Logo Study: THE MAN CALLED A-X

Images © Marv Wolfman and Shawn McManus.

In 1994 I was contacted by writer Marv Wolfman, who was preparing a new creator-owned miniseries with artist Shawn McManus for Malibu Comics. You can read more about it HERE on Marv’s website. He asked me to design a logo for the book, which I was happy to do. The title, as seen above, would have two large letters as the focus, A and X, but with a dash between: A-X, not AX. The idea was that, as readers would find out, the X stood for the number 10, the tenth in a series of deadly killers, and there was no axe involved. Those letters alone would have made an ideal logo assignment, two very large and interesting shapes. The tagline, THE MAN CALLED, which Marv wanted to run above, complicated things a bit, as it would make the logo taller than I really wanted, but that line could be much smaller at least. In my first marker sketch, above, I went for very wide strokes on A-X, outlined in a heavy, rough, energetic border. I made the dash a diamond, something I’d already done for Marvel Comics on X-Men. It seemed to fit well into the space, even if not reading particularly well as a dash. The topline was pretty standard block letters with the addition of a futuristic A shape, one I’d used before (on THE OMEGA MEN, for example) and liked. I added telescoping to the letters in two-point perspective, making it even taller, but assuming that the telescoping could be covered by art when necessary.

I had trouble with my second sketch. I was trying for a faceted effect on A-X, but the extended points on the top and bottom don’t work well, and the result reminds me of two people standing with their toes turned inward. Even after revising it twice, I wasn’t happy.

My third sketch tried a different approach, making A-X with strokes that were much wider at the top. Interesting idea, but perhaps not really right for this character, it presents a somewhat retro art deco or 1950s feel to me now.

I usually begin a logo assignment with three sketches, but this time I did more, perhaps not sure myself if I was getting anywhere. This one uses the opposite slant on the letters, putting the forward thrust at the top, and laying the topline along the telescoping. The A is square this time, but both A and X came out looking top-heavy.

Version 5 tries to overcome that top-heavy look with a horizontal bar through the center. This tends to hide the dash, and makes the X look more like a giant * (star symbol on the keyboard). Not a great option.

Version 6 is one I still like, with very jagged top and bottom edges, a style I used successfully a few years later for Marvel’s KA-ZAR. Here the main letters are more balanced, and the intro line, while smaller, fits well into the overall design. A strong rightward slant gives a feeling of motion, and an open drop shadow is added to allow a second color in the logo. If I were choosing, I probably would have picked this one myself.

My final sktech was this one, following the general plan of 6, but less successful, I think. The very heavy outline works, but the shape of the A does not, for me, and the added top crossbar is made too important by putting the supertitle inside it.

Word came back from Marv and Shawn, and they chose the first sketch with a few changes. The diamond-shaped dash was changed to a more traditional one, and the telescoping was trimmed shorter, and given straight edges for a cleaner look. I thought the end result looked pretty good, though I was concerned that it was still much taller than most cover logos of the time.

And Malibu must have had the same concern, when they first used the logo on this ashcan cover, it was digitally compressed vertically. They might have run the art over the bottom of the logo instead, but for a first appearance it’s usually not a good idea, and I’m sure no one wanted to make Shawn’s incredibly menacing figure any smaller! I wish now that they had brought me into the loop, I would have suggested putting the creator credits to the left or right of the figure instead of above the logo, or could have redesigned the logo to look better in those dimensions, but no one did.

When this art appeared again on the regular series, the logo was even smaller, and the telescoping was filled in with black. The latter makes the logo stand out more, but the compression is still a problem. This is a good example of why showing the logo designer some cover art can be helpful!

In 1997 Marv and Shawn brought the character to DC Comics, and I was asked by DC’s Curtis King to come up with a new logo design. This might be the only time I’ve ever been the sole designer on a character for two different companies! By ’97 I was using my first Apple computer to do logo sketches, either beginning with hand-drawn shapes and then tracing them in Adobe Illustrator, or using existing fonts I’d created, or found elsewhere.

Curtis King wanted something quite different, and suggested this arrangement, with the first line stacked into two and on the left of A-X. The overall shape then became much more typical of a comics logo, leaving more room for the art. This approach might have been suggested by Curtis, it now reminds me of things Rian Hughes has done. Kind of quirky and reminiscent of 1950s paperbacks. The X was given top and bottom crossbars, not a bad idea as it helped to balance it with the more square shapes of the rest. These letterforms were hand drawn first, I’m sure.

Variations on the theme, here going back to the diamond-shaped dash in A-X, and a diagonal A. And even more Rian Hughes-like in just black.

A different look, which began with a commercial font called TF Akimbo designed by Joe Treacy. The top version adds fadeaway telescoping, an effect I used in my CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN logo. The straight-on version 5 was what Curtis liked, with the letterforms tight together, and you can see some notes I made when he called to talk about it, asking for changes in the N and A’s.

These versions reflect those changes, which improve the overall design. The N is more readable, and the A is now symmetrical, a better match for the X. I also like the way the diamond-shaped dash is echoed in the E’s, and the way the diamond cuts a niche into the A in A-X.

As a creator-owned property, Marv and Shawn probably had final say on the design, and while I don’t have any evidence, I bet Marv wanted the supertitle back over the A-X, as shown here in version 6D, the final one. I can see his point of view, it matches the earlier logo better and puts the emphasis back on A-X, though it does once more create a very tall logo.

Cover designer Curtis King solved that problem by making the logo smaller and allowing Shawn’s art to go over part of it on this and other covers. I think it works fine, still quite bold and readable at this size, and thankfully not distorted like the previous incarnation.

That’s the entire history of the property and logos thus far: seven issues from Malibu, then eight from DC. It was an interesting design assignment that I enjoyed working on, hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it.

Lots more logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.

6 thoughts on “Logo Study: THE MAN CALLED A-X

  1. Kurt Busiek

    I love, love, love version 3A and 3B. Those are gorgeous.

    They remind me of UPA/Saul Bass type animation, or Jerry Grandenetti’s title lettering. A wonderful, distinctive look.

    kdb

  2. Isaac P.

    Version 1 and 2 of the DC designs look as if they belong to some time lost Kirby comic. A sequel to OMAC perhaps? I really like these two along with 3 and 3A. I always enjoy these looks into your creative process, Mr. Klein.

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