In 1991 Robin finally got his own title, first in three mini-series, then in an ongoing book. I wrote about the logo created for this book in an article called Logo Longevity (Or Not), but at the time didn’t know who designed it. I was still wondering when I made my recent trip to DC to go through the old logo files, and when I found the original, there were some interesting clues, but no answers. Curtis King was in charge of cover and logo design in 1991, and I asked him to look through his files to see if he could solve the mystery. What Curtis found did solve it, and it’s a convoluted story that I’ll describe here, with a series of faxes from Curtis’ files, kindly lent by him. Logo designs are often a solo assignment, but this one was a group effort, and for once the process is well documented.
Curtis King first looked back to the earliest Robin logo on the cover of DETECTIVE COMICS 38 for inspiration. His notes along the side express his thoughts. He first assigned the task of designing the new logo to Steven Bové, then on staff at DC, and probably gave Steve this to inspire him as well.
Steve did a number of sketches on one piece of paper, some leaning toward Old English style, some not. All use upper and lower case, some are slanted. Most have some kind of serifs. Several have a Batman chest symbol as the dot of the I, a clever idea. The last idea is pretty radical, and Curtis has commented: “Whaaa…?” He liked two of the others, and must have suggested Steve develop one of those further.
Here’s that version, dated 6/17/90. The outline is heavier, and the O now has three flying bats in it, another clever way to tie the character to Batman. And that’s as far as Steve got with it. Perhaps this was shown to editor Dan Raspler and he wanted to go a different way. Robin’s costume was being redesigned by Neal Adams around this time for the new series.
ADDED: In a recent email from Keith S. “Kez” Wilson, he told me:
I was making regular trips in to DC to troll for work at the time, and went in to bug Dan Raspler for jobs. He brought up the Robin logo and showed me the layouts he’d gotten so far, indicated it wasn’t quite what he was looking for and asked if I had any ideas. I did a quick sketch of the “R” symbol and Dan got real excited and ran off. He came back and then named an outrageous payment amount which was around five times what a normal comic logo was going for at the time (much less a costume symbol) for the design. Apparently they were expecting to plaster the symbol all over the place and wanted to make sure that whoever designed it would not come back looking for more money. It was to be combined with the new outfit that Neal Adams had designed. I told him for that kind of money I’d design a whole logo for him.
Here’s the earliest sketch of that R symbol, which I can now say was designed by Kez Wilson. Thanks for clearing that up, Kez!
I believe Curtis King produced this Old English logo on his Mac Plus, probably from a commercial font. The R was oddly shaped, but Curtis planned to drop that anyway, so it didn’t matter.
Here’s an interesting rendering of OBIN from that printout with a 3-D bevel effect. Quite well done by Curtis.
But when he combined the two ideas, he stuck to outline letters. I like this idea, combining the modern R with the Old English OBIN. The latter might have needed tweaking to open up some of the thinnest strokes and enhance readability, but it looks good. Perhaps editor Dan Raspler wasn’t sold on it, though, so the entire logo assignment was passed on to Kez Wilson, formerly on the DC staff as a cover editor, and now freelancing.
Kez turned in this design, with much more modern letters for OBIN, similar in style to the R. This was a direction that everyone liked, but DC felt it needed further development.
Here’s a tracing Curtis King did with some suggestions about adding serifs and changing the shape of the N…
…and another one, showing he wanted to see the IN at the same height as the OB. A drop shadow has been added by now, too. Curtis reports this was very close to the final design, but when I found the original logo in the DC files, I still had questions.
Here’s that logo, and as you can see, further changes were made to the I and N, which now have long pointed serifs on the left and rounded corners on the right, matching those on the OB. The first vertical stroke on the N is now separated some, too, and the curves of the B are more rounded. Also interesting, this final logo was done on Denril plastic vellum, the kind I was using at the time, as was Ken Lopez. But Ken told me he didn’t work on this one. Kez Wilson might also have used Denril, and at least one other designer did too, as I found a few others on that material that neither Ken or I had done. So, still some mystery here.
When I got home, I checked through my logo records and found that I had been paid by DC for a Robin logo in 1990 “from existing layout.” So, while I don’t remember doing it, I must have made the final inked version, working over a tight layout provided by Curtis King. Whether those last few changes were his idea, Kez’s, or mine I don’t know, but in any case, this logo was definitely a team effort. I’ll put it down as designed primarily by Kez Wilson, with input from Curtis King and final rendering by Todd Klein (whew!).
After three popular mini-series, the logo and character (now with Tim Drake in the costume) appeared in a long-running monthly book, using this logo throughout…
…though in 2007 the oval was dropped from behind the R. Still, it’s a tribute to the strength of the design that it lasted so long, especially through the turbulent 1990s, when so many logos came and went.
I’ll finish up this study next time with one last 1990s design and more recent developments. Other chapters and more logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.