In 1998 I was enlisted as letterer and designer for a new line of comics to be written by Alan Moore for Jim Lee’s WildStorm Productions, then a part of Image Comics. This line did not yet have a name, and coming up with one, and an appropriate logo and emblem, was one of my first design assignments.
In his original proposal, Alan wrote: “If this ‘line’ of comics needs a name then I suggest something very plain, and old-fashioned, like America’s Best Comics (‘Easy as ABC’) or something like that.”
I discussed this with editor Scott Dunbier, and we both liked the name, but I had noticed in Diamond’s Previews catalog that someone else was selling comics under the ABC name. In a memo to Alan and Scott, I said:
“Alan, you had suggested ABC, but there’s already a small publisher using that, and besides, most people in the U.S. are likely to associate that with the ABC television network. If you want to stay at the front of the alphabet (good idea for marketing) I’d like to suggest APEX.
The symbol above, which depending on how you look at it is either a three-dimensional pyramid or a two-dimensional arrow pointing upward, is my idea for an appropriate symbol. Other names that would also work are ASPIRE, ASCENT, or for something more cryptic, ANOMALY. Double-A names would also work, such as ACTIVE ART, AD ASTRA, or ALL ALAN.”
I was very fond of the symbol, and lobbied for some name for the line where it would work. Unfortunately, my suggestions either didn’t appeal to Alan, or were already taken, something Scott had the task of finding out. I made one more try with this name:
A short, memorable word that began and ended with A, which I thought sounded good. Alas, it also was not available. Scott and Alan made other suggestions, but in the end we came back to the original idea: America’s Best Comics. It had been a comic book title in the 1940s, but was now available, and if we spelled it out rather than abbreviating it as ABC, it would work.
Unfortunately, my pyramid was no longer very appropriate. I made this attempt to work in a B, but didn’t like the result, and couldn’t figure out a way to get the C in there.
Meanwhile, Alex Ross had agreed to provide painted covers for each of our four first issues, and I was discussing the design of the first one, TOM STRONG, with him. I don’t need to tell anyone that Alex is a wonderful painter, but he’s also a fine designer, and when I discussed the problems I was having with the corner emblem, he suggested I try to somehow combine a star (to bring in America) with the letter A. I worked on that idea and came up with this:
I faxed this to Alex to see what he thought. I wasn’t thrilled with it myself, but it was the best one I’d come up with. Alex faxed back the following sketch:
It was so much better than what I’d thought of that I knew right away it was probably where we’d end up. By the way, I’m not sure if the filled-in areas are from Alex, or if I did that while thinking about other versions. I did a digital tracing, and then set up a series of five variations so Alan, Scott and Alex could see what they liked best:
Everyone chose version D, and I agreed, it was the best, hands down, though I used the font from versions A and E, and eliminated the little dividing line meant to make the A more obvious. Not long after this Jim Lee sold WildStorm to DC Comics, an event that shook us all up, and for a while made the line’s continuance uncertain, but it did one good thing for the design: we no longer had to include the Image Comics symbol or name. Here’s my final version of the company emblem:
I thought version B with the box around the company name might be needed where the symbol ran over busy artwork, but I later resolved that issue by either using open letters for the company name, or putting a lighter outline around them, so the boxed version was almost never needed.
My first big design task was a success, but only thanks to Alex Ross, who stepped in to provide the real solution, and it wasn’t even part of his job. A million thanks, Alex! Oh, and someone asked me recently if the symbol was intended to suggest a magical pentagram. I did notice the similarity at the time, but never got around to asking Alex about it. I’m pretty sure it was merely a coincidence, and one that Alan would certainly approve of.