Logo Study: CAPTAIN AMERICA Part 1

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All images © Marvel Characters, Inc. except as noted.

Captain America was created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as a reaction to World War Two: Steve Rogers undergoes an Army experimental treatment and becomes a super-soldier sent off to battle Hitler, with his boy sidekick Bucky Barnes. Simon and Kirby were only on the very popular comic they created for the first ten issues before disputes with Timely publisher Martin Goodman sent them elsewhere, but the character has become the most enduring patriotic hero in comics. Most of the logos designed in the early years of comics have no real provenance, only guesses as to their designers, but this one is different. Joe Simon is still with us, and he has claimed creative credit for the original Cap logos. At least, that’s what I recall reading in an interview with him that I can’t track down. I checked with Mark Evanier, and he concurs, so I’m happy to give Mr. Simon credit for this and the next logo. The partnership of Simon and Kirby is somewhat mysterious, in that both could draw, and the division of labor between them was fluid depending on need, but with Captain America Simon says he came up with the original idea, though Kirby’s impact as penciller and perhaps co-designer of the characters should not be overlooked. Simon may have helped with the inks and lettering, and he seems to have been, at least in the early days, the guy who put the package together, so creating logos would fall into that area. Whether he turned in a finished cover with all the elements on it I’m not sure, but he may have.

Let’s look at this first Cap logo. The letterforms are very square and blocky with only slightly rounded corners on the C, P and R. The other thing that stands out to me is the slight angles on the ends of the horizontal strokes of the C’s and E. It’s a natural fit with the A’s to the right of each C, and a form I came to myself in similar situations, but it might be unique for the time, can’t remember seeing any other early logo with that feature. Below the letters a wide black drop-shadow adds a three-dimensional pop off the flag-like banner behind, and two groups of three stars over each A reinforce the flag-imagery. This is a very effective logo, heroic and patriotic without overdoing it. The balance between the smaller CAPTAIN and larger AMERICA also works well. The small, thin word COMICS looks like an afterthought, just in case buyers might not know what the book was, but it fits fine in the banner.

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© Conde Nast Publications.

As for the block-letter style, it’s one that was out there at the time, such as this similar approach on a 1935 pulp magazine, one of many logos in the hand-lettered “show-card” styles then popular. You can find similar heavy block letters and drop-shadows on other comics from the period, like WHIZ COMICS, the first home of Captain Marvel:

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© DC Comics, Inc.

This first logo got the book and the character off to a great start, and it sold very well, reportedly. But it was only used on that one issue of the original CAPTAIN AMERICA series.

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Beginning with the second issue, this second Simon logo became the regular one. It’s also strong and readable, but I don’t like it quite as much as the first one. The letterforms are similar, but taller, with more rounded corners on the C, P and R. The C and E still have those slight angles, but the letters are a bit further from each other to make room for a telescoped drop-shadow rendered with open sides and black bases similar to the Superman logo (by Joe Shuster below), though without the arc, and in the other direction. Even the curves of the R and P have the kind of shading lines seen on the S of Superman’s logo. I’m not suggesting Simon was trying to copy the Superman logo, telescoping letters were another style around at the time that both creators liked and used, but Simon may have been unconsciously influenced.

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© DC Comics, Inc.

The solid color box was often used on comics of the time, partly to make the logo stand out, partly I think to require less art from the cover artist. Nearly all the remaining 70 plus issues of this title had this same layout. Note the word COMICS has come over unchanged from the first cover, but now straddles the box border.

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By issue 18 the drop shadow had become solid black and a bit shorter, leaving gaps between some letters, and the word COMICS reduced even further into its own thin banner. Most of the golden-age Cap covers kept this same color scheme in the logo, too, though sometimes the open letters were white instead of yellow. The book was a big success throughout the war years, and as often happens, the publisher wanted to keep giving the readers what they’d liked before. And readers kept coming back, but a few years after the war had ended, wartime heroes and topics began to fall from favor, and Cap with them.

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In a move that seems like desperation, Timely tried to revamp the title as a horror book, with this very odd result in 1949, following the trend of EC Comics and others that were then the rage with young readers. There are so many things wrong with this mish-mash I won’t even try to analyze it, but I do wonder if anyone at the publisher of the pulp magazine “Weird Tales” ever saw it.

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The next issue, which was also the final one in this sequence before cancellation, is at least more honest about what the publisher is selling. I can’t help wondering if the “Thing in the Chest” is the dead body of Cap himself…! The only thing I kind of like about the logo is the script version of CAPTAIN AMERICA’S, which is nicely done. Doesn’t go with the rest, though, which is a straight EC Comics imitation.

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In 1954, Timely, now calling itself Atlas, tried to resurrect Cap and Bucky as Communist fighters. Apparently this didn’t sell, as it lasted only a few issues. The Simon logo #2 was back, with the drop shadow opened up for color. Looks pretty good, though putting it behind Cap’s shield on this one would have worked better, but perhaps the publisher was afraid readers might not be able to decipher the name that way.

That was Captain America’s last gasp for a few years, but he would be reborn and returned to greatness in the 1960’s when Atlas became Marvel. We’ll continue there next time.

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

One thought on “Logo Study: CAPTAIN AMERICA Part 1

  1. Jeremy Mace

    Thanks for the informative look on the genesis of this American icon. I think it is interesting to look at other propaganda posters that came out around this time and compare them with the comics. Their typography is very similar. I also think that some of the communist propaganda posters use a similar san-serif block font like Cap’s. There must be something solid and patriotic about that style of type. I can’t wait for the next installment.

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