Logo Study: THOR Part 1

All images © Marvel Characters, Inc.

Like several other important characters in the Marvel Comics superhero revival of the 1960s (Iron Man and Ant Man for example) Thor first appeared in an ongoing anthology title, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. As the title suggests, it previously featured short horror and mystery tales, but issue 83 brought a new hero culled from Norse myths by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, though Lee handed the actual scripting (really adding dialogue to Kirby’s pages) to his brother Larry Leiber for many of the early stories. The title began in 1952, and the logo designer is unknown to me, but may have been Artie Simek who seems to have lettered at least some of the early covers. He lettered this one too, including the burst introducing The Mighty Thor. The word THOR is in the rough, ragged style Simek often used for the names of monsters, but it does at least have the look of something quite old, which is appropriate for a character from myth. This lettering style for Thor was used by Simek, who was lettering nearly all the Marvel covers then, on other JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY covers.

On the splash page inside we see a larger version of THOR by Simek in a similar style, but with the edges even more angular like chipped or pitted stone. MIGHTY is more rounded, and more like the cover blurb, while THE is in simple rounded open lettering. Not a great superhero logo, but again it does at least have an archaic feel. I’m not sure if this version was used on later splash pages, I don’t have them. Was this the only time the character was “Thor the Mighty” rather than “The Mighty Thor”? I don’t know.

Here’s another JIM cover with a similar approach for THOR, though the very dark coloring makes it almost unreadable.

For issue 89 a different approach gives the character’s name a more superheroic style that is almost a logo, and shows the direction that will be followed when the character gets a real cover logo. The letterforms are open and sans serif with very wide strokes. The edges are mostly clean and smooth with rough edges only at the stroke ends. Clearly this cover was pushing the superhero aspect of the character in every way, including the blurb. And unlike many characters, Thor’s name is short, allowing for the letters to be large, usually a good thing.

Nothing was really settled yet, as we see on the following cover, where THOR is in a much more typical block letter style with slightly rounded and curved outlines.

With issue 99 in 1963 the block letters of THOR are straighter again, and for the first time THE MIGHTY is inserted into the top of the T. The stroke weights on this version are uneven, but it’s not really a logo, just a cover blurb by Artie Simek, perhaps done in a hurry.

A very similar approach was used on inside splash pages around this time. Here’s the one from issue 106, the next earliest I’ve found. Again, sort of a logo, but not quite.

With issue 104 in 1964 the success of the character finally gets him a real cover logo. This was very likely designed by the team of Sol Brodsky and Artie Simek, as per information from Mark Evanier. While we don’t know who did what exactly, it’s likely Brodsky, then Marvel’s production man, probably did a layout or design sketch, or possibly even full pencils, while Simek did the finished logo. You can see how it follows ideas from JIM 89 and 99, but now the letterforms are much more regular and even. The horizontal strokes are wider than the vertical ones, which also taper a little toward the bottom. The edges are mostly smooth, but stroke ends are jagged, and jagged gaps are used in the O and the top of the R so the balance of smooth and jagged is more evenly distributed. The outline is heavy, and there’s a telescoping dropshadow in black to give the letters more weight and help them pop off the page. THE MIGHTY is in more even and regular sans serif block letters, once again inside the top of the T, which wisely keeps the logo compact and rectangular, an easy fit with other cover lettering. As a superhero logo, it’s not bad. There’s nothing particularly Norse about it, nothing that really relates to the character, but I found it appealing as a kid, and still do.

Marvel must have liked it, too. When the title dropped JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY and became just THOR with issue 126, they kept the same logo. And this logo continued on the title for a very long time, until issue 337 in 1983. It was the longest-lasting of the 1960s Marvel logos, I believe.

Two other logos did show up on Thor Annuals. This one from 1971 is clearly based on the splash page logo of Artie Simek seen above. I find it a bit too cartoonish for the character.

This one from the 1976 Annual is better, but still not as good as the regular logo. I don’t know who designed it, but perhaps it’s the same person who tended to mix square letters with round ones in other Marvel logos of the time. Either the oval O or the squared R need to be changed for this to look good for me, probably making the R rounded would be the best idea. Either way, not a great design.