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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101 Mosco Street)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lettering: The

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Frederick J. Drake & Co., 1927




































Theory and Practice of Poster Art
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Signs of the Times Publishing Company, 1934



































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