Todd Klein, over at his blog, has been doing a great deal of work on a nine part series on the design and evolution of the X-Men franchise logos, from 1963 to present. In his final part (link here) he presents a number of unused ideas from Rian Hughes that have been comped on to artwork.
Its been a tremendously enjoyable series for the illustrators and designers among us. And it points out how the design around and on top of the artwork directly effects our preception of the artwork. I can't count the number of times that I was at Acclaim watching good cover artwork overwhelmed by the vertical stripe text area that they insisted on having on the covers. It denied the artists to make more of a splash with the artwork, and thus, more possiblity to attract readers. (Oddly enough, as the rest of the comic companies were going full bleed and removing many of the borders so that you could groove on the full Lee or Portacio X-Men, Acclaim went for less artwork. Sigh. I would have loved to have seen more Rags Morales Turok. Hell, I would have loved to have inked more Rags Turok. I did two pages of samples that blew socks off of people back then.)
This is something that I've been bugged by for years, both as an illustrator and as a designer. Lets take a look at Marvel through the years, and critique what they've done for design over the years. We'll see the evolution of Marvel adapting both logo area and cover design to work with both the spinner rack and newsstand, and then move on to experimenting with the direct market.
Start at the beginning, looking at the space around the classic Fantastic Four logo. Interesting negative space, a large logo, with an odd jumble of letter forms. Yet it stands out from across the room, which is what its designed to do. There is very little trade dress around it, something that Marvel would work on soon enough.
I don't think that we can overstate the importance of having Jack Kirby as your cover designer. His work screamed out at you from the page, and he would border design elements on the edge when given the opportunity to help focus the eye. The last think that you really would want to do is restrict a Kirby cover.
Please note FF #140, not a good month for the cover designers, not a good time in cover design period. They were trying to come up with a story hook for the book, and have just as many baloons as on FF#1, but in a far less elegant manner.
What I was always fascinated by were the little corner symbols that they chose to put on the upper left of the book. For instance, I thought, would you be more likely to buy this comic by the fact that it had a guy made of fire, or a big orange rock guy rather than the rest of the cover? John Byrne said that he left the Dave Cockrum heads on the X-Men book for the same number of issues that Dave drew the book before changing it to his drawing. They left the horrible Shang Chi corner guy up there long after Gulacy came on the book, which I never understood.
I was particularly hard on the production guys doing Marvel Team-Up, which had a horizontal Marvel banner, the MTU (Oft called Marvel Throw Up by the less charitable among us) logo, the abridged Spider-Man logo followed by whatever other logo was co-starring with Spidey. I always noticed when they had a co-star that didn't have his own logo, because clearly Saladino or Brodsky or one of the production guys had to quickly knock something together. Or, they decided to try a new logo, perhaps to rebrand the character, even though the word "rebrand" wouldn't be coined for another 15 years.
Just how crappy is this stat of the Ghost Rider? Do we even know who created it?
As Marvel moved in to the seventies, the top banner Marvel Comics Group logo became the standard, thus removing a half inch of space from the page. There was also a solid color drop that started to come in behind certain logos, or on certain months. Someone clearly had decided that the Captain America logo was too busy and they would alternate either black or yellow behind it to make it pop. Of course, given that it wasn't just "Captain America" then but "Captain America and the Falcon", you had a logo treatment that took literally almost 50% of the cover surface area!
I mean, just how big and bold is this Cap logo from issue #104? And doesn't Captain America scream purple to you?
A "Yellow" month for Steve and Sam.
I also liked that they decided to make it easy of us kids perusing the spinner racks, but putting the name on the upper left corner, so that you could take a single thumb and finger connection and flip through all the books in a particular spinner slot in one fell swoop.
Every so often we see some logo work that echo's the negative space of those early FFs. We can see how much larger the Leave it to Chance logo was, in a design similar to the 1963 Marvels. After the initial 4 issue run, the UPS logo would be added, and the logo would be shrunk down slightly. Too bad.