JOHN WORKMAN’S DC LOGOS Part 1

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John Schwirian, left gives John Workman, right, his 2009 Harvey Award for best lettering.

I’m doing a different sort of Logo Study this time, focusing on one designer, my friend and fellow letterer John Workman. From the summer of 1975 until late 1977 John worked on staff in the DC Comics Production Department, and as part of his duties there, or as a freelancer, designed or worked on more than a dozen logos, which I’ll be showing and discussing, many with comments from John, who has graciously agreed to participate. Before we begin that, here is some background in John’s own words:

“I became interested in comics as a form of story-telling combining art and writing (which I’d been doing individually since I was six) when I was 11 years old and living in Aberdeen, Washington. Along with friend Jack Adams … who was responsible for my reading comics … I created characters and wrote and drew comics stories. When I was 13, we produced our first mimeo-printed fanzine. A 64-page opus titled “The Flaming Star Annual,” it featured comics stories of Jack’s character Flaming Star, my character The Karate Kid, and a batch of others. “Time Machine” and “Dime’s Worth” soon followed, leading me to meeting other comic book collectors in the area.

“After giving some thought to becoming a lawyer, I turned instead to comic books as my future career. I got larger exposure for my stuff in the late 1960s and early 1970s through such fanzines as “Voice of Comicdom” “Bum Steer,” and “Assorted Superlatives,” where I appeared alongside Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, George Metzger, Ben Katchor, Mark Wheatley, and Rick Spanier. I also began the process of making myself known to the east-coast comics publishers by sending off proposed stories and artwork to them. My first effort was a two-page “Blue Beetle” story sent to Charlton Comics in 1965. I collected a lot of rejection slips from a lot of companies during the mid-to-late 1960s.

“Locally, I did a lot of advertising work, creating the stuff in comics form whenever I had the opportunity. In 1972, I created two four-page comics features for a California-based magazine publisher. The adventures of “Sindy” and “The Fallen Angels” ran for a couple of years in two of one-time Archie Comics employee Ed Goldstein’s nationally-distributed magazines “Topper” and the embarrassingly-named “Man’s Pleasure.” In addition to the comics, I wrote short prose stories (using different pseudonyms) and found that my writing was appearing beside that of Harlan Ellison and Robert Bloch. I had met local college student and brilliant artist Bob Smith by then, and we worked together on “Fallen Angels,” trading penciling and inking chores.

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Original art © John Workman, from the story “Key Club,” published in Star•Reach #2, April 1975.

“A chance meeting at a Portland, Oregon comics convention with writer/artist Dave Stevens led to my writing and drawing for Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach, beginning with issue two. Because of Mike, I talked by phone with Dick Giordano at Continuity Associates, the company that he and Neal Adams ran, and Dick urged Bob and me to travel to New York and get into comics. We did that in the summer of 1975.

“The jobs that we got at DC (Bob as a freelance inker and me on staff in Jack Adler’s production department) were the result of the wackiness combined with kindness and humanity that I’ve found in just about everyone who is a part of the comic book business.

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This and all following images © DC Comics, Inc.

“The very first thing that I did for DC was the lettering for the cover of an issue of DETECTIVE COMICS from 1975. The cover was drawn by Mike Grell and involved a vampire character fighting Batman. The very first comics story that I lettered was also drawn by Mike Grell and featured the Penguin as the villain in a Batman tale. I felt that my work on both was just south of wretched … but people who had been my heroes for years (among them Joe Orlando, Julius Schwartz, and Carmine Infantino) kept handing me stuff to do.”

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Todd here. As I discovered when I joined John on staff in DC’s Production Department in July of 1977, the job involved doing a little of just about every part of the comics process. For instance, here’s a letter-column header John designed, drew, inked and lettered, and he probably then pasted together the letter column. As you can see from this example, and from his STAR*REACH page above, John came to DC with a solid handle on lettering, probably at least in part from the practice he got doing his own self-published stories. When I started at DC, John was one person whose name I already knew, having enjoyed his art in STAR*REACH, and his lettering on the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers Batman stories in DETECTIVE COMICS. As I’ve often said, John was generous with his time and advice, helping get me started with lettering, and he was lots of fun to work with. In fact, in my memory, it seems like we worked together a lot longer than a few months. But let’s get on to the logos, and I think I’ll discuss them in roughly alphabetical order, since they were all done in a short period of time.

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First is this revamp of the classic Ira Schnapp ACTION COMICS logo. I’ve already discussed it in my Action Comics Logo Study, but thought it worth repeating. Here’s what John recalls:

“I just remember thinking that I had a lot of nerve to be messing with a logo that had served so well for so long. It was either Carmine Infantino, Sol Harrison, or Joe Orlando who gave me basic instructions on what they wanted done.”

While retaining the concept of the original logo, John’s version made all the strokes in ACTION wider, connected the A to the N, put a horizontal serif on the left side of the A, and redid the word COMICS to make it wider and heavier as well. The entire logo has been compressed vertically to give the cover art a little more space. Unfortunately, the word “Superman’s” still takes up a lot of room, and leaves an awkward dead area below it. That was often moved around to different locations to accommodate the art on each cover. One good thing is that the logo was still easily readable and recognizable to previous buyers. This version lasted for many years.

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Next is this character/story logo for Batgirl, which i found in the DC files, helpfully dated, and a matching one for Robin designed at the same time.  John comments:

“I did the Batgirl logo. May be my own inks on her face. Could be Colletta, but I believe it was all me.

“I thought that the Batgirl and Robin logos were used maybe twice, but they were in almost every issue of BATMAN FAMILY starting with issue 7. They were often used in tandem … and really tiny. Attached … from number 12, I think … is the largest-sized use of the Robin logo.

“It isn’t as bad as I remember it being, and it’s possible that I risked the wrath of Vinnie Colletta by taking down the size of the jaw that he added to Robin. It’s still larger than what I’d originally done, though it’s not in Jay Leno territory.

John is referring to an argument he had with then art-director Vince Colletta, who wanted Robin to look more adult, and changed John’s first version. These logos come from a time when anthology comics were more common at DC, and many characters who didn’t have their own book appeared in solo or team-up stories. And those stories each needed a character logo at the beginning. I like the open letters John designed here, particularly the small extensions on the A in Batgirl, creating a lower case shape for the letter that reads fine, but is unique, as far as I know. THE TEEN WONDER lettering in the Robin logo is the only part I don’t like, it’s not as accomplished as the rest, and perhaps should have been done in John’s regular balloon lettering style instead.

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Speaking of anthology titles, DC SUPERSTARS was another one that covered all kinds of subjects, with science-fictional DC heroes being the focus of this one.  John says, “I’m guilty of doing the “Space” logo … and all the other lousy lettering on that cover.” As you can probably tell by now, John doesn’t have a high opinion of much of his DC work, but I like this one, especially the star field in the letters of SPACE, which was probably done with white paint on solid black, then held here in a color by the color separators. The letterforms  are not very consistent (for instance, why is the small center of the P curved on the right side when the outer shape is not?), but the overall look is fine and very readable.

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Next we have this version of DETECTIVE COMICS from 1976, not one of the title’s better designs, and in a period at DC where the trade dress (all the type and logos at the top) were too large, too busy, and poorly thought out. John recalls:

“Carmine Infantino took a liking to doing logos with the character’s head featured prominently as a part of the logo. He wanted to re-do that wonderful 1964 Detective logo, but not in italic form and with a stylized Batman head off to the left.

“I did the logo and refined and inked a rough that Carmine had done of an almost sinister (and slightly goofy-looking) Batman head that fit on the left of the letters. I hoped that maybe they would just dump the Batman head. The head was done away with after running for a couple of issues.”

If we put aside the top banner for a moment and just look at the logo area, the letterforms are fine, but I think not quite as interesting as the 1964 design by Ira Schnapp:

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John has squared off the D and C, and the S in COMICS is odd. But what really throws things off is that giant head, and the overly large box with lots of wasted space in it. Another, much better version appeared a few issues later:

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Here the box has been replaced by an attractive art frame of Batman’s head and cape. The words BATMAN and COMICS now fit much better in the open space, though there’s still a dead area on the left, but this is definitely an improvement, and one I remember liking as a reader. John says:

“Carmine (and maybe Joe Orlando) still wanted some kind of Batman visual in there, so someone (I’m thinking Ernie Chua) did this more intriguing version incorporating “my” logo lettering (with me channeling that great 1964 logo) into something that was much better than the initial version. Of course, it was still pretty hokey and actually fought with the real cover art, creating two pieces of art that caused the reader to have to look at the Batman logo drawing first and then to go to the cover art.

Not to mention there’s ANOTHER Batman figure and DETECTIVE logo in the top banner! Well, as I’ve said, the early to mid 1970s were not a good cover design period at DC.

More Workman logos next time. Other logo studies are listed on my LOGO LINKS page.

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