the early 1950's. It was Powell, Nostrand, Epp and George Seifringer.

Kid said...

Thanks Doc. I've added your blog to my blog list. Great stuff.

Sharon said...

Great info as usual, Nick. Back then I was always trying to spot visual differences between Sam and Artie's work, but unfortunately the best I could come up with was that Sam added a period after his page number--and Artie didn't! The letterers did the page numbers, right?

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Sharon,

Yes, the letterers added the page numbers. Some letterers were easier to identify than others, Irving Watanabe, for instance, had a very distinctive look that I immediately recognized (although didn't particularly care for). I tended to pay attention to the poorer letterers more, since they detracted from the art.

Dave M! said...

Thanks for the great post. Even as a kid, I was always a Simek fan. Sam's letter forms and balloon shapes were slicker, but Artie's had more "umph". In addition, I think Artie's sound effects and story titles were better. I'm still trying to emulate his style in my own work; still coming up short.

David Marshall
Comic Book Author
Comic Book Teacher

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Dave,

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. While I like Sam a little better, both men were talented and gave those comics a distinctive style.

maw maw said...

Ray Holloway is credited with Giant-Sized Spider-man #3, and Spider-man 144, from the middle of the Gwen Clone Saga around the same time. A pity he was under-used for so many years. He did nice, Sam Rosen-style lettering.

maw maw said...

Regarding Jim Novak: He also did great work on The Death of Captain Marvel, in 1982. His work is reminiscent of the somewhat rough-hued work of Sam Rosen and John Costanza, in my opinion the finest letterers of their respective generations.

maw maw said...

And finally: in Avengers Annual 2 (1968), probably due to deadlines, credited letterer Joe Rosen gave some pages to Big Brother Sam to letter. Given time, I can give you specific page numbers at a later date, but take a look. The family resemblance is obvious, but Joe's style is a little rounder than Sam's.