Friday, 30 September 2016

Messing with the Logo - A 2000AD Interlude

A COUPLE OF HUNDRED YEARS AGO, I was paid to interfere with the work of others, as member of the editorial team on 2000AD, a British weekly comic that featured mainly science-fiction oriented action stories. Later, I was briefly the Editor, a post I never sought but was rather thrust upon me - though that's a story for another time.

The Galaxy's Greatest Comic has had a long tradition of both evolving and messing with the logo, much of it on my watch, but also stretching back to the dawn of time when 2000AD first began. The original dummy for the comic had the logo rendered as "AD2000", although there's no evidence to suggest that this was intended to be its final title. Dummies were produced as a matter of course for any new magazine back then as a way of demonstrating to interested parties - management, marketers, distributors - what the  final product might look like. In the US comics industry, they called them "ashcans".

The final render of the logo, designed and executed by an un-named "bodger" in the IPC Youth Group art department, bore a slight resemblance to the classic Superman logo of 40 years earlier. I wouldn't suggest this was in any way deliberate, more of an interesting coincidence. The epic, forced perspective style brings an energy to the cover that the earlier version on the dummy lacks.

While the comic was still in the planning stages, it was titled "AD2000", but wiser heads prevailed and for launch it was rechristened 2000AD. The first version of the comics logo had some subliminal similarities to the iconic Superman logo. (Click on image to enlarge)
This first logo managed to survive for more than two years, when it was evolved away from the Superman look. Prog 119 (30 Jun 1979) took a very different approach, though it lacked the power of the original. It was tweaked slightly when Tornado was merged, with Prog 134 (13 Oct 1979). This version only lasted a year or so before it was replaced by the eyesore chrome effect logo that it would sport for the next seven years, or so.

This logo was okay - not terribly inspired and a bit of an awkward shape. The cover lines at this point in the comic's history hadn't yet taken a turn for the comedic. That would come much later.
Prog 178 (20 Sep 1980) featured a masthead that was designed by then art editor Robin Smith, and was still in force when I joined the 2000AD team in February 1987.

This may have seemed like a good idea at the time - what doesn't say "science fiction" like a chrome effect logo, eh? But I thought it was cheesy, and may well have contributed to putting me off 2000AD, which I never looked at before I worked on the paper.
I thought this was the weakest logo in the mag's history. It has a slight echo of its predecessor, with the multiple curved underlines and the same general rainbow shape, but that terrible chrome effect ... it's hard to imagine that this was created by a designer. Consequently, every issue was locked into a logo that used that same chrome-effect pale blue. When the design team did try to vary the colour scheme - by using a darker blue or a red - it just didn't work at all.

The really surprising thing here is that this logo style survived so long. I'd been on the team for a few months when I happened to mention to editor Richard Burton that I thought the logo was incredibly old-fashioned for what was supposed to be the Magazine of the Future. "That chrome effect just shrieks 'early Eighties'", I offered helpfully. I was a little surprised when Richard agreed. He'd been living with it for the preceding seven years, on-and-off, so I'd just assumed he was happy with it. But ... not so much. So we got the wheels in motion to bring some change.

As I recall, it involved a bit of work to get the management enthused, but managing editor Steve MacManus was very supportive. He took the view that an overhaul was overdue and smoothed the path for us. Richard and I anticipated much push-back from the Earthlets, so we kind of pre-empted that - or tried to - by making the change over two consecutive Progs, 554 (26 Dec 1987) and 555 (2 Jan 1988), and trying to build a bit of a story around it.

The first order of business was to get rid of the old logo. So we had Tharg and his droids ceremoniously burn it on the cover of the Christmas Prog for 1987. Then, a New Year, a New Logo. A specially commissioned John Higgins painting perfectly showcased the new logo, making it an object within the cover scene, a visual gag we'd return to more than once over the next few years.
I recall that Richard gave Prog 554 cover artist Mark Farmer quite a detailed brief. The final art shows the Burt droid chiselling the old logo off the wall, watched by an alarmed robin, and the Mac II droid saying "Out with the old, eh, Mighty One?" Tharg carries a gift-wrapped package under his arm in the shape of the new logo.

The following Prog unveiled Steve Cook's redesigned logo, with the cover art showing Dredd preventing a luddite perp from prising the logo from a wall with a crowbar.


I had worked with Steve Cook at Marvel Comics a few years earlier and knew he was a smart and creative designer who could come up with something pretty cool. Steve took the tired old Robin Smith design and completely revised it for a new generation of readers. He retained the basic shape, but cleverly elongated it and made the "2000" resemble the badge on the front of Dredd's helmet. Many people didn't spot that until it was pointed out to them. The new shape also gave the cover artists much more room to play with and made positioning cover lines - by this time much more punchy and pun-ny - much, much easier.

The first version of that logo had been rendered by the Fleetway art department, but Steve was never really satisfied with it and re-drew it for Prog 750, to make it bolder than earlier versions.

With Prog 750, Cook redrew the 2000AD logo to make it more symmetrical and bolder. The notorious Summer Offensive of 1991 introduced a new font commissioned by Steve from Rian Hughes called "Scrotnig" and the recurring hexagon motif. A couple of Progs later, Steve brought back the "Starring Judge Dredd" in its own floating panel.
Steve made further tweaks every so often to keep the logo looking fresh, though none of these changes were drastic. With Prog 842 (3 Jul 1991), the corners were rounded off and the Judge Dredd lettering temporarily dropped, but it was back with Prog 844 (17 Jul 1991) floating in its own panel just below the main logo, making it look subliminally like an exclamation mark!

Prog 888 didn't really need the "Starring Judge Dredd" panel. It's pretty obvious who it is kicking down the door. The revision to the logo on Prog 889 brought a slightly more sophisticated look.
The Dredd panel was dropped again for Prog 888 (20 May 1994) - I can't remember why, but probably because it would have been obscured by Judge Dredd's head. Then Steve once again revised the logo for Prog 889 (27 May 1994), adding contoured outlines and bringing the "Starring Judge Dredd" lettering back into the background panel. This style would persist for three years until incoming editor Dave Bishop dumped Steve's logo concept completely for a complete re-think.


Once we had Steve Cook's new logo to play with, everyone associated with the comic wanted to join in, but as it was Steve's baby, he got to go first. Prog 584 (23 Jul 1988), expanded the new logo to dominate the whole cover, casting a giant shadow across Dredd's helmet and a sinister splattering of blood. Prog 606 (24 Dec 1988) revived the time-honoured tradition of adding snow to the logo of the Christmas issue, though we were doing it ironically. And Prog 615 (25 Feb 1989) featured Rian Hughes' clever design, celebrating 12 years of Thrill-Power - the really bad pun is mine.

These were some of the milder examples of "messing with the logo" that Richard, Steve and I perpetrated during the early days of our tenure on the Galaxy's Greatest Comics. We took the point of view that the logo could be varied as long as there was a reason behind it.
The following year, Steve Cook celebrated the comic's 13th birthday with an inspired beatnik design with Prog 667 (24 Feb 1990). He followed this with the special "Low Visibility" issue cover for Prog 772 (16 Mar 1991). We'd noticed we were getting a lot of letters from British soldiers serving on the from line in Iraq and, while the 2000AD editorial team had no political views on the war, we were determined to show support for the troops ordered in to harm's way. Needless to say, the soldiers' response to that issue showed us it had been a good call. Then, for Prog 764 (4 Jan 1992), the in-house Fleetway art studio created a montage of Brigand Doom images from the interior strip, but styled it like a (then-current) Macintosh computer interface.

As the editorial team grew in confidence, the level of messing became more daring. Prog 667 took the logo down to the foot of the cover, something few magazines would try then or now. The "Low Visibility" Prog 722 was designed so that soldiers serving in the gulf could read it safely. And Prog 764 played with the idea that if each issue was 'Programme" then it should be run on a computer - we chose the publishing standard, the Macintosh.
Master artist Cliff Robinson was also inspired to create many clever visual jokes using Steve Cook's logo. His first was on Prog 584 (15 Oct 1988), where he depicted Dredd holding up the logo, like a referee's red card. His next visual pun embedded the logo in the side of Dredd helmet, for the cover of Prog 619 (25 Mar 1989). And the cover of Prog 738 (4 Jul 1991) had Dredd using the logo for target practice.

As well as being a superb artist, Cliff Robinson is also a talented graphic designer, and instantly saw the possibilities for incorporating the Robo-Cook design into his cover layouts.
We had a few more instances of messing with the logo during this period. For the 15th Anniversary issue, Prog 772 (29 Feb 1992), Steve produced a gift-wrapped cover, and had the wrapping paper repeating the logo. We could probably have sold that design to Clinton Cards. For the cover for Prog 836 (22 May 1993), Steve worked with the late, great Brett Ewins to produce this tip of the cap to design legend Jean Paul Gaude, who had created the iconic cover and video for the Grace Jones album Slave to the Rhythm. The Valentine's Day heart-shaped logo on the cover of Prog 875 (18 Feb 1994) was especially fun, and showed Tharg had a romantic streak.

Still playing with the readers' expectations, Steve Cook produced a gift-wrapped 2000AD for Prog 772. And, inspired by the Grace Jones add for Citroen, designed by Jean-Paul Gaude, Steve and Brett Ewins worked up an homage for Prog 836. And who can forget the Valentine's Day Prog 875, with its heart-shaped logo?
Then, my own personal favourite distortion of the logo was on the cover we did for Prog 843 (3 Jul 1994), the second of the Summer Offensive and the first to feature "love him or hate him" Big Dave. The Daily Mirror had been running a billboard campaign that summer with the tagline, "It's a newspaper, not a comic!", which was presumably suggesting that The Sun was a comic. I was a little offended by that, as the editorial team felt that our efforts had far more dignity and sophistication than either The Daily Mirror or The Sun. So our "red-top" cover was created in protest. Steve and I sat together at the computer, with a couple of tabloids for reference, and did our own version, with me writing the text as we went. And, of course, we included the tag line on the logo, "It's a comic, not a newspaper".

There was, of course a precedent for designing the cover of a comic like a newspaper. It was the standard format for the great 1960 tabloid comic TV21, and I later discovered that 2000AD's first art editor Kevin O'Neil had also done a newspaper cover for an earlier issue of the comic. So, not startlingly original, but I do think ours was done better.

TV21's newspaper design was pretty revolutionary for a comic at the time. I certainly captured my attention, and I followed the paper for the first year or so of its life. Later, 2000AD would do a newspaper cover for the story "Ant Wars". The newspaper cover from my tenure was much more of a joke, rebutting a stupid strapline The Daily Mirror had used in its advertising.
Of course, the logo lent itself to merchandising too, and we produced teeshirts mugs and other assorted paraphernalia that used Steve Cook's logo design. I don't think he ever earned any extra money out of it. I still have my 2000AD enamel badge, though I don't wear it so much these days.

The 2000AD badge, using Steve Cook's logo, was one of the must-have items of the early 1990s. We even did a gold "Contributor" version, of which I think only about 100 were made.
Later in the run of 2000AD, after I'd left, incoming editor David Bishop had Steve redesign the logo again, moving away from the classic logo that had worked so well for so many years. The result, which debuted on Prog 950 (20 Jul 1995), was still an attractive logo, but it lacked the cleverness and versatility of its predecessor.

The revised logo that appeared on Prog 950 was okay, but it didn't lend itself to playful messing the way its predecessor did, and a new version of the classic red-white-and-black logo was back as soon as incoming editor Andy Diggle could feasibly manage it, on Prog 1234.
Tellingly, once David Bishop had left and Andy Diggle took the editor's chair, the logo reverted to an updated version of the classic, specially redrawn by Steve Cook, on Prog 1234 (21 Mar 2001). The cover was an homage to John Higgins original version on Prog 555 ... and the line Dredd's uttering is an in-joke, as it was the catch-phrase of Fleetway's Managing Director Jon Davidge, who wasn't a great fan of change for change's sake. There was a further revision on Matt Smith's watch, but the exclamation mark style 2000AD branding was retained and is still in use today.

Which sort of goes to show that you can't keep a good logo down.

Next: Some late 1960s DC Comics I did like.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

I said, Don't Mess with the logo!

BACK IN THE LAST CENTURY I earned my living in the magazine business ... and the prevailing wisdom at the time was that you didn't ever - under any circumstances - mess with the magazine's logo. In fact, any kind of change to the magazine's masthead was frowned upon, and even re-branding exercises were viewed with much suspicion. In the last entry in this blog, I looked at the many times that Marvel Comics changed their magazine's logos during the 1960s ... it all seemed so much easier then.

But even less acceptable was the idea that you could transform the comic's logo for just one issue for, oh I don't know ... Dramatic Effect. From a marketing perspective, that's an even bigger risk than changing the logo as part of the natural evolution of a magazine's masthead

Strangely, though this blog focusses on Marvel Comics, and I've always maintained Stan Lee was far more willing to experiment with different approaches to comics and storytelling than his rivals, it was DC Comics that seemed more willing to confound the marketers' expectations. Yes, DC's logos had evolved over the decades (admittedly, not much) since their wartime inceptions in the late 1930s and 1940s, but the character logos seemed sacrosanct, not budging one jot during the intervening quarter century. The exception seemed to be Batman.

The Detective Comics logo remained essentially unchanged from its first 1938 appearance right through to the earlier 1960s, when editor Julius Schwatrz was drafted in to give the allegedly ailing title a facelift, beginning with issue 327 (May 1964). (Click on image to enlarge)


Legend has it that Batman was on the edge of cancellation back in 1964. Details are hazy and it does seem very unlikely that DC would have considered shelving their second biggest character. Perhaps they were thinking about shutting down the Batman title and carrying on with Detective Comics? Anyhow, it's easy to believe the legend when you think of all those dopy "Batman in an alien zoo" type stories that Jack Schiff was pushing out during the early 1960s. The facts, however, don't bear that out.

Like Detective, the Batman logo had also stayed the same since its 1940s beginnings. Not even Schwartz's revamp extended to the logo - at least, not at first. Batman 164 (Jun 1964) was the first of the New-Look, but the old-school Batman logo remained for the next five issues until 169 (Feb 1965). With Batman 170 (Mar 1965), the Bat emblem was altered to a more dynamic version, though the calligraphy remained unchanged.
It's certainly likely that the sales on both books were on a downward trend, as DC wouldn't have sidelined long-serving editor Schiff unless the situation was worrying the DC brass. Given that Julie Schwartz had done such a bang-up job with revamping the Golden Age characters Flash and Green Lantern for modern audiences, it seemed a no-brainer to see what Schwartz could do with one of DC's biggest stars. And given the numbers on both titles, there's little doubt that Schwartz achieved what was required of him. But cancellation? I don't see any evidence for that ...

What is known is that DC wasn't that happy with Bob Kane's stranglehold over the title. They were keen to renegotiate the deal Kane had with the company, where Kane did nothing and his team of "ghosts" - Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris - did all the work. Perhaps Schiff was having trouble getting Kane and Co away from the dreadfully old-fashioned and clumsy tales that were being spun in the main two Bat-titles. So perhaps the cancellation story was told to Kane to get him to release his grip and allow DC to move the character in a new direction. Certainly, Kane himself has repeated the cancellation story over the years, for example in Les Daniels' "Batman the Complete History". But if you look at the published sales figures for the two core Batman titles in the first half of the 1960s, the facts don't support Kane's tale.

Batman sales figures
Detective Batman
1962 265,000 410,000
1963/4 - -
1965 304,414 453,745
1966 404,339 898,470

Yes, in 1962, the sales, especially on Detective Comics, were sagging. But still, at over quarter of a million, the title is a long way from being cancelled. There are no figures for 1963/4, but 1965 shows the effect of Schwartz's revised Batman - Detective up by 15% with Batman showing an 11% increase.

Regardless of the background, Julius Schwartz, along with artist Carmine Infantino, managed to revive the fortunes of Batman and though he was permitted to changes the style of the Detective Comics logo, the Batman logo, at least at first, remained as it was when the title was first launched in 1940. The thinking behind this is now lost in the mists of history, but looking at the timing of it, I'd speculate that once the DC leadership saw that the new-look Batman was enjoying improved sales, Schwartz was given the green light to give the old Batman logo the makeover it needed.

By the time the Batman tv show had arrived in 1966, it seemed that no one was standing in the way of Schwartz and Infantino and they committed the cardinal sin of messing with the logo. The cover of Batman 194 (Aug 1967) pretty much omitted the masthead altogether and incorporated the word "Batman" - hewn from stone - into the cover art.

A lot of stone would get hewn over the next few years ...

The cover of Batman 194 dropped the traditional bat-shaped logo altogether, so artists Infantino and Murphy Anderson could incorporate the word "Batman" into the artwork. The effect is attention-grabbing, but I doubt that DC Publisher Jack Liebowitz would have allowed this bold experiment without the Batman tv show.
When I saw it in the 1960s - even though I was by then a confirmed Marvelite - I thought it was a pretty cool and striking cover ... and it's pretty much the earliest example I can think of where a comic logo has been altered, or dropped entirely, for dramatic effect. Yet, right on the heels of that, Schwartz did it again with Flash 174 (Nov 1967).

The cover of Flash 174, also by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, did away with the traditional logo for a single issue to present cover art that incorporated the hero's name as part of the image.
Whether either change affected sales, it's now impossible to say. I wouldn't seriously suggest that Batman or Flash fans had any trouble finding these issues on the newsstands. Nevertheless, this wouldn't happen again at DC for quite a number of years. Marvel Comics, on the other hand, started messing with their logos on a more-or-less regular basis.


The earliest instance I can recall of a Marvel Comic that departed from the regular logo style would have been on the front cover for Hulk King-Size Special 1 (on sale Jul 1968). That one really messed with the logo in epic style.

This striking cover art was drawn by Jim Steranko. The logo, such as it is, is part of the artwork. But the Hulk's face is not Steranko's. "My Hulk head, they said, was too brutal for the cover," Steranko later reported, "so they had Marie Severin replace it with one of her cute, teddy-bear heads."
Tyro artist and designer Jim Steranko had burst through the "glass ceiling" at Marvel comics as essentially the first new new artist Stan Lee hired during the 1960s. All his previous recruits had been either alumni of the old Atlas Comics or creators from other companies he though might fit in at Marvel. Steranko was neither. Yes, he'd had a little experience at Harvey, working under veteran editor Joe Simon, on Spyman 1 (Sep 1966), though it only last three issues before Steranko was out of work again. But not for long.

Steranko's next professional work saw publication in Strange Tales 151 (Dec 1966), just three months later. Working over a Lee/Kirby plot and Jack Kirby layouts, Steranko provided finished pencils and inks for his first episode of Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD. Three issues later, Steranko was doing all the art himself and plotting, with Roy Thomas adding the dialogue. With Strange Tales 155 (Apr 1967), SHIELD had become the Jim Steranko show, with only the lettering being provided by other hands.

JIm Steranko's run on SHIELD - 18 episodes of 12 pages each and four issues of 20 page stories when Nick Fury was spun off into his own comic in May 1968 - was a genuine game-changer. Suddenly, every aspiring artist wanted to draw like Steranko - Barry Smith, Jim Starlin, Paul Gulacy - all owe a larger or smaller debt to him. Neal Adams even included a Steranko tribute in his Deadman strip for Strange Adventures 216 (Jan 1969), where if you squint at the art from the bottom of the page, some pink flames coalesce into the message, "Hey! A Jim Steranko effect!"

It doesn't really work on a computer screen - but if this were a comic book (or you're reading this on a tablet), hold the book out in front of you and squint up the page to fore-shorten the image drastically and you'll be able to read the subliminal message.
Fearing he might miss his monthly deadline on the full-length SHIELD book, Stan Lee had Frank Springer produce a fill-in issue of SHIELD, issue 4 (Sep 1968). Steranko abandoned the strip that had made him famous and cast around for something else to do. He did the cover art for The Hulk King-Size Special 1 overnight when scheduled artist Dan Adkins was unable to take on the assignment. Then he jumped ship to X-Men, pencilling, inking and colouring the cover of issue 49 (Oct 1968), before pencilling the interior art for issues 50 and 51, both inked by John Tartaglione, and redesigning the cover logo. The Steranko X-Men logo would become the standard for the next 30 years.

By 1968, the X-Men logo was looking a little tired. Steranko's revised version is simple, clean and elegant. It was such a strong design that it continued to graced the masthead of the title until March 1998.
After X-Men, Steranko took over Captain America from the departing Jack Kirby, again redesigning the cover logo (covered in the previous entry in this blog), and providing some of the most iconic art of his career.

Right after Steranko's striking and iconic Hulk Annual cover, the regular Hulk comic also broke with tradition to change the logo for a single issue. As noted last time, the Hulk cover masthead was a little uninspired for the first few issues of the run. It took incoming artist Herb Trimpe, possibly taking inspiration from Steranko's Hulk cover which had gone on sale just a month earlier, to incorporate the logo into the artwork for the cover of Hulk 109 (Nov 1968).

The logo used on the first seven issues of The Hulk's own title in 1968 was a rather dull re-working of the one used on the Tales to Astonish masthead. Herb Trimpe's rock-hewn version was a good deal more eye-catching, but was toned down a bit on the logo of the following issue.
The final result was a weird hybrid of the logo that appeared on the very next issue, Hulk 110 (Dec 1968) and the later - and in my opinion less interesting - version that would grace the cover of Hulk 129 (Jul 1970).

There would be other instances of messing with the logo on Hulk down the decades. The rock-hewn masthead would return a few years later with Hulk 340 (Feb 1988), which allowed scope for the artists to once more make the logo part of the cover scene.

As with many new artists, Todd McFarlane evidently wanted to make his mark, as other star-in-waiting artists had, by messing with the logo. This one's okay, but nothing special. I never much cared for McFarlane's monstrous hulk, very much a product of its time. The same idea is explored to even lesser effect in Bill Jaaska's cover art for Hulk 378 (Feb 1991). And as for the cover for Hulk 400 ...
I don't think the cover for Hulk 400 (Dec 1992) really works, as it actually is quite hard to see what the cover logo says. Perhaps if the figure of The Hulk had been stronger they might have gotten away with it. What do you think?

The year following Steranko's ground-breaking Hulk Special 1 cover, DC Comics superstar artist Neal Adams was invited to draw for Marvel. When asked by Stan what title he'd like to work on, Adams recounted, "I asked, 'What‘s your worst selling title?' Stan said, 'The worst selling title is X-Men. We‘re going to cancel it in two issues. So I said, 'I tell you what. I‘d like to do X-Men.' He said, 'But I told you we‘re going to cancel it in two issues. Why do you want to do X-Men?' I said, 'Well, if I do X-Men and I work in the Marvel style, you‘re pretty much not going to pay too much attention to what I do, right?' He said, 'That‘s true.' I said, 'Well, then, I‘d like to do that.'"

It reality, it didn't really turn out that way. Adams completed the interior pencils without incident, then turned his attention to the cover. His first attempt was rejected out of hand by publisher Martin Goodman. Any idea why?

Neal Adams' first version of his cover for X-Men 56 had the main characters lashed to the cover's logo. Martin Goodman felt that this obscured the logo too much and rejected the art. Adams then had to redraw it. Though the logo is still rendered as an object in the final art, no one had a problem with this and the cover made it into print.
Despite the early wobble, as it turned out the X-Men book wasn't cancelled a couple of issues later. Adam's art re-invigorated the title and it trundled on for another year, faltering only after Adams left the title.

Later artists who tried to mess with the X-Men logo had more success, though not always from an artistic standpoint, especially once we got past the 1980s and into the 1990s. Perhaps the Marvel editorial staff felt that the X-Men title was big enough to take the hit, but whatever the reason, the X-Men masthead went on to be come one of the most messed-with in the company's stable.

There was messing with the Uncanny X-Men logo during the 1980s, but it all seemed a bit half-hearted, like someone was waiting to get told off for committing the cardinal marketing sin.
There's three good examples in the 1980s of the artist messing with the logo. Uncanny X-Men 176 (Dec 1983), by John Romita Jr, is a little timid. The logo is rendered as an object being shattered by Cyclops' eye-beam, but it's not especially striking. It probably sounded a lot better on the phone to editor Louise Simonson, but I wonder if the result lived up to the description. JRJR's cover for Uncanny X-Men 181 (May 1984) does exactly what Adams did back on X-Men 56, to less effect and Uncanny X-Men 184 (Aug 1984), doesn't exactly set the logo on fire ... well, it does, but only in the literal sense.

Shattering the logo seemed to be a trend in Uncanny X-Men logo fiddling between 1990 and 2006. Marvel should have been able to come up with more than a single idea in sixteen years, shouldn't they?
The next tranche of logo fiddling came in 1990 and in 2000, where we were treated to some simple logo breaking. Jim Lee did the same trick two issues running as part of the "Extinction Agenda" storyline. Then, on Uncanny X-Men 377 (Feb 2000), Adam Kubert also pulled that stunt as part of the Apocalypse saga. Six years later, Roger Cruz trotted out the same - by now, tired - gag with Uncanny X-Men 474 (Aug 2006).

A bit more rooting around in my back issue box turned up further examples of shattered Marvel logos. Thor offered a couple of examples for your consideration. When Walt Simonson took over the scripting and drawing of Marvel's Mighty Asgardian, on Thor 337 (Nov 1983), the title was in dire need of a shot in the arm. Walt delivered just that and had the new "Thor" shatter the logo on the magazine's masthead. But unlike other applications of this corny old idea, there actually was a reason for it this time. Simonson was signalling his intent to completely re-write the storybook on Thor. Few will argue that he didn't do that. So in this instance, using the image of the logo being shattered actually does work.

Walt Simonson's run on Thor was heralded by this - literally - striking cover. The three year run is considered one of the best in the character's history. The idea was cribbed later on Thor 451 and yet again on Thor 459.
What's especially clever about Simonson's cover is that he doesn't just depict the logo being shattered, but all the "furniture" of the cover. And on the issue immediately after, the old-style Artie Simek designed Thor logo was replaced by a sleek, contemporary design that still managed to evoke the ancient, epic style of Asgard, the calligraphy credited to Alex Jay.

A later issue of Thor, 451 (Sep 1992), repeats the layout of Thor 337, though I haven't read the issue, so I'm not able to say whether there was a reason for this. Then, just a few months later, also for no reason that I'm aware of, the Marvel editorial trotted out the same idea again on Thor 459 (Feb 1993).

The Amazing Spider-Man also had its share of shattered logos. On Amazing Spider-Man 237 (Feb 1983), it works especially well, as cover artist Ed Hannigan has the blast from Stilt-Man's gun shattering not just the logo, but all the other "dressing" on the page, pre-dating the Thor 337 cover by almost a year. Todd McFarlane's cover art for Amazing Spider-Man 328 (Jan 1990) actually pre-figures the same idea he used on Hulk 378 (Feb 1991). It's okay, but as I said, I never cared much for Todd's version of The Hulk. And the idea was used once more on the cover of ASM 382 (Oct 1993), though this is probably the lest effective of the three.

How many ways can you shatter a Spider-Man logo? Not many it would seem. This trope turned up three times during the original run of Amazing Spider-Man, each time slightly less effective than the time before.
And finally, Captain America also got in on the act, using the cliche twice in less than a year. Curiously, the shattered logos on Captain America 354 (Jun 1989) and Captain America 379 (Nov 1990) are identical, barring the colour design. Was there a reason for that? Or was it just the production department taking a short-cut? I wouldn't know as I didn't collect Cap this far into its run.

The only connection I can see between Kieron Dwyer's design of Captain America 354 and Ron Lim's for Cap 379 is the identical logos. Maybe I'm missing something.


I think if you're going to do something smart and bold with a magazine's cover logo, then the surprise effect will work well. The Batman and Flash covers I talked about at the start of this blog entry are exactly that. But Carmine Infantino was a talented designer as well as artist, so he knew how to break the rules effectively. Likewise with Jim Steranko, whose graphic design skills were a big part of his success, both in his comics of the 1960s and his later publishing efforts in the 1970s. But after a while the messing just falls under the law of diminishing returns.

The list here of messed-with covers not exhaustive, but it is a little exhausting. In many ways, the Marvel editorial made the marketers' case for them. There's probably fewer benefits to be had from messing with the logo than there is from consistency. Evolve the logo, by all means, if it's looking old-fashioned or has just become too familiar. But messing with the logo for dramatic effect - especially when the drama is a bit lame - can only be counter-productive when the same idea is trotted out time after time.

Next: A "mess with the logo" interlude - 2000AD

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Don't mess with the logo!

MANY YEARS AGO, when I earned my living in the publishing industry, there was a line of thought that you didn't mess with a magazine's logo - except for once a year when you were allowed, if you were lucky, to add snow.

British comics have long had a tradition of adding snow to the masthead for seasonal issues. In fact, it's something of a cliche. The Dandy is dated 1938, but is by means the earliest example I've ever seem. The Smash is 1967, when British comics were still in their heyday. The TV Comic is from 1970, but looks much more old-fashioned than the Smash, don't you think? (Click on the images to enlarge.)
From a marketing point of view, I suppose, this makes sense. A product's branding is its unique identifier in the marketplace and so should always be immediately recognisable, right? But the problem with this marketing philosophy is that it assumes the customers are stupid, and it probably shouldn't be applied to magazine logos, anyway. I mean, even if you change a magazine logo a lot, it's safe to say that magazine readers can, by definition, read, and so can probably still recognise a magazine, even if you transform the cover logo drastically.

The other exception is the related, but slightly different situation, of changing a magazine's logo as part of a deliberate re-branding exercise. This you would do if you thought the masthead was looking a little tired, or you wanted to signal to readers that something about the magazine (and of course I'm actually talking about comics here) had changed. In past years that was a course that wasn't undertaken lightly, as the marketers - we called them circulation people back then - still saw this as "messing with the logo", but that seems to happen much more often now than it used to. I've been seeing more and more examples of both "messing with the logo" and evolving the logo for marketing purposes in recent years, some of them for good, some of them for ill. 

Probably the earliest, and most extreme, example was on Will Eisner's newspaper comic strip, The Spirit.

When The Spirit first started in 1940, the first page was designed like a standard Sunday page of comics, with a standard consistent logo. But after his service in WWII, Eisner returned to the strip newly-energised and the regular logo was jettisoned, becoming more radically creative with each issue.
However, The Spirit was exempt from the usual marketing objections because it wasn't a comic that used its cover to sell itself to customer. It was given away free with newspapers, so Eisner didn't haven't anyone looking over his shoulder, second-guessing his creative decisions. Which was probably why The Spirit was so ... creative. Nothing will stifle creativity quicker than a bunch of administrative people telling you why you can't do stuff.


The earliest example I was aware of as a kid reading Marvel Comics was when Stan decided, for whatever reason, to revamp the logo of his fantasy anthology title, Strange Tales, with issue 80 (Jan 1961). I'm guessing this was because he thought the old logo, which had been around since Strange Tales 1 (Jun 1951), was looking a bit "old", or maybe he didn't think it fit the house style being established by Artie Simek and Sam Rosen.

This seemed a bit odd at the time, as there was no attempt to give the masthead of Journey into Mystery a makeover, and that had been around almost as long as the original Strange Tales logo. The first version of the Strange Tales logo would have been by an anonymous Atlas staffer, but the revamped logo, introduced with issue 80 (Jan 1960), with its wavy outline, is almost certainly the work of Artie Simek.

I can see Stan's point. The old Strange Tales logo looks quite different to both the newer logo that replaced it and the Journey into Mystery masthead. It's very likely that the old Strange Tales logo was created by someone much less talented than Artie Simek or Sam Rosen.
The wavy Strange Tales logo was very effective and would enjoy a long run on the title's masthead. Even when The Human Torch was replaced in Strange Tales 135 (Aug 1966) with Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, the full size Strange Tales logo persisted. The Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish logos of the same period were revamped to incorporate the stars' names on the masthead. This wouldn't happen on Strange Tales for another year when, on issue 150 (Nov 1966) Doctor Strange was finally incorporated into the title's cover logo and, in a nice touch, the lettering style for the character reflected the magazine's roots by using a similar, wavy outline style.

When Stan did get around to looking at the logo of the Journey into Mystery title, as the Thor feature grew in popularity and finally took over the book, he turned to established Marvel letterer Simek.

Even though Journey into Mystery 1 was published six or seven years before Artie Simek officially worked for Marvel, the logo does have the look of his work. The line spacing was increased in mid-1963 to fit better with the new corner box. Note how similar the lettering of "Thor" is to the Strange Tales logo. And the "Thor" on JiM 99 is a foretelling of the later Thor masthead.
The logo that appeared on Journey into Mystery 1 (Jun 1952) remained pretty much unchanged right through to when Thor first started appearing in the title, in 1962. There was a slight tweak when the Marvel Corner Box was introduced with JiM 91 (Apr 1963) where the gap between "Journey into" and "Mystery" was increased to line up with the foot of the corner box. It was probably deemed too much trouble to redrawn the logo to be more condensed (taller and skinnier).

What I find most interesting about the masthead is that it looks for all the world like the work of Artie Simek. The ragged ends to the letters are very much a Simek trademark, but according to Wikipedia, he didn't start working at Marvel until the late 1950s.

The "Thor" on the cover of JiM 103 was a return to the wavy outline, then JiM 104 introduced the classic "The Mighty Thor" logo which would last until Thor 336 (Oct 1983). With issue 126 (Mar 1966), "Journey into Mystery" was dropped from the masthead and the title became Thor.
As the logo evolved, though, the hand of Simek was more and more evident. The earliest renders of the word "Thor" were almost all by Simek, with his favourite wavy outline, similar in some ways to the revamped Strange Tales logo. The "Thor" on the cover of JiM 99 (Dec 1963) actually prefigures the later Thor logo that would be introduced on JiM 104 (May 1964). That Thor logo, which would persist for the next seventeen years, was almost certainly the work of Simek, with its ragged ends and the signature chunk out of the "O".


Arthur Simek (born 6 Jan 1916) was one of the premiere letterers of the Marvel Silver Age comics, but began as a freelancer for Marvel's predecessor Timely Comics some time around 1947. The earliest Timely credit I could find for Simek was for the cover for Kid Colt Outlaw 9 (May 1950), though he would have been one among many, as Timely output was large. 

An Interview with writer Leon Lazarus in Alter Ego 90 (Dec 2009) does shed some light on Simek's standing in the Timely offices of the late 1940s. "We were on the 14th floor of the Empire State Building," explained Lazarus. "The letterers were gathered in the production room, away from the artists. In that room with me were many people, most of whom I don’t remember now. Mario Aquaviva was in charge of the letterers, but Artie Simek was over him. Artie was a tall, skinny guy, very nice and quiet, with a big Adam’s apple. He never pushed anyone around. He didn’t letter stories; he did logos."

It's likely that Artie Simek, who supervised the letterers at Timely, would have been designing logos and having them finished by staffers or freelancers. But the cover blurbs on the Kid Colt Outlaw do look like Simek's work.
So, despite the account on Wikipedia, it seems likely that Simek continued to letter for Marvel, either as a staffer or a freelancer, right through into the 1950s. Further, Simek seemed to survive the Great Atlas Implosion of 1957, but not before exploring work possibilities at DC, lettering World's Finest 91 (Dec 1957) and Batman 112 (Dec 1957). Perhaps he found the culture at DC not to his liking because he was back at Marvel very soon afterwards and was quickly the main letterer for the eight titles a month the fledgling Marvel Comics was publishing. 

Along with his contemporary, Sam Rosen, Artie Simek would go on the letter all the key Marvel titles through out the 1960s. He died 20 February 1975, aged just 59.


Sam Rosen, the other letterer of the Marvel Silver Age, began in the comics industry in 1940, lettering Will Eisner's Spirit newspaper strip. His association with Eisner led to lettering work for Quality Comics and he also contributed his calligraphy to the comics published by Victor Fox. His earliest Marvel work I could find was on an interior strip for Timely's War Comics 1 (Dec 1950), though he continued lettering for Quality throughout the 1950s, as well as Harvey Comics and Prize.

Sam Rosen began as a letterer on Will Eisner's Spirit newspaper giveaway, on both the lead strip and the back-up, Lady Luck. As part of the Eisner team, he also lettered for Quality Comics over the next fifteen years.
By the beginning of the 1960s, Rosen had joined Artie Simek and between them, they lettered what Stan called "The Marvel Age of Comics". The earliest Marvel credit I could find for Rosen was on the story "Goliath - The Monster that Walked Like a Man!" in Journey into Mystery 63 (Dec 1960). From there he became a regular contributor, adding Incredible Hulk and Iron Man in Tales of Suspense to his regular assignments.

By 1964, Rosen was lettering The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, though he would sometimes switch titles with Artie Simek.

Once Sam Rosen got his feet under the table at Marvel, he was off and running, though Artie Simek was still lettering the covers at this point.
I've not been able to discover Sam Rosen's date of birth, but I can report that he died in 1992.


Not long after the Strange Tales logo revamp, Stan ordered a new masthead for Tales of Suspense. The identity of the letterer on the first version of the Suspense logo is lost in the mists of history, but could well be the work of Sol Brodsky. On Tod Klein's excellent blog, he mentions that Brodsky would often do the basic designs for late 1950s/early 1960s logos and other hands, often Artie Simek's, would do the final render. However, the redrawn version looks a lot like the work of Sam Rosen.

When Tales of Suspense launched in January 1959, Artie Simek was lettering for Marvel, though the logo doesn't look anything like his work. By the time the masthead was revamped, in November 1962, Sam Rosen was lettering for Stan and I suspect this logo is his work. Later in May 1964, the Suspense masthead was once again transformed to allow for title star Iron Man to have more prominence.
This would have been one of the first things Rosen did for Stan, and may even have been set as a test. Compare the blocky, drop-shadowed letters of "Suspense" with Rosen's lettering on the splash page of Amazing Spider-Man 17 (Oct 1964).

Sam Rosen's lettering is distinguished by its squat, rounded characters and the trademark drop-shadow. The title lettering here is very similar to the revamped Tales of Suspense masthead on 1962.
Then, as the Iron Man strip grew in popularity, Stan decided to reduce the size of the comic's actual title and emphasise the book's cover star. "Tales of Suspense" was brought down drastically in size and ranged on to a single line and "Iron Man" became the main lettering in the logo, looking not a million miles away from the type style used on the very first issues of Suspense

Tales of Suspense 59 (Nov 1964) added Captain America to the masthead, and just five months later was rendered in the colours of the American flag. As the new solo titles for Iron Man and Captain America hoved into view in 1968, the last few issues of Suspense alternated the the emphasis on the two characters.
When Captain America joined the book as co-star, "Iron Man" was downsized to allow his co-star equal cover-billing, which was likely done by Sam Rosen, as reported on Grand Comic Book Database by Nick Caputo. Then just a few issues later, on Tales of Suspense 64 (Apr 1965), the "Captain America" lettering was rendered in red, white and blue. Some have criticised this design as being difficult to read, but as a kid, I loved it. The covers continued like this right through to Tales of Suspense 90 (Apr 1967), when the positions of "Iron Man" and "Captain America" were reversed for the first time - which made sense as Cap was the cover-star of that issue. The next change was when Stan realised he was going to have Cap take over Suspense and spin Iron Man off into his own title ... so he began featuring each character's name bigger on alternating covers, beginning with Suspense 97 (Jan 1968).

The difference between the logos on Tales of Suspense 98 and Captain America 100 isn't huge. But with Captain America 110, incoming artist Jim Steranko completely overhauled the comic's masthead.
In 1968, with Marvel no longer constrained by the draconian conditions imposed on them by the DC-owned Independent News Distribution, they suddenly went from just 14 titles, five of which were bi-monthly, to a massive 21 comics. Iron Man, Sub-Mariner and Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD all got their own titles, along with Silver Surfer, Captain Savage (a Sgt Fury spin-off) and Captain Marvel. Spider-Man got a magazine-size comic, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange, Captain America and The Hulk took over Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish respectively. It was turbulent time for title logos.

As Suspense transitioned to Captain America, there wasn't really a seismic shift in logo styles. More of a minor tremor. The logo lettering became a bit more condensed, to fill the space left from dropping "Tales of Suspense" and "and Iron Man". At first, the red-white-blue kept it from looking too dull, but that was dropped with issue 102, and any pizzazz went with it, leaving a really lifeless masthead. It would be left to Jim Steranko in 1969, to do a bit of a radical overhaul of the logo, with issue 110 (Feb 1969). He too avoided the red, white and blue colour scheme and gave Cap a more dynamic masthead, slightly reminiscent of the Superman logo. However, it seemed that no one could make up their mind what Cap's logo should be, and over subsequent issues the masthead swung between old and new versions and all stops in between.

Captain America 118 sported the same style logo as had appeared on the first ten issues of the title. Issue 134 had a weird squashed version of the same logo which was quickly dumped in favour of the return of the Jim Steranko version with Captain America 139 (Jul 1971).
With Captain America 118 (Oct 1969), the masthead went back to the original style, sometimes with the red-white-blue, sometimes just the one colour. But it didn't last long. Captain America 134 (Feb 1970) introduced a new style which last just five issues before changing back to the Steranko version again.

Three different cover designs in the space of a year is the sort of thing that gives marketers nightmares. The lack of consistency is confusing for readers, they reason. In this case, I'm not altogether sure they're wrong.
Then, just when you thought things had settled down, issue 143 (Nov 1971) had a completely revamped logo design, which last a mere three issues before going back to pretty much the version we saw on Captain America 134. The editorial certainty had gone, due most probably to the fact that Stan had stepped back from being the editor of the line, leaving these kinds of decisions to others.

Suspense's sister publication, Tales to Astonish went through a similar evolution. The title started with a very geometrical logo, which was stylistically similar to the Suspense logo and was likely designed by Sol Brodsky. But inside a year, on issue 12 (Oct 1960), the masthead was worked over by, I'd say, Artie Simek. Those ragged ends to the letters are a Simek characteristic. Then the logo remained unchanged all through the Ant-Man and Giant-Man years - with no attempt to accommodate the character's name into the masthead.

The first Tales to Astonish logo was every bit as bland as the Tales of Suspense one, but by issue 12, Stan had Artie Simek redraw the lettering, adding his trademark ragged ends to the characters. However, when Giant-Man became the title star, Stan didn't have his name rendered larger, as he'd done with Iron Man in Tales of Suspense, so I've done it here for him, so you can see what it might've looked like.
I've suggested before that Stan seemed bewildered that Ant/Giant-Man wasn't more of a success with the readers. But at the same time, I wonder why he didn't have Simek or Brodsky revamp the Astonish logo to include Giant-Man's name as he did with Iron Man over on Tales of Suspense. Surely, if he'd made the branding for Giant-Man more prominent on the Astonish covers, that might've gone some way to making the character seem more important in the minds of readers? But then again, as noted in an earlier post, the character was struggling without a strong "rogues gallery" to play off ...

With issue 61, Tales to Astonish built the logos of the co-stars into the main masthead. The Giant-Man lettering would be gone inside a few issues. The Hulk graphic would last for a while, disappear, then resurface when The Hulk took over the title as the main star. The Sub-Mariner logo would arrive with issue 70, transform then revert back to the original over the next year or two.
It wouldn't be until Tales to Astonish 61 (Nov 1964) that Giant-Man would be incorporated into the logo, at the same time as The Incredible Hulk was - for Giant-Man, this was too little too late. Within four issues he'd be gone, banished temporarily to super-hero limbo, his place in the title usurped by Fantastic Four villain, The Sub-Mariner, beginning with Astonish 70 (Aug 1966).

The logo for the Sub-Mariner was a slightly odd, triangular affair, configured to allow space for "The Incredible" ... as long as The Hulk was on the right. Much later on in the run, beginning with Tales to Astonish 91 (May 1967), Marvel took to alternating the position of "Sub-Mariner" and "Hulk", much as they did over on Tales of Suspense. The problem was that as soon as they did that, the shape of the Sub-Mariner lettering didn't fit the space properly, so it was again revamped, closely resembling the masthead of the Golden Age Sub-Mariner comics - a decision I'm guessing acknowledged Golden Age fan Roy Thomas would have had something to do with. On issue 91, it looks slightly odd, as the lettering is rotated slightly clock-wise. Compare to the original below.

The Sub-Mariner logo that appeared on Tales to Astonish 91 and would be used later in the run of Silver Age Sub-Mariners, had its roots in the Golden Age Sub-Mariner logo. A kind of cross between issue 1's logo (Spring 1941) and issue 2's (Summer 1941).
Then, just a few issues later, the masthead was re-jigged again - as with Tales of Suspense - to allow the two co-stars turns in dominating the cover logo. Because "Hulk" is such a short word, the letters had to be extended (short and wide) to take the right amount of space, though I think the lettering looks much better condensed as it was on earlier issues.

First Hulk had the feature role on Tales to Astonish 99, then Sub-Mariner the following issue. When the big green guy took over the title, his logo was re-rendered once again, with less-than exciting results.
Tales to Astonish 99 (Jan 1968) was the first to favour The Hulk and issue 100 (Feb 1968) gave Sub-Mariner the top spot, but once again the lettering had been given a makeover, similar to the 1966 version but this time rectangular rather than triangular.

When The Hulk took over the title with issue 102 (Apr 1968), there was more than enough space to render "Hulk" in the more condensed style I preferred, though once again, it had gotten a little dull, reminiscent of the first version of the Astonish logo. 

The first issue of Subby's own book retained the lettering style of his logo on Tales to Astonish. After three years, a pastiche of the Golden Age logo was introduced. Two years later, the masthead had reverted to the 1968 version, with one unimportant addition.
Meanwhile, The Sub-Mariner spun off into his own title, Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 1 (May 1968), retaining the logo style the Bullpen had set up for him on the cover of Tales to Astonish 100. This would last three years until, probably once more due to the influence of Roy Thomas, the masthead was revamped to resemble the Golden Age version more closely. Then, with sales floundering a little, the original Silver Age logo was reinstated on Sub-Mariner 65 (Sep 1973), with the addition of "Savage", which didn't help as the title was cancelled with issue 72 (Sep 1974).

The original logo for The Incredible hulk was thick and blocky - just like the character. The first run of the Silver Age title sported a slender and elegant logo, not really in keeping with the big green rage monster it represented. I liked the graphical approach of the later 1960s logo, but weirdly, the masthead went back to an elegant look at the beginning of the 1970s.
The Hulk logo persisted for a short time, then on The Incredible Hulk 110 (Dec 1968), the masthead was given a complete makeover, and the title lettering was rendered as though constructed from massive blocks of stone - way better than what had come before. There were echoes of the original logo from Incredible Hulk 1 (May 1962) - the heft of the letters and the 3D perspective shadow diminishing away into the distance. This was my favourite Hulk logo of the era. Yet it lasted just 25 issues before Stan had it redrawn into the style that was to last from Incredible Hulk 129 (Jul 1970) to 313 (Nov 1985), with only minor tweaks ... over fifteen years. Why I'm not sure, but perhaps Stan found the rock-hewn version too fiddly to colour effectively.

I could go on like this with every Marvel title of the Silver Age, which would be a lot of fun for me, but I wouldn't want to test your patience any further than I already have. Perhaps if anyone's interested I could take a look at titles like Daredevil and X-Men which also went through some intriguing transformations over the 1960s and 1970s.

Next time, I'll look at some of the logos that were altered just for dramatic effect, rather than for evolutionary reasons. Until then ...

Next: I said, Don't mess with the logo!