Written by Bryan Stroud
Gaspar Saladino was born on September 1, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York. As a young man he worked in the fashion industry, but in the early 1950's he made a career change and moved into comic lettering and logo design. He was taken on by DC as a freelance interior letterer and by 1967 had taken over most of the cover lettering and logo design for the company. In his time at DC Gaspar designed the logos for Swamp Thing, Vigilante, Phantom Stranger, Metal Men, Adam Strange, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, and Unknown Soldier, among others. Mr. Saladino passed away on August 4, 2016.
I was incredibly nervous when I called Gaspar, and he was as nice as he could be (we became phone friends until he passed in 2016) and just seemed sort of baffled as to why anyone would be interested in something he'd done simply to provide for his family. He wasn't comfortable with being recorded, so I had to do some fancy hand jamming. Gaspar was, of course, the highly prolific letterer for DC Comics, taking over for Ira Schnapp beginning in the Silver Age up until his retirement. He's probably best known for designing the logo for Swamp Thing and his incredible work on Arkham Asylum, though he did so much more than just that. I've never heard anyone say anything but good things about him and I still miss his laugh. To my knowledge, I'm the only one who ever interviewed him.
Bryan Stroud: You were a fashion illustrator when you started with DC in the 1950s. Did you ever regret the direction you took?
Gaspar Saladino: No. The fashion business was headed toward photography, so I had no regrets.
Stroud: When Carmine Infantino came on as DC's editorial director, you were taken off of interior lettering, and took on the lettering for virtually every cover DC published. This changed the whole line's look, from Ira Schnapp's more sedate style to yours. How did becoming DC's cover letterer affect your approach?
GS: It didn't affect my approach, but I enjoyed it much more. It allowed me some artistic expression that the interiors lacked. I had carte blanche with sound effects and placement. There weren't many egos to deal with and it was a very collaborative effort.
Stroud: What do you think of digital lettering? Ever feel tempted to try it?
GS: No. I’m computer ignorant.
Stroud: The loopy sound effects used in the Batman TV series opened the door for sfx to be bigger and crazier, and you hopped on this trend with a vengeance. Any comments?
GS: It didn’t really affect my work that much.
Stroud: Your lettering looks different depending on who penciled a book. At DC, pencillers roughed in all lettering before you ever got at the page. How much of your cues did you take from the penciller? Did your style develop as you translated their roughs into finished lettering?
GS: Again, it was all very collaborative. I have some wonderful and warm memories of Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, among others and we always seemed to be able to work well together and to come up with a good product that everyone approved.
Stroud: Your exclamation marks were one of your trademarks, big and bold. Why’d you adopt this style?
GS: It was for effect. If they weren't there I'd add them.
Stroud: Unlike most free-lancers, you actually worked at DC's bullpen. I think you were living in Long Island at the time. Why’d you make the trip to NYC every day instead of working at home?
GS: DC wanted a full-time letterer and by being present I got first choice of assignments. I also thought it was beneficial to be able to work hand in hand with the artists.
Stroud: When you were doing interiors, pencillers used to beg editors to have you do their books. How were these decisions made? Julie Schwartz and Robert Kanigher seemed to have a lock on your services, while George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff and Jack Schiff hardly ever got to use your work. How’d all this come about?
GS: Julie was the final word on how work was doled out and it was often time dependent, as in how hot the deadline was. There were certain "cliques" in the offices and some politics but I never found it to be a problem.
Stroud: Can you tell me anything about Ira Schnapp, whose work pretty much defined DC's covers and logos for 25 years?
GS: "Mr. DC." He was the original letterer on Superman and Green Lantern in the 30's. The titles were done by him and he had his own desk in the production department. It was sad that when he left it was as though he'd never been there at all. So much of it all came down to business, though. It was to make money.
Stroud: Wherever the best pencillers were, you were. Who did you enjoy working with most?
GS: I worked with a lot of wonderful people, but was especially fond of Gil Kane. I was an usher at his wedding and we lived in the same borough in Brooklyn. Gil could break down a story in 10 minutes for a rough. Alex Toth was the best hand in Julie's stable. He drew quickly and well and was the genius of them all.
Stroud: Did you use a template for your balloons? They look like they were done freehand.
GS: I did not use a template. I liked freehand.
Following are some other random comments during the interview that didn’t relate directly to any questions:
Gaspar began on the "Cowboy Romance" books in 1951.
Joe Kubert sat next to Robert Kanigher. Bob Kanigher also gave Gaspar complete freedom on sound effects. He had very good things to say about Ross Andru. Apparently Ross was agnostic and he and Gaspar made a pact that whoever passed on first would try to make contact with the other. "I haven't heard anything yet."
Deadlines were about a week for pencils on any story.
Bernard Sachs was an inker he really admired.
Original art was stored at the DC offices. Once the pieces were produced, the artists no longer had any rights to them. Apparently today the practice is the opposite. The artists get their copy back.
Curt Swan was a very pleasant gentleman.
On Friday afternoons the writers and artists would gather and the conversations were simply amazing. It was a "good slice on life." Many were war vets and they'd swap war stories.
He created the logo for both Swamp Thing and Metal Men among others. During the conversation I mentioned the way that the Sizzler issue really leaped out and grabbed you. Gaspar confirmed that covers like the Sizzler did their job: They got attention and sales at the newsstand. He pulled his copy out when we were discussing it. He also did logos for the Vigilante and Eclipse.
Irv Novick worked well with Robert Kanigher.
Lettering for the foreign issues was done in country.