Monday, November 13, 2017

Comics: Searching for Sid Check


Sid Check was born around the same time as fellow comic book artists Wally Wood (1927), Joe Orlando (1927), Frank Frazetta, (1928), Al Williamson (1931) and Angelo Torres (1932). Child of Tomorrow: And Other Stories (2013) said Check lived in Brooklyn, New York where he attended the Mark Twain Junior High School.

With this information I began my search for Check.

In the 1940 U.S. Federal Census, there was a ten-year-old Sidney Check who resided in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York at 3001 West 29 Street. (No other boys named Sidney Check or Sydney Check were found in Brooklyn.) Check lived with his uncle and aunt, Morris and Rose Applebaum. Morris worked in children’s clothing. The census said Check was born in New Jersey around 1930 and, in 1935, lived in Newark, New Jersey.

A Social Security application, transcribed at Ancestry.com, was filled out by Sidney Charles Check who was born August 2, 1930 in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were Abraham Check and Ida Applebaum.

Check’s parents were found in the 1930 census which was enumerated in April, four months before Check’s birth. Check’s parents were Polish emigrants who arrived in 1926. The census recorded their address as 217 Harrison Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Check’s father was a tailor at a clothing house. Also in the household was Morris Applebaum, Ida’s brother. What happened to Check’s parents is not known. At some point Check was in the care of his uncle and aunt.

The Mark Twain Junior High School (known today as Mark Twain Intermediate School 239 for the Gifted and Talented) is located in Coney Island, Brooklyn at 2401 Neptune Avenue, less than a ten minute walk from Check’s home that was about a mile west of the train station.





Check graduated from the School of Industrial Art (SIA) in Manhattan. Below is the 1948 yearbook photograph with his name, address and major: “Check, Sidney; 2995 West 29 Street; Brooklyn, 26[?], New York; Cartooning.” Check lived on the same street and near his previous address. Check may have known Orlando, who was in the Class of 1945, and Torres, a 1951 graduate.





Check’s earliest comic book work dates to 1950 according to Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 and 1951 in the Grand Comics DatabaseAgainst the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003) said “Working off and on with Wood since 1949, Check was a huge comic book fan while growing up in the Thirties and Forties. He held Wood, Williamson, [Roy] Krenkel and Frazetta in high regard and eventually became friends with these talented giants.”


Below is Check’s “The Spartans!” in Battlefront #23, September 1954.







Child of Tomorrow said “Check grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he and Frank Frazetta knew each other as boys in the same neighborhood.” In the 1930 census, Frazetta lived at 1203 Avenue Y in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn which was about three miles east of Check’s home. Frazetta’s address in the 1940 census was 2435 East 11th Street, about a block-and-a-half from his old home. Frazetta studied at Michele Falanga’s Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and did not mention Check as a student there. Frazetta attended Abraham Lincoln High School, in Brooklyn, when Check was at SIA. It’s not clear when and where Check and Frazetta first met as boys.

The New York City, Marriage License Indexes at Ancestry.com said a Sidney Check and Betty Green obtained a Brooklyn marriage license in 1952. The couple were granted an August 1957 divorce in Russell County, Alabama. There was no mention of Check’s marital status by his friends and colleagues.

Check’s name and address were recorded in a 1964 Brooklyn voter registration enrollment book: “Check Sidney C. 2995 W 29th st 1868762—D”.

Child of Tomorrow said “Sometime in the early 1970s, Torres bumped into Check on the street. ‘He told me he had a regular job and wasn’t involved in comics anymore. I never saw him again after that,’ Torres said.” Years later, some of Check’s possessions in a storage locker were sold.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Check passed away June 19, 2002. His last residence was Coney Island, Brooklyn at the 11224 ZIP Code.



(Next post on Monday: School of Industrial Art’s Comic Book Artists, 1939–1956)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Comics: Selma Meyers Gleit, Forgotten Artist



Selma Meyers was born April 15, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York. The birth date is based on information at Tributes.com and Dignity Memorial.

In the 1930 U.S Federal Census, Selma was the second and youngest child of Louis, a baker, and Cecilia, who were Polish emigrants. Selma’s older brother was “Abie” [Abraham]. The family resided in Brooklyn at 1456 44th Street

The 1940 census recorded the Meyers’ new address in Brooklyn, 114 Manjer Street, and two additional children, Harriet and Melvin.




Selma graduated from New York City’s School of Industrial Art in 1945. On page 14 of the yearbook was Meyers’ name, specialty and achievements: “Silk Screen. Valedictorian; General Excellence Award; Designed commencement program cover.” The Class of 1945 included Rocco Mastroserio, Joe Orlando, Peter Pandolfi, Gaspar Saladino, and August Scotto

The Northport Journal, (New York), June 23, 1949, covered Selma’s marriage.
Gleit–Meyers
The wedding of Miss Selma Meyers and Bernard Gleit took place last Sunday evening, June 12, in the Temple Auditorium in Brooklyn. Immediately following the ceremony, a reception was held in the Auditorium for friends and family of the bride and groom, the guests numbering two hundred. Mr. and Mrs. Gleit left later for their honeymoon trip to Schroon Lake, a resort in the Adirondacks, where they stayed until their return on Sunday, June 19.

Mrs. Gleit a popular Huntington Station resident is a graduate of the Industrial School of Arts Class of 1945, of New York City, and also attended Pratt Institute in that city. She is presently an artist for the National Comics Publications in New York. Mr. Gleit is connected with the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company.

The young couple are making their home on Jacobson Avenue in Huntington Station, where they are already well known and well liked Mrs. Gleit is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Meyers of that community, and Bernard is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Gleit of Broadway in Greenlawn.
Selma is not listed in Who’s Who of American Comic Books, 1928–1999. It’s not known what her role was at National and what titles she worked on.

The Northport Journal, August 9, 1961, reported the birth of a son.

Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Gleit are the proud parents of a boy born in the Huntington Hospital last Thursday. Mr. B. Gleit is the son of Herman Gleit of the Broadway stationery store.
There were two sons, David and Stephen.

Selma’s husband passed away July 25, 1995 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Selma’s passing was on April 4, 2012 in West Palm Beach.

The Selma Gleit Memorial Scholarship for Women in STEM was established by a granddaughter, Naomi Gleit, in 2015.


(Next post on Monday: Searching for Sid Check)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Creator: Mahlon Blaine, Illustrator


Mahlon Carradin Blaine was born June 16, 1894, in Albany City, Linn County, Oregon, according to his World War I and II draft cards. The second World War card had his full name.

In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Blaine was the only child of Wilson, a men’s clothing salesman, and Carrie. His father’s surname was spelled Blain, and Blaine’s first name was recorded as Mayborn. The trio resided in Albany, Oregon.

Blaine was counted twice in the 1910 census. Blaine’s mother remarried to Claud D. Jack, a tea salesman. The trio lived at 5004 Steele in Tacoma, Washington. Blaine’s divorced father remained in Albany at 403 West 1st Street. It’s unclear how much time Blaine spent with each parent.

At some point Blaine’s family moved to Portland, Oregon. The newspaper The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), August 27, 1932, said Blaine “in 1912 became office boy for The Oregonian.”

A 1916 Portland, Oregon city directory listed Blaine at 510 Stephens.

On June 5, 1917, Blaine signed his World War I draft card. He was a farmer in Dilley, Oregon. Blaine’s employer was his mother. He was described as medium height and build with blue and dark eyes and grown hair. Blaine claimed an exemption because of he was “blind in left eye”.

Blaine and fellow artist, Wylog “Ernest” Fong, were arrested for drawing the Portland waterfront. Their misdeed was reported in two local newspapers.

The Oregon Daily Journal
(Portland, Oregon)
January 19, 1918

Artists Too Near Waterfront for Their Own Safety
Mahlon Blaine, an artist, whose home is in Dilley, Or., and Ernest Fong, a Chinese, also an artist, set out this morning to sketch riverfront pictures, contrary to a war law of Uncle Sam, and were taken before United States Marshal Alexander for investigation.

When Marshal Alexander told them the making of pictures of waterfronts might result in aiding the enemy, they declared they would confine their art to scenes which would less likely be of interest to the kaiser.

“I wan’t aware that the law was so strict,” said Blaine. “I didn’t mind being arrested, but would rather jump into the river than have it thought I was making sketches for the kaiser.”

Both were released.
The Oregonian
January 20, 1918

“Spy” Artists Halted
Policeman Does his Duty, Medal or No Medal
Mahlon Blaine and Ernest Fong Promise to Make No More Pictures of Portland Waterfront

Visions of German spies, craftily plying their trade in making war sketches of the waterfront of a Pacific port, came before a detective of the police force as he caught sight of a couple busily sketching the Portland skyline near the Steel bridge. With a duty to be performed in sight he stepped forward and accosted the “spies.”

“You’re arrested,” he declared.

“You’re kidding us,” scoffed Mahlon Blaine, artist. Ernest Fong, his associate, grinned his belief in the detective’s attempt at humor.

“Not so you’d notice it,” replied the arm of the law. “Don’t you know its against the law to sketch the waterfront. How do we know you’re not going to send those pictures to Kaiser Bill, so he can see how the Portland harbor looks?’

The two artists looked at one another.
“Hadn’t thought of that,” admitted Blaine.

“Well, that’s the way it might look to Uncle Sam. You’s better come up to see the United States Marshal.”

Marshal Alexander was soon convinced of the innocence of the devotees of art. And the artists promised to seek further for their subjects. So everything turned out satisfactorily except for the detective, who will probably not get a medal for capturing “dangerous German spies.”
The Oregon Daily Journal, July 21, 1918, reported the arrest of scores of men, including Blaine, on the charge of failing to carry their war classification cards.

The American Art Directory, Volume 14, was published in 1918 and had an entry for Blaine: “Blaine, Mahlon, 915 Van Ness Ave.. San Francisco, Cal. (P.[ainter]).”

The 1920 census was enumerated in mid-January. Freelance artist Blaine, his mother and step-father were residents of Portland, Oregon at 504 East Stephens. The 1920 Portland city directory listed Blaine’s home address as 505 Stephens.

The Spanish-language newspaper El Heraldo de Mexico (Los Angeles, California), January 28, 1920, reported Blaine’s gift.

Un Valioso Obsequio de un Pintor para las Victimas de Veracruz
El senor Mahlon Blaine, pintor, a quien los conocedores consideran como uno de los mas originales, mas hábiles; un artista genial, en una palabra, por conducto de nuestro compañero de redacción, el Lic. R. Gomez Robelo, ha cedido al Comité de Auxilios un pastel que representa una mañana de sol, para que se destine el producto de su venta al fondo de auxilios para las víctimas de Veracruz.

El senor Blaine nos hace saer que pindra una dedicatoria autógrafa al pastel, para la persona que lo adquiera, y el Comité ha pensado en que esta obra de arte, sea puesta a la venta en remate que se hara en alguno de los próximos festivales de caridad, admitiendo desde ahora las ofertas que quieran hacerse.

El Comité de auxilios, por conducto de El Heraldo de Mexico, de las mas sinceras gracias al senor Mahlon Blaine por esta rasgo de generosidad y de simpatia para nuestra Patria.

Google translation
A Valuable Gift of a Painter for the Victims of Veracruz
Mr. Mahlon Blaine, painter, whom the connoisseurs consider as one of the most original, but skillful; a great artist, in a word, through our writing partner, Lic. R. Gomez Robelo, has given to the Aid Committee a cake representing a sunny morning, so that the product of its sale is destined to the aid fund for the victims of Veracruz.

Mr. Blaine makes sure that he inscribes an autograph dedication to the cake, for the person who acquires it, and the Committee has thought that this work of art, put on sale at auction, will be done at one of the upcoming festivals. charity, admitting now the offers they want to make.

The Committee of aid, through El Heraldo de Mexico, of the most sincere thanks to Mr. Mahlon Blaine for this trait of generosity and sympathy for our country.
The passing of Blaine’s father was reported in The Oregonian, April 30, 1920. At the time he was a resident of Dayton, Ohio.

A 1921 Los Angeles, California city directory said Blaine was an artist who lived at 130 East Avenue.

On August 30, 1922, a passport was issued to Blaine who was traveling to Mexico. The Los Angeles artist said he was going to cross the border at El Paso, Texas. A notarized letter, dated August 18, 1921, said Blaine

…has business in Mexico City, D.F., Mexico, which necessitates his immediate attention and requires his presence as follows:

That he must prepare an exhibit of paintings, etc. for exhibition at the Centennial Exposition opening September 12th, 1921, for Lic. Ricordo Gomez Robelo. That he must be in Mexico City, D.F., on or before September 5th, 1921.

That Signor Lic. Ricordo Gomez Robelo wishes me to accompany his wife, who is in ill heath and his young son, who have passports and every thing necessary, etc. for the trip…
Passport Photograaph

The New York Evening Telegram, November 27, 1922, reported Blaine’s work on the latest Douglas Fairbanks film.
Richard, the Lion-Hearted, would probably rise from his tomb if he would but see a cow-puncher of the American West painting the works of art which held the admiration of that twelfth century monarch.

However, Mahlon Blaine, a buckaroo from Arizona, did just that very thing when he painted many of the sets in “Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood,” now at the Lyric Theatre

Mr. Blaine is a born artist, and after punching cattle for years attracted attention with the brush. Through an inheritance he was enabled to study abroad. Mr. Fairbanks engaged him to create the art work on a number of scenes and sent him abroad two months for research work.
As of this writing, Blaine has not been found on any steamship passenger lists.

The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts), March 1, 1923, published a report on a modern art exhibition in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, Feb. 21 (Special Correspondence)—The first exhibition of modern art in this city opened at the MacDowell Club recently. There were 172 pictures by 24 painters. Comparatively few of these artists have become familiar through the various exhibitions and it is in fact in protest against the continued rejection of their paintings by local juries, that they have now used the ever-friendly walls of the MacDowell Club.

…Coming to the extremes, cubism, etc., one can only gaze and wonder. Even the titles are queer—“Vudu Futhmique,” “Owngz” and “Glaggle” from the brush of Ben Berlin; “Saint About to Reform” by Mahlon Blaine (why should a saint reform?),…Blaine’s “Banker Counting Pennies” gains notoriety by being nailed to the wall through the center of the picture, at an angle, “Peroxide” has a strand of raveled rope tacked carelessly to the frame, possibly to stimulate the golden-haired model’s tresses…
The Oregonian, October 8, 1923, said Blaine was a passenger on the steamer Admiral Farragut that was bound for San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The Steinbeck Review, Spring 2012, published Nick Taylor’s article, “Mahlon Blaine, John Steinbeck, and The Maniac (1941)”, who wrote, “Blaine and Steinbeck met in November 1925 on board the steamship Katrina, which was headed from Long Beach to New York City. Steinbeck was twenty-three years old and had just left Stanford for the last time. Blaine, eight years Steinbeck’s senior, was returning to New York from a stint decorating studio sets in Hollywood….”

Blaine had a listing in the 1927 eastern edition of Advertising Arts and Crafts, “Blaine, Mahlon, 160 W. 11th St., Sti 7608.”

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), May 8, 1927, published Blaine’s observations of various New Yorkers.

Perhaps New York is a wicked city after all. Mahlon Blaine says that he had no difficulty in findings suitable models for the various devils which serve as decorations in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a new John Day publication, which has just been chosen by the American institute of Graphic Arts as one of the 50 books of the year. Mephistophelian gentlemen discovered in taxis, restaurants, theaters, even in Mr. Blaine’s own Gramercy Park studio, lent themselves to his recording pencil….
The Daily Olympian (Olympia, Washington), August 13, 1929, published Gilbert Swan’s article about San Francisco and said “There was Mahlon Blaine, whose illustrations are to be found today in books and magazines—and a score of others. Most of them figure in the surviving legends of San Francisco’s Bohemian days.”

Blaine created the cover art for Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold (1929) and To a God Unknown (1933).

Blaine was a Manhattan resident in the 1930 census. The freelance illustrator and apparently his West Virginian wife, Thelma L., made their home at 124 Bank Street.

The San Diego Union, November 1, 1931, said “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Shuttleworth entertained with a week-end house party. Guests were Mrs. W. Bowman, Mrs. F.E. Stivers and Miss Bernitta Bowman of Hollywood, and Mahlon Blaine of New York City.”

Blaine was profiled in The Oregonian, August 27, 1932.

Call of “Boy” Still Rings in Ears of Noted Artist
Mahlon Blaine, ex-Oregonian “Copy Rusher,” Another of Those Who Make Bigs Towns Sit Up and Take Notice.

Another local boy who has more than made good in the big cities has come back to Portland to renew friendships, talk over the “old days” and to state, most emphatically, that Oregon’s a great place in which to live.

The returning celebrity is Mahlon Blaine, ex-office boy and tyro artist of The Oregonian, who now is one of the leading book illustrators and movie set designers of the country. He is here with Mrs. Blaine visiting his mother at Dilley in Washington country.

Interviewing Blaine was accomplished only after numerous interruptions for, while being questioned, he espied several persons who were staff members of The Oregonian when he served as an office boy and of course, reminiscences were in immediate order. When the discussion of “old times” was ended, the story of his rise to prominence was modestly unfolded by the artist.

Unknown and with a suitcase full of drawings, Mr. Blaine hit New York in 1926 and, as the opening step in his bid for fame, listed the names of all book publishers, arranging them according to their distance from his hotel. The first he visited was the McBride Publishing company and after displaying his sample drawings was given a book to illustrate. It was Thomas Burke’s “Limehouse Nights.” One of Mr. Blaine’s favorite authors is Thomas Burke. 

Scoring in his first attempt, the Oregon boy quickly gained a reputation and since 1926 has furnished the art work for more than 50 books. The latest was “Black Majesty,” by John Vander Cook, the sale of which has already passed the 500,000 mark.

Like many others of the literary world, Mr. Blaine was soon drawn to Hollywood and in the past few years has divided his time between New York and the celluloid capital. He joined the art staff of Howard Hughes’ studios and designed many of the sets for the gangster picture “Scarface.” The recent controversy over the showing of the film here and the subsequent arrest of a theater owner interested Mr. Blaine greatly and he expressed some surprise that the show had caused any objections.

“It was intended to give the public a real insight on gangsters, their mode of living and their nefarious activities and was not intended to offend anyone,” he said.

Mr. Blaine was somewhat reluctant to talk about his work, being much more willing to tell of the days when he responded to the call of “boy” or “copy,” familiar in all newspaper offices.

Born in Albany, the artist spent his early days there, and in 1912 became office boy for The Oregonian. After a year at this he transferred to the art department where, he revealed yesterday, he received his first instructions in drawing. From Portland he drifted to California and then back home, doing whatever jobs he could obtain but always studying the work that was eventually to lead him to success. When he felt prepared he made his bid and, as aforementioned, scored in a big way.

Although here for only a week, Mr. Blaine’s stay has been long enough to convince him that Oregon’s climate has no superior, and in the future, he said, all his summers will be spent on the family farm at Dilley.
California voter registration lists, at Ancestry.com, recorded Blaine’s address. In 1932 and 1934, the Democrat lived in Los Angeles at 1452 North Alta Vista Boulevard.

The San Diego Union, May 23, 1935, said “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Shuttleworth have as guests Mrs. Shuttleworth’s brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Mahlon Blaine, of Hollywood and New York City.”

The Oregonian, July 5, 1935, described a window display with Blaine’s work: “Contained in the display are a dozen of the original full-page illustrations drawn by Mahlon Blaine, noted American artist, who is now engaged in finishing a set of murals at the San Diego exposition. Mr. Blaine, according to the publishers, has illustrated some 60 best sellers in the past ten years.”

Blaine’s work on the murals was noted in the San Diego Union, May 24, 1936: “…The mural was designed by Juan Larrinaga, art director of the project, assisted by Arthur Eneim and Albert McKiernan. P.T. Blackburn, Mahlon Blane [sic] and Nichalas Reveles were the artists who carries out the project.”

Blaine’s Los Angeles address, in a 1938 directory, was 351 South Norton Avenue and his spouse was “Fern E.”.


Blaine used the pseudonym G. Christopher Hudson on the books Satanism and Witchcraft (1939) and and The Maniac (1941).

In the 1940 census, Blaine’s monthly rent was forty cents at the Mills Hotel, 160 Bleecker Street, New York City. According to the census, Blaine was single, had four years of college and the owner of an interior decorating service. 

Blaine was mentioned in the Work Projects Administration’s American guide series title, Oregon: End of the Trail (1940).

Blaine signed his World War II draft card on April 25, 1942. The freelance worker lived in New York City at 130 Charles Street which was crossed out and replaced with 505 West 124 Street. That address was crossed out and updated on June 5, 1943 with 6427 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California. Blaine’s description was five feet eleven inches, 190 pounds with blue eyes (one artificial) and black and gray hair.


One of Blaine’s friends (and patron) was Joseph Dunninger.

A review of Blaine’s art, in a group exhibition at the Gene Sullivan Gallery in New York, appeared in Arts Magazine, January 1957. 
…Whatever Dunninger’s work is like, the work of his two co-exhibitors is theatrically bad. A joint press release informs us that Mahlon Blaine is a famous illustrator who has illustrated many best sellers, and that Aline Rhonie is a well-known muralist. It would be unfair to suggest that Aline Rhonie is in the same class with Blaine, but what she exhibits are small darkish oils stuccoed with glitter—a knight in armor, three chapeaux, a group of jazz blowers, some tropical fish. As for Blaine, while his gouaches—his medicine men, covered wagon, floating skiffs laden with tropical flowers and a native woman—are not offensively bad, the same cannot be said of his lurid series of watercolors illustrating (by a single figure): Gluttony, Anger, Envy, Lust, etc.
Blaine passed away January 1969. His last residence was New York City.


Selected Dust Jackets
































Further Reading and Viewing
ERBzine, profile and bibliography
Grapefruit Moon Gallery, Mahlon Blaine, 1894–1969

Heritage Auctions, artwork and books
JVJ Publishing, profile
The Outlandish Art of Mahlon Blaine
, preview
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, preview


(Next post tomorrow: Halloween)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Street Scene: 101 Mosco Street


  N E W  Y O R K  C I T Y  
101 Mosco Street near Mulberry Street, 
Chinatown, Manhattan

(Next post on Monday: Mahlon Blaine, Illustrator)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Comics: Howard Ferguson, Letterer


Howard Grant Ferguson was born on July 4, 1895, in Washburn, Wisconsin, according to his World War I and II draft cards. Ferguson’s full name was on his second World War card and Social Security application (at Ancestry.com) which had the birth year as 1896. The application also had the names of Ferguson’s parents, Grant U. Ferguson and Minnie A. Rettie. The St. Clair County, Michigan, Marriage Index, at Ancestry.com, recorded their marriage as December 23, 1891 in Fort Gratiot, Michigan. Grant’s parents were Charles Ferguson and Sally Spalding, and Minnie’s were William L. Rettie and Elsie Ogg.

Two weeks before Ferguson’s birth, the Wisconsin state census was enumerated on June 20. Only the name of the head of the family was recorded in the first column. The next section was Aggregate Population which was sub-divided into White and Colored, each with two columns labeled Male and Female. In the row with Ferguson’s father was the numeral one in the white male and female columns. The female was Ferguson’s mother. The third section was Nativity which was divided into eight countries. The numeral two was in the United States column for Ferguson’s father. The couple resided in the incorporated village of Washburn, Bayfield County, Wisconsin.

Apparently, the Ferguson family resided in Superior, Wisconsin for a period of time. Ferguson’s father was listed in the 1899 Superior city directory: “Ferguson, Grant U agt C St P M & O Ry, [agent with the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway] Itasca, r 1st n e corner for Hennepin av”. Ferguson’s maternal grandfather was a clerk at the same railway and had the same address.

Ferguson and his parents have not been found in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. The 1900 Superior directory said Ferguson’s father had moved to Duluth, Minnesota. The census and directory said Ferguson’s maternal grandfather was in Superior as a watchman with the Itasca Elevator Company. He boarded at the Railroad Hotel.

In 1901, Ferguson’s father, a Northern Pacific Railway clerk, and maternal grandfather, a watchman, were Superior residents at 290 West 4th Street. The same address for them was printed in the Superior Times, March 8, 1902.

The 1902 and 1903 Superior directories listed the address, 1612 Belknap, for Ferguson’s father and maternal grandfather. Their address was 1513 John Avenue in the 1904 directory.

The 1905 Wisconsin state census was enumerated on the first day of June. Ferguson’s maternal grandmother was the head of the household. The census listed Ferguson and his mother, Marion, with the Rettie surname. Ferguson was erroneously recorded as his grandmother’s son. The trio and a servant were Superior residents. 




The 1905 Superior directory said Ferguson’s father moved to Duluth, and had this line about his maternal grandfather, “Wm L Rettie, died Jan 12, ’05, age 62”. Ferguson’s maternal grandmother’s address was 1513 John Avenue in 1905 and 1906. The 1907 Superior directory said she moved to Hibbing, Minnesota.


It’s not clear when and where Ferguson’s parents divorced. According to Duluth city directories, Ferguson’s father was a clerk with the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad. He resided on West Superior from 1907 to 1909. From 1910 to 1914 he was on West Fourth Street.

Ferguson’s mother married Arba Hawley, a bookkeeper, who was a Duluth resident. The 1907 city directory listed him and Ferguson’s maternal grandmother at 229 5th Avenue East. Their address in the 1908 and 1909 directories was 190 West Third.

The 1910 census was enumerated in April. It recorded Ferguson, his mother, maternal grandmother, step-father and three-year-old step-brother in Duluth at 131 West 3rd Street.




Ferguson attended the East End School Washington and graduated from the eighth grade on June 16, 1910. The Duluth News Tribune said Ferguson gave a recitation, “International Peace”, at the ceremony.




Ferguson was a freshman at the Duluth Central High School according to the 1911 Zenith yearbook.



The 1911 Duluth directory said Ferguson’s family moved to Detroit, Michigan.

The 1912 Detroit city directory listed Ferguson’s step-father and maternal grandmother at 971 Woodward Avenue. His step-father was a salesman with the United Realty Company. Their address in the 1913 directory was 830 Woodward Avenue.

In the 1914 Detroit directory Ferguson was listed as a student who resided at 931 Jefferson Avenue. The 1915 directory is not available. In 1916 he lived at 43 Center and worked as a stock keeper.




According to the Michigan marriage records at Ancestry.com, Ferguson married Ida Trombley on December 26, 1916 in Detroit. His occupation was clerk.

On June 5, 1917, Ferguson signed his World War I draft card. He, his wife and baby lived at 148 Chene Street in Detroit. Ferguson was employed by the drug manufacturer “Dae Health Laboratory”. Ferguson was described as short, slender build with blue eyes and light-colored hair.




A 1918 Detroit directory said Ferguson was a shipping clerk at “Dae Health Laboratories (Inc)”. One of its major products was Nuxated Iron. The American Medical Association’s critical analysis of Nuxated Iron was published in Nostrums and Quackery.




Ferguson’s address was 919 Jefferson Avenue in the 1919 directory which said he was a clerk. That address was recorded in the 1920 census. Ferguson was a telephone company clerk. His daughter, Virginia, was two-years-and-four-months-old. His mother and her family lived nearby at 931 Jefferson Avenue. The census said Ferguson’s father lived in Duluth. Ferguson’s art career began soon after the census enumeration.




Up to this point there were no indications of Ferguson’s interest in art. Perhaps he saw something during his employment at Dae Health Laboratories or the telephone company that motivated him to pursue art. The Detroit School of Lettering would have been an obvious choice for training. Maybe Ferguson saw lettering books such as Strong’s Book of Lettering (1917), Strong’s Art Of Show Card Writing (1922) and How to Paint Signs and Sho’ Cards (1920).

The 1921 Detroit city directory listed Ferguson as an artist residing at 3105 Jefferson Avenue. He may have been working at one of the eighty advertising agencies listed in Polk’s Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1921–1922.




Ferguson’s occupation and employer were not stated in the 1922 directory.




In the 1923 directory, Ferguson’s address was 14, 164 East Grand Boulevard. He was employed by the S. M. Epstein Company.




The earliest listing for the S. M. Epstein Company was in the 1922 directory. The company did not exist in directories for 1920 and 1921.




Samuel M. Epstein was profiled in Who’s Who in Advertising (1931). Epstein was born in 1897 in Kansas City, Missouri. (The Social Security Death Index said his birth was September 12, 1897.) He graduated from Kansas City High School and received a B.A. at the University of Michigan. He was married and had one child. Epstein was president of S. M. Epstein Company. He passed away February 11, 1989. The Jewelers’ Circular, January 16, 1924, said the S. M. Epstein Co. specialized in jewelers' advertising.

Presumably Ferguson was lettering and illustrating advertisements, brochures and other printed matter. Maybe he produced showcards for jewelry stores.


The 1924 directory was not available. At some point Ferguson changed jobs.

Ferguson was an artist with the Detroit Ad-Service according to the 1925 Detroit directory. His address was “26, 95 E Palmer av”. Ferguson went to work at the General Necessities Building.




The Detroit Ad-Service was founded by Milton C. Hirschfield. In the 1913 Detroit directory, Hirschfield was an advertising writer. The 1914 directory listed Hirschfield and his Detroit Ad-Service. Michigan-native Hirschfield was born May 5, 1888 and passed away September 25, 1982.




Below is a 1915 advertisement produced by the Detroit Ad-Service (see upper left-hand corner) that was printed in the Canton Repository (Ohio) on May 9.




The 1926 directory was not available. While employed at the Detroit Ad-Service, Ferguson resided at 255 East Grand Boulevard in 1927, then at 15330 Snowden Avenue in 1928.






The Michigan Manufacturer & Financial Record (1927) said the Detroit Ad-Service’s address was 1961 Chicago Boulevard. The Detroit Ad-Service was at 51 Elliot in the 1928 Detroit city directory.




The Detroit Ad-Service produced a number of printed pieces that were copyrighted and may have included work by Ferguson. For example, a 1927 Catalogue of Copyright Entries had these items, “Gift for your baby. (Gerson’s) Fold, sheet” and “Detroit ad-service bulletin no. 909. 5 piece electric waffle set. Sheet”. A 1928 Catalogue’s index listed “Dividend for you” and “Special D. A. S. furniture service”.

Two major events in Ferguson’s life occurred in quick succession. The Michigan Divorce Records, at Ancestry.com, said Ferguson’s divorce was finalized on April 8, 1927 in Detroit. The cause was “extreme cruelty”. Alimony was granted. His daughter was nine-and-a-half years old. The Michigan Marriage Records said his second marriage was eight days later on April 16 in Detroit. The commercial artist’s bride was twenty-year-old French native, Marjorie V. Crawford.

The 1929 city directory was not available. Ferguson, his wife and daughter have not been found in the 1930 census. The census said Ferguson’s mother, maternal grandmother, step-brother and sister-in-law were in Detroit at 134 East Grand Boulevard. The 1930 directory has a “Howard Ferguson”, an operator, at 180 East Grand Boulevard, who may or may not be Ferguson the artist. Ferguson was not listed in Detroit directories from 1931 to 1939. Wherever Ferguson was, his third-wife-to-be was in New York City.




The 1930 census said Lillian Edith Stanton, a law office typist, lived with her parents, Arthur and Lillian, and sister, Marjorie, in Jamaica, Queens County, New York. The eighteen-year-old married Henry Smith Lockwood on June 27, 1930, according to the New York, New York, Marriage Certificate Index at Ancestry.com. The Long Island Daily Press, June 28, 1930, said “Following the ceremony the young couple left on a honeymoon trip touring Canada. They will reside in Munsey Park, Manhasset.” It’s not known how long their marriage lasted.

The 1940 census had a category “Residence, April 1, 1935”, and both Ferguson and Edith were in Detroit in 1935. How Ferguson met her is a mystery, as well as when and where they married. The census said Ferguson (line 1) and Edith lived with her parents and sister in Jamaica, New York at 173-43 103rd Road. Ferguson’s occupation was artist doing “private work”. His father-in-law was a chauffeur at a bakery (line 79).





Apparently, Ferguson was in New York City in the late 1930s. With an advertising background, Ferguson probably looked for work at art studios and advertising agencies. He found a livelihood in booming comic book industry.

Joe Simon, in his autobiography, Joe Simon, My Life in Comics (2011), said 

…in 1939 Charles [Nicholas] was doing work for us, and we brought in a letterer, too.

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.”
At the 1998 San Diego Comicon, Mark Evanier interviewed Joe Simon
Mark Evanier: What do you remember about Howard 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.
In the book, Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur (2010), Jim Amash asked Infantino about Ferguson.
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….’”

Two contemporaries of Ferguson were Joe and Sam Rosen. In Comics Interview, #7, January 1984, Joe explained to David Anthony Kraft how he and his brother 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.
Ferguson began lettering for Simon and Kirby in 1939. Maybe he had been lettering comics earlier and was known to other publishers and studios. 

Ferguson’s lettering has been examined by Harry Mendryk here, here and here, and by letterer Todd
Klein here. An incomplete chronological list of Ferguson’s credits are at the Grand Comics Database. His Captain America credits, among others, are missing. Presumably Ferguson did the finished art for the Captain America logos that changed after the first issue.

When Ferguson signed his World War II draft card on April 27, 1942, he was living at 110-33 207
Street in Hollis, Queens County, New York. His employer was “Simon-Kirby Productions” in Tudor City, New York City. Ferguson named his wife, Edith, as the person who would always know his address. Ferguson’s description was five feet four inches, 148 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair.


 


Below is a record of payment to Ferguson for lettering in the unpublished Stuntman number four that included a 12-page story pencilled by Jack Kirby.




Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 shows Ferguson worked for other studios and several publishers. Below are samples of Ferguson’s lettering.

Daring Mystery Comics #6, September 1940
(The complete story is at Timely-Atlas-Comcs.)


Captain America Comics #1, March 1941
(The complete story is at Timely-Atlas-Comcs.)
 

Later issue of Captain America Comics

Clue Comics v2 #1, March 1947

Headline Comics #23, March-April 1947


Headline Comics #24, May-June 1947

My Date Comics #1, July 1947


Ferguson’s lettering credit appeared on the splash page of “Gold Makes a Ghost Town” in Cow Puncher Comics #7 in 1949. It was reprinted in Jesse James #15, October 1953, without Ferguson’s credit (below). In 1958 the story was reprinted in Western Action #7 with Ferguson’s lettering credit (below).



Ferguson took a short break to travel to Detroit where his step-father, Arba Hawley, was murdered during a robbery as reported in the Grosse Point News (Michigan), November 15, 1945. (see column 1). The Detroit News, November 10, 1945, said, in part, “Hawley leaves a wife, Marion, and a son, Arba Wallace Hawley, 38, of Kalamazoo. A stepson, Howard Ferguson, of New York, had been visiting the Hawleys and was to have returned to New York Friday.”


The Comics Journal #134, February 1990, published Gary Groth’s interview with Kirby who mentioned Ferguson’s passing. 

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....

The Comic Book Makers (2003) said “Ferguson was with Simon and Kirby for many years, until the day coffee and cigarettes finally ‘done him in.’” 

I was unable to confirm the date of Ferguson’s passing. Ferguson filled out a Social Security application which was transcribed at Anestry.com. It has his birth information, parent’s names and Social Security number. A note, dated December 7, 1983, said “Name listed as Howard Grant Ferguson”. Apparently, Ferguson’s death was not reported to the Social Security Administration. At the Grand Comics Database, I believe Ferguson’s lettering credits, excluding reprints, end in 1957. The New York, New York, Death Index has a Howard Ferguson, age 63, who passed away April 18, 1957, in Queens, New York. He might be Ferguson the artist and letterer. 


* * * * * 

It’s not known if Ferguson had any children with his third wife, Edith. The New York, New York, Death Index at Ancestry.com recorded the 1946 passing of an Edith Ferguson, age 34, in Queens, New York, but it’s unclear if she was Ferguson’s wife.

Simon mentioned Ferguson’s young daughter, Elsie, who was from his second marriage. Apparently she was named after Ferguson’s maternal grandmother. Elsie was not counted with Ferguson in the 1940 census, so she was with her mother, Marjorie. There was an Elsie Ferguson
, in 1943, who was a junior at Eastern High School in Detroit. Her whereabouts and status are not known. Detroit city directories have a Marjorie Ferguson, at different addresses, for the years 1935, 1937, 1939 and 1941. The last three directories said she was a typist at the Del Auto Inter-Insurance Exchange. Marjorie and Elsie were not found in the 1940 census. Marjorie was born around 1907 and, in the Social Security Death Index, she may be the Marjorie Ferguson who passed away in 1981 in California.

Ferguson’s first wife, Ida, and daughter, Virginia, were in Detroit according to the 1930 census. They lived with Ida’s step-parents. Ida married David Whitney in 1934. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1941. Ida passed away on December 11, 1990 in California. In the 1940 census, Virginia lived with her maternal step-grandparents, Frank and Rosanna Fleming, and their three children. Not long after the census enumeration Virginia married Orville A. Reinholz (1918–2004). The birth of their son, Brent Dennis, was announced in the Detroit Free Press, May 30, 1943. The birth of a second son, Randy Wayne, was reported in the Detroit News, November 18, 1946. (Ferguson’s grandsons are now in their seventies.) Virginia passed away March 14, 2000 in California.

According to the 1940 census, Ferguson’s mother, Marion, and step-father, Arba, were living alone in Detroit. As mentioned earlier, Arba died in 1945. According to the Detroit Free Press, Marion passed away December 20, 1947. Ferguson’s step-brother, Arba Wallace Hawley, was married (see entry number 11016-27). He passed away in 1997. The 1930 census recorded Ferguson’s mother and maternal grandmother, Elsie, in Detroit with his step-brother’s in-laws. The date of Elsie’s passing is not known.

The last known location of Ferguson’s father, Grant, was Duluth, Minnesota according to the 1930 census. When and where he passed away is not known.

Unfortunately, no obituaries were found that might have shed more light on Ferguson.



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