All images © Marvel Characters, Inc.
In 1961 the Marvel Comics of today leapt into the super-hero comics scene with this new series featuring a super-team. Legend has it that publisher Martin Goodman saw the success their much bigger rival DC Comics was having with The Justice League of America, and prompted writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby to come up with something similar. THE FANTASTIC FOUR is only similar in the very broadest terms, however. In fact, in many ways, it’s a much stronger concept: a team related by blood, romance and friendship whose powers come accidentally, but all at the same time, making them new to costumed heroics, unlike the DC characters, most of whom had been around for decades.
The logo was also quite a departure for a super-hero book. DC and other companies had much more serious, blocky, powerful and somewhat staid logos for such books. Marvel went a very different way, signalling their new approach to the genre, an excellent idea. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, such as in the first part of my X-Men Logo Study, the early Marvel logos were designed by Sol Brodsky and finished, or inked (reports are vague) by letterer Artie Simek. Mark Evanier, my main source for this, says this Fantastic Four logo was certainly one of those.
If we ignore the cover art and even the meaning of the name itself, I would have guessed this logo was designed for a humor title of some kind. The letters are upper and lower case (except for the tiny THE), have lots of bounce, or uneven sizes and vertical heights, both between letters and even between strokes in the same letter. While the letterforms have a some straight lines, most of the strokes are curved to one degree or another, and the strokes also vary in weight quite a bit, with most letters thicker in some areas than others. The one feature which pulls back a bit from the almost humorous look is the serifs, which are wide, with mostly triangular points, giving a slightly edgy feel to the shapes, though again the serifs are angled in all different directions, not lined up at all. So, what does this suggest?
As a reader of mainly DC superhero comics in 1962, when I saw my first issue of this title (number 5), it said to me: here’s a superhero comic that’s going to be exciting, and above all, fun! The rest of the early covers present the same message. Kirby’s art alone would seem rather serious: dynamic, full of action, danger and effort; but Lee’s dialogue and captions put a different spin on things, with lots of boasting bombast, and touches of humor. The comics inside were much the same, from the often humorous credits (a novelty at the time) to Stan’s Soapbox in the back pages. As a reader, I felt that Stan and Jack were having a great time creating these stories, and I had an equally great time reading them. So much so that, in a few years I had all but abandoned DC for Marvel.
Looking technically at the logo on the first issue, it’s made of solid shapes held in red. This works fine against the white background, but that’s a rarity on a comics cover, so other versions would be needed, and the logo made the same progression I’ve pointed out in other Marvel logo studies.
By issue three, the letters were outlined. It’s possible, even likely, that this version was actually created first, and for the cover of issue 1 just the inner shapes were used, because if you compare them, the positions of the letters and the spaces between are the same, but the outline just follows the outsides of the inner shapes, taking away a bit of that space between letters. The word THE has now been pasted over part of the F, no doubt to allow the logo to be a little larger on the cover. And, as often happened, the code seal was pasted over part of the C, a poor design decision. Stan Lee’s over-the-top captions are even moreso on this one, including an early version of the tagline, “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!” No modesty there, eh? I think even as a kid I thought that sort of thing was kind of funny, but in a good way, a P.T. Barnum sort of bragging that appealed to me. I imagine all the cover lettering on the early issues is also by Artie Simek, it looks that way.
By issue 16 in 1963, the logo had gained an open drop-shadow to help pop it off the cover art, and allow a second color in the logo for more contrast as well. Again, this follows the path of other early Marvel logos. The tagline is now ensconced, smaller, at the top of the cover, where it remained for quite a long time. And the “THE” has been dropped, as unnecessary. Notice that Kirby is still keeping his cover art fairly simple, without backgrounds on this cover, an approach I like. The corner box with the characters’ heads is another common design element from Marvel at the time, forcing the logo to be somewhat smaller, but it’s such a strong, readable design it doesn’t suffer at all from that. Kirby’s cover art followed that plan most of the time, though he occasionally did complex backgrounds like this one:
This photo-montage cover from 1964 runs behind everything, including the logo, which still reads fine. The top tagline now required an outline version. One nice feature of the title for those placing it on the cover was the shortness of the second word, FOUR, which could be moved around horizontally to allow more room for the hoopla of cover copy Stan usually added, as here. Still covering the C with the code seal, though. FF covers followed this plan through the 1960s. The book was a hit, leading Marvel into a series of successful super-hero titles that was gaining ground fast on their big rival, DC, and for good reason. Marvel had the energy, the excitement, the interconnected story and universe, and the somewhat realistic character development that DC at the time was lacking, at least in my opinion.
Finally, in 1970, the logo was given a modified look. This version is squatter, leaving more room for cover art. The letterforms are evenly heavier, more regular and more aligned with each other, though still with some angular bounce to the serifs which all follow the same angle. I don’t think it’s as successful as the original, it seems some of what made that logo unique has been lost in this one. I had guessed that this was also by the team of Brodsky and Simek, but Mark Evanier points out that Sol Brodsky left Marvel in late 1968 to start the Skywald company, so that can’t be right. Perhaps Simek did this version alone, or other hands were involved, we’ll never know for sure.
As the seventies went forward, the logo would go through more changes. I’ll write about them next time.
More chapters and other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.