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 (whose husband Zoltan also worked in the industry as a letterer and occasional artist).Simek and Rosen were the workhorses, though. 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:
http://kleinletters.com/Blog/?page_id=2709

29 comments:

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.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Maw Maw,

I concur with your comments on Jim Novak and Ray Holloway, both very talented letterers whose work I enjoyed.

I'll have to take a look at the Avengers Annual but I wouldn't be surprised that Joe asked for assistance from brother Sam. The same often happened with uncredited inkers.

emeraldz godsbane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan P. Mahney said...

You mentioned John Duffy in this post, and I wanted to ask if you know anything about him besides the comics he worked on? I've been doing some research, but haven't turned up a single thing about his life outside of comics.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Nathan,

In my years of researching I've not turned up any info on Duffy either, unfortunately. I have seen his work appearing for various companies throughout the years; the earliest dating back to the 1950s; the latest in the mid-1970s, but nothing about him personally.

Nathan P. Mahney said...

Thanks. A shame that Duffy remains a man of mystery, as he worked on some genuinely significant books.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff as usual.

Random thoughts ---

Ray Holloway was still lettering for Marvel in the seventies.

Joe Rosen's initial works for Marvel started in the more peripheral titles in the sixties; the occasional annual, Sgt. Fury, Not Brand Echh and he was a staple for covers and house ads in the early days of British Marvel in the seventies, before his chunkier Harvey style was refined and he became a Marvel mainstay, helping to fill the void left by his brother and then Artie Simek

Nick Caputo said...

Anonymous,

I appreciate the kind words.

Ray Holloway was indeed lettering for Marvel in the 1970s. I've id'ed some of his work on Spidey Super Stories, which he lettered often.

Rosen goes back quite a ways, particularly for Harvey. I've noticed brother Sam turned up on many of the MLJ/Archie Adventure titles at the same time he was lettering many Marvel titles. Talented AND prolific.

Speaking of letterers, one of the most prolific and talented letterers, Ben Oda, was a real workhorse. Someone recounted a tale where he would work overnight in the DC offices finishing jobs!

Anonymous said...

I'm presently reading The Incredible Hulk, Epic Collection, volume 1 and a couple oF lettering things are intriguing me

Hulk #3 --- the origin of the hulk, unless contradicted by work records, the lettering doesn't look like Sam Rosen and

Hulk #4 and #5 (General Fang; page 9 on) looks like it might be the lettering of Jon D'Agostino.

Fascinating subject is the hand lettering of Comics.

Simeon and Rosen were a vital component in making early Marvel zing.

And I agree about Ben Oda, magine what Ben lettering Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four would have looked like


Anonymous said...

Thankfully Art and Sam's lettering was better than my typing

Nick Caputo said...

Anonymous,

The lettering on "Origin of the Hulk" (# 3) looks like Artie, not Sam.

And you are absolutely correct that Jon D'Agostino is the letterer on # 4 and 5 from page 9 on. I've corrected many lettering credits but missed those. I'll provide those corrections to the GCD post-haste.

Thanks for the great letterer spotting.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Glad to know there are still people out there who appreciated the world of Sam Rosen and Artie Simek. I think they both contributed as much to the look and feel of the silver age of Marvel as the artists. Rosen's lettering had a sleek, casual grace with rounded word balloons, whereas Simek was draftsman-like with balloons that were more geometric. When they were gone, Marvel comics were never the same.

Anonymous said...

While Rosen and Simek lettered just about every comic issue back in those days, occasionally there would be an issue lettered by Herb Cooper and Mike Stevens. I don't think anyone mentioned them.

Kevin Parker said...

I'll second the high regard for these two outstanding craftsmen. Glad to see Ray Holloway mentioned-- he did beautiful work for DC, uncredited, in the sixties. A great unsung talent. I always liked Terry Szenics, too-- a perfect combination of casual and precise. I never understood how Ira Schnapps could do the best display lettering in comics (only Gaspar was his equal) and the ugliest story lettering around. Marvel was in good shape in that department with Novak, Joe Rosen, Orzechowski, Costanza , Annette Kawecki and the crude-by-comparison but effortlessly readable Denise Wohl into the early 1980s. After that the lettering corps, with few exceptions from the old hands, went all-amateur...like Marvel's stories and art. Bill Oakley and Phil Felix were very bright spots a few years later.

Kevin Parker said...

Anonymous: There is one sample of the great Ben Oda lettering for Marvel. It's the first page of TALES OF SUSPENSE # 73. Like the work of all the masters, his reads effortlessly, letting the story unfold in your head and never calling attention to itself.

Nick Caputo said...

Kevin,

Marvel had a fine line of craftsman as you noted. When a crude letterer appeared among those you mentioned it stuck out like a sore thumb and drew attention to itself and away from the art, a cardinal sin. Oakley and Felex were both very good.

Nick Caputo said...

Kevin,

Oda was an exceptional and prolific letterer, working for many companies and also lettering many comic strips.