Serials & Wordmarks

I have been talking with a friend and collaborator about a project.

The discussion has included an appreciation of wordmarks that announce publications, especially serials. How does a magazine or a comic or other serial make and then keep a promise to its readers? The answer of course is both verbal and visual, in a number of ways. But from the earliest moment, the wordmark is part of the implicit contract.

Since I look at comics and pulp covers and magazines pretty often to begin with, these are obvious sources.

I’m also attracted to particular corporate logotypes, especially from the pre-international style period.

Package designs, too, especially one- and two-color jobs: soda bottles, caps, matchbooks, ashtrays, etc.

There’s much to be said for classical simplicity: the mark that works in a single color, again and again and again.

A Vogue Turkey cover, courtesy of coverjunkie.

But there’s also fun to be had with variable color, especially as a way of creating variety in the context of continuity. Crime Does Not Pay, a classic of the genre, helped inspire a backlash against such comics in the mid 1950s.

Holiday Magazine used a single color wordmark, except when it didn’t.

These two George Giusti covers, seven years apart, use an alternating two-color palette that responds to the rest of the cover.

I used a variation of this approach on the Ulcer City logotype, modified here for publishing purposes.

Another variation, using variable color and typographic vocabularies, by the great Olle Eskell.

Chris Ware draws and designs with a unified sensibility. Above, a typographic flourish from a Rusty Brown narrative from 2006.

I bought the book because of the cover, in a bookstore in Moab, Utah that no longer exists. (I was just there, and made a beeline for the store, but it had been replaced by a "Old-Time Photography" studio. Arrgh.) The design and production reference debossed, richly colored book covers from the Childcraft series.

The original Childcraft covers are totally killer artifacts. White, blue and black inks stamped on red leather. ("Leather.")

Of course Alex Steinweiss belongs in this conversation, even though his album cover designs were, by definition, one-offs; they had to make a visual promise that somehow connected to the music on the recording. In this particular case I’m focused on the visual unit of the clarinet and the word “Mozart,” including, especially, the secondary level of internal articulation on the instrument, with the contrast level expertly controlled.

The cruder pulp cover workmarks have their charms. I love the Super Science mark from the top of this post. The Rangeland Romance mark brings a little less to the party. But the vernacular energy of the pulps is undeniable. Typically they feel composed by sign-painters, not designers.

I admire both, the folk version and the professional; intuitively I work to fuse them in my own projects.

The pulps and adventure comics are truest to the spirit of the serial, as a cultural matter. The saga. Finally, two last examples.

A theatrical serial, born on the comics pages, transplanted onto movie screens: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. (A little grandiloquent?!)

And of course, the hand-drawn wordmark for Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates.

Designer unknown, Super Science wordmark, A Popular Publication, 1943

Robert O. Reid, cover illustration, Collier's, August 3, 1940

Designer unknown, wordmark for Zenith Radio, circa 1925

Designer unknown, bottle cap designs, Ritz Grapefruit and Jurk Lemon soda, mid-twentieth century

designer unattributed (though somebody has to know this–a little help?), Vogue Magazine wordmark

Cuneyt Akeroglu, cover photograph, Vogue Turkey, 2010

designer unknown, wordmark for Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay, early 1950s, with various color treatments

George Giusti, cover design for Holiday Magazine, 1957

George Giusti, cover design for Holiday Magazine, 1965

D.B. Dowd and Melanie Reinert, Ulcer City wordmark, 2004, modified 2009

Olle Eskell, Mord i Pingst wordmark, 1953

Chris Ware, wordmark for Rusty Brown, from Acme Novelty Library, 2006; Ware, cover design for the Acme Novelty Library based on midcentury Childcraft book covers, 2006

Milo Winter (speculative), cover design for Childcraft Books Volume 14, Science and Industry, Field Enterprises, 1949

Alex Steinweiss, Mozart: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major, record jacket design, Columbia Records, 1947

designer unknown, wordmark for Rangeland Romance, a Popular Publication, January 1948

designer unknown, title slate, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Universal Pictures, 1940, based on Alex Raymond's adventure strip Flash Gordon.

finally, Milton Caniff, wordmark for Terry and the Pirates, 1944 (that is, this particular strip is 1944; an Art Deco-ish version of the mark appeared in 1934, when the strip debuted).