Monday, September 18, 2017

Comics: Joe and Sam Rosen, Letterers

Joseph Walter “Joe” Rosen was born in New York City on December 25, 1920. The birth date is from the Social Security Death Index, and the birthplace and full name were determined from census records. 

Marvel Tales Annual #1, 1964

Samuel “Sam” H. Rosen was born in New York City on April 4, 1922. The birth date is from the Social Security Death Index and the birthplace was determined from census records. When Sam enlisted in the army he had a middle initial, H. Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said Sam had a pen name, Sam Harold. Presumably, Sam’s middle name was Harold.

In the 1920 census, which was enumerated in January, Joe and Sam’s parents resided in the Bronx at 586 Prospect Avenue. It’s possible Joe and Sam were born in the Bronx. At some point the family moved to Brooklyn.

1930 U.S. Federal Census

Home: 2861 West 33rd Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
Name / Age / Occupation
David Rosen, 45, proprietor/produce
Esther Rosen, 40, none
Morton Rosen, 13, student
Walter Rosen, 9, student [Was Walter the first name or middle name for Joe?]
Samuel Rosen, 8, student
Theodore Rosen, 6, student
Emanuel Rosen, 2, none
Son[?] Zinkowetsky, 80, (David’s mother-in-law), none
Harry Rosen, 50 (David’s brother), proprietor/produce

1940 U.S. Federal Census
Home: 3625 Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
Name / Age / Occupation
David Rosen, 57, blank
Esther Rosen, 52, housewife
Morton Rosen, 23 (cripple), blank
Joseph Rosen, 19 (one year of college), blank
Samuel Rosen, 18 (two years of college), student
Jacob Rosen, 16, student
Emanuel Rosen, 12, student
(enumerator’s note: “This family on Relief, $90 a month; $15 N.Y.A.”)
Harry Rosen, 63 (David’s brother), pillow factory

The 1940 census was enumerated in April.

In Comics Interview #7, January 1984, David Anthony Kraft interviewed Joe who explained how he and Sam got into comics.

My father had a fruit store in Coney Island. In 1940, one of the customers he was well acquainted with mentioned that her son was an artist for Timely—the company that’s now Marvel Comics. The son, George Mandel, is now a novelist. This was during the Depression. My father asked her if her son could maybe do something for Sam. So Mandel introduced Sam to the big letterer of the time, Howard Ferguson, who was working for both Timely and Fox. Fox was Ferguson’s lesser account, and soon he gave it to Sam. Sam got me my first lettering job, at Fox, doing The Blue Beetle.
Alter Ego #81, October 2008 published Jim Amash’s interview with artist Everett Raymond Kinstler.
page 32: Jim Amash: You say that when you got the job at Cinema Comics, there was another artist working there….

Kinstler: His name was Sam Rosen, and he was a letterer. I don’t think he liked me. I was just a young kid coming along, and I’d met people like this all too often, who couldn’t quite make in their fields. It was just a 15-year-old kid’s instinct, but I just don’t think he cared for me very much. It had no consequence to me. …

JA: What were the offices like?

Kinstler: 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue in Manhattan was choice commercial property, and still is. The office was modest; it didn’t really have any personality. There was a big reception room where you entered, and there might have been somebody at a switchboard. Hughes’ office was right behind it, and I think there was another private office back there, possibly for an accountant who could come in and out. There was a bullpen that was maybe 10’ by 20’, which contained a couple of drawing tables. Rosen had a drawing board in there. They had drawing boards for people who came in with their strips—like Maurice Gutwirth—to make corrections. They’d come in, sit down, and ink a couple of panels while they were there, or correct something. I don’t think there were more than four of five full-time people there. …
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem) Death File, Joe enlisted August 21, 1942 and was discharged August 28, 1945. He served in the Army Air Corps.
Sam enlisted February 20, 1943 in New York City. Before Sam left, there was a party for him.

The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith
Joan Schenkar
Macmillan, 2009
page 214: 
Elizabeth Hardwick wasn’t the only prominent writer to work for a publishing company which also produce comic books. When Sam Rosen, a letterer for many comics companies, went into the army, his fellow artist Pierce Rice says, “there was a little going away luncheon for him…The participants were: Miss Highsmith, then a comics writer, one of the [comics] editors, the guest of honor, and myself.”

The editor at that going-away luncheon was Stanley Kaufman, later a theater critic for The New York Times and then, for twenty-five years, the film and theater critic for The New Republic magazine….
In the interview Joe explained what he did after the war.
Yeah, I was away in the service for three years, then I came back after the war and went to National—I don’t recall if it was called National or Detective Comics back then. I’d done some work for them before the war. I did one comic for them called The Shining Knight….I worked up at National when Julie Schwartz was an assistant editor. Let’s see…I worked with Mort Weisinger, Jack Schiff….I went to Harvey in 1950 and worked there until the 1970s, when I went to Marvel.
After military service, Sam worked for Will Eisner.

Will Eisner: Conversations
Will Eisner, M. Thomas Inge
University Press of Mississippi, 2011
page 145: Alex Kotsky
“…I was there with Chuck Cuidera, Tex Blaisdell, Sam Rosen was the letterer, Bob Powell did Mr. Mystic, and Nick Viscardi did Lady Luck.”
page 167: Jules Feiffer
“The odd arrangement was that Will sat where the receptionist ordinarily would, in the outer office where he had his drawing table, a rather dark, windowless room, and inside, a larger room than where Will lived, were his staff: letterer Sam Rosen, John Spranger who did some penciling and some inking (he had a wonderful pencil technique, drawing large, clunky, blocky characters….Dave Berg, and I forget who else was around at the time. Later on he hired Jerry Grandenetti.”
In Joe’s interview he talked about lettering at a smaller size.
…Harvey used the big pages from the old times. The first I ever heard of the change to smaller pages for original art was when my brother Sam was complaining about these new, smaller pages they were instituting up at Marvel. He didn’t like it, ’cause he had to letter smaller and it was a strain on his eyes. But I didn’t find that they made that much of a difference.

…Sam was working for Marvel. He had too much work and I didn’t have enough, so I did a story for him. It was Sgt. Fury. And I thought: There’s only one way I’m going to get all this copy in—by making it as small as it was possible to letter it and still make it clear. I actually was not too sure it would be all right. I’m still not sure. But I’ve never had any complaints about it.
Marvelmania Monthly Magazine
#1, April 1970
page 5: Letters to the Editor

Dear Fans,
The pens I use are either B-6 or A-5 speedballs, bit are modified by guiding down and shaping on carborundum stone. Guide-lines are about 3/16 of an inch apart, separated about 1/16 from from another. For heavy lettering, I use A-6 of B-5, once again ground down until it feels right to me. As for the ink, I generally use Higgins black.
––Sam Rosen

Public records at have these addresses for Joe.

25 Henry Avenue, West Gilgo Beach, New York, 11702
179 Brendan Avenue Massapequa Park, New York, 11762
3219 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11224
1530 West 27th Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11224

Sam passed away April 8, 1992. The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was Brentwood, New York. An obituary has not been found.

Joe passed away October 10, 2009. A death notice appeared in the Washington Post, October 12.

On Saturday, October 10, 2009 of Chevy Chase, MD. Son of the late David and Esther Rosen; brother of Emanuel Rosen. Shiva at the late residence for the full week. Memorial contributions may be made to Ezras Israel Congregation, 803 Montrose Rd., Rockville, MD. Arrangements entrusted to Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home, 202-541-1001. Call for graveside service time at Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park, Clarksburg, MD.

Further Reading
The Comics Reporter

Grand Comics Database
Sam Rosen
Joe Rosen

Todd’s Blog

Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999
Sam Rosen
Joe Rosen

Sam Rosen
Joe Rosen

Related Posts

(Updated June 12, 2019; Next post on Monday: Variety)


  1. Two of the finest! Sam Rosen got most of the special projects and first issues at Marvel from 1963 until he stopped working in 1972...literally in the middle of a couple of jobs (Captain America #156, and a comics adaptation of It!).

    I wonder if anyone lettered as many pages over his career as Joe Rosen? His career spanned about 6 decades.

  2. Sam and Joe were my uncles. Emanuel Rosen, their youngest brother, is my father. He is still alive. I may be able to answer some questions or add more personal details to their bios. There is an old family story that Sam wrote a birthday greeting to my older brother, David, in a comic book. We don't have a copy of the art. I am wondering if you can help me figure out how to search for it. I'd appreciate any help you can lend. Thanks.

    1. Hi - I am a DC Comics editor looking to contact Joe Rosen's immediate family.

      Thanks to the pandemic (what a phrase), I’ve had a bit more spare time – and in that time, I’ve been creating fonts based on the letter forms of many letterers whose work I’ve admired. One of them is a font made from Joe Rosen's letter forms, and I wanted to give it to his family.

      I don’t intend to use the font or sell it – I made it out of pure love and joy for Joe's work. I would only use it with the family’s consent, and Joe's family is free to use it however they wish. It would give me a lot of joy to know this font is in the right hands, and that something good could come out of these awful times.

      Is there a way I could contact someone in Joe's immediate family?

    2. Chiming in a bit late but take a look at the splash page of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #5, from late 1968. It's a full page newspaper, with the credits cleverly included as headlines on the page. One headline reads: "Sam Rosen, letterer, has visit from nephews Davy, Dan, and Joel."

  3. Thanks for your comment. Please feel free to say more about Sam and Joe. Finding that comic book with the birthday greeting will be difficult. Such a small detail would not be indexed in a checklist. Do you have any idea which company it was and what year it might have been?

    1. It would have been a Marvel title, and sometime in ‘64