Wonder Woman made her debut in ALL-STAR COMICS #8 dated Dec. 1941-Jan. 1942 in a nine-page story, the first of which is shown above, published by National Periodicals, which would become DC Comics, already most famous for Superman, which they’d been publishing since 1938 in ACTION COMICS. Created by William Moulton Marston in collaboration with publisher Max Gaines, she was the first female superhero for the company, and one of the first ever. Unlike Superman creators Siegel and Shuster, and Batman creator Bob Kane, Marston was no youngster; 48 years old and an already successful man credited with the invention of the systolic blood pressure test, one of the components of the polygraph lie-detector. Marston wrote Wonder Woman under the pen name Charles Moulton, using the middle names of Gaines and himself. The artist for the series was H. G. Peter, then 61 years old with a long career as a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist.
Though just a few years had passed since the debuts of Superman and Batman, the publisher was already showing much more savvy about logos. Where those features had the artists coming up with new logos for nearly every issue at first, Wonder Woman would be different. Her first story had a somewhat crude open script logo that looks like it was drawn on the art by Peter, but in small print under it are the words “Trade Mark Application Pending.” That application was made with what was called an “ashcan” edition of her first regular issue shown here:
Publishers would assemble a cover mock-up, sometimes with contents from a completely different book, and send it to the U. S. Patent Office to register the trademark for a new character and title. This one, dated Jan. 1942, has a much more finished and professional version of the same script logo at the top, and written under it in pencil what looks like “Registered U.S.P.O. 1942.” The logo appears again in the cover copy below that.
Notice that the Wonder Woman figure is the same in both. So which came first, the finished official logo or the loose version on her origin story? Hard to say, but it seems to me that if the finished logo was ready when the story was done, it would have been used there. Perhaps the logo was in the process but not finished, and Peter just copied it for his art. Or, Peter’s version could have been the original that was used as a guide by the finisher of the more professional version. In any case, the official logo was the only one used in all her appearances from 1941 until 1953. And we can’t say who designed it, but artist H.G. Peter may have had a hand in it. Let’s look at the first Wonder Woman appearance in SENSATION COMICS #1.
Same cover art, same cover copy, new title. The publisher was following past precedent here by beginning a new character in an anthology title where she’d appear with other characters at first, then if successful, launching her own title a little later. They’d done that with Superman in ACTION COMICS and Batman in DETECTIVE COMICS. Wonder Woman was very successful, and her own title began with the cover date of Summer, 1942, a mere six months later.
Here we finally get a much larger view of the logo itself, which I find attractive, if a little dated, even for the time. Using script for a female character was predictable, and maybe even a little demeaning, considering Wonder Woman’s very strong, heroic and even feminist slant. But the letter forms are fluid and well made. The open drop shadow helps them be more readable against the background (note that whoever colored this version put the wrong color in the center hole of the A), and even with the lower W partly covered, it reads fine.
While there’s no evidence, it’s possible the designer of this version is Ira Schnapp, working from H.G. Peter’s idea. He did the same for the Superman logo, creating a professional version from Joe Shuster’s early attempts. Schnapp had a working relationship with what became DC Comics as an employee of a sister company, and may have been tapped as a freelancer to work on this logo, but we’ll probably never know for sure. I looked around for some similar lettering by him, and haven’t found much. There’s a similar capital W in script on this piece:
and some script in this house ad that is somewhat like the Wonder Woman logo:
but neither of those examples are really very close, and Ira’s script lettering is usually less tall and more rounded than that in the WW logo. So, I can’t lean either way on whether Ira worked on this design. What matters is that Wonder Woman had a strong logo almost from her first appearance, and that probably helped cement her reputation in the early superhero pantheon.
Before we leave the Golden Age Wonder Woman, let’s look at the lettering used for her stories. It has a mechanical look, but is actually pen and ink, created with the LeRoy lettering system of scriber and templates by Jim Wroten and his wife Margaret. The LeRoy system was intended for technical artists doing things like machine parts diagrams and architectural drawings. I got one years ago, before I started working in comics. Here’s what mine looks like:
The scriber holds a technical inking pen on one arm. A second arm has a pin that follows letters on the template. A third arm has a pin that slides along the bottom groove to help keep the letters aligned horizontally. Templates come in different sizes, and you can make vertical letters or slanted letters, with the angle changed by adjusting the pin arm of the scriber.
It all sounds simple, but in fact it’s a monstrously difficult and time-consuming way to letter a comic. I tried lettering one 6-page SUPREME story with it once, and it took me about three hours per page, more than four times my usual speed for hand-lettering. As with all things, I’m sure you’d get faster with practice, but I vowed to never do it again, and made a computer font from my LeRoy letters for any future need. But the Wrotens must have become quite facile with it, as they lettered all the Wonder Woman stories that way, and a few years later were also lettering lots of stories for EC Comics and other publishers.
It’s interesting to see that on the early effort above, they only had one size template and pen, and for larger words had to use hand-lettering. Some words are emphasized by underlining, something you almost never see in comics. Perhaps Wroten was a friend of artist H.G. Peter and got started in comics working with him, I don’t know. Not much is known about the Wrotens, at least that I can find.
Next time we move into the 1950s, and the Silver Age!
More chapters and other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.