All comics images and logos © DC Comics, Inc.
One of the tasks of a DC Production Department staffer in the 1970s was to put together covers. This meant pasting photostats of the logos and trade dress onto the art, and adding any cover lettering that might be needed. In the case of a tryout book like FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL (similar in contents to SHOWCASE), it often also meant finding or creating the logo. Here John adapted the logo from the original NEW GODS series in 1971:
which was designed by Gaspar Saladino from a layout by Jack Kirby, adding the new topline RETURN OF THE. Not a challenging job creatively, but still taking some skill to make it work in the space available. John put NEW GODS on one line, and made all the letters more condensed horizontally. The impact is weaker than the original, largely because the letters are smaller and thinner, but it works fine. It was used when the series relaunched soon after.
One of the hardest things to pull off in comics is a series with a villain as the main character. DC thought this approach might work better, an entire team of them. The title is a very long one, but John makes it work by putting the emphasis on SUPER VILLAINS, with the rest in a nice arced banner. The letterforms are standard “Workman” block letters, characterized by the curved inside corners of the S’s and inner loops of the P and R. If you noticed those things, you’ve hit on one way to identify John’s logos from the time.
The open letters have a drop shadow on the right side only, which to my eye makes it possible to see the letters as either raised above the enclosing box, or inset into it. The comic lasted fifteen issues, not great, but not bad for a villain book.
Here’s another Workman logo with those identifying small curves on the S and R. I like the triangular background shape, which for me correctly tags it with a science-fictional feel.
DC was experimenting with other genres at the time, trying to widen its audience, and I bought and enjoyed this series when it came out. While there’s nothing terribly new about the logo, it certainly is readable, probably from many yards away, always a good feature in a logo that would need to attract attention on newsstands. And a vague similarity to Star Trek in the name and triangular shape couldn’t hurt.
Another logo from the DC files by John, this one makes good use of extreme two-point perspective and a telescoped drop-shadow. Neither of those elements were common in Workman logos, but John explained it, telling me, “I virtually inked a pencilled logo that Neal Adams had come up with.” So on this logo, Adams and Workman share the credit. The tall letters of HUNTERS still have distinctively Workman letterforms, while STAR, with lower case letters, is a departure. I like the way the T and A meet, and I would have removed the line between them for a more modern, science-fictional look.
Looks very dynamic on the cover, and this is another title I bought and enjoyed when it came out. I gravitated toward any comics with a science fiction or fantasy theme.
About this logo, John says, “I don’t remember if it was entirely my design.” The editor was Al Milgrom, brought into the company in the hopes that he and fellow young editor Larry Hama could attract some readers over from Marvel Comics, and it’s possible Al had a hand in the logo design. I really like these very wide, open, angular letters, and the open telescoping behind them. The lettering of THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN is fine, but doesn’t fill the beveled box well, and it was replaced with type for the printed version.
The other element missing from the original logo I found in the DC files is the “shine” lines, held in blue on this first cover, which really sell the idea that it’s made of metal. John probably did those on an overlay which has been lost in the intervening years. This is a very effective logo, strong and forceful, with a visual tie-in to the word itself and the character. Too bad the comic lasted only a few issues.
In 1972 SWAMP THING debuted with this wonderfully creepy and organic logo by Gaspar Saladino. The book was a surprise hit, and the original run of issues by creators Len Wein and Berni Wrightson have stayed in print ever since. After they left, others took over, with less success. With sales falling, editor Joe Orlando was trying anything he could think of to reenergize the title, and he commissioned a new logo from John:
I think the idea was to give the book a more traditional super-hero look, but all I can say about this logo is that it was a bad idea. John writes: “I do remember reluctantly doing (under Joe Orlando’s guidance) that wretched second logo for Swamp Thing … the one that replaced the original brilliant and perfect one.” For once I have to agree. Not that this logo is so bad, but it’s completely wrong for the character.
If anything, on this cover it suggests a flying saucer is landing on the old swamp monster. John’s logo appeared on the last few issues of this run before it was cancelled.
But I believe John’s involvement with Swamp Thing didn’t end there. In 1977 DC put out a new title, DC SPECIAL SERIES, featuring mostly reprints, and with the second issue began reprinting the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing.
Sporting new Wrightson wraparound covers, and reprinting two issues per book, this series used a new version of the Saladino logo, but one I think John did. Here’s the original from the DC files, which I remember seeing when I was on staff there, but I never knew who had designed it.
I’ve put it on two lines so I can reproduce it larger, the original is quite large, and on one line. Now, the most likely designer candidate would be Gaspar, who did the original, but this doesn’t seem like his work to me. First, he would never have lettered it as large as this one is, and the cross-hatching is also unlike anything I’ve seen Gaspar do. Also, the way the roughly brushed edges of the letters are handled reminds me of Workman. Here’s what John says:
“There’s something familiar about this logo. The closeness of the letters, the outlining of them, the scratchy interiors … combined with an almost out-of-place, unreachable memory of having worked on this suggest that maybe I did it. Certainly the 1977 time makes it possible.
“But there’s just as much evidence that I had nothing to do with this beyond seeing it and maybe working on it in the production department back then. If there’s any white-out on the original, and if it’s still white (while the paper may have yellowed), and if it has more of a paint consistency, then that’s further evidence (along with the large size) that it may have been one of mine.”
When I think of who was on staff that might have produced a logo like this in 1977, there are really only two candidates, John and myself. And I know I didn’t do it, so I think John must have. And it’s fitting that he did, making up for the other Swamp Thing logo he designed.
To wrap up this account, I’ll let John narrate:
“I did just about everything during my days at DC. I got to draw and write and letter. I was surprised when newly-installed publisher Jenette Kahn wanted to have me do coloring. I wasn’t comfortable with coloring, having sworn off most color-related things years earlier in order to really learn how to work in black-and-white. When I found myself doing coloring and getting along pretty well at it when I was later at Heavy Metal, I always thought kindly of Jenette. The lettering was my primary source of extra income at DC, though, and I did a lot of it, including cover lettering and logos.
“Always doing stuff on the side for non-comics publishers, I had been trying to drum up a sale to National Lampoon, but hadn’t had any luck getting through their door (despite Joe Orlando’s help). One day in late 1977, Lampoon called me. Neal Adams had recommended me for the position of Art Director for their new Heavy Metal magazine.
Goodbye Card given to John by the DC staff on his departure for Heavy Metal, art and lettering by Todd Klein from an idea by Bob LeRose. © John Workman. Larger version HERE.
“I was there for seven years, and it was my most enjoyable time spent in the comics business. I was part of a small staff that had none of the ‘creation by committee’ that seemed to be popping up in the offices of regular comics publishers. While those companies were turning inward toward a distribution system that spurned the newsstand in favor of fan-oriented comics shops, we were selling to a mass audience that often saw our monthly as an art magazine. It was my great pleasure to see our sales rise as time went by, and when our ‘Alien’ comics version became the first such publication to be listed on the New York Times Bestseller List, I felt vindicated in my belief in the possibilities of the comics form.
“Nothing lasts forever, though, and I was out the doors of Heavy Metal in 1984. Because I’d been doing a few things on the side for Walt Simonson and Mike Gold, I was able to move into freelance lettering as a full-time job. Len Wein told me to come up to DC and pick up some work, and I lettered for just about every company then in existence. In 1988, Joe Orlando urged me to come back on staff at DC. While I enjoyed my relatively short stay there, there was a feeling on my part that I was unable to really contribute to the company. I returned to freelance lettering in 1989.
“In a new century, I’ve seen the hand-lettering that I still enjoy doing replaced by in-house computer lettering. I’ve done my share of computer lettering, too, always tweaking it in a way that strives to bring humanity and individuality to the fore, but I still savor the chance to do ‘real’ on-the-boards lettering for Walt Simonson, Tommy Lee Edwards, Tim Truman, John Paul Leon, the publishers of ARCHIE and SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and others who prefer it. And I still like to write and draw whenever I get the chance.”
Thanks for helping me out with this logo study, John. I hope to feature other DC logo designers in future studies. Other chapters and more logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.