Logo Study: DC Comics Cover Logos 1939-1949 Part 1

All Images © DC Comics. SUPERMAN 1 and 2, 1939.

In a previous blog post, “DC’S EARLIEST LOGOS,” I considered who might have designed the logos from the beginnings of the company in 1935 starting with NEW FUN and continuing through titles like NEW COMICS, MORE FUN, the landmark DETECTIVE COMICS in 1937, ACTION COMICS in 1938 and a revamped ADVENTURE COMICS the same year. This series of articles continues that study for another 11 years, during which time only 50 new titles began. That seems a small number today, but for the first half of the 40s, World War Two kept paper in short supply, and launching new titles was difficult. Growth at the company known in the 1940s as National Comics was slow, and many of the new titles were actually put out by a sister company, All-American Comics, begun in 1939. And before you ask, I’ve decided to run all the logos in grayscale, as I think it allows one to focus better on the design elements.

M.C. Gaines, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, 1940s, source and photographer unknown.

National’s main owner was Harry Donenfeld, with his partner Jack Liebowitz also holding a financial share, and possibly Paul Sampliner, the head of Independent News, their distribution company. All-American was begun by M.C. Gaines, already involved in comics reprinting newspaper strips since 1933, who came to Donenfeld for financial backing. Donenfeld agreed, but only if his partner Jack Liebowitz was made a partner in the new business. All-American set up shop at 225 Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan, a 20 minute ride away from National’s offices at 480 Lexington (maybe less if you took the subway). For the most part, the sister companies employed their own staffers and freelance writers and artists, at least until they physically merged in 1946, though many All-American comics covers included National’s circular “DC” logo, and there were close ties between them, as we’ll see.

Beginning our study in 1939, National’s two huge successes were Superman and Batman. Superman had been the lead feature in the anthology title ACTION COMICS since his debut in 1938, and in 1939, National issued a new title, SUPERMAN, filled with stories about that character. The co-creator and original artist of Superman was Joe Shuster. Joe was doing much of the art, and all the covers for Superman’s appearances, and the first image above shows his logos for issues 1 and 2 of the new SUPERMAN title. Generally in magazine production, a logo is designed for the first issue of a new publication, and then photographic prints or photostats are made to use on later issues, but Joe Shuster was redrawing his Superman logo nearly every time. The logo he drew for issue 2 was used again on issue 3.


For issue’s 4 and 5, this new version was used. Shuster had a clear idea of what the logo should look like, but his versions are uneven and inconsistent. National must have thought a more professional look was needed, and they asked Ira Schnapp to redesign the logo based on Shuster’s ideas.


The superb result first appeared on issue 6, cover-dated Sept.-Oct. 1940. A long-time graphic design pro, Schnapp’s knowledge of perspective, lighting and classic letterforms made this one of the best and most memorable comic book logos of all time, and a rare example of a logo that remained unchanged for over 40 years. While it follows Shuster’s design most closely from the cover of SUPERMAN #1, it picks up a few ideas from other Shuster logos like the curve inside the U from issue 4 and the shading on the telescoping of the S from issue 2. Above all, it brings all Shuster’s ideas together in a consistent way with complex three-point perspective and beautifully-formed letters that really stands out as a worthy logo for the character. I’ve written several articles about Ira Schnapp’s work for DC, which can be found under the COMICS CREATION and LOGO LINKS headers at the top of the page, with more to come. SUPERMAN is the first logo he designed for the company, and there’s more about that in THIS article.


National’s other big seller was Batman, appearing as the lead feature in DETECTIVE COMICS, and in 1940 the company similarly launched BATMAN, filled with stories about him. For many logos of comics’ first few decades we have no information about who designed them, and can only guess and speculate, but for this one I know for certain it was designed by Jerry Robinson, then an assistant to Batman creator Bob Kane, because he told me himself! I’ve written about that HERE.  The combination of large Art Deco letters and a stylized bat shape with Batman’s head was another brilliant comics logo design that was used for decades…


…though there were small changes and variations for a while until it settled into this format a few issues later. All were the work of Jerry Robinson, an artist with a long career in and out of comics. He also designed the original Robin logo that first appeared on the cover of DETECTIVE COMICS #38.


For the rest of the logos in this study, I’ll be relying largely on guesswork and looking for similarities of style. The other new title from National in 1939 was this comic produced to promote the company’s characters at the Fair in the title. The style is Art Deco, still very popular since it’s beginnings and rise in the mid 1920s. One quirk is the slanted top of the K at upper right, not a typical form. The use of both slanted letters and vertical ones seems a bit awkward, but then the word COMICS was usually handled differently on the company’s covers, so it’s not unexpected. The shape of the S in WORLD’S is one that occurs often in comics, but not so often elsewhere. This logo is such an integral part of the cover, I suspect it may have been designed by cover artist and National editor Vin Sullivan, who I also suspect designed other early National logos, but that’s just a guess.


The new company All-American Comics began with two titles, this one having the same name. The word COMICS is again very Art Deco, and similar to the logo above it, except for the shapes of the M and S. This might mean the same person designed both, but not necessarily, as the Art Deco style was known and used by many. ALL-AMERICAN is slanted and thinner, but the entire design in a stylized shield is attractive, with two small stars for added interest, and a bit of American patriotism. It seems unlikely Vin Sullivan would have been involved in designing it. The cover artist is Sheldon Mayer, a fine cartoonist involved in comics from the beginning, and also the editor-in-chief for All-American. It’s possible he was involved in the design, but it’s not typical of his work.


With issue 16, cover dated July 1940, a new logo began, and one with a very interesting element. The word COMICS is from…


…National’s ACTION COMICS! Here’s proof that there was definitely some design cooperation between the two sister companies. And it makes sense to let this style of COMICS create a brand for the books of both, just as the much smaller DC symbol did. The large A in ALL-AMERICAN has some similarities to the A in ACTION too, perhaps not an accident. Even the extended right arm of the N echoes the one in ACTION. While not as well designed, this ALL-AMERICAN logo seems to be telling readers of ACTION they’ll find more good reading within. I have no guesses about the designer.


The other debut title for All-American was the short-lived MOVIE COMICS. COMICS once again is Art Deco, reminiscent of the one in ACTION, but with a number of differences. MOVIE has a glow and tiny marquee lights, but in general is not as well designed. The horizontal strips with sprockets representing movie film are a nice touch. No designer guess.


Also beginning in 1939 from All-American was MUTT & JEFF, which already had a long and popular run as a comic strip in newspapers, and even a few book collections. I think the logo is based on one used in the newspaper strip, though I haven’t found a contemporary example. At any rate, Alex Jay has provided information suggesting the strip’s creator, Bud Fisher, was no longer doing any of the art for Mutt and Jeff at this time, and the comic book logos are most likely by Al Smith, one of Fisher’s assistants/ghost artists who took over the strip and also did the covers for the comics.


Logos on the series continued to vary greatly, probably drawn on the cover art, until settling into this repeated logo with issue 24 in 1946.


In 1940 All-American started ALL-STAR COMICS. Even though the contents included costumed heroes like The Flash, The Sandman, The Spectre and more, the logo takes a cartoony approach, especially on the word STAR. Even the decorative stars in it are loose and casual. ALL is more straightforward, and COMICS is a very handsome open script. I do have a guess for the designer, I think it’s Sheldon Mayer. Compare it to this logo:


SCRIBBLY was Mayer’s creation, writing and art, and the character got his own title in 1948 with a logo I feel sure was designed by Mayer along with the rest of the cover. The S is very similar to the one in STAR above, and both logos have a loose, friendly feel that I associate with Mayer’s work. Just a guess, but I’m sticking with it! ALL-STAR COMICS became the home of the Justice Society of America with issue 3, and all the covers featured a team of the company’s most popular heroes (and heroines), but kept the informal logo.


Also in 1940, All-American introduced FLASH COMICS, and the word COMICS is very similar to the one in ALL-STAR COMICS, and clearly by the same person, I would say. FLASH, on the other hand, is very blocky, and while it does use slanted letters and speed lines to suggest the character’s swift movement, I don’t find the letters very appealing. Could this also be designed by Mayer? Maybe so, and revealing Mayer’s lack of skill with square block letters.


With issue 8 later in 1940, a new logo added a COMICS similar to ACTION, but redrawn with a wider space in the O, and a version of FLASH without speed lines, but angled further and with a rather crude lightning bolt running behind. Like the revamp of ALL-AMERICAN, horizontal bars echo the logo and trade dress of National’s super-hero comics, and this seems another attempt to give the hero comics of both companies a similar look. I have no guess for the designer.


A second large issue of NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR COMICS came out from National in 1940, and while there are many similarities to the first issue, this one’s letters look better designed to me, except for the crowding of COMICS. The S in WORLD’S is particularly graceful. It could be the work of Ira Schnapp, though I’m not convinced it is.


Combining Superman and Batman on the same cover seemed popular with readers, even if they didn’t appear in the same stories inside, and National decided to continue the idea in a new title in 1941. The logo is very similar to the one above, but there are some improvements: a heavier outline to help it read better, a more classic apostrophe, and better spacing between the letters. Also the S in Comics now matches the other two. In all, this fine logo looks to me like the work of Ira Schnapp, and it seems reasonable that National would give him more logo design work after his stellar performance on SUPERMAN.


With issue 2 the title became WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, and oddly, the logo took a step back in design quality. Here the letters are thinner, and the inner shapes are not as consistent, especially in the S in COMICS. I think someone other than Schnapp did it by largely adding more thickness inside his letters from the previous logo, which does not work at all well.


Whoever did it, that first WORLD’S FINEST logo remained on the book until replaced by this new Ira Schnapp version first seen on issue 96 cover-dated Sept-Oct 1958, original logo from the DC files. Maybe all three are by Schnapp, certainly the last one is.

We’ll continue next time with more new titles from 1941. Other articles you might enjoy can be found on the LOGO LINKS page of my website.

3 thoughts on “Logo Study: DC Comics Cover Logos 1939-1949 Part 1

  1. Alex Jay

    When Bud Fisher gained copyright control of Mutt and Jeff, he made an enormous amount of money which he spent on race horses and alimony. Fisher’s wealth allowed him to employ assistants and ghost artists, including George Herriman. Al Smith took over the strip in 1932. It’s very doubtful Fisher had any involvement with the comic book even though his name appears on the cover. The comic book was another licensing opportunity. Most likely, the Mutt and Jeff comic book logos were the work of Smith.

  2. Devlin Thompson

    I tried to make the same point as Mr. Jay yesterday, but WordPress blockede for some reason (maybe it doesn’t like iOS?). The only thing I’d said that isn’t covered admirably above was that I noted that after Fisher’s death, ownership of the strip passed to his estranged wife (they only lived together for a month, in 1925!), the Countess Aedita De Beaumont, whose copyright appears in the Harvey issues. It looks like the DC-to-Harvey transition occurred before Fisher’s death, so I don’t think that’s connected. When she died, ownership went to her son Edgar (from a previous marriage), who was also the founder of Brookstone, of all things!

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