Logo Study: JUSTICE LEAGUE Part 1

All images © DC Comics, Inc.

My knowledge of the Justice League of America began with this DC house-ad, seen in some other DC comic I had in mid 1960, most likely. (Thanks to Robby Reed of Dial B-For-Blog for the fine reproduction.) I remember the thrill I felt when I saw it and realized what it meant: all the best DC heroes together in one comic. What a great idea! I wouldn’t know until years later that it was actually a recycled idea. DC had pioneered it in the 1940s with The Justice Society of America appearing in ALL-STAR COMICS, beginning with issue 3, using earlier versions of some of the same characters.

Even though comics were available in lots of places then, I lived in a rural area beyond walking distance to any stores that had them, and could only buy comics occasionally, when out with a parent at a drug store or newsstand, and when I could convince them to let me have the money. Hey, ten cents was a lot then! I was so taken with the JLA concept, though, that as soon as I could I subscribed, the first and only time I ever did that for a comic. This great ad designed by DC house-letterer Ira Schnapp helped fuel my fanboy flame, I’m sure. The logo he also designed appears twice, once in a large box, and again on the first issue cover. But it actually appeared first a few months earlier.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD was a tryout anthology title from DC, and the Justice League first appeared in three issues there, beginning with this one, #28, cover dated March, 1960. Ira Schnapp also designed the BRAVE AND BOLD banner and did all the other lettering on this cover, as he did for all DC covers at the time. His logos are known for their classic block letterforms, like the ones in this JLA logo, and also for his stylish script, as seen in the word “presents”, and somewhat in the lower-case “of” in the logo. The use of solid shapes within the words JUSTICE and AMERICA that could be held in a color, like this patriotic red white and blue scheme, gave the logo more color options to help it stand out from the crowd. The inner shapes are somewhat inconsistent, with the horizontal strokes of the S, E and A thinner than the rest, which suggests that may have been an after-thought. Or it may just be a necessity of the design, as Schnapp obviously wanted the letters to be as bold and heavy as possible.

The most interesting part of the design to me is the shield and stars. I think the shield is meant to suggest a policeman’s badge, playing into the idea of a group fighting for Justice, though of course they weren’t exactly a government-sanctioned organization. The stars add to the patriotic theme of America. I really loved this logo as a kid, and remember tracing it, probably ruining a few of those subscription copies that are now long gone anyway.

Schnapp tilted the logo, and that allowed it to fit well into the rest of the trade dress (all the type and stuff at the top). This must have been his plan all along, as the letters in the JLA logo are aligned vertically with the sides of the comic, giving them stability while the upward tilt adds visual interest. The same logo without the tilt wouldn’t have been as interesting, I think. Having the background solid black allowed it to stand out on most covers.

It still works fine on this fairly dark background on the first issue of the regular series, though without the BRAVE AND BOLD banner above, there’s now a triangular open space at the top. This would be filled with lettering on some issues. Here, the logo is just raised up a bit, and the price dropped in there.

On the rare occasion when it was on a black background, as here on issue 3, reversing the black to white worked fine. Various other color schemes evolved, too, for variety. On the whole, though, I think it was a very effective logo.

In 1966 this alternate version (also by Schnapp) started appearing, with the shield dropped, and the letters given black telescoping pointed to the lower left. The letters were now all open, with the inner shapes dropped from JUSTICE and LEAGUE. I don’t like it nearly as much as the original. The letters themselves aren’t all that interesting without the shield, which really gave it a nice visual tie-in to the theme of the book.

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While the original of Schnapp’s first JLA logo is no longer in the DC files, this second one is. Somehow it has survived unscathed for almost 50 years. One thing that jumps out is how wide the J is, and that it’s a little taller than the rest of the letters, a common Schnapp touch. But my favorite thing on this logo is that little OF.

A much worse version of the logo appeared on issue 63. Obviously attempting to save space at the top and avoid having the large Superman figure cover too much of the logo, this one is really awful. Soon after, the original logo returned.

Here the color scheme is an odd one, with the background held in purple, but it still works much better with the shield for me.

In 1969 the company hit on this often-repeated composition, with the cover art in a nearly square box, the logo and trade dress in the clear above, and character heads running down the left side. Reflecting the imminent departure of Ira Schnapp after a long career with the company since its beginnings, the top line and balloons on this cover are by ace freelance letterer Gaspar Saladino, and are a good example of the style and flair he added to the somewhat stodgy design. He also did the cover lettering on the two previous covers above. Schnapp’s logo remained on the cover for many years, though, through the 1970s and early 80s, when I was asked to update it. We’ll begin with that next time.

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

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