Logo Study: JUSTICE LEAGUE Part 3

JLI 7 cover
All images © DC Comics

In 1987 logo designer Alex Jay began work on a series of Justice League logos for DC. Alex is not only an excellent designer, he’s a very good record keeper. I’m going to let him tell most of the story this time, with excerpts from his notes and logo sketches he’s graciously provided, interspersed with my comments. The JUSTICE LEAGUE relaunch of 1987 was so successful that it almost immediately spawned a spinoff, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, and that was the first one Alex was asked to do. Here’s Alex:

At 2 o’clock, Friday, April 17, 1987, I met with creative director Richard Bruning. He described the spin-off project, Justice League International and then provided a photocopy of a Justice League logo by Ed Hannigan and Todd Klein. He wanted the logo to keep the “stencil” look as well as the shield and stars. We  agreed to a date to show sketches and I began work.

Justice League logo Hannigan/Klein

A couple of my thumbnail sketches on the photocopy show angular letters to distinguish this logo from the current logo. I also made the “J” and “L” larger. One of the challenges was integrating the long word, International. With a larger “L” I was able to align “International” with the horizontal stroke.

JLI logo Alex Jay

On April 29, I faxed two sketches to Richard. In the top sketch the width of the letter’s outline separates the strokes, and the shield bleeds off the page. In the bottom sketch the strokes of each letter have a sliver of white space separating them, and the shield has an outline border. Two days later I met with Richard who liked the letters from the first sketch and the shield from the second sketch. He suggested rounding some of the angles to make the logo a bit more like the JL logo.

JLI logo Alex Jay

I faxed the revised logo on May 3 and it was approved. The finished logo was delivered on May 5.

Todd here. What I like best about this design is that, while it retains the stencilled effect, each letter reads well as a whole. A perfect example is the cover shown at the top of this post, where the dark purple fill almost masks the stencilling, and the letters read as solids, but still with perfect clarity. I also like the partly-rounded, partly squared forms. They have a very modern, yet strong feel. Having INTERNATIONAL much smaller and fitting inside the shield is a good idea for two reasons. First, it lessens the impact of such a long title, emphasizing the JUSTICE LEAGUE part, which is the selling point. Second, it keeps the small letters behind a solid background, so it won’t get lost in detailed cover art.

JLA 26 cover

This look was so successful, DC decided to duplicate it on the main title in 1989, beginning with issue 26, above, where it stayed for some time. Meanwhile, in 1988 the popular franchise spun off again into JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE. Alex was called in for this as well. Here are his notes:

Editor Andy Helfer and I met on October 13, 1988 to discuss a couple of logo projects; one of them was Justice League Europe. Andy wanted to continue the stencil-look of Justice League International but somehow make “Europe” different.

JLE logo Alex Jay

Back at my studio, I made a thumbnail sketch of a slanted “Justice League” with “Europe” in script. I developed this thumbnail into a design that turned out to be close to the published logo. The most visible change was a bolder “Justice League” because the horizontal strokes were much wider.

JLE logo Alex Jay

This design was delivered to DC Cover Editor Keith Wilson on November 7. I got the go ahead to do the final art on “Justice League” but I was asked to change the “lightning” effect on “Europe” into a handwritten effect. On November 10 I showed the revision to Andy and he okayed it.

Using a pencil I wrote “Europe” on newsprint and then used a brush and black ink to write the word. I cut between the letters to adjust the spacing and applied white paint for minor touch-ups. A photostat was made of the lettering and I delivered it to Andy on November 11.

JLE 1 cover

Here’s the logo as printed on the first issue. Making it all slanted helps set it apart from the earlier one, as Alex says. I’m not sure I like the amount of overlap of LEAGUE on EUROPE, but it does allow the latter word to be larger than it would be if it was in the clear. Note that in the final, the first E in LEAGUE is tucked in to the L, a change from the sketch. I also really like the heavy brush style of EUROPE, and think it’s a better choice than the electric version in the sketch. Creates good contrast in all ways. Alex’s technique for creating that brushed lettering is interesting, and we’ll see a work-in-progress image of another one later.

DC was not done expanding the Justice League franchise, and in 1990 launched another title, JUSTICE LEAGUE QUARTERLY that Alex was again tapped to design a logo for. Here are his notes:

On April 25, 1990 editor Andy Helfer and I met and discussed the new title, Justice League Quarterly. Following in the footsteps of Justice League International and Europe, Andy wanted similar stenciled letters plus “Justice League” had to be on one line with “Quarterly” below it.

JLQ logo Alex Jay

Back at my studio I compressed the letters to fit “Justice League” on a line. “Quarterly” was designed to fit within the shield with room below it for the stars.

During our meeting on May 3 to review the design, Andy decided to change the shield to a spotlight. Back at the studio I used an ellipse template to create the spotlight and then drew the stars. Finished art was delivered on May 9. In the published comic, the stencil lines were removed from “Justice League” but remained in “Quarterly”.

JLQ 1 cover

Todd again, here’s the printed cover. I have to say I like this the least of Alex’s JL designs, and I think it’s mainly due to too much editorial meddling. Sorry, Andy Helfer, wherever you are these days. Alex’s original sketch is much better than this version with the oval and stars, which I don’t think reads as a “spotlight.” And removing the stencilling from JUSTICE LEAGUE may have made it a little easier to read, but makes the open letters more generic and less interesting, too.

That’s it for this post, but we’re not finished with Alex Jay — more next time!

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

3 thoughts on “Logo Study: JUSTICE LEAGUE Part 3

  1. Tom Galloway

    If I’m recalling correctly (and the Grand Comics Database confirms that I am), JLInternational wasn’t a spinoff from Justice League. What happened was that the single book’s title changed from Justice League to Justice League International with #7, and then to Justice League America with #26, the latter probably to mesh up with Justice League Europe, as both teams were considered branches of JLI. It stayed as Justice League America for the remainder of its run.

    This is complicated by Justice League Europe changing its title to Justice League International with #50, and keeping that title for the remainder of its run.

  2. Jon Marvin

    I love the way they were always playing off that first issue cover. Guy Gardner doing a double-take at the people behind him? Hilarious. Blue Beetle peeking around the bar code box? Hilariousl. Putting the logo over Batman’s face? Priceless.

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