Monday, August 26, 2013

Creator: Ben Oda


BEN H. ODA
December 21, 1915 – November 1984


1930 United States Federal Census
Name: Ben Oda
Gender: Male
Birth Year: abt 1913
Birthplace: California
Race: Japanese
Home in 1930: Florin, San Joaquin Township, Sacramento County, California
Address: Florin Road
Marital Status: Single
Relation to Head of House: Son
Father's Birthplace: Japan
Mother's Name: Tsune Oda
Mother's Birthplace: Japan
Parents' birthplace: Japan
Household Members:
Name / Age
Tsune Oda / 58 [Basket Maker]
Ben Oda / 17

1940 United States Federal Census
Name: Ben Oda
Age: 25
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1915
Gender: Male
Race: Japanese
Birthplace: California
Marital Status: Single
Relation to Head of House: Brother
Home in 1940: Florin, San Joaquin Township, Sacramento County, California
Inferred Residence in 1935: San Joaquin, Sacramento, California
Residence in 1935: Same Place
Household Members:
Name / Age
Frank S Oda / 35 [Hawaii; Farmer]
Tsune Oda / 65 [Widow]
Ben Oda / 25

World War II Army Enlistment Record
Name: Ben H Oda
Birth Year: 1913
Race: Japanese, citizen (Japanese)
Nativity State or Country: California
State of Residence: California
County or City: Los Angeles
Enlistment Date: 3 Feb 1941
Enlistment State: California
Enlistment City: Los Angeles
Branch: Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
Branch Code: Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
Grade: Private
Grade Code: Private (paratrooper)
Component: Selectees (Enlisted Men)
Source: Civil Life
Education: 3 years of college
Civil Occupation: Actors and actresses
Marital Status: Single, without dependents
Height: 66
Weight: 145

U.S. City Directories
Name: Ben H Oda
Residence Year: 1948
Street Address: 601 W 110 
Phone Number: MOnumnt 3–1841
Residence Place: New York, New York
Publication Title: New York, New York, City Directory, 1948 (below)


Justice Traps the Guilty #56, November 1953

The line-up from left to right:
Ben Oda, Joe Simon, Joe Genalo, Mort Meskin and Jack Kirby.

Mad #13, July 1954
At the bottom of the page, in blue pencil, is Kurtzman’s note:
“Ben! on all pages!” (arrow points to circled number one).


Jonah Hex #33, February 1980

DC Profiles Number 56: Ben Oda

Ben Oda has been lettering comics since 1945—and not just comic books, either. Ben has, at one time or another, done the lettering for such comic strips as Rip KirbyPrince ValiantFlash GordonDondiOn StageQuincyGil ThorpeDr. KildareThe PhantomSteve CanyonKerry DrakeSecret Agent X-9The DropoutsTerry and the Pirates, and Tarzan.

Of course, Ben has lettered virtually all of DCs major characters, too, including Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.

Ben is widely renowned throughout the industry as one of the best letterers around. Professor John Adkins Richardson singled Ben out for special praise in his book, The Complete Art of Cartooning. Yet Ben claims there is no special secret to what he does. He uses standard Speedball lettering pens and his own steady hands and keen eye for spacing to produce hundreds of pages of expertly lettered comic books and strips every year.

Ben actually began his career as an apprentice at the Walt Disney Studios after graduating from the Choinard [sic; Chouinard] School of Fine Arts in Los Angeles. But his stay there was cut short in early 1941 when he was drafted into the Army. Some months later the U.S. entered World War II and Ben found himself being transferred all over the country. His Army years provided Ben with an opportunity to further his education and after a tour of duty in France he found himself attending classes at the University of Illinois at Champaign and later at Yale University. While stationed at Fort Sheridan (Illinois) with the First Medic Corps, Ben wrote and drew a comic strip called “Donald Doc” for the camp newspaper.

But Bens “best accomplishment” in those days came when the Fort Sheridan basketball team, which he played for, beat rival Camp Grant—just after that team had clobbered the number one college team in the country! “It was my biggest thrill,” recalls Ben. “The Camp Grant commander was so proud of his team—he made sure that any professional athletes who got transferred to his command stayed at Camp Grant and played on his teams. We showed him.”

After the War, Ben found work with Simon and Kirby, and went on to work with a succession of comics publishers—Crestwood, Hillman, Ziff-Davis, EC, Gold Key, and others. Ben worked for MAD at the very beginning and was also in on the start of Warren Publications. These days, though, Ben restricts his comic book work exclusively to DC.

Ben is the father of two sons and two daughters, aged 28, 23, 21, and 19, and lives with his wife of more than 30 years in New Jersey.


The Comics Buyer’s Guide, #585, February 1, 1985
“Ben Oda dies at 68, long-time letterer”


Superman #408, June 1985
“Ben Oda Remembered”
By Andrew Helfer


Social Security Death Index
Name: Ben Oda
SSN: 567-12-7986
Born: 21 Dec 1915
Died: Nov 1984
State (Year) SSN issued: California (Before 1951)


POV: Point of View 
Mark Evanier
[excerpt]


...There's no way of calculating it but I'd guess that if you tallied who has lettered the most balloons, the late Ben Oda would hold the record, especially if you included newspaper strips. At one point, Ben was supposedly lettering twelve daily strips, along with all the comic book pages he did for almost every publisher in and around New York.

He did so much that some editors assumed he had a whole staff back home, trained to letter exactly as he did. This was apparently untrue. There were family members who helped by ruling guide lines and erasing pages, but the lettering, I'm told, was all by Ben. Every downstroke of it.

He was uncommonly trustworthy. Jack Kirby used to say Ben was the most valuable employee of the Simon-and-Kirby shop. Irwin Hasen, illustrator of the Dondi strip, gave Ben a key to his studio. He could depend on Ben to come and go at all hours, picking up the work and bringing it back when needed, or lettering it on the premises if deadlines got tight. “Ben never once let me down,” Hasen said. I never heard of Ben letting anyone down.

The one time I met Oda, it was at a New York comic convention — either ’75 or ’76 — and he took the train in on a Saturday to deliver three (yes, three) pages to Paul Levitz so that Paul could get them to an inker who needed work on Monday. Ben was not there for the con; he intended to just drop work off and split...and he would have, had I not introduced myself, dropped the name of Kirby, and dragged him off for a cola and a chat.

I still have the notes I took at that impromptu interview. At one point, Ben demonstrated a point by taking my Flair pen and lettering a whole line of copy on my pad. Evelyn Woods couldn't read a stop sign in the instant it took Ben to letter that sentence.

The main thing I jotted down was what an enormous fan he was of all the artists whose work he lettered. He also said that, of all the varied employers he
d had, only one or two had ever treated him poorly. (Which I can believe. There are editors who would swap blood relatives for one letterer like Ben.)

Later on, I heard a wonderful story about him. Artists are forever cobbling up presentations for newspaper strips they hope to sell. Many of them wanted to hire Ben to letter their samples, but Ben felt bad about taking money from an artist, especially given how few of these submissions ever pay off. So he finally established a policy: As long as they didn
t need it A.S.A.P., he would letter samples free for any professional artist. If the strip later sold, he would expect the job of lettering it, but that was not mandatory.

The artist who told me this said it was not a matter of Ben trying to drum up work. “Ben always had all the work he could handle,” he explained. “It was just his little gift to his fellow professionals.”


The Silver Lantern
John Workman
[excerpt]

JW: Harvey Kurtzman hated the Leroy lettering at EC. There were this guy and his wife who had worked for Bill Gaines
s father and did all the Wonder Woman lettering. It was all Leroy-lettered. Its a type of mechanical lettering that's done with a sort of a stylus, and all the letters have no difference between them. It was used a lot in drafting. But here it was in comics. I actually kind of liked it. I thought it gave the ECs a unique look, but part of that was the fact that this fellow and his wife would do only the lettering itself. The titles, the sound effects, and the balloons were done by the individual artists, so youd get these beautiful brush balloons done by Wally Wood where he didnt ink it with a pen. He used a brush. Then thered be a big, drippy Graham Ingels balloon and the sort of free floating wonderful things that Al Williamson did. That uniform lettering actually helped to magnify the individuality of the artists style. But Kurtzman hated it. When he got a little say in things up there he brought in Ben Oda to hand letter the stuff that he worked on.

Prof: Frank Springer told me a great story about Ben. He said that Ben must not have slept and he had the keys to the places of a lot of the artists and he
d show up at all hours of the day to knock out a few things and Frank said, “Perhaps its a good thing Bens not with us any more because he probably could have written a tell-all that would have had all of us heading for the hills.” (Mutual laughter.)

JW: You
ll have to talk to Irwin Hasen. Hes got a great story about that exact thing with Ben. Bob LeRose told me a story about the time when Bob used to work for Johnstone and Cushing and an 18-year-old Neal Adams was there doing wonderful stuff. Ben lettered a lot for them, and Bob was once awakened by a phone ringing at 3 in the morning. It was Ben, whod been locked in the building. He'd stayed in there and was working, and he couldnt get out. So Bob drove into town and rescued Ben. (Laughter.) Ben was also an incredible athlete. He was, I guess, almost a professional level bowler. His sons made part of their college tuition by bowling, they did so well. He was also very good at basketball. He was about my height, 5'6" or 5'7" and I remember one time the DC guys were in Central Park and we were playing a warm-up baseball game. It was Steve Mitchell and me and Bob Rozakis and Jack Harris and all these guys in their 20s, but the two best athletes on the team were Ben Oda and Bob LeRose, both of whom were in their 50s. It was really something to see.


POV: Point of View
Irwin Hasen
[excerpt]


M.E.: Ben Oda.

Hasen: Oh! Ben Oda was the letterer to the stars. Ben Oda had five strips...

M.E.: I think he had a lot more than that at times.

Hasen: He may have. He was a wonderful person...a Japanese-American who’d fought in World War II as a paratrooper. He was a wonderful person and a slave to several of us cartoonists. He lettered On Stage, The Heart of Juliet Jones, Dondi, a couple of others...

We would all give him the keys to our apartments and Ben would come in the dead of the night, like Santa Claus. He’d slip in and the strips were on the drawing board. He’d sit right down, and it didn’t matter how late he had to work...two, three o’clock in the morning, whatever. But he’d do the lettering and then he’d leave, as quiet as a mouse...

There's a funny story about me and a lady one night but I don
’t think I can tell it here...

M.E. Sure, you can. [And with prompting from the moderator—who has heard the story and loves it — various audience members demand its telling.]

Hasen: All right. (laughter) I have a large apartment—a Brownstone. A gorgeous apartment with high ceilings. My desk is over here (gestures), there's a little garden outside the second floor...bedroom over here...living room...and this is my studio.

One night I'm entertaining a lady friend and we started getting intimate in the living room on the couch. There
s a coffee table right in front of us. The lights are out and we're sitting there and Im about to make my big play...and all of a sudden, I hear, “click” — the door! And I thought, ”Oh, my God! Its Ben!” Quickly, I whisper to the lady, ”Get underneath the coffee table!”

We slid off the couch. We slid under the coffee table so he wouldn
t see us. Ben comes in, puts on a light...doesnt say a word. He puts a light on by my drawing table, takes his coat off, lights a cigarette, rolls up his sleeves and goes to work. I thought we were going to have to stay like that 'til hed lettered a whole week of Dondi! (Audience laughs hysterically)

I should have just said something when I heard the click but no, I had to be a wise guy! So it ended up with the lady and me...we finally crawled slowly, so Ben wouldn
t hear us, into the bedroom. On our hands and knees. But to this day, Im sure he knew. He just didnt want to embarrass us because, you know, he was that kind of gentleman.

M.E.: Did she understand who he was?

Hasen: Oh, yeah. But Ben was that kind of man. It was very sad...he died of a heart attack. He smoked incessantly. When I went to his funeral in Jersey, there was that line where the family stands and you pay your respects. Now, I
m prone to guilt anyway, but when I got up to her, his wife said, “You had him up working lot of nights, late.” Oh, boy!


The Silver Lantern
Frank Springer
[excerpt]


FS: Of course there was Ben Oda years ago.

Prof: Yeah, Gaspar told me in his typical unpretentious way that Ben Oda was the real genius

FS: Ben Oda lettered Phoebe Zeitgeist. He lettered the whole thing.

Prof: There was plenty to do, too.

FS: Yeah, and he lettered for everybody. He lettered for George Wunder when I worked on Terry and the Pirates. He would show up with this portfolio that weighed a ton. It was this huge portfolio just jammed with strips and he worked for Stan Drake, he worked for Leonard Starr, he worked for Hal Foster, he worked for George Wunder, he worked for Milton Caniff, he worked for this, he worked for that…

Prof: Wow, he really ran the gamut.

FS: He was in the studios of all these people and we thought if Ben ever wrote a book about what he saw in some of these studios, everybody would have to leave town. (Mutual laughter.) He was just terrific. A World War II veteran. He saw combat in Italy with the Nisei, the Japanese-Americans unit there while his family was interred in Wyoming.


The Comics Journal #274
[excerpt]

Michael Dean: Did you go from P*S to Warren?

Mike Ploog: Yeah. There was a letterer. Ben Oda, he was fantastic. He used to come up to the office all the time and say, “Hey listen, you'’ve got to do comics.” So one day, I was still on P*S when I went over to [James] Warren, because who could afford to work for Warren without another job?

Dean: [Laughs.] You were between two skinflints.

Ploog: Oh God, they were the cheapest men that God ever put on Earth. And again, you had to like the guy, he had the nerve to actually do it. I went over there and did a couple of stories for Warren.

Dean: Now, Warren, at some point, did revive The Spirit. Was Eisner at all a connection to Warren, or did that come later?

Ploog: Not really. Jim knew I was working with Eisner, but Ben Oda was the guy that actually sent me over there, and had spoken with Jim, so that was more or less the connection.



Comics: Between the Panels (1998)
…In a move reminiscent of the Golden Age, when publishers hustled out ashcans to secure the copyright on specific titles Warren called in Goodwin and a letterer, Gaspar Saladino. “Utilizing some inventory material from Creepy [Warren’s flagship title] as well as some material already printed, the three of us cobbled together a pamphlet-sized little magazine emblazoned with the Eerie logo already designed for us by our regular letterer, Ben Oda,” Goodwin said. “Warren had simple line repro printing done on it overnight. By the next morning, there were about 200 copies of Eerie #1 in existence.”


Creepy and Eerie Confidential
by Russ “Unca’ Creepy” Jones
...Kable News Company did distribute another monster magazine, and that was one of the many reasons Warren wanted out of his contract with them. It was Castle of Frankenstein, published by Calvin Beck, and edited by Bob Stewart. In fact, Bob did pretty much the whole magazine, from design to completion, but COF had no real schedule. It was supposed to be a bi-monthly, but on average, two issues a year was about it. Kable wanted a title that would really be on a schedule, and that meant getting it to press ontime. We settled on the title, Monster Mania, and Ben Oda did our logo. Lee was to handle the mail order from his home in Elkins Park, Pa, and I would be responsible for the editorial chores from the studio at The Clifton....

Grand Comics Database

Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999

Wikipedia

Jack Kirby Museum
Ben Oda photos

The Hayfamzone Blog
OdaBalloon font


Murder, She Wrote
The Dead File”, November 15, 1992 air date

I mentioned this episode to Larry Hama and he explained that Gerry Conway was a story editor on the TV series. Having worked at Marvel and DC Comics, Conway knew many of the industry people. For this episode, he combined the names of letterers Ben Oda and Irv Watanabe to create Ben Watanabe. The character’s late night work schedule was based on Oda. Below is a partial credit’s list and description of Ben Watanabe’s screen time. Spoiler alert!

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher, mystery writer

Harvey Fierstein as Stan Hatter, cartoonist
Rodney Kageyama as Ben Watanabe, letterer
Kris Kamm as Teddy Graves, Hatter’s assistant
Susan Kellermann as Sergeant Martha Redstone
Jon Polito as Lieutenant Peter DiMartini

Ben Watanabe is a comic strip lettering artist. At 4:45 in the morning he enters cartoonist Stan Hatter’s dark apartment. He walks to a table, sets down his tool box, opens it, pulls out gloves and puts them on. He walks to the drawing board, sits down, turns on the light and begins lettering the word balloons in the “Hatterville” comic strip.

Sometime later, walking down the stairs of the National Cartoonist Society headquarters, Watanabe and Teddy Graves are following Hatter who is talking to mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher. He tries to convince her that he did not do the strips with a character modeled after her, Jessica Fox, that have appeared in the newspaper. He points out details in the drawing style but Fletcher is not convinced. Grave’s points out the hand, and Watanabe adds, “And that’s not my lettering, Mrs. Fletcher.” Stan can’t explain why this is happening. The newspaper syndicate editor shows up to bring bad news to Hatter.

Later, Watanabe shows up at Hatter’s apartment at 3:45 in the morning. Seeing the drawing board lamp on, he walks over and picks up the artwork. He realizes something is wrong with them but turns his attention to a noise in another room. He walks slowly toward the room when he is struck on the head and collapses face up on the floor. Later, the police are all over the outside of Hatter’s building. A chalk outline on the sidewalk indicates where Watanabe’s body was found. Sgt. Redstone, who has been questioning Hatter, tells Fletcher that Watanabe died of massive head trauma. They go to Hatter’s studio. Hatter says Watanabe “had everything to live for, a wife, two daughters and a house in Scarsdale.” Fletcher asks about the statuette with a cracked base on the drawing board. Graves says it’s a Reuben Award, the comic strip equivalent of the movies Oscar. The sergeant speculates that Watanabe was behind the forged comic strips. Hatter says Watanabe was strictly a lettering artist. The sergeant persists and says Watanabe was the mastermind of the scheme but he became disconsolate and committed suicide or his partner murdered him.

Fletcher has her own theory, so later she and Lt. DiMartini reexamine Hatter’s studio. At the police precinct the two explain their theory to Redstone who is still unconvinced. Fletcher calls Hatter’s studio and leaves a message. At 2:15 in the morning, Graves enters the studio, walks to the potted plant, lifts the base and removes a glove. The lights go on and Redstone tells Graves he is under arrest for the murder of Watanabe and extortion. Graves confesses to forging the strips but didn’t intend to kill Watanabe. On the evening of the murder, he explains that he was working and took a coffee break when Watanabe arrived an hour early and saw the forged strips. Graves said he accidentally bumped something and Watanabe, who has a black belt in karate, walked in his direction. He said Watanabe “looked like he was ready to kill.” Graves said he grabbed the Reuben Award statuette and struck Watanabe on the head, then he dragged the body to the balcony and pushed it over. He hid the glove under the plant just in case the police stopped and searched him outside the building.


Related Posts
Irv Watanabe
Morrie Kuramoto
Artie Simek and Artie Simek, Sports Cartoonist
Ira Schnapp and here
Martin DeMuth
Zoltan and Terry Szenics
Albert and Charlotte Jetter




(Next post on Monday: Hong on the Range)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Street Scene: Peck Slip Post Office


N E W Y O R K C I T Y
1 Peck Slip at Pearl Street, Manhattan
closed June 2012; reopens 2015 as a public school



(Next post August 26: Ben Oda)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Under Cover: A Place of Silver Silence

Ardath Mayhar
Illustrations by Pat Ortega
David Harris, Series Editor
A Byron Preiss Book
Walker & Company, 1988
The eighth book in the Millennium series.










(Next post August 19: Peck Slip Post Office)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Creator: Mike Hinge

MIKE HINGE
August 9, 1931 – August 2003

Times Square Subway Station
Roy Lichtenstein Mural
November 23, 2002


COVER ILLUSTRATION

Futuristic versions of Will Bradley’s idyllic cover.
(photocopy)

Algol
Summer 1975
(untrimmed cover)

The Inland Printer
July 1894
Art by Will Bradley

Time
October 4, 1971
(untrimmed cover)

Time
November 5, 1973

Amazing Science Fiction
January 1973
(color photocopy)

Amazing Science Fiction
March 1973
(color photocopy)

Amazing Science Fiction
December 1974

Amazing Science Fiction
September 1975
More Amazing Science Fiction covers are here and here.

Starship
Spring 1980
(color photocopy)



Amazing Stories
September 1993
(color photocopy)

Witzend 6
April 1969
(Photostat artwork and printed cover)

Assignment in Tomorrow
Frederick Pohl, Editor
Lancer, 1972



A Choice of Gods
Clifford D. Simak
Putnam, 1971
(cover proof)


The Cosmic Eye
Mack Reynolds
Leisure Books, 1979


Masters of Everon
Gordon R. Dickson
Nelson Doubleday, 1980
(dust jacket detail)


Mission to the Stars
A.E. Van Vogt
A Berkley Medallion Book, 1971


Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future
Reginald Bretnor, Editor
Advent, 1979
(dust jacket detail)


The Secret of the Marauder Satellite
Ted White
A Berkley Book, 1978


Shaggy Planet
Ron Goulart
Lancer, 1973


Transfigurations
Michael Bishop
Berkley/Putnam, 1979
(color photocopy)


The White Hart
Nancy Springer
Pocket Books, 1979
(dust jacket detail)



ILLUSTRATION

James Dean portrait
(undated; sold at auction)

(photocopy)
 

(photocopy)

Future Life
#17, March 1980

(photocopy)

(photocopy)

(photocopy)

Mediascene
#28, November-December 1977
portrait of Richard Dreyfus in
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

(hand-colored photocopy)

The Mike Hinge Experience
Supergraphics, 1973
(selected images)

(detail)

(detail; complete illustration here)

(detail)

(detail)

(detail)

(detail)

(detail)

(photocopy)

Cosanti Foundation

(photocopy)

(detail)

(detail)

Heavy Metal
July 1979
“...Rears Its Ugly Green Head”
with Neal Adams


LETTERING AND TYPE DESIGN

Alphabet Thesaurus Vol. 3, A Treasury of Letter Design
Photo-Lettering Inc., 1971

TDC XIII
(Type Directors Club 13)
1967

Thrust
Spring 1978
Preliminary cover design; the logo was developed
into an alphabet available from Photo-Lettering.

The Mars One Crew Manual
Ballantine Books, 1985
patch designs

Business Card


ONYX

Hinge was a member of the group Onyx.

Design Quarterly
78/79, 1970
Among the numbers are his Social Security number,
telephone number, address and zip code.


LINKS
Onyx Cube is a profusely illustrated blog on Hinge.
The Mike Hinge Reference is here.

(Next post on Monday: A Place of Silver Silence)