Logo Study: WORLD’S FINEST Part 2

worldsfinest71_1954

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.

worldsfinest75_19551

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.

worldsfinest96_1958

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.

worldsfinestschnapp

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.

wfschnappo

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.

wfschnapps

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.

worldsfinest160_1966

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.

worldsfinest181_1968

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.

6 thoughts on “Logo Study: WORLD’S FINEST Part 2

  1. Michael Rawdon

    I feel almost embarrassed asking this, as it seems like I should know, but: How were the logos reproduced issue after issue back in the 60s and earlier. Obviously not by computer, and they didn’t even have photocopiers back then. Looking at the close-ups of Schnapp’s work, with all the white paint, I can’t imagine that he hand-drew them for each issue. So my best guess is that they photographed the original logo and then somehow pasted the photo onto the cover.

    (I could probably ask the same questions about coloring and other production elements. I should probably just go read up on this stuff somewhere if I really want to know!)

    I always wondered what the checkerboard across the top of some comics was for. There are a lot of production details like that which baffled me. I guess I always assumed it was either a printing quirk of whatever they were using for production at the time, or something which was legally required, e.g. for mailing purposes of the era. It looks so ridiculously pointless it never occurred to me that it might have been a conscious stylistic decision! (I grew up in the 70s, so comics with the checkerboard pattern were already back issues for me by the time I sought them out.)

    On another note, the cover to issue #181 feels a lot more forceful and personal than any of the earlier covers, with its viewpoint, exaggerated poses, and feeling of action. No doubt the impact of Adams and Steranko on comics generally by the late 60s. I always thought Novick was an underappreciated artist; I fondly remember reading a lot of Flash comics drawn by him as a kid. (And by the time Infantino came back to the book, his style had changed so much – not, IMO, for the better – that I didn’t understand what all the hoopla over his art was about. I preferred Novick!)

  2. Todd Post author

    Logos and other repeating elements were photographically reproduced using a photostat camera, which I’m sure you can read about online. Items to be copied were placed on a large, flat base in a darkroom, then special negative paper (not film) was exposed in the camera. The negative paper and a piece of positive photostat paper were run through a wringer in developer solution to transfer the image, then usually through a fixer, and hung up to dry.

  3. Bob Chapman

    If my memory serves me right, I believe there were two ways to generate photostats (stats). There was the photostat camera and processing (which I personally am less familiar with), that you refer to but stats could and were originally created via a format camera and vacum frame.

    The black line art (original) would be positioned and shot with the camera from which a right-reading, clear film negative would be generated. If need be, this film negative could then be “fine-tuned” through the use of opaque (to remove pinholes) and/or razor blades to remove emulsion. A contact print/stat would then be made by exposing this negative with stat/print film in a vacum frame to a timed, high-intensity light source. The negative was positioned to the print paper emulsion down (to minimize undercutting which provides you with the sharpest reproduction possible). As with any film, this would be performed in a darkroom (red light) environment and once exposed, would go through an assortment of developers and rinsing to rinse away the silver nitrate (which was not exposed to the light) which left you with a black and white print. Once “developed”, the print would be taken out of the darkroom and could be either air-dryed or run through some sort of drying machine.

    Hopefully this explanation isn’t too boring and provides an interesting look back as to how reproduction was done prior to computers. How easy it is to forget…and how old explaining this makes me feel. Thanks for letting me share this with your audience.

  4. Jacob Covey

    Todd,

    It is really great that you post these in-depth examinations of v-e-r-y marginalized design work that was going on in comics by people who actually cared about design craft when almost certainly nobody else did. I personally imagine that Schnapp would have made those letterforms less off-model if he’d had the time granted him but who else cared to give him that time? (Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m idealizing, but I have a hard time imagining that DC was concerned about the details of the lettering once it was in-shape enough to perform the basic marketing need.)

    It’s exciting to see these posts. There should be a book detailing your insights. (Hint.)

    Very best,
    jacob

  5. Todd Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Bob. I never ran the stat cameras at DC when I was there, so I was an observer only, but I know they could also use it for making film negatives and contact prints when necessary. And your description sounds like what the color separators were doing to create negative acetate film of the art to make color separations over, and to send to the printer.

  6. Todd Post author

    I never got to meet Ira, so I can only go by what he produced, but I think he had a preferred style, and it was conservative, based on the classic letterforms he’d learned when younger. When pushed too far away from that, he was less effective. His 1960s ANIMAL MAN logo is a good example of that. Within his comfort zone he was creative and accomplished.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

55 + = 57

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>