17 February 2011

Learning from Superman

Face front, True Believers! I am going to tell you about a time before there were comic stores. I know, it’s hard to imagine! But once, you had to scrounge through your local convenience stores and drug stores and check the spinner racks to find your favourite heroes. And because Mom and Pop who ran the shops didn’t read comics themselves, you couldn’t always count on the same same titles coming in from month to month.

That’s right. No boxes. No pull files. No subscription services. No previews as to what the next issue would be. Just a bunch of comics in an unpredictable stack that you had to hunt through to find the good ones.

Comic book makers knew they were competing for attention. The old spinner racks held so many competing titles, and usually didn’t even show the entire cover!

Comic covers had to grab attention, just like a conference poster does. And one of the most important elements on that cover was a great logo – about the only thing that the publisher could count on being visible in the display rack.

Lettering maestro Todd Klein recently picked “Comics’s greatest logos.” He also does logo studies on his blog regularly (alphbetic compilation here). What are the characteristics of a great logo, and what lessons can be applied to posters?


Comic logos are big, short, and bold. Klein wrote about The X-Men:

I think the ideal length for a good comics logo is one word from three to eight letters. One and two letter names tend to read as some kind of abbreviation or symbol rather than a title. Longer names can certainly work, but short ones can be larger and have more impact.

Klein called “Action” in Action Comics “a gift to any designer: a short, punchy word that begins and ends with great diagonals that help express what the word says.”

It’s rare to find a comic title as long winded as Here comes... Daredevil, the Man Without Fear! or Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. And Klein notes that those sorts of taglines around the main character’s name were often hard to read, since the emphasis was always on the character name.

But the titles of conference posters tend to suffer from the usual academic problem of never using one word when four or five will do.

Shorten your title! Be ruthless in editing. Cut it to the fewest words you can.


Every comic logo tries to be instantly recognizable. You’d never mistake the organic, spooky look of The House of Mystery for the forward leaning The Flash.

This one is tricky for poster makers. While comics presumably could build a readership from month to month, conference posters are one shot affairs. Some ideas are to use a display type for the title, or to get some relevant pictures up in that top area that can act as an entry point.


Dressing is the publisher, the price, that old “Approved by the Comics Code” stamp... This is one are that I do not recommend following comics’ lead. In some cases, these can be useful, but in many (most) cases, they just lead to visual confusion.

For poster makers, this means ditch the institutional logos around the title! And don’t feel the need to list the your complete mailing addresses, with postal code, and phone number, and fax number, and email addresses and web site URLs.

Related posts

Learning from Cosmo
Lessons from young readers 
Don’t hold my hand

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