Monday, June 18, 2018

Comics: Joe Letterese, Letterer

Photograph of Joe Letterese at DC by José Luis García-López; courtesy of Todd Klein

Joseph F. “Joe” Letterese was born on June 14, 1917, in the Bronx, New York. His birth date is from the Social Security Death Index and the birthplace is based on census records.

In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Letterese was the oldest of two sons born to Pasquale and Katie (Catherine Devirgiles), both Italian emigrants. Letterese’s father was employed as a hatter. The family resided in the Bronx at 4547 Park Avenue. 

According to the 1925 New York state census, the address was the same and included two more children, Frances and Marie. 

The 1930 census said the Letterese family’s address was 1926 Yates Avenue in the Bronx. 

Letterese was the subject of “DC Profiles Number 50” which appeared in DC comic books dated November 1979. The profile said he graduated from the School of Industrial Art in the late 1930s and “started as a commercial artist”.

However, in the 1940 census, Letterese was a helper in the milk industry. He lived with his parents and four siblings in the Bronx at 1921 Melrose Avenue. 

During World War II Letterese was drafted and enlisted in the army on July 8, 1942. His occupation was stock clerk. The DC profile said he served “in England, fighting Hitler’s bombers as an aircraft identification expert, injured during the bombing of London, Joe returned to the U.S.…” Letterese’s veterans Beneficiary Identification Records Locater Subsystem file said he was discharged October 6, 1943. Letterese received the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal in 2001. 

The profile said: 
After a brief stint doing art and lettering for Parents Magazine, Joe moved to the production department of Atlas (later Marvel) Comics where he worked on covers, designed logos (several of which are still being used today) and served as Stan Lee’s assistant.”

When Atlas shut down and nearly went out of business in the late 1950s, Joe approached DC for some freelance work. Then-Assistant Editor Murray Boltinoff and Editor Mort Weisinger admired Joe's abilities and gave him the assignments that ultimately led to his being hired as a full-time Corrections Artist in DC’s Production Department….
In John Romita and All That Jazz! (2007), Romita was interviewed by Jim Amash who mentioned Letterese. Romita said, “Oh, yes, I knew Joe Letterese from my DC years. He worked at Marvel in the ’40s, before I knew him. But in the ’50s, whenever I delivered a story to DC and had to do corrections, I’d go into the Bullpen, so I got to know Joe Letterese, Stan Starkman, Eddie Eisenberg, and Sol Harrison. I got to know a lot of guys in the Bullpen….”

Some of Letterese’s credits are at the Grand Comics Database and Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1922–1999

The DC logos mentioned in the above profile may not have been for the covers but for interior pages, advertising or merchandising.

Ridgewood, New Jersey city directories for 1954, 1956 and 1960 listed Letterese as a letterer in New York. His wife was Katherine and their address was 10-03 Canger in Fair Lawn.

Letterese passed away June 3, 1991. The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), June 5, 1991, said:
Joseph F. Letterese Sr., 73, of Wyckoff, formerly of Fair Lawn, died Monday. Before retiring in 1981, he was a commercial artist for DC Comics/Warner Communications, New York City.

He was an Army veteran of World War II.

Surviving are his wife, Katherine Kondogianis Letterese, and a son, Joseph Jr. of Wyckoff.
Letterese was laid to rest at George Washington Memorial Park.

Further Reading and Viewing
Todd’s Blog
Logo Study: Batman part 2

The Beat

The Amazing World of Superman Metropolis Edition #1
National Periodical Publications, Inc., 1973

Related Posts

(Updated August 4, 2022; next post on Monday: The Rising Son)

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