Logo Study: HOUSE OF MYSTERY Part 2 of 2

All images © DC Comics

In 1985 I was on staff at DC, working as Assistant Production Manager, and also doing quite a bit of freelance lettering and logo design work at home in the evenings. One day I heard a rumor that HOUSE OF MYSTERY was going to be relaunched, which I thought a fine idea, as I’d always liked the anthology title. I believe I did the logo sketch above then, purely on speculation that they might like it enough to use it. The design suffers from being hard to read, but with some tinkering I still think it would eventually have made a good, scary cover logo.

Unfortunately, what DC had in mind was something quite different. TV horror movie host Elvira took over the house and the title for the relaunch, with writers and artists trying to bring her mix of double-entendre humor and campy vampiress look to the host bits of otherwise similar stories to what had appeared in the original version of the comic. For the logo they wanted something more traditional below Elvira’s signature, and I gave them an uninspired block-letter design whose only slightly interesting features were the ragged outer outline and the perspective tilt. Certainly not one of my better efforts. I was not surprised when the book only lasted a short time. I don’t think Elvira’s audience was particularly interested in reading comics, and fans of scary stories probably didn’t like the relaunch any more than I did.

The book stayed out of print for quite a while, but in 1998 this one-shot was published with a framing story by Neil Gaiman and Sergio Aragonés (certainly an unusual pairing!) around some of the best of the original stories published during Joe Orlando’s run. I was asked to do a new topline in a style matching Gaspar Saladino’s logo, and I also did the digital recreation of that logo.

This involved working in Adobe Illustrator over a high-quality scan of Gaspar’s original, I think, or it may have been a scan of one of the early covers using it, I’m not sure. In any case, I got paid to recreate the logo in digital form, capturing all the details that had been lost over years of photostatting, as described in the first part of this logo study. I also moved THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY over, clearing the ovelap that had always bothered me. Time-consuming but fun work.

And that was it for quite a while again, until in 2007 I learned the title was being relaunched by Vertigo/DC under the editorship of Shelly Bond. I found out when I was asked to letter the book, an assignment I quickly accepted, and have been enjoying. But until very recently I didn’t know who had designed the logo for the relaunch. I emailed Shelly, and she told me it was Steven Cook. “He’s my favorite British logo designer,” she told me. I wasn’t familiar with the name, but I learned more here, and soon got in touch with Steve, who has graciously agreed to share with us some terrific logo proposals and versions for the new HOUSE OF MYSTERY. Here they are.

Here’s a smart and fanciful idea using a photograph of an old padlock. I see some problems for it as a cover logo, though. First, the use of a very close-up photo against a more distant-view picture would create some odd contrasts. Also the dark colors could make it hard to read.

This graphic version is more effective. The title pops out better, the use of the key is a nice addition, and with flat colors there’s always a way to make it work against artwork. The shape of the logo would still create design challenges, though, which may be why DC didn’t go with it.

Next we have the key as the design focus, with the M cleverly making use of the key’s teeth. I like this one a lot!

Another variation with the name above the key. The script HOUSE OF makes a good contrast, but the overall design doesn’t work as well for me as the one before. The key seems a bit awkward and pushed too far down in the composition.

This version makes the keyhole the visual element, and the font used is a very unusual mix of Victorian and modern that is like nothing else I’ve seen. Well done! Unfortunately the overall impression I get from it is one of lace, which might not be a good choice for the book. Fussy rather than scary. A bit of an eye peering out of the keyhole might have added the chill.

This theme and variations comes much closer to the final logo used. The T surrounded by circular type ornaments makes its first appearance, and I love that idea. I also love the fact that the T is smaller than the other letters, with the ornaments filling in the difference. Type ornaments are small design elements sometimes added to fonts, sometimes found in a collection of their own. Victorian fonts seem to work particularly well with them, and the font used here for MYSTERY is quite Victorian, though again it might be a bit too fussy, having so many scallops and points. But I suspect DC liked the direction, and Cook now moved on to showing some further variations on actual cover art. I’ll just use the logo area here, though.

Here are two color variants of a logo taking the type ornaments idea much further. These ornaments are the kind often created in the 19th century as pen and ink flourishes on handwritten documents, and make an interesting but perhaps too busy look. They also take up a lot of cover space.

Now we’re getting close! This uses the concept of the T and surrounding ornaments well, with a font that is still ornamented in a Victorian way, but is stronger and less fussy. Cook has also introduced some other graphic tricks, adding bits of rubbed-away and smudged areas in the HOUSE OF.

And here we are at what is nearly the final logo. I can almost hear editor Shelly Bond saying, “Yes! Do more of that!” And Cook did add more of the graphic effects, smudging, dripping, worn away areas, creating a logo that starts with a Victorian font and adds the authenticity of wear and age, while still keeping a sly sense of fun with the ornaments. Well done! But, somewhere along the way he must also have been asked (or volunteered) some more modern looks that are shown below.

This one is transitional, retaining the fanciful Victorian T, but with the rest in very modern sans-serif block letters. Not a bad idea, just not as successful as the one above.

And this one is much more modern, with an interesting scratched-away fade at the bottom.

Okay, let’s have a look at the actual first issue cover:

And extremely effective it is, using the final version of the logo with a subtle soft drop shadow to float it off the cover. And what a great cover it is, too!

I’m very happy to see the venerable DC “scary story” book return, and the relaunch builds on the past while still going in new directions. Each issue follows a group of regular characters working in and trapped in the House, who are joined in the house bar by all sorts of odd and unusual folks. In each issue one of them tells a “scary story” within the story. And what has happened to Cain, who we see on the first two pages of this issue declaring, “Someone stole my house!”? Only time, and writer Matt Sturges will tell. So far it’s been a great ride.

That wraps up this logo study. A companion one for HOUSE OF SECRETS, along with other logo studies is on my LOGO LINKS page.

5 thoughts on “Logo Study: HOUSE OF MYSTERY Part 2 of 2

  1. Ysanne

    Steve Cook designed my record sleeves, and I can totally vouch for how amazing this guy’s designs are. The thing is, he comes up with 5 or 6 top designs for each logo, all of them as good as each other. The only annoying thing about the process is trying to choose which one is best…

  2. Alan McKenzie

    Enjoyable post, Todd … but just want to correct John’s belief that Rian had that much to do with the graphic look of 2000AD – fact is, it was almost all Steve. All during that period from 1988-2001, Steve either did all the graphics or directed the work of others. Even Rian’s fonts were done under Steve’s supervision. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of Rian’s biggest fans, but there does seem to be a myth floating round the internet that promotes a belief that it was more Rian than Steve, when it was actually the other way round …

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