Logo Study: Action Comics/Superman Part 1

Action Comics 1 cover
All images © DC Comics, Inc.

The image above is iconic: the first issue of one of the most popular and longest-running comics of all time, starring the greatest comic book hero of all time in his premiere appearance. It also features what I think is one of the best comics logos from the golden age of comics, or from any age. The style is Art Deco, then the rage worldwide, and especially in New York City, home of such pinnacles of Art Deco design as Rockefeller Center and The Chrysler Building, and still a style associated with the city all these years later. A city where this comic was created and published. In 1928 designer Morris Fuller Benton used geometric forms to craft a font called Broadway, and it was a popular Art Deco style. Here is how the title above would look in Broadway Engraved:

Broadwaysample

Not a perfect match, but you can clearly see the influence.

Let’s see if I can give a more detailed description of what I like about this logo. First, the word ACTION is a gift to any designer: a short, punchy word that begins and ends with great diagonals that help express what the word says. This version throws those diagonals right out to both extreme corners in a way that just says “action” to me. The slant of the word, more severe than italic type, I would guess about 25 degrees, adds to the excitement, giving it motion, as if it’s about to leap to the right, into the story. The letters fit together beautifully giving a staccato of contrasting shapes: A (diagonal), C (half rounded) T and I (vertical, though here diagonal as well), O (fully rounded) and N (here a brilliantly dynamic diagonal like a sideways lightning bolt). The word COMICS provides good contrast, being vertical and more conservative, and the extended horizontal line coming off the A adds an excellent design flourish that helps tie the two words together and make each more readable. The letters are strongly outlined, ideal for a comics logo which has to be easily readable from a distance, with only the S being a little hard to read, which in this case hardly matters.

For a more detailed look at the earliest logos of the publisher now known as DC Comics see THIS article. The word COMICS the art deco style seen here first appeared on issue #11 of MORE FUN COMICS, July 1936. It was redrawn and I think improved for ACTION COMICS. The earlier version is also seen below.

Detective Comics 2 cover

Though to my mind not as effective, I would say the word DETECTIVE was designed by the same person who did both COMICS and ACTION, but I don’t know who that was. It wasn’t Ira Schnapp, the man most often associated with early DC logos. See my later article on that subject HERE.

Action Comics 1 ashcan

Here’s another important early document, the ashcan, or publisher’s proposed cover for the first issue, probably made up to show potential distributors and printers what they had in mind, and also to get the name trademarked. In this version, ACTION is solid, not outlined, like many pulp logos, with COMICS mostly solid, having just small windows for color that suggest three-dimensional facets. The outlined version adds the option of more colors in the logo, which is probably why it was redone that way, to match the Detective Comics and other comics logos of the time. Comics were, after all, full of garish color, the more the better! Looking again at my reference book for pulp covers, “Pulp Culture” by Robinson & Davidson, I see that, while there were some solid pulp logos, the majority of them were also heavily outlined, no doubt for the same reasons.

actionfunnies_1937

Another ashcan from the same period was assembled with this alternate title. This probably came second, as the logo is now outlined just as on the final cover, and the word FUNNIES matches the final version of COMICS in size and style. The elongated S is an odd variation that I’ve seen in other Art Deco lettering, and I don’t think it works well here, just as well it wasn’t used in the final logo. “Funnies” was another common name for comics at the time, referring to the Sunday Funnies, the color comics supplement that came with most newspapers and spawned the comic book market. If this logo had been chosen, we might all be referring to comics as funnies these days. The publisher probably wisely decided to stick with the word COMICS, already being used on their other titles.

Action Comics 99 cover

For it’s first 98 issues, the Action Logo remained the same. With issue 99, it was reduced in size and parked with a slight jaunty tilt at the upper left of the cover. I think this reflects the move from the early poster-like pulp images to ones where a scene is depicted that often required word balloons, titles, and other type. The change weakened the impact of the logo, but it left more selling space, which made sense then.

Next time I’ll talk about the origins of the Superman logo.

More chapters and other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.

4 thoughts on “Logo Study: Action Comics/Superman Part 1

  1. Pingback: Birdchanger

  2. Pingback: Athena Guides : Comics » Archive » Todd Klein “Batman” Logo Study

  3. Hank

    The ashcan for Action #1 is AMAZING. What a great grotesque and what a culture-changing decision to put Superman on it instead! Wow. Thank you for this rare look into the process of birthing a legend.

  4. MackDK

    Todd,
    I just can’t avoid to remind Ira Schnapp, even knowing which probably he doesn’t done this. And I really appreciate you point to “DIAL B FOR BLOG” because at this moment it is the best article I found on internet about Schnapp (despite the “speculations”…)

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