Milton Glaser and the DC Bullet

World's Finest 248
DC Bullet from World’s Finest #248, Jan. 1978. This and all images © DC Comics. This and all images (except the next one) courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com

With the recent passing of veteran acclaimed designer Milton Glaser, his work is getting new attention, including the symbol he created for DC Comics in 1976. This and all other versions of the generally round symbol are known by company staff as the “DC Bullet.” I think the reference is to the old typesetting term for a large round black spot: • which is used today for “bullet point lists” in manuscripts or ad copy. Originally bullet was also another name for a period in typography. Imagine that tiny black spot much larger with letters in it and you have the DC bullet. Here’s the Glaser version compared to earlier ones:

DC symbols compared
Image found online

The 1949 version was designed by Ira Schnapp. The 1974 predecessor to Glaser’s was designed by Michael Uslan. It’s not clear who did the others. You can see that the squared letter shapes used for “DC” came into use in 1972, and Uslan’s version added two stars, both elements included in Glaser’s design, but there’s no denying his use of a thick black band with four white stars and having the entire logo tilted brought a fresh and appealing look to the bullet. Reportedly Glaser was paid a lot for the design, far more than any logo they’d had to that point, but I never heard anyone in management say it wasn’t worth it. But is that 1976 logo exactly the same as the first one above? If you look closely you’ll see that the thin outer circle is not as thin or as close to the black band as above. This is actually a version from about 1988, one of several later variants.

Action Comics 471
DC Bullet from Action Comics #471, May 1977.

When the Glaser bullet first began appearing on DC Comics covers, it usually looked like this, with the left side and top cropped off in varying amounts. That was as planned. The logo was often held in a color, as here, where it’s 100% Cyan or Blue. The colorist decided the outer thin circle should remain black to better align with the cover art, and the blue printing plate with the rest of the logo is slightly out of alignment down and to the left, most obvious where the white circle disappears at lower left. At the time, DC was still using letterpress printing for all their comics. Glaser’s design, with it’s thin lines and thin white spaces, looked great at a larger size, but comics printing wasn’t really up to making it work well at the small size used on covers. In the 1980s DC began gradually transitioning away from letterpress to offset printing with much better and more accurate presses, and then the original DC bullet would have worked fine.

DC Special Series 5
DC Bullet from DC Special Series #5, 1977

Here’s a version where most of the bullet was held in 100% Magenta and 100% Yellow giving it a solid red appearance, but the thin outlines around the letters DC was kept in black. This made a mess when printed.

Super Friends 5
DC TV logo from Super Friends #5, April 1977

The first and probably best variation of the logo was this one, I suspect also by Milton Glaser or one of his associates. The T tucked into the corner of the D and C is clever and it all looks good. This scan of original cover art also helps it look good, the printed version may not have worked quite as well, but as a design I think it’s quite fine.

DC Special logo
Logo from DC Special #27, May 1977.

Not long after the logo went into general use, this version was created for the title DC Special. I’m sure it wasn’t done by Glaser, it’s probably by someone in the DC Production department. They avoided all those thin lines around DC by removing them and filled in the ones around the circular banner making the stars look smaller. They also removed the tilt. It sure eliminated the printing issues with those thin lines, but the logo is not nearly as appealing or well designed as Glaser’s.

Best of DC logo
Logo, Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #8, Dec. 1979

Another variant created in the DC Production Department, again not nearly as good as Glaser’s original.

DC Comics Presents logo
Logo for DC Comics Presents #10, June 1979

By 1978 I was working at DC as a production artist and beginning to design logos. In fact, this was the very first one. My assignment was to come up with a way to make COMICS PRESENTS work with the Glaser design. My idea was a curved banner emerging from behind the bullet having a switchback with one word on each level. (The ALL NEW was added later, not by me.) Everyone was happy with this. Being well aware of the printing problems the close thin outlines on Glaser’s design often caused, I put mine around the letters I did a little further away.

Detail of DC Comics Presents logo
DC Comics Presents logo detail

A closer look shows that. Even then, the thin outlines tended to mush together with each other and the letters in printing at times, but this wider spacing had a slightly better chance of looking right.

JLA 165
DC Bullet from Justice League of America #165, April 1979.

Around the same time DC decided to put the bullet in a much larger circle. This helped it stand out from the cover art and made registration of any color hold less likely to be a problem. There was always a lot of complaining about Glaser’s thin outlines, though, and this did not help that.

Action Comics 547
DC Bullet from Action Comics #547, Sept. 1983

In 1983 I was asked to do a version with a wider white space between the black band and the outer thin circle. I also added slightly more white space between the letters DC and the thin outlines around them, as well as between the thin circle inside the black band and the band itself. This actually worked well to keep any color hold from overlapping the white space and generally improved the image in print, and as the 1980s progressed, comics printing continued to advance, giving the Glaser design better chances to look right on covers.

Superman 1988
DC Bullet from Superman comic in 1988

Around 1988 this slight variation with a thicker outer line became the standard version, and it’s the one in the comparison image above. By the end of the 1980s, printing had mostly caught up to the quality of Glaser’s original design, and his original version with the thin outer line and thin white gap could have been used, but I don’t think it ever was. This version stayed on covers until a new logo was introduced in 2005 to much agony and snarkiness on the internet.

I have a fondness for the Ira Schnapp version of my childhood, but I have to say the Glaser DC Bullet, in use for my entire career there on staff and many years as a freelancer, is my favorite. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Milton Glaser’s work in general, but this one he got right, even if it took a while for the rest of the comic to match it in image quality.

More logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.

Milton Glaser’s WEBSITE.

4 thoughts on “Milton Glaser and the DC Bullet

  1. Clem Robins

    Glaser, like my father, and an inordinately large number of the great designers of the twentieth century, all went to the same high school in Brooklyn, and all had the same legendary art teacher. I wish I could remember his name. do you know, Todd? the fifty most prestigious alum, including Glaser and my pop, did a group show in honor of their mentor. if you don’t know the guy’s name, I think I can find it.

  2. Eric

    I always thought it was called the DC bullet because it looked like a bullet? Not so much the 1972 and 1974 versions, but all the rest look like the end of a bullet before it’s fired.

  3. Dwight Williams

    Noticing that there’s a typeface that resembles the lettering in the DC Bullet called “Superstar” available for purchase. It’s part of ITC’s catalogue, and credited to Colin Brignall back when he was employed by Letraset. Not sure exactly when it was created for Letraset, so I’d be interested to know if any Letraset-focused type historians could nail down when it was added to that catalogue.

    A further sampling of Brignall’s other work can be found here:

    https://www.myfonts.com/person/Colin_Brignall/

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