• N E W Y O R K C I T Y •
101 Mosco Street near Mulberry Street,
(Next post on Monday: Mahlon Blaine, Illustrator)
…in 1939 Charles [Nicholas] was doing work for us, and we brought in a letterer, too.At the 1998 San Diego Comicon, Mark Evanier interviewed Joe Simon.
The letterer’s name was Howard Ferguson, and he was the best ever in the business. Howard was from Detroit. His wife left him, and he came to New York with his daughter Elsie, who was his pride and joy. She was maybe eight or nine years old at the time. Howard’s mother was an “America Firster,” one of the people who pressured the government not to get involved with World War II. The group had been organized by a Yale student. Its ranks included future President Gerald Ford and Sargent Shriver, the man who founded the Peace Corps. Howard didn’t agree with the Firsters, so he had a lot of heated arguments with his mother, and held a lifelong grudge against her.
Howard was a chain smoker who drank coffee all day. When we got his pages, there were always coffee stains and cigarette burns on them. But he was unlike any other letterer in the business. One time I brought Will Eisner in to see for himself. He came up to the studio.
“Will, look at this,” I said. Howard was working on a page, and usually when you letter, you do penciled guide lines first, so your lettering can fit neatly within the lines. But Howard didn’t bother with this extra step.
“Wow,” Eisner said. “I’ve never seen anybody do that before.” The lettering was straight as can be. I mean, Ben Oda was great, but nobody could do the work that Howard Ferguson did.”
Mark Evanier: What do you remember about Howard Ferguson?In the book, Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur (2010), Jim Amash asked Infantino about Ferguson.
Joe Simon: Howard Ferguson was the greatest letterer and Ben Oda was the second greatest letterer. Howard Ferguson was a middle-aged man from Detroit, and like everybody else in the business he was living hand-to-mouth. He came here, he got divorced; he brought his daughter, Elsie, to live with him. I think his wife left him, he said. He was the only letterer I ever heard of that could draw in a straight line without doing the penciled lines. Just like a machine and very, very creative. He was a big part of our effort, of our creativity. He was great with logos and designs, everything. We'd just rough out the stuff and give it to Howard, and he'd give us back beautifully-inspired, inked lettering and logos. The only problem was that there'd be coffee stains on every page. (laughter) He'd drink like 30 cups of coffee a day.
Yes! He was a crusty, old bastard. [chuckles] He was one hell of a letterer. He was a fat, older, German guy—very tough. Jack used to say, “Don’t pay attention to him. He’s all right.” He smoked cigarettes like a train. He had a daughter to take care of because his wife left him. He had a chip on his shoulder all the time, but he could letter. His logos were the best!In the Jack Kirby Collector #34, Infantino said to Amash, “Ferguson. He was unbelievable. Great letterer. Cranky, very cranky, old guy. You say hello, he would say, ‘Go to hell….’”
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.
Joe [Simon] did a lot of the business. Had I stayed at Joe’s side all the time while Joe operated we’d have never gotten any pages done. We got an office in Tudor City — I worked in the office with a letterer, Howard Ferguson. When Howard passed away there was another letterer to replace him....