All images © DC Comics, Inc., except as noted.
Above is the very first comic issued by pulp writer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, founder of the company that would become DC Comics, cover dated February, 1935. For about a decade previously, collections of newspaper comic strips had been around in various forms, and in 1934 the first regular newspaper strip reprint comic, FAMOUS FUNNIES, began appearing every month, but NEW FUN was the first comic to contain new material. Its size was a whopping 10 by 15 inches, and only the front cover was in color. Like the newspaper supplements it was meant to suggest, all the strips inside were a single page long.
While the date and the cover copy at the bottom are in set type, I think the logo is hand-drawn, with the possible exception of the word NEW. But the emphasis is on FUN, with those three well-designed giant letters in block-letter style, each with wider and narrower strokes, the U with rounded corners, and all with a black telescoped drop shadow. The subtitle is in a different style of block letters, a mix of straight and round forms of equal weight with an art deco feel. NEW is in the same style as the type at the bottom, probably a variation on Times Bold. From this approach, I’d say the idea was to appeal to kids, who love comics, but to also give the magazine a professional look, one that would compare well with other magazines then on the newsstands, and which an adult would not feel embarrassed to purchase. Note that the logo for the cover strip, Jack Woods, is more typically cartoony than the magazine logo, another signal to kids that they might like it, I’d say. And, while newsstand comics were just beginning to appear, most people would be familiar with the comics that came with the many newspapers of the time, especially the color Sunday comics supplements. The Jack Woods strip is meant to look just like a page from one of those.
© New York Tribune, Inc.
Many newspaper strips had similar logos with a cartoony feel: hand-drawn open letters with personality that said comics, like this one from 1927.
© King Features Syndicate, Inc.
One of the masters of that approach was George Herriman, whose Krazy Kat strip incorporated his loose, jazzy logos into the art.
© The Chicago Tribune.
Some strips took a more conservative approach, using open letters that might well have been traced from art deco type, like this Moon Mullins logo from 1930.
© King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Adventure strips like Prince Valiant often used well-designed logos based on type, like this one in the style of Old English Blackletter. So these were some of the influences on the logos of DC’s early comics, along with pulp magazine logos, up-scale magazine logos, and movie logos of the time, no doubt.
While sales of NEW FUN were disappointing, the Major pressed on, issuing a second title in December of 1935. NEW COMICS was smaller, closer to the size of other Golden Age comics, and the first six issues had newsprint covers rather than using cover stock. I suspect there was color inside, too.
There’s no way to be sure, but the logo on this one looks to me like it was drawn on the art. One clue is the way the logo crops off on the sides. If it was done separately and pasted on, I think that sizing error would have been fixed. Plus, it just has a similar feel to the cover art by Vin Sullivan, in a style somewhere between cartoony and type-traced. The letterforms mimic sans-serif type, and appear to have been drawn with a straight-edge and oval templates, but they retain the slightly uneven look of the cartoony approach. The slant on the left leg of the N is the most obvious example of that. And notice there seems to be some extra space between the C and the S, something we’ll come back to below. In general, this cover is much more of a comics cover: a single image with a large logo at the top, and some poorly-lettered cover copy below, probably also by Sullivan. Inside, the comics form was also evolving, with some stories extending to four pages.
To avoid confusion with the other title, with issue 7 in January, 1936, NEW FUN became MORE FUN, with the same logo except that MORE is now added in place of NEW in a poorly-drawn block letter style, similar to that on the cover copy of NEW COMICS. Otherwise it followed the same layout, with another cartoony logo for Little Linda, the strip on the cover. The comic’s size had now been reduced to match that of NEW COMICS, too.
In the spring of 1936 this 52-page comic saw print, the first comics annual, collecting the entire contents of NEW FUN 1-5, and using the oversized format of those comics. The logo goes all the way toward cartoony, with letters that have lots of bounce and variation, and overlap in a way that works. Not terribly well drawn, but the overall effect is appealing, as are the overlapping panels from many different strips. This comic is very rare today, probably because it was bought and read to shreds.
MORE FUN issue 9, cover dated March-April 1936 had this revised logo and layout. FUN is now taller with less rounded corners on the U, and the word COMICS! is the sole bottom line in a lose, almost cartoony style Notice that the horizontal stroke ends on the C and S are pointed. We’ll see that again below. Like MORE, COMICS isn’t well-drawn. In place of a full strip with logo, the cover features a four-page gag strip by Vin Sullivan again (also one of the early editors at the company). Sans-serif type at the bottom follows the earlier layout. One thing you have to say about this logo, the word FUN is easy to read, and would have stood out at a distance on a crowded newsstand. And since Sullivan did the cover art, it seems quite possible he redrew the logo as well.
Issue 5 of NEW COMICS, June, 1936, had this new logo. It’s based on the previous one, but redrawn with a larger C and other small differences, plus a new telescoping drop-shadow with one-point perspective vanishing to a place behind the center of the M. Not a bad look, but the uninspired art by Whitney Ellsworth and drab coloring don’t help the appeal of this cover. Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s comics were not selling well, and at some point around this time he ran out of money and lost control of the company he’d begun. Note that, like Vin Sullivan, Whitney Ellsworth was on staff at the company from the beginning as an assistant editor, and it’s possible he did some of the early logos shown in this study, particularly this one, since he did the cover art.
That might explain the completely new look of issue 11 of MORE FUN, cover dated July, 1936. And, doesn’t it look familiar? It’s the same style used for ACTION COMICS #1 two years later, but it was first seen here. My guess is that new management wanted a new look, as they often do, and asked that someone work up a new approach. The logo has been redrawn again, with FUN now wider once more. The horizontal strokes of the F and U are thinner, and the U has three angled corners replacing the round ones, but oddly, the corner at lower left is missing that angle. The vertical strokes of the N are much wider than one might expect based on the other two letters. And the drop shadow is deeper. MORE is redone, and looking much more professional. But the most interesting change is in COMICS, which is now much larger, and in the art deco style so long associated with DC. I wrote about it in the first part of my Action Comics Logo Study, suggesting it’s based on the font Broadway, and the proportions of the letters are more equal and on-model than those of FUN. There are enough variations from Broadway to suggest some other, similar art deco font was the model, though. The one oddity is the space between the second C and the S. The entire logo is enclosed in thick black borders, forming a banner, with the art below ending in another thick border, and a typeset cover copy at the bottom. The price of 10¢ is now in a circle straddling the border below the logo. While there are some odd quirks, the overall look of this logo and trade dress is attractive and would certainly command a buyer’s attention, a winning design.
While we have no record of who might have done the work, it suggests someone with design experience. The only name we have from that time is Ira Schnapp, who has been credited by some as the designer of many early DC logos, especially the reworking of SUPERMAN from Joe Shuster’s designs. He might have been brought in to do this logo, though some of the choices made in the word FUN work against that idea, as Schnapp was an accomplished letterer and I think would not have been likely to draw them that way. I think it’s just as likely to be someone else, perhaps a staffer with graphic design training, perhaps cover artist and editor Vin Sullivan again. We’ll never know for sure.
ADDED: new information I’ve posted HERE indicates Ira Schnapp did not work on any of these early DC logos.
This title, the second DC Annual, came out early in 1937, I believe, and the logo seems to be by the same person who redesigned MORE FUN. In fact, this entire logo is in the style of COMICS from that book. That word has the same odd space between the C and S, so it’s probably not redrawn, just a photostatted copy. NEW BOOK OF is not as accomplished in style; look at the poorly drawn loops of the B, and the mismatched center stroke of the E. The N and K are both far off-model for this style, too. Very puzzling. Perhaps this time, instead of copying the letterforms of the art deco font, the designer just did his own version, trying to match COMICS, but not succeeding very well.
Issue 12 of NEW COMICS became NEW ADVENTURE COMICS, cover dated January, 1937. The logo merely adds a small new ADVENTURE between NEW and COMICS, but that Adventure is in a style somewhat like the one used for the redesigned MORE FUN, except using lower case. Again, it’s not very well drawn, with a lot of unevenness in the letterforms. This is another cover by Whitney Ellsworth. Did he do the revised logo?
With issue 15, cover dated May, 1937, the logo and trade dress have been completely revamped to match MORE FUN. ADVENTURE is now much larger, but still in the style first seen on issue 12. It looks good, but the uneven letterforms are more obvious at this size. The V is much wider than the E next to it, for instance, and the right extension of the R is too wide. The loop of the D is droopy. The T and U are joined, a touch I like. the A has its right leg at the same angle as the other letters, making it seem to lean a bit too far to the right. NEW is in non-matching block letters, a little inconsistent in stroke width. But the banner and trade dress really help pull the cover together, and the attractive art certainly helps. Again, we can only guess at who might have designed this logo, but I would say it may well have been the same person who did the word comics, photostatted in here from the MORE FUN revamp, with the same odd gap between the C and S.
Also in 1937, the company launched their third title, DETECTIVE COMICS. And the logo on the first issue is really puzzling. You would expect them to use the same layout as their other two titles, but they didn’t. Instead, the word DETECTIVE is drawn in upper and lower case in a style very similar to that of ADVENTURE, but with the letterforms more carefully and consistently done, probably with oval templates and straight edge. There are still some minor inconsistencies in stroke width, but it looks more professional than ADVENTURE. And a distinctive triangular topper on the I is a nice touch. The word COMICS, on the other hand, is not nearly as effective as the one being used on the other titles. It’s certainly very readable, but the pointed stroke ends on some of the letters and not others is odd, and similar to the word COMICS on the cover of MORE FUN #9. There are again gaps between some of the letters; the V and E in Detective, and the C O and C S in COMICS. An angled banner at the bottom holds typeset cover copy. The art is once more by Vin Sullivan. Could he have been the designer of these logos? It’s possible, and the circumstantial evidence is growing.
With issue 2, DETECTIVE joins MORE FUN and NEW ADVENTURE in the same style and trade dress, using only the word DETECTIVE from issue 1. The style of COMICS is close enough so that it all looks like it was meant to go together, and this time the more professionally drawn DETECTIVE is a better match, too.
And that brings us to this very familiar cover, but allows us to look at the logo with fresh eyes, having seen what came before. This time, rather than tacking on the existing COMICS, I think it has been redrawn. Compare the space in the O with the earlier version, for instance. And the odd space between the C and S is gone. ACTION is in the same art deco style, but slanted, and with attractive extensions on the A and N that add a lot to the entire design. The letterforms are consistent and on-model for this style. Based on that, I’d say this logo was created by someone new. Until recently I would have guessed Ira Schnapp was the designer, but new information I’ve detailed HERE indicates Schnapp did not work on any of these early DC logos, so the designer remains unknown, but it’s clearly someone with better lettering design skills than whoever did the rest of these early logos.
One final cover from 1938, this slightly revised logo removed the NEW and made it just ADVENTURE COMICS. The A has been redrawn, and I’d say intentionally mimics the one on ACTION COMICS, but the rest of the logo is the same as the previous one. I’m convinced it was not done by whoever designed the ACTION COMICS logo because I’m sure that person would not have let the previous letterforms remain without fixing them, and this new A is not as well-proportioned as the one in ACTION either. Further, this reuses the COMICS from earlier titles, not the redrawn one from ACTION COMICS.
So is Vin Sullivan the person who designed many of the earliest DC logos? Were some designed by Whitney Ellsworth? We’ll never know for sure, but the evidence, sketchy as it is, does point in their direction. Too bad I hadn’t begun this logo study work yet in 1998 when Sullivan appeared at the San Diego Comicon, I would have loved to ask him!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this study. More can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.