Category Archives: Logo Studies

JOHN WORKMAN – Letterer and Artist

From THOR #337, Nov 1983, image © Marvel

A unique letterer in comics from the 1970s to the present is John Workman, whose distinctive letter shapes and style make his work stand out from the crowd. He’s perhaps best known for his many collaborations with writer/artist Walt Simonson, as on THOR, above, where large letters for Odin add to the drama, and John’s balloons, open at the panel borders, make a style statement, and leave more room for the art. John has also had a long but sporadic career as a writer/artist, as well as being the art director of Heavy Metal for a few years. We met in the DC Comics production department when I was hired in 1977, and have been friends since.

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TOM ORZECHOWSKI – Letterer

From X-MEN #125, Sept 1979, © Marvel

A new generation of letterers — my generation — began entering comics in the 1970s. What set us apart from many who came before was that we didn’t view working on comic books as a stepping stone to more prestigious and potentially lucrative work like comic strips, advertising, illustration, or fine art. We loved comics, we were readers and fans, and that’s where we wanted to be. Leading the charge was Tom Orzechowski, whose finely-crafted lettering I first saw at Marvel in the early 1970s. The example above is from perhaps his best-loved Marvel work, on X-MEN, a series where his unique title skills and elegant calligraphy, as featured on PHOENIX, were an important part of a very successful franchise. I’ve known Tom for many years, and I interviewed him by email in 2020 to help fill in details of his career. Quotes from that appear below.

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Lettering Underground Comix Part 2: Other Hands

From ZAP COMIX #2, 1968, Apex Novelties, untitled story © Rick Griffin

Continuing this article with creators other than Robert Crumb, featured in Part 1. Underground comics are a large subject, there are hundreds of individual issues. I’m narrowing this article to ones created in the 1960s and 1970s, the formative years, and focusing on creators who drew what I consider interesting and unusual lettering on their stories and covers, at least those I’ve found. Many undergrounds had poor or bland lettering, though I applaud the effort of artists to do everything themselves, as in the early days of comic strips, but some were better at it than others. The center of underground comix publishing was San Francisco, but they came out all around the country, and were often sold in “head shops,” places that also sold drug paraphernalia and other youth-culture items. By the mid 1970s, most of those venues had closed, and the undergrounds that survived did so largely through mail order, at least until the rising tide of comics shops, part of the new direct market, began selling them.

Rick Griffin, image found online

Richard Alden “Rick” Griffin (June 18, 1944 – August 18, 1991) was an American artist and one of the leading designers of psychedelic posters in the 1960s. As a contributor to the underground comix movement, his work appeared regularly in ZAP COMIX. Griffin was closely identified with the Grateful Dead, designing some of their best-known posters and album covers such as Aoxomoxoa. Griffin’s work in ZAP uses lettering and sound effects as three dimensional elements in ways that no one else did. The balloons in the example above are truly balloon-like, with shading to add roundness, and the sound effects jump off the page, filling that middle panel. The letter styles are also varied and well-crafted.

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Lettering Underground Comix Part 1: ROBERT CRUMB

From ZAP COMIX #1, Feb 1968, Apex Novelties. All images © Robert Crumb except as noted

The 1960s were a time of change in many areas of society, including comics. One factor was the availability of cheap printing for the general public. Independent offset printers were setting up all across the country and small runs of a comic book with black and white interiors and a color cover could be produced for a few hundred dollars. A new generation of cartoonists was exploring that option, first just printing copies for friends, but new kinds of stores were opening up that would sell them. A counterculture focused on drug use, politics, folk, blues, and rock music, and free love was gathering young fans in droves, and they were meeting to buy things in head shops that specialized in drug paraphernalia and literature and posters related to the movement. A new type of comics, dubbed “comix” to imply the X-rated nature of much of the content, was arriving on those shelves. One of the earliest and most prolific creators of comix was Robert Crumb, whose anthology series Zap Comix was a hit, and sold well enough to encourage lots of imitators. Crumb’s work sometimes looked back to sources like the comics he loved as a kid, but more often it drew content from past and current music and culture. Both his art and his lettering had a rough quality that was very different from most mainstream comics, but beneath that rough look was solid cartooning and design skill. The content was raw, sexual and violent, free from any kind of censorship. It helped that court rulings at the time were making prosecution for producing or selling such things harder. Underground comix included everything the Comics Code Authority was sworn to prevent, and that made them all the more appealing. Crumb said in the book Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels by Roger Sabin (1996, Phaidon Press):

People forget that was what it was all about. That was why we did it. We didn’t have anybody standing over us saying ‘No, you can’t draw this,’ or ‘You can’t show that.’ We could do whatever we wanted.

In a way, underground comix reset the idea of making comics back to the beginning, with each creator doing his own complete package. Some were able to produce entire comix themselves, but many joined forces in anthology titles like Zap Comix. The center of comix publishing was San Francisco and nearby Berkeley, California, though comix were published in many parts of the country. No longer did a cartoonist have to live in the New York City metropolitan area and gain favor at the mainstream publishers to reach an audience. In Part 1 I’ll focus on Robert Crumb, in Part 2 I’ll look at other early underground artists and their lettering.

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LOGO DESIGN FOR COMICS

From DOCTOR STRANGE: SORCERER SUPREME #72, Dec 1994, image © Marvel, logo design by Todd Klein

Logo design is an important element of comics, both creatively and from a sales standpoint. A strong, memorable logo helps sell the product, and will help buyers identify more comics like ones they already enjoyed. This article is an overview of comics logo design, above is one of mine, and more about how it was designed is HERE.

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