About Silver & Bronze Age Kryptonese 1950s to 1985

This version of Kryptonian, referred to as Kryptonese by its creator, E. Nelson Bridwell, and his successor, Al Turniansky, appeared in the comics from the '50s until the John Byrne's reboot in 1986. Though these symbols were used, no words or language was actually depicted in the comics. As Turniansky wrote below about the symbols appearing in the comics, "...I know that they're arbitrary, because I tried transliterating some examples from the comics using his alphabet, and they're completely unpronounceable."

Editor's Note

The following information originally appeared on the website of the late Al Turniansky. This information is copied verbatim from his now-defunct website with permission from his surviving relatives.

A brief real-world historical note by Al Turniansky

Okay, you might be saying at this point, "Who are you to post a group of random doodles on the World Wide Web, and declare it to be the Kryptonese alphabet?"

Good question.

As it happens, I am, by dint of, if you will, a posthumous annointing, the only living authority on the Kryptonese alphabet as presented in Superman comics from roughly the mid-1950's until 1986 (Since the "rebooting" of Superman in that year, they've used different letters).

It happened like this:

Once upon a time, there lived a man named E. Nelson Bridwell. For many, many years, he worked in the editorial department of DC Comics, as an assistant editor, an editor, and a writer. His primary concern was the Superman comics line. But his avocation and delight was the minutiae, the trivia, the details of the fictional universe in which the characters' adventures took place. He reveled in their fictional history.

One of the things that he did was handle the letter columns for the Superman comic books. As such, every letter from fans passed through his hands.

Every so often, he'd get a letter from some reader or other proposing a "Kryptonian alphabet". Invariably, these would consist of 26 random squiggles; random squiggle #1 equalling "A", random squiggle #2 = "B", r.s.#3 = "C", and so on. Hoping to put a stop to this, he answered a letter in some letter column asking if DC could publish a Kryptonian-English dictionary by saying (more or less): "That would be difficult, since the Kryptonian alphabet has 118 letters, and most of the words are longer than 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'!"

But that sort of obsessive comics fan being what they are, he started getting collections of *118* random squiggles. And I know, because I was fascinated by Krypton, and I tried to develop one myself (I was about 15 at the time). Like almost everyone else, though, I hit the stumbling block of "What might the 118 sounds be?", and so I put aside the project without ever sending it to DC.

What I had no way of knowing at the time was that Nelson himself had begun to turn his attention to the question of the Kryptonese alphabet. But Nelson being Nelson, and very invested in the trivia and minutiae, he didn't just make up squiggles. No, he combed old Superman stories where letterers had occasion to use Kryptonese. And even though he himself had arbitrarily picked the "118 letters" figure, because it had been published in the comics, it was now official, and so he had no choice. He had to select 118 different symbols. And he did. He then assigned arbitrary values to them (And I know that they're arbitrary, because I tried transliterating some examples from the comics using his alphabet, and they're completely unpronounceable). He did the same for the numbers.

So what does that all have to do with me?

Well, ultimately, I did make Nelson Bridwell's acquaintance, mostly due to our mutual friend, Rich Morrissey. And so it was that, when Nelson died (after a long and debilitating illness), Rich and I and a few other comics fans went to Nelson's apartment to straighten it up on behalf of his relatives.

Nelson's apartment is kind of a story in itself. Suffice to say that it was packed to the brim not only with virtually every comic book that had been published in the last 25 years of his life, but also a myriad of magazines and books on every conceivable subject, almost every letter he had ever received, and piles and piles of written notes keeping his various fields of knowledge straight. For it wasn't just comics trivia that interested Nelson. It seemed as if he wanted to know at least something about everything.

Among those notes were many that contained details of life on Krypton (some of which had been published in the actual comics, others not), including a few of the aforementioned collections of 118 random squiggles. But one of those collections was noticeably different. The letters were clearly taken from the comics, and the English equivalents were clearly in Nelson's handwriting. This was it -- the actual Kryptonese alphabet, the holy grail that I had been seeking for years without ever consciously realizing it!

Rich had received permission from Nelson's relatives to take possession of those sorts of papers and notes. And so he did. Knowing of my interest in Krypton, he allowed me to make photocopies of those notes. And thus, as I said, by a sort of posthumous annointing, I became the authority, the custodian of that form of Kryptonese.

That and half a buck will buy me a cup of coffee.

One of my first projects was to work on the Kryptonese grammar. I hope to have that posted to the Web eventually. I also worked on and off on a Kryptonese vocabulary (if only because you need one to create grammatical examples). But my primary project was to create a Kryptonese font for my old Macintosh (this was back in 1988 or so). You've seen that font on the Kryptonese alphabet page. (Nelson's notes included the letters and numbers. I will admit to creating the punctuation marks myself). Unfortunately, it's only a bitmap font. I hope someday to have a Truetype font available for downloading. But that's in the indefinite future.

Editor's Note

Unfortunately, with the passing of both E. Nelson Bridwell and Al Turniansky, it is unlikely that we will ever get to see any of the grammar or vocabulary.

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