All images © DC Comics, Inc.
In the 1950s, with superhero comics selling less well, DC decided to change the format of WORLD’S FINEST from a 96-page anthology to the length of a regular comic (generally 32 pages) and reduce the price to 10 cents, like most of their line. While this left out many of the regular features, it did begin a new, welcome tradition: Superman, Batman and Robin now starred in the main story together for the first time. You can see that announcement in the cover lettering by Ira Schnapp on this cover. Ira was the staff logo and cover lettering man at DC from about 1948 until the late 1960s, and his familiar work helped give the company’s comics their house style.
With issue 75 in 1955, a revised logo appeared, using the same letters for WORLD’S FINEST, but stacking them, and replacing COMICS with a small type version.
In 1958 a new logo appeared, this one by Ira Schnapp. While based on the original logo, the letters in this one are designed better, on model for classic sans-serif block lettering. The strokes and widths are more equal throughout, and the outline is heavier, to make the logo read better against cover art. The letters are less tall, leaving more room for that art, too. Notice that the last of the Art Deco style, the pointed angled strokes of the W and N, are gone, and the apostrophe also now has a squared point. This is very much Ira’s style: not exciting, but very solid, classic design work that goes well with his cover lettering. COMICS is now even smaller. Everyone knew what they were buying, I guess, so it wasn’t important.
Here’s a scan of the original Schnapp logo, still in the DC files. Ira was 66 years old in 1958, but still going strong, and perhaps at the height of his skill as a comics logo designer. If you look closely, though, you’ll see areas of white paint, used to cover ink that went beyond where he wanted it, so perhaps the job was not as effortless as it might first look.
Here’s a close view of the O, and you can see that some of the white paint is cracked and chipping off from age. Ovals are tough to do freehand, and from the look of this work, I’d say that’s how they were done. Me, I’d have used an oval template, but Ira, with his classical letterform training, went for it freehand, then painted out areas of extra ink to get the shape he wanted. Notice how close the sides are to the adjacent letters, too, yet it reads fine. Another sign of a good design eye.
The first S also gave him some trouble, as you can see, and in fact the interior shapes of both S’s are a little off-model: not quite evenly wide. They’re close enough, but just a little too thick in the tighter curves. Also, perhaps because of his white paint revisions, the S is the only letter with extra space to the left of it, echoing what the first logo had in the last two letters of COMICS. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty cool that we can see this original work from over 50 years ago by Schnapp.
In 1966, with issue 160, a new logo and trade dress arrangement began. Ira’s WORLD’S FINEST logo went into a box (with too much extra space at the top and bottom to my eye), and moved to the left to make room for Batman and Superman logos, both also designed by Schnapp. At the top is the infamous “go-go checks” pattern, DC’s attempt to update their look and make it more attractive to young people. Even as a child I knew this was pretty lame, falling under the heading of “what old people think is hip.” Putting the character logos on the cover was not a bad marketing idea, but it does clutter up the top third of the cover, and the three logos, even though by the same designer, do not go together well in this arrangement.
With issue 181 in 1968 this much better logo and trade dress layout began. Ira’s logo, in a box that fits it better, is flanked by matching figures of Superman and Batman, with their names at the top in lettering by Gaspar Saladino (who also did the rest of the cover copy). The only drawback of this arrangement is they put an open banner behind the logo area, probably to keep the figures from looking like part of the cover art. Still, a much better and more modern look, and the cover art by Irv Novick (probably from a layout by Carmine Infantino) adds to the modern feel, being more realistic and more dynamic than much of what had come before.
Next time we’ll follow the fortunes of WORLD’S FINEST into the 1970s and beyond. Other chapters and more logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.