All images © DC Comics, Inc.
In 1976 DC published a short-lived series written by Robert Kanigher, created and pencilled by Joe Kubert, about Rory Regan, a junk collector who dons a costume made of rags to fight crime. The RAGMAN logo is an unusual one that took some extra work to create, and was probably a team effort by idea man and artist Joe Kubert, letterer/designer Gaspar Saladino, and DC production chief and photographer Jack Adler.
Gaspar was commissioned to design the logo, and it’s typical of his work at the time: creative and dynamic. The block letters are squared at the top but ragged at the bottom to tie in with the name and character. And, importantly, there’s a second heavy outline around all the letters. The centers of the inner, open letterforms were to be filled with a photograph of swatches of cloth, an idea that I bet Joe Kubert came up with. Jack Adler was the one who had to find a way to make it work, though.
Jack and Joe, probably working together in the DC darkroom, laid out the scraps of wildly different cloth swatches on the bed of the large photostat camera in a way that, they hoped, would put lots of different patterns inside the letters. But the cloth couldn’t just be photographed, it had to be “screened,” or given a pattern of half-tone dots so it would reproduce correctly when printed. This was done by placing an acetate grid of small, closely-spaced lines (in two directions perpendicular to each other) between the camera lens and the photostat paper negative, the physical “halftone screen.” The same process creates printable photographs in nearly every magazine or newspaper that has them, or it did until computers took over from photography.
Above is a sample, highly enlarged, of what a halftone screen will create from four shades of gray. Since a photograph is an ever-changing landscape of tones from white to black, the screened version of a photo has a matching set of ever-changing dots.
Zooming closer on the image above, you can start to see this screened effect…
…but you have to get really close to see the individual dots. In 1976, the screen used for a comics cover was probably 150 lines per inch, making about 150 dots per inch as well. Inside the comics a screen of about 70 dots per inch was used, to reproduce on the cheap newsprint then being used. Comics today use 150 dpi (dots per inch) on inside pages, and even finer screens on covers.
The other thing to notice in this image is that the logo Gaspar drew has been photographed onto a piece of acetate and painted on the back with white paint, much like an animation cell. The space between the letters and the outer line are painted, as well as an area beyond, so the logo could be isolated from the photo. There are also small lines of white paint where the letters touch, to help keep them separate. The white paint coverage isn’t perfect, but tiny gaps could be touched up later. Once this was done, the acetate was combined with the screened photo to create the final logo. After they had it positioned right, a new photostat was made, and the logo was trimmed to remove the area of the photo not wanted. This must have been great fun for everyone involved, I know both Joe and Jack loved doing this kind of experimental work. Unfortunately, on the printed covers of the original series, the rag photos were held in red ink (or some other color), which diminishes the impact of the cloth textures, but does make the logo more readable.
In 1991 RAGMAN returned in a new mini-series by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming and Pat Broderick. They used the original logo, but this time reproduced much better, and more effectively I think. Shows how far ahead of their time Joe and Jack were. One more mini-series in 1993 used the same logo again, and thus far that’s all the issues Ragman has been on as a solo star, though he was recently part of the SHADOWPACT team. Guess you can’t keep a good rag down. Or a good logo!