Back in the late 1950s Charlton Comics thought they’d save some time and money by outfitting a varible typewriter – a Vari-Typer, which was large enough to hold a page of comic art – with a custom typeface which mimicked the hand lettering used in comics for captions and word balloons.
The 1957 Vari-Typer 160 is likely the model Charlton had, if not one very similar. Image sourced from the Mark Simonson Studio. Mark says, “It was essentially a fancy typewriter, but with proportional fonts, different type sizes and the ability to justify lines. It didn’t really look like professional typesetting, but it looked better than a typewriter, which was good enough for many purposes. It was desktop publishing before computers.”
One unique aspect of the Action Hero books was in the lettering, often credited to “A. Machine.” In reality, the rather constipated lettering was done on a large comic-font typewriter called the typositor machine.
“Pat Masulli designed a comic typeface for a large typewriter,” [Frank] McLaughlin said. “The comic pages would fit in the typewriter and the copy would be typed right on the artwork. The results were a complete disaster that caused many more problems than it solved. It was a typical attempt to cut corners, but the finished product suffered greatly.”
I wanted to create a modern computer version of the typeface for clean reproduction.
Here’s a page from Attack No. 60, November 1959, using A. Machine.
1. The letters were sourced from scans of original art. 2. The numbers originally used were from a generic sans serif typeface and didn’t match the letters. 3. A different sans serif was chosen to base new numbers on because it was closer to the hand-drawn feel of the letters.
The scan was taken into Illustrator, where I used an oval brush to trace over the scan and re-create the feel of the original letters: thin vertical strokes and fatter horizontal strokes. The first pass was very true to the original letterforms. After that, the widths and heights of individual letters, and curve angles were made more consistent for cleaner typesetting. Certain characters (J, M, V and Y for example) kept their unique style. 4. Punctuation and symbols were updated and added for the demands of today’s typography.
A comparison of an original block of text with Charlton Machine. With improved kerning, gaps as in ‘RAIDERS’ and ‘INTO’ in the original are avoided.