Some things you want to know are easy to find out. Others are not.
If you come across an unfamiliar word when reading you can, of course, look it up in a dictionary. But what if you know a word's meaning but can't think of the actual word? The dictionary would not be useful at all in that circumstance.
Comic Books are universal these days in their practice of giving credit to a story's writer and artist(s) and letterer and colorist. But you know that it wasn't always that way! Most comics in the 1940s and 1950s gave no hint as to the identity of the creative personnel responsible for the stories.
For about a decade now I have been particularly vexed by one unknown individual. The image above is a splash page from 1957's issue #21 of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen
. No credits are given. Any fan of Curt Swan
will immediately recognize that the pencilling on the page was that gentleman's handiwork, and The Grand Comics Database
) has tutored me that the inker is Ray Burnley
. But look at the caption and word balloon lettering
. It is striking! The style is consistent and assured and just plain beautiful. All of the early Jimmy Olsen
issues are obviously lettered by this same individual, but who could it be? I needed to know!
I tried every which way to get the information. First line of offense:
was unable to help, leaving the "letterer:" field for those issues blank. Second line of offense:
online I found a Letterer Index
from 2006; it showed samples of various 1950s and 1960s DC Comics
letterer's styles but, wouldn't you know it, the one style which that index could not penetrate was shown on a sample page from Jimmy Olsen
#13! Third line of offense:
I reached out to Todd Klein
and Tom Orzechowski
, both of them well known to be scholars of lettering as well as expert practitioners themselves, but they too were unable to discern whose style it was.
So what's left for an information seeker to do? No other scholar of lettering leapt to mind, but maybe a scholar of comics in general might happen to possess this particular pearl of knowledge? I wrote to Mike Tiefenbacher
and asked if he knew who lettered the early Jimmy
s. His answer?
"Sure, I know. It's Pat Gordon Sprang, Dick Sprang's then-wife. She started work at DC in the '40s as Dick's letterer, then got work on her own, and was one of the '50s mainstays. If I recall correctly, she worked there through about 1961, and when she left, Stan Starkman was hired to letter most of the books she had worked on for Jack Schiff (Mort Weisinger hired several temporary substitutes, finally settling on production staffer Milt Snapinn as his go-to guy). Again, this is from memory, but I believe it to be an accurate encapsulation of Pat's tenure there."
Well how about that. The moral of this story, if anything, would have to be the following: The way to find out anything you want to know is to ask the person who knows the answer!
Wikipedia offers the following additional information. Dick Sprang
taught his wife Laura A. Sprang
to letter and color for comics; she subsequently took on the pen name of Pat Gordon
and handled the lettering of most of her husband's stories (and here
is a sample of their teaming from 1945). She later branched out and lettered for DC Comics
apart from Mr. Sprang
's stories. I found this vintage photograph of Pat Gordon Sprang
RELATED POSTSCRIPT NUMBER ONE
has been examining lettering styles quite regularly lately over on his Simon and Kirby Blog
. Great idea! From his writings I have learned how to recognize 1940s lettering by Howard Ferguson
RELATED POSTSCRIPT NUMBER TWO
I thanked Mike Tiefenbacher for his help and he answered,
"Happy to share what little I know about this stuff! (I'm still trying to track down a '40s letterer who did a lot of work for Sheldon Mayer/Julie/Robert Kanigher, whom I've labeled "the Flash letterer." It's possible ALTER EGO has mentioned him in one of the many issues I have yet to read.)"
If you know who that Flash Letterer might be, let's help Mike out!
RELATED POSTSCRIPT NUMBER THREE
After Mike T.
revealed Pat Gordon
to me as the mystery letterer, my thoughts started unraveling backwards and I realized that I had possibly met
her! Back in either 1987 or 1990, the Guest of Honor
at the Chicago Comicon
was Dick Sprang
and I took Little Mick
with me to the convention. Mr. Sprang
's very pleasant wife was sitting with him at the table the entire day! But it turns out that Dick Sprang
and Laura A. (Pat Gordon) Sprang
divorced back in 1951 so this was a different lady that I met. (By the way, the white-haired and bolo-tie-wearing Mr. Sprang
very generously invited Little Mick
to join him at the table and together they drew pictures of Batman