Todd Klein is widely regarded as one of the greatest letterers in the history of comics, having worked in the industry since the mid-seventies on series ranging from “House of Mystery” to “Green Lantern” to Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” and beyond. In addition to handling the lettering on countless story pages, Todd is also a bonafide logo and comic book cover designing guru, creating distinctive and acclaimed logos and cover layouts for the America’s Best Comics line of titles, “Fables,” “The New Teen Titans,” “Amazing Spider-Man” and many more.
With all of that in mind, CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland recently emailed Todd with the following idea for a column:
“It occurred to me that it would be fun to have an article on CBR that spotlighted 10 of the greatest comics logos of all time. Which logos have had the greatest impact, are instantly recognizable and have withstood the test of time?”
As you can see, Todd responded with gusto!
When Jonah asked if I would put together a list and article, I agreed it was an interesting idea. In thinking about it, I decided that I couldn’t come up with 10 that met all those criteria unless I included newspaper strips and cartoon characters with long-running comics histories. For comics fans alone, 10 would be easy, 25 wouldn’t be too hard, but to play fair, I thought “instantly recognizable” should include “by members of the public at large.” With that requirement in mind, here’s my list.
These aren’t necessarily in order, but I think most people would agree Superman and his logo are the most recognizable of all. His logo was originally designed by artist/creator Joe Shuster, as seen on the top image above, but instead of making one logo and reusing it, Shuster kept redrawing the name on each cover and story he did, each time with some variations and differences. In 1940 the company now known as DC Comics brought in a logo designer to give Shuster’s idea a polished, professional look, as seen in the second image. This design has long been attributed to Ira Schnapp, DC’s staff logo and cover lettering man in the 1950s and 60s, who was probably working for the company as a freelancer in 1940, though I haven’t uncovered any hard evidence of that. In 1982 DC hired famed New York designer Milton Glaser to update the Superman logo, as seen in the third image, and his version (or his studio’s version) has been used ever since. It’s a great logo with complex three-dimensional curved perspective in the “telescoped” style, instantly known by everyone.
Probably equally well-known to the world through popular movies and an infamous TV show, Batman’s logo with its bat-shaped background, Batman head and art deco block letters was designed in 1940 by comics legend Jerry Robinson, then assisting Batman creator Bob Kane on the series. The first version above is the one that remained on the comics covers for about 25 years, a very long run. The more successful later versions all draw on the same elements, such as the mid-60’s version in the second image above, and the most recent one from designer Chris Gardner in the third image. While the versions differ, the common elements say “Batman” to people everywhere. In fact, just the bat shape with pointy ears alone usually does the same thing!
While a newcomer on the comics scene compared to the first two, Spider-Man, the most popular and widely-known character from Marvel Comics, began in 1963 with an unusual and distinctive logo of block letters over a spiderweb. The design, top image above, is attributed to Sol Brodsky and Artie Simek, who created most of the early Marvel logos of the time. While the letters aren’t remarkable, combined with the webbing they work well to define the character, and this popular logo remained on the comics for thirty years, a remarkable run. In 1993 I was asked to create a new version based on another logo I had designed for Marvel for the character Sabretooth, one with lots of dangerious pointy ends, seen in the second image above. This one proved equally popular, saw widespread use on all kinds of licensed products as well as the comics, and is still often seen today. In 2004 an updated version of the original logo by Marvel staff designer Patrick McGrath returned, sometimes with webbing, sometimes without, as seen in the third image above. With webbing is the best way to capture the Spider-Man essence in my opinion, but the logo letters and name alone are recognized by most people.
4. ACTION COMICS
This is the only logo on my list that isn’t a character’s name. I think it belongs because of the high profile the first appearance of Superman in “Action Comics” #1 has maintained over the years through many news stories, usually about copies being sold for big money. But beyond that, it’s a logo that I think epitomizes one thing most comics are about, ACTION! The distinctive art deco design is attributed once again to Ira Schnapp, and the steeply slanted letters and strong diagonals really bring the word to life. There have been other versions, all based on the original. The second image above is one I designed in 2004, still in use today, as seen in the third image. A classic design, and essentially unchanged for 73 years!
My second entry from Marvel Comics might surprise some, but in the history of Marvel Comics there have been very few logos with the longevity of this one, designed in 1982 by lettering ace Tom Orzechowski for the character’s first mini-series, seen in the top image above, and still in use today, though slightly modified, as seen in the bottom image. Thanks to a series of X-Men films, and one of his own, I think it’s safe to say the character has good recognition among the general public, and while they might not know his logo specifically, the name would be very familiar. The logo makes use of classic serif forms extended to deep points that suggest the character’s claws in a very effective design.
Here’s my newspaper strip selection, with the 1931 logo created for it on a Hal Foster Sunday page in the top image. The first Sunday pages were by Rex Maxon, who might have designed the logo, but that’s not clear. In any case, it’s a distinctive and attractive one. There have been other Tarzan logos, but this one continued to be used through the years, on comics from DC, Marvel and Dark Horse for instance, as shown. While Tarzan has had a low profile in comics in the last decade, I think it’s safe to say most people know the character and would recognize this logo.
7. MICKEY MOUSE
As seen in the top image above, Mickey’s logo style was created for his very first cartoon in 1928. It was not a unique approach for a cartoon character: bouncy block letters that overlapped and tilted back and forth in an almost rhythmic way, but it suited the little mouse perfectly, and when he made his way into comics in the 1940s, as seen in the second image, the style followed. There were lots of variations, some using upper and lower case, or rounded letters, but the same feel remained. When Gladstone began their comics series in 1986 they went back to the early cartoon style, as seen in the third image, and today’s Mickey publisher, BOOM! Studios, continues to use that classic logo. There can’t be many imaginary characters that are more widely known and loved in the world.
8. DONALD DUCK
Always giving Mickey a run for popularity though, is Donald, and his logo had much the same evolution — beginning in the cartoons, as seen in the top image, moving to comics in the 1940s in similar style, evolving with lots of variations through the decades. The 1986 Gladstone version, seen in the third image above, used upper and lower case, but very much in the same style of bouncy, overlapping block letters, and the most recent version by BOOM! goes all the way back to the cartoons again for inspiration. In the public’s mind, a logo may be irrelevant, his name alone is enough to bring a smile.
From the first issue of his comic in 1942, top image above, to the most recent ones, bottom image, both the character of Archie Andrews and his logo have remained remarkably consistent. With a rounded upper and lower case style that somehow evokes High School to me, he and his comics have chugged along, not getting a lot of attention, but passing before the eyes of almost every child at some point, at least until recent times, when comics have evaded the notice of many kids. The one criteria that might be weak on this one, then, is instantly recognizable by the general public. In a broad range of age groups, I think it would qualify. And Archie has been making the news more in the last few years, so even if they’re not reading about him, many kids might recognize the name.
Jonah Weiland suggested this character and logo, and though he first appeared in 1994, top image above, I think Hellboy qualifies on all counts thanks to two fairly successful movies. The logo was designed by Kevin Nowlan for creator Mike Mignola. Nowlan is better known for his art, and has only designed a few logos, but this one is definitely distinctive, remains unchanged today, as seen in the second image above, and was even adapted for the films, as seen in the bottom image. For one thing, it’s very readable, with a massive outline that sets it apart from the crowd, and for another, it plays against the expected approach of hellish fire. The small O gives it that slightly off-beat look that echoes Mignola’s approach, too.
Okay, that’s my list. And while I’m here, why not two more almosts to make it an even dozen.
11. THE FLASH
The first entry in DC Comics’ Silver Age superhero revival in 1959 featured a great logo by Ira Schnapp with strong, square letters that leaned forward and trailed speed lines to exemplify the character’s powers. There were other logos along the way, but in 2000 an update by designer John. J. Hill brought the best qualities of the Schnapp original into the present, and is still in use today, as seen in the lower image. The logo is strong, but doesn’t make my list because I don’t know that either it or the character would be instantly recognizable to the general public, despite a TV show some years ago. I might be wrong!
This was my other intended entry from the comic strip world, with the most memorable logo the one in the top image above, no doubt designed by creator Charles Schulz. Then I remembered that the title of this article is COMICS logos, and my research found that logo was only used on one comic cover in 1954, bottom image above. There were other Peanuts comics in the 1950s and 60s, but none with a distinctive logo. Too bad, on the basis of worldwide recognition, “Peanuts” is certainly right up there.
That’s my list. I’d be interested in hearing yours! You can find more information about many of these logos, and lots of others, on the Logo Links page of my blog, where logo research continues.
Todd Klein has been lettering comics since 1977. He has won numerous Eisner, Harvey and CBG Fan awards for his work on projects with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Bill Willingham and many others. He also designs logos, covers and interior pages for comics, as well as writing a few comics. For more visit his site at www.kleinletters.com.