Logo Study: WORLD’S FINEST Part 1

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Images © DC Comics, except as noted.

The story of one of DC Comic’s longest running titles begins with this book, released in April of 1939. The event it celebrated received massive attention and pre-publicity prior to its opening on April 30th of that year, and opening day was attended by over 200,000 people. It was held on Long Island, in Flushing Meadows, Queens, right next door to New York City, the home of the young comics company, and it seems obvious that a comic tie-in to the event would sell well, and also act as a souvenir and advertisement for the company’s properties. The theme, “The World of Tomorrow” fit in nicely with comics features like their Superman, too.

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© holder not known.

The company now known as DC Comics was publishing four regular titles at the time: MORE FUN, ADVENTURE, DETECTIVE and ACTION, and launched another new title, the short-lived MOVIE COMICS the same month as this one. NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR COMICS was annual-sized: square bound with cardboard covers, and the price of 25 cents was pretty high for then, especially considering that admission to the fair itself was only 50 cents! I’m guessing it did pretty well for them. The cover’s main image depicts the famous symbols of the fair, the Trylon and Perisphere, their first comics appearance, with an enthusiastic boy in front ushering us in. In circular head shots on the right are some of the company’s top characters: Superman, of course, with Zatara the magician and the first version of The Sandman. Note that Batman had not yet appeared in print, so is not here. Two humor characters are also shown. Art credits for the headshots are known to be by Vin Sullivan and Fred Guardineer. The former was one of the first DC artists, and also an editor for the company from almost the beginning. He might have drawn the main image, though apparently didn’t take credit for it when asked, so that’s probably by someone else, perhaps Whitney Ellsworth, the other artist/editor, or another uncredited artist.

Okay, let’s look at the logo. The letters are heavy, with wide strokes, and outlined, allowing them to be filled with red. Another outline around all the letters leaves a thin white space separating the letters from the background art. This double outline technique became common later in comics history, but was unusual for 1939, when most comics had their logo in a clear or boxed area at the top, separate from the art. In this case, it was needed to allow the tall Trylon to run up the height of the cover. The spacing of the outer line is pretty tight in most places, but wider gaps remain between the NE and IR where a line might have been added but wasn’t. NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR is slanted, while COMICS is not. The style is modestly Art Deco, mainly in the pointed angular strokes of the N, W, A and M, and in the perfect circles  of the C and O in COMICS, but not as Art Deco as most of the other cover logos of the company at the time. The letterforms are well made, if a bit quirky in spots: the upper right leg of the K most noticeably. As with most logos of that era, the designer is unknown. My Logo Study DC’S EARLIEST LOGOS suggests this and others may have been designed by Vin Sullivan, but that’s only a guess. It is interesting to note that in the word COMICS there’s a little extra space between the C and S, matching a bigger space in the word COMICS in several of the other early logos used by the company.

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In July of 1940, a second issue was published, with cover art by Jack Burnley, and it featured the very first appearance together of Superman, Batman and Robin. These three would soon anchor the upcoming WORLD’S FINEST comic, though here, and for a long time, they appeared inside in separate stories produced by the respective studios of Superman creators Siegel and Shuster and Batman creator Bob Kane. The logo has been redrawn, though using the previous one as a model. Now NEW YORK is thinner block letters, in solid black, and without any Art Deco elements. WORLD’S FAIR retains the style of the previous logo, but with vertical and taller letters. The pointed strokes of the W are the one remaining Art Deco feature. Otherwise these are typical well-formed block letters. COMICS is very similar to the previous version, though with even thicker strokes. The double outline has been dropped, not needed for this layout. And again there is extra space between the C and S of COMICS, as well as before the S in WORLD’S, suggesting to me this was designed by the same person as the first one. Both logos do a fine job of selling the product, and are well designed. By the way, on July 4th, 1940, the fair held a “Superman Day,” featuring an actor dressed as the character for the first time ever. Someone at the comics publisher must have worked out a good publicity arrangement!

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Here’s another sign that sales of the 1939 issue were good. In early 1940 the company was already beginning plans to keep the idea going, as evidenced by this “ashcan” edition assembled to send to Washington, D.C. to register the copyright (what we would now call the trademark) on the title WORLD’S BEST COMICS. The logo uses the WORLD’S FAIR COMICS lettering from the 1940 issue, but substituting BEST for FAIR. It’s possible this was even done first, though I think it likely the WORLD’S FAIR logo was designed first, well in advance of publication. The cover art is probably from an issue of ACTION COMICS, and features Superman and Lois Lane, I think. Here the outlined letters have been filled with black, but are otherwise identical to the printed WORLD’S FAIR logo from 1940.

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And in the spring of 1941, the first and only issue of WORLD’S BEST COMICS was published, using an open version of the logo from the ashcan, with one change: the S of COMICS has been redrawn to match the S of BEST, and the letter has been moved in closer to the C as well. The cover of this comic tries in every possible way to remind buyers of the 1940 WORLD’S FAIR issue, once again featuring Superman, Robin and Batman, now in front of a (presumably) New York City skyline instead of the Trylon and Perisphere. Even the cover type is the same, with different features on the bottom line in the same sans-serif font, but otherwise identical. The price of 15 cents is the same, too.

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In the summer of 1941, the second issue of the book came out with a new title, WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, even touting it was formerly World’s Best below the logo. It seems odd to change the name at this point, and I’d have to guess that the company’s attempt to trademark the name WORLD’S BEST COMICS failed in Washington; someone else had beat them to it. If so, no other published book with that name ever came out, though. In any case, a completely new logo that would remain on the book for many years first appears here. Though clearly based on the earlier logo, this one has much thinner letters, and the strokes are much less even in width. Compare the width of the L with letters on either side of it, for example. The S in COMICS is particularly poorly drawn, with a wide variety in width where there should be none. The style uses the same Art Deco elements as previously: the pointed angled strokes, but in general this logo is less well designed, and probably not by the same person as the others. Despite that, it’s very readable and gets the message across. The rest of the cover is sort of an “even moreso” version of the previous issue, with large head shots of the three stars and even larger title lettering at the bottom, in the same style as before.

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With the third issue, the book settled into a more conventional layout, and one that would continue unchanged until the mid 1950s. Superman, Batman and Robin were together on the covers, but in separate stories inside. Other characters rounded out the 96-page anthology. And seen against cover art, this logo actually works fine. The heavier outlines of the letters allow it to read better than the previous style would have, and it balances well with the other elements.

Next time we’ll continue with WORLD’S FINEST in the 1950s. Other logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.

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