In 1951 DC Comics launched their first horror title, no doubt to compete with those of EC Comics and other companies that were very popular at the time. I haven’t read any of the early issues, but I doubt the stories went as far, or were as horrific as some of the EC ones, but they were definitely in the category of “scary stories,” making use of ideas from folklore, horror films and novels like werewolves, witches and ghosts.
All DC logos at the time were designed by staffer Ira Schnapp, and this is one of his. Schnapp’s strong suits were well-crafted block letters and script, and he rarely strayed far from those areas. In fact, I can’t think of a Schnapp logo that one could call scary, and this one certainly isn’t. The style of the M is unusual for him, with the pointed upper stroke ends. I wonder if he might have been influenced by the logo for MAD, also an EC publication, with a similar shaped M at the time. The R is also unusual, and in fact I’d call it very atypical for Schnapp, who usually crafted more pleasing shapes than this one. Can’t think why he didn’t make the lower right stroke a straight angle to match the similar ones on the M and Y. The angles of the Y add some interest, but using the more common Y with a vertical lower stem would have fit this logo layout better, allowing the M and S to come closer together, and eliminating some of the gap between the bottom of the Y and the S. Perhaps Schnapp had an off day. The logo is still strong, clear and easy to read, with the deep drop-shadow off to the lower left helping to pop the letters out from the cover art. I always found Schnapp’s logos appealing when I was a kid, and probably would have picked up this comic if I was of reading age when it came out. (In fact, I’d just been born.)
When the Comics Code was set up, the content of horror books had to be considerably softened for them to survive. HOUSE OF MYSTERY probably didn’t need huge adjustments, but did direct more of their stories to science fictional ideas and safer visuals. Kids probably found them too tame after a while, and gravitated toward super-heroes, which may explain why in 1966 DC tried one in this title, “Dial H for Hero.” Schnapp’s logo had survived unchanged until then, and is still on this cover small, leaving room for the new feature. By the way, none of the other lettering on this cover, including the Dial H logo, look like Schnapp to me, which is unusual for a 1966 cover, nor does it look like it was lettered by Gaspar Saladino, the next most likely choice.
In 1968 new editor Joe Orlando, formerly one of the EC artists, was given the title with the hope that he could revitalize it. Joe did just that, returning to the original idea of scary stories, and challenging the Comics Code to allow more interesting content, which they did to some extent, relaxing restrictions. Joe also introduced a new story host, much like those from the EC horror books: Cain. As of issue 175 Cain introduced all the stories as the resident of the House, and occasionally made some appearances in them as well, along with his brother Abel, host of the companion book HOUSE OF SECRETS. Joe did a great job enlisting top writing and art talent for the anthology, and several of his stories won awards.
Joe also commissioned the fine new logo from Ira Schnapp’s successor in that area at DC, Gaspar Saladino, and here’s his original logo from the DC files. Gaspar was the perfect choice, as his work has lots of energy and artistic flair. He had no problem coming up with a logo that captured the scary feel of the art, without being imitative of EC or other similar books. THE HOUSE OF is solid and organic, with the feel of rough brush strokes, and MYSTERY follows the same idea with very broad open strokes ending in ragged brushed ends. A thin outline around them provides space for a contrasting color, always a good thing in a cover logo. The only thing I don’t really like about it is where the M covers part of the H in THE, but that’s a minor point. The top line: DO YOU DARE ENTER was not officially part of the title, but the spooky lettering remained over the logo for quite a while. Incidentally, someone at DC has trimmed the logo paper very close to it, cutting off small bits of the lettering on the M. Original logos in the files were usually marked “DO NOT USE, MAKE COPIES!” or something like that to avoid damaging them like this.
For a while, beginning with issue 182, the Gaspar logo became part of a nearly rectangular giant word balloon spoken by host Cain, an interesting idea only spoiled slightly by the 15¢. Putting Cain on each cover probably helped sales a bit by providing a continuing character readers could identify, even though the rest of the art was always something different. Joe was obviously using the knowledge he brought from the EC horror books, which did the same thing.
With issue 189 in 1970, the trade dress changed again, now putting the DC into a spooky bat shape, possibly an attempt to tie the book in with Batman, a spooky super-hero. Below that the House if Mystery itself is now the visual attraction, with what I think is Cain standing in front of it. This must be the first time a house had ever been a cover symbol! The rounded rectangular frame remains, though no longer as a word balloon, and the outer shape around the word MYSTERY has been filled in black to add even more weight to the word. I can see why they did that, but it does lose some of the interesting shapes of the original Saladino logo. But with great cover art by Neal Adams, who was really looking much at the logo anyway? Joe Orlando really did line up some great young artists, including Berni Wrightson and Michael Kaluta.
The House of Mystery trade dress went through various incarnations through the 1970s, including this one on issue 228 from 1974, though the logo remained essentially unchanged.
By issue 293 in 1981 it had shrunk some, and the top line was different and smaller. THE HOUSE OF was now outlined to allow a color in the letters. Harder to see is the loss of detail in the logo over time. In an era before computers, logos were copied by photostat cameras, but the production staffers putting covers together rarely bothered to go back to the original logo, they’d usually just copy one from another recent cover. Eventually this led to loss of line quality and detail. Another thing to note on this cover is the appearance of a new continuing character, “I…Vampire,” who soon became popular enough to take over a lead spot in every issue.
By issue 310, in 1982, he had his own cover logo. This was a logo I had designed for one of his early inside story appearances, and it looks a bit clunky on the cover. I was going for a gothic look on the word Vampire, but it’s not very authentic or convincing. Wish I’d done some research and created a better logo, but there it is, for good or ill. Despite the vampire series, House of Mystery’s long run was coming to an end. Sales were dwindling, and then-editor Karen Berger was forced to wrap it up. At least she gave it a good sendoff.
On the final issue Karen commissioned this evocative Michael Kaluta cover, and host Cain gets to speak the logo one last time, with a terrific spooky border and new top line by Gaspar Saladino. Fans of scary stuff everywhere were just as sad.
A few years later, Cain and Abel found places in a new book edited by Karen, Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, where they continued to appear regularly, along with their fabled houses. And HOUSE OF MYSTERY, the comic, was not done yet, either. More about that in the second and concluding part of this logo study.
More chapters and other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.