All images © DC Comics, Inc.
For some of the logos I’m covering in this study I had to check with John himself to be sure he designed them, but there was never any question with this one. I can’t say why exactly, but the shapes of the letters on the top line, and the way the rough edges are done on the bottom line made it clear to me. John told me he did this one as a place-holder when the cover was being put together, and everyone liked it, so they used it instead of commissioning a freelance logo.
Here it is on the first issue’s fine Michael Wm. Kaluta cover, the initial appearance of Madame Xanadu. There are some things in the logo that I could question: the non-standard choice of which strokes to make wider in the W and A in DOORWAY, for instance, but the energetic roughness of NIGHTMARE makes up for all that. Gaspar Saladino was the master of that approach, and I’m sure John was taking his cue from him, but this one works fine for me.
This first issue and appearance of FIRESTORM has a lot of resonance for me, as it was the first book-length story I lettered (and not very well, in my opinion!). The logo letters FIRESTORM are by John in a clear, easily readable style, and I like the flaming border box. I might have made the loop of the R’s a little less tall to give the right foot on each more space, but it works fine. I thought the tagline, THE NUCLEAR MAN might have been done by Gaspar Saladino, who also did the rest of the cover lettering. It seems more in his style. When I asked John about this, he replied:
“You’re probably right, Todd. And the tag is a lot better and more interesting than the actual logo. I did several things up at DC that I never intended to be used beyond a quickly-put-together ad. This was one of them, in addition to the Doom Patrol and Doorway to Nightmare logos. What possessed the powers-that-were to think that those three were in the ‘real logos’ category (though Doom Patrol wasn’t too bad) is beyond me.”
This LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES spin-off featured John’s oriental letterforms on the early issues, and he has a good story about it, which I’ll let him tell:
“When I became interested in comics at age 11 or so, I created a series of comics characters. One was a guy that I called The Karate Kid. The premise was that Wally Johnson had been born in and grew up in Japan, where his father was a part of the post-war U.S. occupation. When Wally was in his early teens, he met a kindly teacher who knew karate, judo, and other martial arts. The teacher (Tonze Yokaro, if I remember correctly) took Wally under his wing and taught him everything that he knew about martial arts. Wally ultimately outshone his mentor. When his parents moved back to the U.S., Wally kept quiet about his abilities and adopted a secret identity to become The Karate Kid.
“I did several Karate Kid stories (including one that was printed in a fanzine in 1963 or thereabouts), but then I found out about the existence of a character called Judo Joe that had been done by a small comics company back in 1955. The Judo Joe character was so similar to my Karate Kid that I immediately retired KK (as I has started to refer to him). Not too long after that, I picked up a copy of Adventure Comics (which I’d been buying regularly for several years) and saw the DC Karate Kid in The Legion of Super Heroes series.
“It was weird doing the logo, years later, for the DC Karate Kid book. I did the exact same Japanese-influenced logo for that book that I’d done for my character when I was 11 or 12 years old.”
The logo is attractive and easy to read. It’s in a style commonly used for oriental characters or names in the early to middle 20th century, roughly mimicking the look of Japanese and Chinese writing. It’s fallen out of favor now, apparently disliked by Asian Americans, and real Asian fonts have the same kind of creativity and variety in styles as European ones, so I can understand why they’re tired of this one.
Here’s the original of this KOBRA logo that I found in the DC files. Certainly an unusual approach, a bit cartoony for a villain, but the Cobra head is sinister. John says:
“I admit it, Todd … I did ‘Kobra.’ Always thought that it was a ridiculous logo. To make matters worse, I did a lot of the interior art on the book. I think it was mostly Pablo Marcos there, with bits of Kirby. I remember the whole thing existing on matte stat paper with the art of Marcos and Kirby strangely intertwined. I filled in a lot of backgrounds and drew some figure stuff. It was an awful mess.”
As is often the case, I like the logo better than John does, and think it looks pretty good on this cover. The red color helps sell it as menacing, though I would have made the cobra head the same color. I’m not sure why the snaky letters work for me, but they do.
Next is the MUHAMMAD ALI logo on this famous cover, perhaps the most interesting Superman match-up after Spider-Man, and one that DC will be reprinting soon. John reports:
“It’s based on a rough by Sol Harrison … or anyway, he was the guy who gave it to me at the end of the workday to finish at home and bring in the next morning.
“There’s an interesting story about that one … I had long been a fan of Muhammad Ali, going back to his Cassius Clay days. It was great to get the opportunity to do a logo for him. When Sol gave me the logo rough, I felt somewhat uneasy about it. Something wasn’t right. Could Ali’s name have been misspelled? I didn’t know. But my brother Bill … a knowledgeable sports fan … did know. I called him up and found that Sol (or whoever did the initial pencilled rough) had botched the spelling of Muhammad Ali’s name. I corrected that when I did the final logo.
“I took the finished logo in with me the bext morning and gave it to Sol, who promptly gave it to Shelly Eiber in order to get a stat made. Then he took the stat to show to Ali’s people. I’ve often wondered what their reaction would have been if he’d walked in with a logo that had Muhammad Ali’s name misspelled.”
Here’s a closer look at the logo area, on a copy of the book that’s seen better days. The logo is simple enough, block letters that curve the opposite way from SUPERMAN, for contrast, and to fill the space available. An open drop shadow to help it read against the cover art. Nothing remarkable, but it does the job. I recently was asked by DC to do a digital tracing of the MUHAMMAD ALI logo for the upcoming reprint:
I followed John’s design exactly, but was asked to replace the VS., originally done in type, with a hand-lettered version.
When I found this original logo in the DC files, my first impression was that Gaspar Saladino had designed it, but something about the shapes of the word DOOM pointed to John Workman, and sure enough, it’s one of his. John says:
“I’d forgotten about that one. It’s mine. Another ‘temporary’ logo that wound up being used in the final version. The ‘humorous-letters’ look of THE NEW is something that I’d go for now, but it’s strange to see that I did such stuff back then.”
The energetic approach on THE NEW is what suggested Gaspar to me, actually, and he might have done DOOM like this, but it’s more like the NIGHTMARE in DOORWAY TO NIGHTMARE, above. PATROL is so regular that it looks like type, though John assures me it’s hand-lettered. The shape of this logo is not a great one for most covers — too tall, and the three different styles don’t go together that well, but I like the energy of it, and the way it plays up DOOM. I think it’s a fine logo.
Here’s another story/character logo for use on inside pages rather than on covers. This is not the same character now known as Nightwing, but a Kryptonian version of Batman, with his partner Flamebird being the Robin equivalent. The two appeared in backups in Superman titles. I have to say I really love this logo. The angular letterforms with slightly thicker horizontal strokes look great, as do the appropriate framing boxes. I particularly like the triangular points on the inner shapes of the B and R. John notes that the AND is pressed-on type, probably Letraset.
I’ll wrap this study up with a final batch of Workman logos next time. Other chapters and logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.