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.


"GREAT NEW LOOK!"

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".


WHO THE DON HECK IS ARTIE SIMEK?

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.


WHO THE SAM HILL IS SAM ROSEN?

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.


... AND BACK TO THE LOGOS

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 in 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 endured 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 clockwise. 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!


10 comments:

  1. I love this look at logos and particularly the lettering talents of Simek and Rosen, two of my favorites. According to Jerry Bail's Who's Who Simek's earliest comic book credit is is 1947 for Timely. Simek's likely did more lettering for DC than is noted during the 1950s, in the past few years I've seen numerous examples of his lettering, including early issues of Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown and I believe he may have worked for other companies as well.

    The Suspense lettering revamp may be by Rosen, perhaps based on a Brodsky prelim. The Suspense "Power of Iron-Man" logo is probably Simek and The Astonish 99 logo points to Rosen's style.

    Your point about Giant-Man is a good one. I wonder if Goodman thought the Tales to Astonish logo helped sell the comic and didn't want to change it? Perhaps he had little faith in Ant-Man/Giant-Man and felt they could always put another character into the lead spot.

    I look forward to more journeys into lettering and logo history.

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    1. Thanks for the extra info, Nick, as always ... From my research, it seems likely that Simek continued lettering for Timely/Atlas/Marvel all through the 1950s. The timing of his DC (and possibly other) work looks like it coincides with the Great Atlas Implosion of 1957.

      My investigation into Marvel sales figures of the period suggests that Astonish regularly outsold the other anthology titles through 1963-1965, even though Gi-Ant-Man wasn't incorporated into the cover logo, so maybe Martin Goodman knew what he was talking abut ...

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  2. By the way, in case you missed it the first time out, here is my post on the work of Simek and Rosen back in 2012: https://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2012/01/attention-paid-lettering-skills-of.html

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    1. I made a point of reading that blog entry before embarking on the above, to make sure I wasn't just re-hashing what you'd already said :-) and would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed this post about Marvel lettering ...

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  3. And don't forget 'Sam Simek', who lettered a Future Shocks story for 2000 A.D., Al. Remember that one? Incidentally, I believe it was Sol Brodsky who lettered the Fantastic Four and Amazing Fantasy logos, which were based on the one from The Twilight Zone.

    As regards Simek and Rosen, they were both great, but I'd say Rosen had the edge when it came to display lettering.

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    1. Who could forget the great Sam Simek? One of my favourite letterers of the 1990s era of 2000AD ... Good call about Fantastic Four and Amazing Fantasy logos pastiching The Twilight Zone ... I hadn't made the connecton. And I preferred Simek, but there you go!

      (I just picked up all the Twilight Zone box sets on Amazon for under a tenner each, so I'm looking forward to a Serling binge any weekend now ...)

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  4. I wonder if the logo on Hulk 109, which was sort of a hybrid of the next two logos, being both at an angle and carved into stone, resulted in a positive sales response (or maybe Lee was just trying ideas out to tweak sales).

    As for Cap, I always thought his Golden Age logo had a lot of gravitas. Those Simon and Kirby covers seem a lot richer than many/most of the Silver Age pics.

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    1. Interesting question, Russ, but I don't think the logo on Hulk 109 was any kind of experiment, rather a temporary change in the logo style for dramatic effect, what I've been call Messing With The Logo. I'll be covering that phenomenon in my very next blog entry ... the Golden Age Captain America logo was almost certainly the work of Joe Simon, who would design quite a few of the logos for the strips he was involved with, both with and without Jack Kirby - probably a topic for a future blog entry ...

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  5. Al, my blog list is showing a new post from you, but when I click on it, I'm told it doesn't exist. I assume you pressed 'publish' when you meant to press 'save' or 'close' while editing it? (Before deleting it 'til it's ready.)

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    1. Exactly, G.R. - I was a bit quick on the "Publish" trigger :-) I'll be publishing in the next day or two.

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