Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Tribute To Artie Simek, Master Letterer of the Marvel Silver Age

Comic fans usually revere writers and artists and inkers (despite Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy).  The most overlooked creators are often the letterers, especially the ones from the golden/silver/bronze ages.  My favorite letterer whose style I could easily identify as a kid was Artie Simek.

Artie Simek 1975 tribute

Letters were painstakingly hand-drawn in those days.  I am sure if you asked a non-fan, they thought a machine put the letters in the comics.  Artie Simek spent his entire professional life perfecting this craft at Marvel and DC Comics.

Artie Simek lettering on Fantastic Four 116, 1971

Artie Simek became exclusive to Marvel during their 1960s rebirth.  Many of the early Fantastic Four comics were lettered by Artie.  Why do I like his lettering style so much?  Number one, the letters are big, clear, and extremely easy to read.  There’s a style to his letters that gets specially accented in the captions and credits.  I love the way he drew those bold characters.

Artie Simek lettering on Defenders 3 splash

On this Defenders splash page, you can see that Artie designed Giant-Sized logos for the title of the story, slanted against the tornado.  There’s a TS Eliot quote that Steve Englehart threw in there, giving Artie an opportunity to do some fancy calligraphy.

Artie Simek lettering Defenders panel

Nutty little details, like the “Y” peeking out of the top rim of the panel, just tickle me.  Simek probably lettered all of Marvel’s major titles during the 1960s and 1970s: Fantastic Four, Avengers, Defenders, X-Men, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I also liked Sam Rosen, John Costanza, Tom Orzechowski, Gaspar Saladino and Todd Klein.

I always looked forward to seeing the name “Artie Simek” in the credits.  Giving letterers a credit was unheard of before Stan Lee started doing it in Marvel Comics.  Way to go Stan—and way to go, Artie!  Nuff Said!

Link:  Artie Simek Wikipedia page.

Update: Comments from my previous MovableType blog:

Letterers are great. They accompany the artwork with their beautiful writing, thus making the panels look better. One thing that I hate in comics are those very thin and artsy letters that some issues have. Very hard to read if you don't go very close. Your blog is an inspiration for me. Keep up the fantastic job!
Great topic for a post. Never really paid much attention to Simek's lettering, but had passed away before I came into my comic-collecting prime. The first letterers who were on my radar as a Bronze Age reader were Tom Orzechowski on X-Men and John Workman on Thor. (I came to love Workman even more as a writer and artist, though.) My all-time favorite would have to be Dave Sim, for his amazing work on Cerebus.
What kind words for an unsung hero, R.G. I appreciate the sincerity of all your brief columns; they really do capture the delight and enthusiasm of the discovery of comics, each and every time, anew.
People who appreciate little details also go out of their way to observe them in their love for others, I find.
Very enjoyable examples, too. The Defenders have given me great delight, and I still have the Englehart (who I love!) issues ahead of me to read, as they came out before I did! LOL
Hope you enjoy my Defenders story, too; they helped me work out details of my novel, adapted for their participation, as a learning experiment/ call back to a quirky joy of my childhood (of course, it'll be adapted BACK, LOL!).
Richard, thanks for this excellent memorial. I didn't start paying attention to lettering until having to teach a traditional ink-on-paper class for making comics. Turns out Artie Simek was my favorite letterer of the silver age. To this day, I still try to "box up" my word balloons and mimic his letter forms (this was a MUCH easier task working 12" x 18"). As a kid I never knew the letterers, but felt Marvel's lettering took a turn for the worse when he died (until Orz, Workman and Costanza took over).


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