Logo Study: Action Comics/Superman part 4

Superman Family 164 cover
All images ©DC Comics, Inc.

This time we focus on SUPERMAN again. The classic logo version by Ira Schnapp, based on Joe Shuster’s concept, lasted nearly without competition from 1940 until 1983, with a few exceptions, as in the cover above. Formerly SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN, the book took on the name SUPERMAN FAMILY in 1974 with this new logo by Gaspar Saladino. But in 1976 DC hired a new publisher, Jenette Kahn, who brought a fresh approach to the company, and with it, a wider selection of design sources. Jenette had friends in many areas of the New York art world beyond comics. Andy Warhol was known to visit her at DC, for instance. And one of her first innovations was a revamp of the “DC Bullet,” that symbol of the company at the upper left hand corner of nearly every comic. For this she hired well-known designer Milton Glaser, and his design remained on the cover of every DC project from 1977 until recently, when a new design by Josh Beatman of Brainchild Studios replaced it. The two designs are below.

DC Logos

In 1982, while I was on staff in the DC Production department, rumors went about that Jenette had hired Milton Glaser to design a new Superman logo. There was unease and some grumbling about this, with many staffers not wanting to change the tried and true classic that had served so well for so long. Now, in his articles about Ira Schnapp, on the website Dial B for Blog, writer Robby Reed states that this new design was by Marshall Arisman. I hadn’t heard this before, but in researching the name, discovered that Arisman and Glaser were both New York City designers, both associated with The School of Visual Arts, and no doubt friends, as Arisman later published a long interview with Glaser, and their names are often linked in articles. Even when I went to school at SVA Glaser was known as a delegator, one who hired people to do work for him, then giving it his final polish and tweaks and putting his name on it. I stress that this was only rumor, not first-hand knowledge, but I’ve seen a documentary about Glaser which shows him in that process: standing over the shoulder of a designer doing the actual work, while Glaser makes editorial changes like “move that a little lower,” on a project that will have his name on it. Could Arisman have been given the bulk of the Superman design job by Glaser? I asked Robby Reed, and this is what he had to say: That information was sent to me at the time the article was done. Sorry, I don’t remember who sent it, but I do recall they were trustworthy, or I would not have posted the information.

So, while an intriguing idea, I can’t confirm it, and have to go with what I heard on staff at the time, that it was a product of Milton Glaser’s studio at least. I should add that I can’t find any link attaching the new Superman logo to either Glaser or Arisman online. If anyone reading this has more information, please contact me.

Superman 385-386 covers

The new SUPERMAN logo first appeared on issue 386, August 1983. Above is that cover, with the logo area of 385 for comparison. Let’s talk about the changes.

The most striking and obvious change to me is the increased weight of the letters. In other words, the inside areas of each are wider, and most of them are closer together than in the Schnapp version. I think this is an excellent decision. It makes the logo even easier to read at the same size. The next most obvious change is in the U, with the previously squared-off lower corners becoming rounded in the new version. Less obvious are that the curves of the P and R have also been made more evenly rounded.

The change on the U was the one that caught the most attention at the time, and in a comment to a previous part of this logo study, someone implied that they didn’t like it. I’ve heard many older comics fans express the opinion that it should be changed back. While I understand the argument, I can’t agree with it. In fact, changing the U, P and R to matching rounded forms makes good design sense to me, as it matches the rounded S, leaving only two types of strokes in the entire logo: straight and rounded. Previously the U, P and R didn’t really fit with the rest of the letters that well design-wise.

A few other changes are worth noticing: the angle of the S has been straightened so that it no longer seems to be leaning to the left, as you can see it does by comparison in the Schnapp version. The open areas inside the E have been filled in with solid black, and the shading on the telescoping of the S has been improved. Also, the gradual reduction in size from U to N has been made more even. Finally, though you can’t really see it here, all the corners and edges have been more cleanly defined. In other words, the line weights are all even, and the corners all come to a sharp point.

I have to say, though I always liked the Ira Schnapp version as a fan, I’m an even bigger fan of the revised logo as a designer, and my hat’s off to whoever it was that did the job. I don’t think I can see any way that it might be improved further, and it still, for me, carries through the original concept of Joe Shuster. Grumble if you like, I’m in favor of the revision!

Next I’ll continue with both the Superman and Action Comics logos in the 1980s and later.

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

6 thoughts on “Logo Study: Action Comics/Superman part 4

  1. Tobey Cook

    Todd,

    I personally remember first seeing that logo (over some very striking Gil Kane cover art, I might add) and not really caring that it’s been changed. To me, it seems a lot more fluid from a design perspective, like you said, since the letters have a more similar shape and weight.

    This has been a great series (along with your Legion logo series) so I look forward to the next installment!

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  3. Graeme Burk

    I like the Schnapp logo probably more because of its iconic value than anything– it’s like the Coca Cola logo, one of those things permanently etched into your brain. But I like the 1983 revision too. In many ways, I think it’s closer to the ethos of Joe Shuster’s original design than Schnapp’s!

  4. William Potter

    I was thirteen years old when the logo changed and I liked the Schnapp version of the “U” better then and now. I am pleased by the use of the Schnapp Logo on the cover of the Showcase Presents Superman Family line of trades.

  5. Matt Jeske

    In the great book Art is Work, Milton Glaser shows a DC Comics Logo, but its a rejected one that uses an ellipse instead of a circle, and could be varied from cover to cover. which doesn’t reveal if the actual design was Milton Glaser or Marshall Arisman/Glaser.

  6. Joey Doe

    Have you noticed, in recent years when DC uses the classic Superman logo (on the back covers of “The Superman Chronicles” TPBs, for example), it’s NOT the Ira Schnapp one, but a redrawn one based on the newer logo? Compare Schnapp’s, the newer one, and the redrawn classic, and you’ll see the redrawn one has the repositioned “S” and thicker letters of the newer logo.

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