Logo Study: HOUSE OF SECRETS

All images © DC Comics, Inc.

A short logo study this time, for the companion title to HOUSE OF MYSTERY. DC often seemed to publish a second title to accompany one that was selling well, in hopes of catching the same audience. So STRANGE ADVENTURES begat MYSTERY IN SPACE, LOIS LANE begat JIMMY OLSEN, BRAVE AND BOLD begat SHOWCASE, and the same pattern was followed with HOUSE OF SECRETS, though sales on the partner may not have been that good, as it debuted five years after HOUSE OF MYSTERY in 1956. By that time the Comics Code Authority was monitoring content, and the sorts of stories that appeared were mildly scary, often with a science fictional slant.

The logo, designed by DC staff designer Ira Schnapp, did not have any similarities to his HOUSE OF MYSTERY logo, also not unusual for the time, except that both used Schnapp’s block lettering. This one added the kind of three-dimensional telescoping familiar on many super-hero logos like that of SUPERMAN. I don’t think this is one of Schnapp’s better efforts (as I also said about his HOUSE OF MYSTERY logo). The letterforms are uneven for him, with some corners square, some a little rounded, some, like the loop of the R very rounded. The telescoping helps pull it all together somewhat, and allows for more interesting color schemes, but in all it’s not memorable. Despite that, it lasted for ten years.

hoslogoschnapp

Here’s the original logo from the DC files. There’s not much to learn from it except that the drop-shadow is filled in black, unlike the open one on the first cover. I suspect that was done later. Always nice to see an original logo from over 50 years ago, though.

In 1965, again following the lead of HOUSE OF MYSTERY, DC decided to try something super-heroic in the title, moving the original Schnapp logo to a minor position, and adding two new Schnapp logos for Eclipso and Prince Ra-Man. This made for a very crowded masthead, my favorite part of which is the classy script word “FEATURING” by Ira. I guess the idea was to convince kids they were getting a bargain, two heroes and one villain for their twelve cents, but the attempt did not last very long, or probably do much to increase sales, and the book went out of print for a few years.

In 1969 the book came back to life under the editorship of Joe Orlando, and once more followed the lead of HOUSE OF MYSTERY, as Joe attempted to return the title to its horror roots with really chilling covers like this one by Neal Adams, and a new host, Abel, brother of HOUSE OF MYSTERY’S Cain. While the brothers were played largely for laughs when they appeared together, the idea was a clever one with resonance for those who knew their Biblical history, something Neil Gaiman exploited brilliantly years later when they appeared in SANDMAN.

hoslogogaspar

The new logo was by Gaspar Saladino, and here’s the original from the DC files. In this case Gaspar seemed to loosely follow the letterforms from the Schnapp original, adding jagged edges on the bottom for interest and a double outline instead of telescoping. One thing that’s a bit odd is that THE is in creepy letters while OF seems more normal. The top line: THERE’S NO ESCAPE FROM… and the surrounding rounded rectangular word balloon being spoken by Abel all mirror what Gaspar had done in HOUSE OF MYSTERY, tying the two titles closely together in every way visually, as they were in content. A much better logo than what had gone before, though not as interesting as the HOUSE OF MYSTERY one, in my opinion. Comparing the original to the printed version reveals a surprising thing: the head and hands shot of host Abel is completely different in each! I don’t know who did the art on them, but my guess is Neal Adams, frequent cover artist on the title at the time. The earlier version on the original logo is more humorous and bumbling, while the redo is more menacing, no doubt what Joe Orlando wanted. The original would have fit right in with Neil Gaiman’s vision of the character in THE SANDMAN. Another small difference is the addition of a tail to the word balloon on the printed cover.

A few issues later the headshot of Abel was gone, replaced by the bat shape around the DC and title, again as was done with HOUSE OF MYSTERY. And the word balloon border remained, but without a tail, as there was no one speaking it. Here the outline on the letters in HOUSE and SECRETS is heavily thickened in a way I find unattractive. Interesting to see this cover going for a gothic romance look, perhaps trying to pull in some female readers.

The next issue went further down that road, with the logo replaced by type in the font Cooper Black, and the cover text in another innocuous font. The oval frame and soft art style could well have appeared on a gothic romance paperback. If this was an attempt at a new direction, it went no further. The next issue was back to the previous logo and style. Perhaps it was done as an experiment to see if sales figures changed. The gothic romance theme did continue for a few more issues, though, and one of them did hit it big:

This Berni Wrightson cover, illustrating the original short-story version of Swamp Thing, was also in a soft style, created by working on coquille-board, a textured paper, and sensitively colored by Jack Adler, sold very well indeed. Well enough for Swamp Thing to be given his own title not long after, and forever make this the most sought-after issue of HOUSE OF SECRETS.

And since we’re on the subject, nothing to do with the logo, but here’s the original color guide for that cover by Jack, given to me when he was my boss in the DC Production Department in 1978 or thereabouts. Wonderful, isn’t it? Jack was the cover colorist of many DC covers in the 1960s to mid 1970s, though he had largely turned that job over to others when I worked for him starting in 1977. This is a treasured item in my small art collection.

The Gaspar Saladino logo went through various incarnations and trade dress versions, like this one where it was large over a rectangular color area. Again, most of the versions followed similar ones on HOUSE OF MYSTERY.

Issue 140 in 1976 had this one-shot variation featuring The Patchwork Man, a character I think came from the SWAMP THING series running at the time. The one-line version of the HOUSE OF SECRETS logo works pretty well, though I don’t think the rectangular rounded box is really needed. And isn’t that trade dress which repeats both logos annoying? Fourteen issues later the House closed it’s doors for the last time. But…

…in 1996 Vertigo/DC relaunched the title under the editorship of Shelly Bond. This version had nothing to do with the previous House, though, and focused on a completely different, yet equally strange and creepy house out on the west coast in a series that ran for 25 issues.

The logo, really a creative type treatment, was by Richard Bruning, who designed the whole trade dress and cover layout. The font picked for the logo is an interesting choice: not at all scary in itself, but arranged in an odd and slightly unsettling way that worked on this book. Even the large blank space next to the logo kind of works, as it makes me wonder what it might mean, if anything, like there’s something there we can’t see. Maybe that’s just me, though. The large OF in the logo is again an odd choice that I like a lot.

This version of HOUSE OF SECRETS made one more appearance in a two-issue series in 2001. Richard didn’t do this logo, and suspects it was done in-house by one of DC’s designers, but so far I haven’t found out who. If I do I’ll add that information. This version has lost the oddness that I liked about the previous one, though, and while it does the job of conveying the title, adds nothing to the unsettling atmosphere of the series.

And that’s all thus far for the title. With the successful relaunch of HOUSE OF MYSTERY this year, perhaps something new will come along for HOUSE OF SECRETS in the future.

Other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.

11 thoughts on “Logo Study: HOUSE OF SECRETS

  1. BobH

    The JIMMY OLSEN solo series actually predated the LOIS LANE by a few years, not the other way around.

    No, I can’t believe I know that off the top of my head, either…

    Always enjoy these logo study posts. And that colour guide to the first Swamp Thing cover is very neat.

  2. Canek

    Hi Todd; When I saw the cover of House of Secrets #92 in this entry, I though that I’d seen that before. And I though “yeah, of course; it’s the first appearance of Swamp Thing”.

    But it wasn’t Swamp Thing what caught my attention; it was the girl on the cover. And then I remembered that Louise Simonson was the model for that cover! A little fact you (I’m sure) know about, and forgot to mention.

    I’m so jealous of you right now; you have the original color guide for that cover!

  3. Bryan Stroud

    I, or more properly Len Wein, from the interview he gave me, can vouch for that:

    Prof: All too rare. Especially in the corporate world. I don’t mean to belabor Swamp Thing, but I stumbled across something that said the woman on the cover was modeled on someone’s wife or some such thing?

    LW: You’re talking about House of Secrets #92?

    Prof: That’s the one.

    LW: That’s Louise Simonson. Many of the characters in that particular short story are modeled on real people. The villain is Mike Kaluta. Bernie [Wrightson] himself I think is sort of Alex Olsen. All of the people in it…it was one of those sorts of things where Bernie was trying something and basically had many of the shots posed and took photos and worked from that.

    Prof: Oh, kind of the Alex Ross method.

    LW: Exactly.

    Prof: I know you’re not necessarily a production guy, but wasn’t it Gaspar Saladino who did the logo on Swamp Thing?

    LW: Yes it was. He lettered the first six or seven issues, too.

    Prof: A talented man. A sweetheart of a guy, too.

    LW: An old friend of mine. I haven’t seen Gaspar now in probably 25 years, but a very good friend from way back when.

    Prof: A super guy. He was my very first interview and was trying to make it easy on me, for crying out loud.

    LW: One of the legends. Probably Gaspar and Todd Klein in terms of design work are two of the great letterers of the business.

    http://www.wtv-zone.com/silverager/sasar9/archive196.shtml

    Bryan

  4. Craig

    As always, I’m loving your logo studies. Will any more be coming in the future?

    If yes, and if you’d like to take any requests… I’d love to see one for the AVENGERS sometime… on that same note, Captain America or Iron Man could be interesting too.

    I know I asked you your opinions on trade dress before, but a retrospective on the various “looks” on Marvel and DC books would be interesting to read too – I’d especially like to know (if the information can be found) what went into things like the “Line of DC Super-Stars” banner circa 1976 or so, and the institution of a corner box image in early 90′s DC books (which I thought looked really great and “popped”)

  5. Craig

    An addition to my last post… I was complimenting the early 90′s DC box, not the “Line of DC Super-Stars” banner which you referenced in this very article. Just didn’t want any confusion there.

  6. Bill Angus

    Assuming you’re talking about the House of Secrets original logo just above this text “…Comparing the original to the printed version reveals a surprising thing: the head and hands shot of host Cain…” – Abel is the host of House of Secrets. Cain is House of Mystery.

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