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.THE VISIONARY - PART 3 of 10
The SECRET HISTORY OF THE SUPER LOGO!

Jerry Siegel dreamed up Superman in a single, sleepless night. "I hop right out of bed and write this down," he recalls, "And then I go back and think some more, for about two hours, and get up again and write that down. This goes on all night at two-hour intervals, until in the morning I have a complete script."

Jim Steranko continues the story: "Without stopping for breakfast, he raced through the deserted dawn to awaken his friend, Joe Shuster, 12 blocks away. They begin developing the character in comic strip form. Both are 17 years old." Shown above is Joe Shuster's original 1933 concept sketch for "The Superman." This is one of the few pieces of surviving art that depicts the character as he was initially imagined -- a non-costumed, non-flying strongman similar to Doc Savage. Shuster sketched the super-logo himself.

Pictured below is another early version of "The Superman," this one penciled and inked by Joe Shuster. As you can see, the "Supe rman" logo has undergone a revision, and the medium of the comic book is so new that Siegel and Shuster have to explain it to potential buyers with the blurb: "A science fiction story in cartoons."
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Joe Shuster was an artist -- not a typographer, or a logo designer. The two early Superman logos seen above, both drawn by Shuster in 1933, are heavily influenced by the art deco style of typography prevalent at the time. They bear little resemblance to the Superman logo we all know and love.

Below is a comparison of the penciled Superman logo and the inked logo. Both were hand-drawn by Joe Shuster! In the penciled logo, the baseline is almost totally straight, with only a slight arch. Not quite the famous Superman logo we know today, but this is only Shuster's rough, original version.

In the inked version, bold stripes have replaced the soft shadows of the earlier version, and a more pronounced three-dimensional perspective has been added. Additionally, the art deco style "e" in the word "Superman" has given way to a traditional upper case "E." The bottom logo is closer to its familiar modern look, but it is still not fully developed.
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THREE YEARS LATER...
Following his creation in 1933, Superman was rejected by virtually every publisher in the business! Three full years after creating the man from Krypton, Joe Shuster made the following roughs on a piece of paper that survives to this day (shown below).

These rough doodles, made in 1936, show Superman, now with a flowing cape, pictured on a box of whole wheat crackers (see enhanced section of drawing, pictured right). Above the super stick-figure is the thumbnail outline of yet another Superman logo, this one in the very beginning stages of acquiring its famous blocky, 3-D perspective look.

The Superman logo would have to wait several years for its next evolution, which would occur under the auspices of DC Comics.
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SUPERMAN #1 ASHCAN EDITION
DC bought Superman from Siegel and Shuster, and the character debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), covered in the last issue of DIAL B for BLOG. Below is the ashcan edition of the first issue of the character's OWN title, Superman #1. (Ashcan editions are in-house publications used to secure copyrights.)

This comic features cover art from Action #7 by Joe Shuster, combined with some interior art from Action #8 for the background. This historic 1939 book marks the first time the name "Superman Comics" appeared on a published cover. The SUPERMAN logo seen here, apparently drawn by Joe Shuster, sports the famous 3-D look -- and also some very funky shading on the tops of the letters!
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Following the publication of the ashcan edition shown above, the word "COMICS" was dropped from the book's title. Then, finally, came the debut of the first comic book ever printed to feature a single character, Superman #1 (1939). On it, the Super-logo has, at last, taken on its familiar red and blue, 3-D perspective form...

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COMPARING SUPER LOGOS...
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ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK...
But, strangely, the Super-logo of Superman #1 didn't last. The second and third issues of the comic featured yet another version of the logo, and with Superman #4, it looked like the logo had been entirely redrawn! By Superman #5, things were getting out of hand. It looked like the logo was undergoing some sort of bizarre issue-by-issue meltdown...
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The sight of the incredible mutating logo on Superman #5 must have been more than someone -- probably Jack Liebowitz -- could bear. It was time to stop the nonsense of redrawing the logo anew for each issue of the comic. It was time to bring in a professional designer to refine the logo, and render a version of it that would stand the test of time. Where would such a masterpiece come from? Where else!


"One day, I stopped the already ancient Ira Schnapp when he came up to the offices. He had been a letterer and logo designer beginning in the ’30s. He showed me how he took artist Joe Shuster’s crude Superman title and turned it into the trademark the world knows and recognizes today….” —Michael Uslan, The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir (2011)

So, once again, as he had perhaps done in creating the ACTION COMICS logo, Ira Schnapp sat down at his drawing table and created a masterpiece. How best to describe it -- perhaps by saying that no other logo so completely and thoroughly objectifies its subject? Perhaps by noting that the thing practically SCREAMS "Superman, Superhero, Super, Super Super!"? No, let's adopt the description once used by Mark Evanier: "It's probably the best logo ever designed for a comic book, and maybe for anything, anywhere"

Here it is: Ira Schnapp's immortal refinement of Joe Shuster's Superman logo:
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Here's how the logo looked when it made its full-color debut, on the cover of Superman #6 (September 1940)...
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Pictured below are three key Super-logo covers: (1) The logo is used as a hanging post for miniature Superman figures (Superman #209); (2) Superman crushes his own logo as he is drawn through the earth (Superman #274); and (3) The historic last issue of the original Superman title (Superman #423)...
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Ira Schnapp's refinement of Joe Shuster's Superman logo ran UNALTERED for over four decades, starting in September 1940 and ending in August 1983, when the logo was modified slightly for no particular reason. The new version was done by a man named Marshall Arisman. See how the bottom of the "U" isn't squared off any more, and how the "E" no longer has colored shading in it? Also, the top of the "S" overlaps the "U." What a totally unnecessary change. Hey DC -- change it back!
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MEANWHILE, BACK IN 1939...
Early DC house ads were not hand lettered. The copy in them was set in type. You may be wondering why EVERY house ad in DC comics wasn't set in type, and why they were eventually all hand lettered -- the answer is economics. In 1940, and right through to the advent of the desktop computer in the 1980s, typesetting was a lengthy, complicated and difficult process. It was also very expensive. It required tons of expensive machinery and exotic special papers, not to mention a lake full of noxious chemicals which "developed" the type in a process similar to the way in which photographic film develops. Below is a selection of DC house ads, all typeset, which usually ran in the back of the company's early comics.

 
DC HOUSE AD -- ACTION COMICS #14 (1939)
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DC HOUSE AD -- DETECTIVE COMICS #40 (1940)
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DC HOUSE AD -- VARIOUS TITLES (1940)

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CLICK HERE TO READ "THE VISIONARY" PART FOUR

MORT WEISINGER and IRA SCHNAPP
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