KEZ WILSON’S DC LOGOS Part 1

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Keith S. “Kez” Wilson worked on staff at DC Comics from about 1988 to 1991 (we’re both a bit hazy on the exact dates) and during that time, plus as a freelancer in the following few years, designed about 20 logos for the company. Continuing the series I began with John Workman’s DC Logos, I thought I’d discuss Kez’s logos this time. Above is Kez at ComicCon International in San Diego in 2009, where we met for the first time in about 20 years. Kez is holding the proposed cover for a new comics series he’s currently planning on publishing, more about that later. Let’s begin with some background information in Kez’s own words.

I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. My dad was in the service and we lived on the army base there. We left when I was about 6 months old to return to where my parents had grown up; Dallas, Texas. We lived in San Antonio for a while, and then from third grade on we lived in Austin. So if anyone asks what my hometown is, it’s Austin.

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Image © DC Comics, Inc.

When we’d travel my brother and I would get to buy comic books. I have fond memories of reading an 80 Page Giant JIMMY OLSEN No. 104 with the Giant Turtle Man on the cover. Another favorite was the SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL No.6 (reprinting No. 2) with the Sinister Six. It had those wonderful full-page splash pages by Steve Ditko.

I was constantly drawing. We had a neighbor who was a distribution manager for Proctor & Gamble and he’d give us out-of-date order form pads that we’d draw on the blank side of. We pretty much had an endless supply of paper to scribble on. I drew a lot of Spider-Man pictures when I was younger, primarily because I didn’t have to deal with drawing his face.

For art training, I went to the Waco, Texas campus of what is now known as Texas State Technical College. I got an associates degree in Commercial Art and Advertising. Back in 1976, TSTC had one of the best hands-on courses on commercial art going. This of course was way before computers took over the world, and they taught a lot of practical things like paste-up, how to spec type, and to know something about the various kinds of printing processes.

For a while I was a partner in a design group with some schoolmates from TSTC in Houston, Texas in the late 70s. I had my sights set on breaking into comics, and was involved in local fandom. At one point I illustrated and produced a couple of comic books for the Houston area Girl Scouts featuring a character named Magic Millie. I got to go to World Color Press to press check the book. I remember wreaking some havoc when I made them reprint the cover, as they had not flattened the film when making the printing plate, creating a large black blot in the upper left hand corner of the cover. Later I found myself helping to produce a fanzine called THE COMIC INFORMER, which helped me begin making contacts within the comics industry.

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© Comico and Bill Willingham, Kez Wilson’s final issue as inker, cover dated June 1988.

Eventually I landed a freelance inking job at the original Comico, first on ROBOTECH, then on Bill Willlingham’s ELEMENTALS. The final puzzle piece fell into place when I was convinced by JayJay Jackson that I should move to New York City. That’s when I met Richard Bruning, who was aware of my design work on THE COMIC INFORMER and other related projects. We hit it off, and soon I was offered a staff position at DC.

I started as Assistant Art Director, and then added Cover Editor to my job description. It was my job to coordinate the production of the covers for DC’s books. I’d approve, create or assign cover sketches, and then follow the covers all the way through production. I also made many trips to Canada to press-check books.

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This and all following images © DC Comics, Inc., 1990 cover with Kez corner box.

Part of the cover duties was to art direct new logos. I designed a few logos before becoming Cover Editor, and while I was cover editor I implemented a new corner graphic that featured small character illos, which were fun for a while. I was (and still am) very nostalgic for the old silver age Marvel corner box days, so they heavily influenced my design decisions at that time.

Thanks, Kez! I left the DC staff in 1987, so I believe our staff time did not coincide, but I worked with Kez often on the freelance logos I did for the company when he was there, and found him always helpful and encouraging. Now, let’s begin looking at Kez’s logo work with the BATMAN logo shown above, which first appeared in 1988 here:

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This was the first of several mini-series inserted into the main run of BATMAN, each of which had a distinctive logo design. Kez used several commercial fonts in it, including Belwe Bold for BATMAN, then hand-drew a splattery BEAST, providing nice contrast in styles that works well. This sort of square logo treatment is not a great fit for a comics cover, but if planned for properly can be a good change of pace, and Kez, with artist Mike Zeck, did a fine job here. I believe this was the first time Batman’s logo was created from commercial type, though Kez added artful design by making the first and last letters larger and overlapping them. It must have gone over well, as this version of the BATMAN logo, in slightly different variations, lasted for some years.

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The second mini-series within BATMAN was this one, a few issues later in 1988, and it was a huge hit. Here, BATMAN is italicized, with only the B larger, and now is in outline form with a small, subtle black drop-shadow. Behind it is a new bat shape designed by Kez that adds a lot of interest. It’s even more slanted and angled down to the lower right, with space for the creator credits. Good thing, as the rest of this type-heavy design is rather dull, with Mike Mignola’s static head shot of Batman conveying emotion but no movement.

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With issue 430 in 1989, Kez’s revised logo began appearing either alone or with other bat shapes and mini-series treatments, lasting until issue 499 in 1993, a good long run. I think the success of this type-based logo helped pave the way for that direction on many other DC logos in the coming decades.

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In 1989 Kez redesigned the DETECTIVE COMICS logo, using an inventive bat shape for the V. Both Kez and I really liked this logo, and think it unfortunate it didn’t stay on the book longer.

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Here’s a photocopy of the original from the DC files. DETECTIVE’s other letterforms are upper and lower case with a very tall “x-height” (the height of the lower case letters) that reads well and is quite stylish. A black drop-shadow adds some depth and helps separate the logo from the cover art. COMICS is spread out letters from the commercial font Serpentine Bold, more often seen on science fiction titles, but it works fine here, since the thicker vertical strokes match what Kez did on the letters above. The shape of this logo helps it fit well with most cover art, and the V gives an otherwise sedate approach some flair. Well done.

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In 1990 a revised logo began, incorporating elements from Kez’s BATMAN logo of 1988: the Belwe Bold BATMAN and the bat shape. DETECTIVE was redone in slanted form.

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Here’s the original. I like the way all the words are slanted and the bat shape even moreso, but this is not as clear and effective a design as the previous version, and also takes up a lot more cover space. At least parts of the bat shape could be covered without losing much impact, so that helped some. Not a bad logo, really, just too many words in too many styles to succeed completely in my eyes.

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Some covers dropped the bat shape, as on this one where it would have become confused with Batman’s cape in the art.

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The earlier logo appeared one final time in 1991 before giving way to a new design by someone else.

Next time we’ll continue with more Kez Wilson logos. Other logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.

One thought on “KEZ WILSON’S DC LOGOS Part 1

  1. Kez Wilson

    Wow, Todd, thanks for making me the subject of one of your logo studies. It’s quite the honor.

    The Detective Logo was always one of my favorites. And I agree that it got a bit cluttered when combined with “BATMAN in” which was done to brand it a Batman title, something that was becoming quite important right around that time.

    Kez

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