The recent publication of the book “Watching the Watchmen” by Dave Gibbons, reviewed here, has brought me to this reexamination of the remarkable logo and cover designs for the series and trade paperback collection. There were many innovative things about the series, and this was certainly one of them. To begin with, Dave (and all the design work here was by Dave Gibbons, with some help from DC’s Richard Bruning at the final stages) decided to use a simple, very bold sans-serif font for the logo, and run it up the side of the cover rather than across the top. This allowed the logo to be large and striking, while still leaving lots of room for the art, and not covering any of it. Straight type logos rather than hand-drawn ones on comics are uncommon, but not at all new.
Here’s an example from 1940 using all type in the logo area, though the word comics is outlined. Many comics logos are just slightly further enhanced type: adding telescoping or a drop shadow.
Comics like this one stuck with plain type logos and titles, hoping to give a more literary feel to their book adaptations. But the design is pedestrian and dull on these for the most part, despite some fine painted covers.
From “Watching the Watchmen,” here’s what Dave has to say about his cover design ideas:
“Soon I began to concern myself with the cover design. As the series was to be sold directly to comic book specialty stores, it occurred to me that there was no need for the title logo to run across the top of the cover, since such stores racked books along shelves rather than in the traditional upright spinners. The “sideways” logo met with some resistance from DC but, as with practically everything about the series, they let us follow our own lead.”
I can’t say for sure if this was the first time a comic logo had run along the side instead of at the top, but the reasoning is brilliant, and spot on. For decades all comics kept logos at the top for just the reason Dave gives, they were often in racks, with only the top third or so showing. WATCHMEN was one of the early direct-only titles intended mainly for comics specialty shops. Notice that the bottom of the logo letters face the cover art, encouraging the eye toward them, as soon as we’ve read it. Having the logo read down instead of up would have created a visual disconnect between logo and art.
Here are some of Dave’s initial notes about the cover and logo. For the logo he specifies a compact typeface to be used either solid black or reversed out. He’s very aware of the impact it will have as negative space in the black rectangle. Dave’s initial sketch at the bottom has the concept pretty well set, though in the cover layout above that, the logo is more compact. That layout is really remarkably close to the final design, though DC made some small changes, such as putting the book title in smaller type at the very top of the logo column, as insurance, I suppose, for books that were displayed partly hidden. Dave’s two “roundels” were followed, with the top one being the DC logo, the bottom one a clock whose hands crept ever closer to midnight as the series continued.
In this section of Dave’s more detailed color layout for the cover, you can see how close his design for the logo came to the final. The layouts and cover art, with painted color by John Higgins and Dave, were sent to DC, where Richard Bruning put the elements together, and made type choices. Richard writes:
“Virtually ALL of the design elements came to me as fairly worked-out concept sketches by Dave (with Alan’s input of course). My job was to tweak, finalize and put them into production. I had a few suggestions for improvements but its 95% Dave. We had a blast. Best collaboration ever.
“The logo font was/is FUTURA CONDENSED EXTRA-BLACK, with the majority of support type being FUTURA CONDENSED MEDIUM. Needless to say I did a ton of infinitesimal tweaking on the logo type. And the old-fashioned way, too! None of these high-fallutin’ computer thingies.
“I remember the shock on some people’s faces when they saw the sideways logo (Sacrilege!), no cover blurbs, no fight scenes or even people on the cover, and NO credits! But, to DC management’s credit, they all believed in the specialness of this book and went along with Alan & Dave’s vision.”
Thanks for letting me quote you, Richard.
For the first trade paperback collection, Dave had equally firm and well-thought out ideas that again broke new ground. Perhaps not as new in this case: I’m sure examples could be found of paperback books from the time or earlier with logos along the side, but it was still pretty unusual. Once Dave had success with the series covers, I imagine it was pretty easy to get these ideas through. Here’s my early printed copy, with different cover art:
Notice that the creators’ names are on the cover, but small and at the bottom. WATCHMEN dominates, as on the series. One interesting thing to me is that the logo on the spine goes the other way, reading down. That’s the traditional way in US publishing, though British publishers sometimes have titles reading up instead. Dave knew his market, and had it correct for the US.
So many ways in which these designs by Dave Gibbons were innovative and fresh, to match the equally groundbreaking story inside. Dave’s design talent has sometimes been overlooked because his art is so appealing, but as you can see, he’s got terrific design skills, too.
Other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.