Logo Study: JUSTICE LEAGUE Part 2

JLA 221 cover
Images © DC Comics

By the end of 1983 the Justice League of America had been coming out monthly for 24 years, and well over 200 issues. While still fairly popular for a DC title, it had been eclipsed by newer team books featuring The New Teen Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes. It was running out of steam, and new editor Alan Gold decided to shake things up by bringing in new, young heroes to replace some of the usual roster. He also thought a redesign of the long-running Ira Schnapp logo, above, was in order, and I was enlisted to do that. Everyone loved the old logo, we just wanted to spruce it up a little, and that’s what I attempted to do.

JLA logo Klein

Most of the logos I hand lettered for DC and other companies remain with them, in a file drawer somewhere, but I did get a few back, and this is one. My working method at the time was to sketch out designs in pencil, then ink them with black markers. The marker sketches would be shown at DC for approval, and when a sketch was approved, I’d ink the final on Denril plastic vellum placed over the marker sketch. This was my “paper” of choice because it took very clean ink lines from my Castell TG-1 technical pens, and where ink needed to be removed, as on the sharp points at corners, it was easy to do that by scraping it off with an exacto knife. The Denril vellum was also very stable, unchanging in size and the way it took ink despite the air humidity level, unlike regular art paper. And also unlike art paper, this logo is as white today as the day I inked it 25 years ago. There was one drawback, though. Any oil from my fingers, hands or arms would sit on the surface and create ink-repelling areas, so I had to touch it carefully only by the edges, and shield my hand from it with a piece of white paper.

Stylistically, I made the first letter of each main word larger, and gave them small pointed serifs. Points are usually a plus in comics logos. The rest of the letters were my own version of block letters, following the Schnapp layout. Mine add downstrokes on the S, G and C with angled ends, and all the corners are sharply pointed. The letters are also more slanted than Schnapp’s, so that when the logo was used in the usual angled way, the letters would appear slightly italic, leaning to the right. My “of” was larger, open, and more angular. And I added a double border around the outside of the shield to help it stand out from the cover art. (A similar feature had already been added to the Schnapp logo, as seen above.)

JLA logo Klein color

It’s hard to be sure now, but the relatively thin outlines of the letters suggest to me that I thought the background would usually be filled in with black, as above, or with a dark color. Alternately, the background could be white and the letters made solid colors. I don’t have any evidence of showing that to the folks at DC, though, this is something I just did now.

The logo was okayed and paid for…the “AG” initials on the final are those of editor Alan Gold. But before it saw print, I was asked to do a heavier version of the letters so they could remain as outlines. I also have the original of that version:

JLA logo Klein

Now the letters have much more weight and impact. Unfortunately, the spaces between the horizontal strokes of each E are now very thin, and would tend to disappear sometimes in print. I wish now I’d fixed that. The openings in the S and A are also too small. But, this was what they wanted, and it was combined with the previous shield and stars and “of” for the final printed version, which first appeared on issue 231:

JLA 231 cover

On the whole I think it worked pretty well, though I would have preferred it with solid areas instead of all open like this. Using all outlines did have the advantage of offering more color options, which is probably why they chose it. This version stayed on the book for a few years until nearly the end of the run.

JLA 258 cover

That end came early in 1987. The new young characters had not caught on with readers, and sales were in a downward slide. For a few issues the alternate Ira Schnapp logo reappeared, now with an open drop shadow…

JLA 261 cover

…and the final issue had this giant logo as part of the cover art. There had been a tradition of giant logos like this being used occasionally for dramatic effect at DC, but I think this is the largest one ever.

Justice League 1 cover

The end of an era, but of course, a relaunch was already in the works. Writers Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis brought a whole new approach to the idea of the Justice League, aided by fine realistic art by Kevin Maguire and Terry Austin. It mixed humor, soap opera relationships, and heroics in a way that was a big hit with fans, and revitalized the concept.

The logo was very different as well, and in researching this article, I asked a lot of my logo mavens who might have designed it. I finally got an answer from fellow logo designer Alex Jay. He worked on several Justice League logos following this one, and in that process had been sent a copy of the logo by Richard Bruning of DC:

Justice League logo Hannigan/Klein

As you can see, at the bottom it’s credited to “HANNIGAN/KLEIN, 11/86”. Man, was my face red! I had no memory of working on this at all, but checking my records, I was indeed paid for a “redesign” of the Justice League logo in 1986. Ed Hannigan is someone I worked with on staff at DC then. He did a lot of cover layouts and design work as well as complete cover art and occasionally interior art. He must have designed this logo, and I finished and inked it. It features very rounded stencilled letters that combine simple shapes to suggest what’s not actually there in some cases. The A and U are not really shaped like those letters, but still read correctly in context. Hannigan had a good design sense, and all the credit for this one goes to him. I also like the very simple shield behind only part of the logo, a nice contrast from what had gone before, and the row of graduated stars at the bottom. Here’s issue 3, where you can see the entire logo:

Justice League 3 cover

Looks good, though where the stencilled letters run over busy cover art at each end it gets a bit hard to read. But I think it was a fine successor to the Ira Schnapp original.

Next time, logo designer Alex Jay is in the spotlight!

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

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