Logo Study: SHADE THE CHANGING MAN

Images © DC Comics, Inc.

The very first logo for this series created, plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko is one that only a few people ever saw, and it’s probably lost forever. Editor Jack C. Harris remembers,

“Ditko came up with his own version right from the beginning. If I recall, the name SHADE was designed to look as if the individual letters had been made out of paper blowing in the wind. The rest, THE CHANGING MAN, was very fluid lettering casting a shadow of Ditkoish patterns. I loved it, but the powers that be at the time didn’t think it was sophisticated enough for the DC line. I thought they were wrong then, and I still do today.”

This would have been in late 1976 or early 1977, just a few months before I started at DC. Too bad, I would have loved to have seen Ditko’s logo. When I asked Jack if he was involved at all with the logo that was used, he added,

“No, it was commissioned by the higher ups. Steve didn’t like it either.”

So, who would have made the decision to turn down Ditko’s logo and come up with a new one? Jenette Kahn started at DC as the new Publisher in January 1976, and she brought a new sense of style that looked beyond comics to designers and artists like Milton Glaser and Andy Warhol, so my guess would be this was her decision.

The first thing that saw print relating to the book and character was the house ad above, which uses only THE CHANGING MAN, very similar to the final logo. The dot shading is there, and the word THE in open type. The rest of the lettering on the ad is by Gaspar Saladino, but the logo letters are definitely not his style. When I first began thinking about this, John Workman seemed a possible designer, but I asked him, and John didn’t remember doing it. Then I recalled the work of Bill Morse, who lettered the first six issues of the book, and I thought it might be his.

Bill Morse only worked in the DC Production Department for a short time, and in fact his was the spot I filled when I started there in 1977. I had come on for two weeks to fill in for him while he was on vacation, and when he came back he gave his notice, so we only worked together a week or two. John Workman was a friend of Bill’s, and they kept in touch, so I asked John for his email so I could find out about the logo.

I’ll get to the logo in a minute, but first I wanted to share Bill’s memories about working as letterer on the book. Bill wrote:

“I remember that whole comic was odd. The mysterious Steve Ditko would sneak into the office and meet with – hmmm, I think it was Jack Harris editing that book? – but he definitely didn’t want to be spotted by anybody else.

“Harris told me that Ditko had requested me as letterer on the book, which didn’t make any sense to me. I think more likely Ditko asked for a letterer who could work small, and Harris thought of me. I was very excited to be working on Ditko’s original pencils, but he also pencilled in all of the lettering, in a very tiny hand, (pretty decent actually but not quite pro-level), which I think we’ve seen maybe in some of the Mr. A material. His pencils for the lettering were pretty dark, and it was hard to erase after I had completed my lettering.

“I remember, early on in my brief lettering “career”, requesting of Jack Adler that, whenever possible, to ask the pencilers NOT to pencil in any rough lettering on books I would be lettering – it was distracting and confining for me. Most of them complied. But Ditko was a different story. From the way Harris described him, he seemed paranoid if anybody tried to mess with his established way of doing things. Might just pull the plug on the project because a letterer had requested him to leave the balloons blank.

“And the part of me that felt flattered that somehow Steve Ditko had asked for me to letter his new book, also felt frustrated that I couldn’t meet him, or even pop my head into Harris’s office and say ‘Hi Steve, I’m Bill Morse, the letterer on Shade. I’m a big fan of yours!'”

I have to say I shared some of Bill’s feelings about Ditko. I was also a big fan, and lettered a few stories he did for DC. I also wanted to meet him, but always seemed to miss the chance. “Oh, he just left,” Jack Harris would tell me with a teasing gleam in his eye. Finally one day Jack brought Ditko into the Production room and I finally got to see him, hear him talk a little, and briefly say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed his work.

Okay, back to the logo. Bill says,

“As for that logo, that’s where my memory gets fuzzy. I’m certain that I didn’t conceptualize it. Somebody gave Bob LeRose a rough pencilled version. Some of the design elements look like I could have originated them, but some I wouldn’t have used, like that odd abstract shape surrounding “The Changing Man”. And I don’t think I would have used that perspective on “Shade”, which doesn’t seem to meld with the rest of the logo. I’m pretty sure that I received a somewhat rough pencil version from LeRose, and finished it while inking it. The word CHANGING looks most like the style I liked back then, and that stippled shading inside was definitely me.”

Sadly, Bill passed away in 2010, so I’m really glad I had the chance to ask him about this, and I found his comments quite interesting. If you compare the word CHANGING to the house ad above, you’ll see it’s exactly the same except for a thin white line separating the shading from the heavy outline. This would have been done so the shading could be held in a color other than black, as it often was. MAN is shorter and has a different style A, but it’s similar. the word SHADE, on the other hand is in a completely different style, one I recognize as that of Gaspar Saladino. And as Bill says, it doesn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the logo at all, being in deep 2-point perspective. Perhaps Gaspar was asked to do a logo first, and whoever was making decisions about it only liked his word SHADE and added it to the rest of Bill Morse’s existing lettering? Bill mentions a layout. The only staffers I can think of who might have done that are Sol Harrison or Joe Orlando, with Orlando being the more likely person, but that’s just a guess. So, I’m putting this final logo down as a victim of “design by committee.”

Here it is on the first issue cover, and despite all the things I’ve said above, I have to admit I always kind of liked it, and thought it went well with Ditko’s art. Good thing I never told him that!

In 1990 editor Karen Berger brought the character back for a new run that was quite popular, and helped forge the direction for the imprint she began, Vertigo. The logo was designed by staffers Richard Bruning and Curtis King, who worked with type in various fonts to create a logo with two levels: THE CHANGING MAN smaller and morphing through the word CHANGING, atop SHADE in very large and thick open block letters. While this has something of a ransom note about it, I like it too.

Here it is on the cover of the first issue working quite well with the psychedelic painted art of Brendan McCarthy.

When the book was folded into the new Vertigo line in 1993, Karen Berger must have felt a new logo was called for, and she commissioned one from designer Rian Hughes. This was quite an early logo assignment for Rian. Here’s what he had to tell me about it:

“I think it was a case of getting an awkward set of words to hang together cohesively – “Shade, the Changing Man” is a bit of a mouthful. So – emphasis on Shade, which is “changing”  – getting larger from left to right. A very obvious concept, but it seems to work.

“We happen to have three counters, (note: the openings in the A, D and E of SHADE.–Todd) and “The Changing Man” neatly fits within them, one of those happy typographic gifts that you sometimes come across. The outline version lifts it out of complex backgrounds more easily.”

I like this logo as well, so I guess I’ve never met a SHADE logo I didn’t like. The way the letters of SHADE are joined gives the word an appealing shape, and using all lower case is a good idea, too. Here it is on the first cover:

The double outline allows the dark areas to be held in a color, really letting it pop on this painted art.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief logo study. You can find lots more on my LOGO LINKS page.

 

8 thoughts on “Logo Study: SHADE THE CHANGING MAN

  1. David Marshall

    Thanks not only for posting this history, but also for the footwork you did on research. As the years roll on, it’s increasingly frustrating depending on the increasingly faulty memories of increasingly old men. For sheer work ethic and due diligence, this post is pure gold.

  2. Peter Urkowitz

    Great information! Although I love all three of those Shade logos, it definitely would have been interesting to see Ditko’s original idea. Maybe it will turn up in Ditko’s papers some day?

  3. MWGallaher

    Seems likely to me that DC was originally intent on publishing the comic under the more manageable title “The Changing Man”, and Saladino’s addition and the modification to Morse’s (presumably) original, shorter logo came after the decision to go with the longer name (which I would speculate being at Ditko’s insistence).
    Whatever the genesis, I’ve got to agree that the logos work. Ditko seemed more and more interested in highly asymmetrical designs (with characters like The Odd Man and The Crooked Man obvious examples, as well as Shade’s one-sided morphing of body parts), so the disorienting logo hints at Ditko’s aesthetics (though surely not so much as Ditko’s own logo would have).
    As a footnote, Vertigo used a variation on Rian Hughes’ logo on a couple of their TPB collections, warping the logo and adding some shadowing effects.

  4. Todd Post author

    I did ask Jack C. Harris about the series title, and he told me SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN was Ditko’s title from the beginning. Thanks for reminding me, I forgot to include that info in the post.

  5. Todd Post author

    From John Workman:

    Hi, Todd …

    Read your blog concerning the logo on Shade the Changing man. My memory
    is dim on this (as is the case with a whole lot of stuff—something
    that I just couldn’t believe would ever happen when I was young– but I
    definitely remember looking on for some reason as Bill Morse and Sol
    Harrison discussed the initial Shade logo. Who did that logo, I don’t
    remember. It may have been Gaspar.

    Anyhow, Sol felt that there was a real danger that the words could and
    would be read out of order and that the title would be seen as “The
    Shade Changing Man” to a lot of potential buyers and readers. Sol
    wanted Bill to make changes so that his fears about that first logo
    wouldn’t come true. And Bill did just that.

    Hope this is of some help. Wish my memory of all these things was as
    certain and definite as I thought it would be back when I was 25 years
    old and found it difficult to believe that so many questions that I
    asked of guys who had been my heroes for nearly two decades were met
    with a puzzled “I don’t remember.”

    Best,

    John

  6. Peter Urkowitz

    Thanks, John Workman! That problem of logos where it is impossible to tell the word-order is rife throughout the culture today, both in comics and elsewhere! We need Sol Harrison back again!

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