Friday, 30 September 2016

Messing with the Logo - A 2000AD Interlude

A COUPLE OF HUNDRED YEARS AGO, I was paid to interfere with the work of others, as member of the editorial team on 2000AD, a British weekly comic that featured mainly science-fiction oriented action stories. Later, I was briefly the Editor, a post I never sought but was rather thrust upon me - though that's a story for another time.

The Galaxy's Greatest Comic has had a long tradition of both evolving and messing with the logo, much of it on my watch, but also stretching back to the dawn of time when 2000AD first began. The original dummy for the comic had the logo rendered as "AD2000", although there's no evidence to suggest that this was intended to be its final title. Dummies were produced as a matter of course for any new magazine back then as a way of demonstrating to interested parties - management, marketers, distributors - what the  final product might look like. In the US comics industry, they called them "ashcans".

The final render of the logo, designed and executed by an un-named "bodger" in the IPC Youth Group art department, bore a slight resemblance to the classic Superman logo of 40 years earlier. I wouldn't suggest this was in any way deliberate, more of an interesting coincidence. The epic, forced perspective style brings an energy to the cover that the earlier version on the dummy lacks.

While the comic was still in the planning stages, it was titled "AD2000", but wiser heads prevailed and for launch it was rechristened 2000AD. The first version of the comics logo had some subliminal similarities to the iconic Superman logo. (Click on image to enlarge)
This first logo managed to survive for more than two years, when it was evolved away from the Superman look. Prog 119 (30 Jun 1979) took a very different approach, though it lacked the power of the original. It was tweaked slightly when Tornado was merged, with Prog 134 (13 Oct 1979). This version only lasted a year or so before it was replaced by the eyesore chrome effect logo that it would sport for the next seven years, or so.

This logo was okay - not terribly inspired and a bit of an awkward shape. The cover lines at this point in the comic's history hadn't yet taken a turn for the comedic. That would come much later.
Prog 178 (20 Sep 1980) featured a masthead that was designed by then art editor Robin Smith, and was still in force when I joined the 2000AD team in February 1987.

This may have seemed like a good idea at the time - what doesn't say "science fiction" like a chrome effect logo, eh? But I thought it was cheesy, and may well have contributed to putting me off 2000AD, which I never looked at before I worked on the paper.
I thought this was the weakest logo in the mag's history. It has a slight echo of its predecessor, with the multiple curved underlines and the same general rainbow shape, but that terrible chrome effect ... it's hard to imagine that this was created by a designer. Consequently, every issue was locked into a logo that used that same chrome-effect pale blue. When the design team did try to vary the colour scheme - by using a darker blue or a red - it just didn't work at all.

The really surprising thing here is that this logo style survived so long. I'd been on the team for a few months when I happened to mention to editor Richard Burton that I thought the logo was incredibly old-fashioned for what was supposed to be the Magazine of the Future. "That chrome effect just shrieks 'early Eighties'", I offered helpfully. I was a little surprised when Richard agreed. He'd been living with it for the preceding seven years, on-and-off, so I'd just assumed he was happy with it. But ... not so much. So we got the wheels in motion to bring some change.

As I recall, it involved a bit of work to get the management enthused, but managing editor Steve MacManus was very supportive. He took the view that an overhaul was overdue and smoothed the path for us. Richard and I anticipated much push-back from the Earthlets, so we kind of pre-empted that - or tried to - by making the change over two consecutive Progs, 554 (26 Dec 1987) and 555 (2 Jan 1988), and trying to build a bit of a story around it.

The first order of business was to get rid of the old logo. So we had Tharg and his droids ceremoniously burn it on the cover of the Christmas Prog for 1987. Then, a New Year, a New Logo. A specially commissioned John Higgins painting perfectly showcased the new logo, making it an object within the cover scene, a visual gag we'd return to more than once over the next few years.
I recall that Richard gave Prog 554 cover artist Mark Farmer quite a detailed brief. The final art shows the Burt droid chiselling the old logo off the wall, watched by an alarmed robin, and the Mac II droid saying "Out with the old, eh, Mighty One?" Tharg carries a gift-wrapped package under his arm in the shape of the new logo.

The following Prog unveiled Steve Cook's redesigned logo, with the cover art showing Dredd preventing a luddite perp from prising the logo from a wall with a crowbar.

STEVE COOK - SUPER-DESIGNER

I had worked with Steve Cook at Marvel Comics a few years earlier and knew he was a smart and creative designer who could come up with something pretty cool. Steve took the tired old Robin Smith design and completely revised it for a new generation of readers. He retained the basic shape, but cleverly elongated it and made the "2000" resemble the badge on the front of Dredd's helmet. Many people didn't spot that until it was pointed out to them. The new shape also gave the cover artists much more room to play with and made positioning cover lines - by this time much more punchy and pun-ny - much, much easier.

The first version of that logo had been rendered by the Fleetway art department, but Steve was never really satisfied with it and re-drew it for Prog 750, to make it bolder than earlier versions.

With Prog 750, Cook redrew the 2000AD logo to make it more symmetrical and bolder. The notorious Summer Offensive of 1991 introduced a new font commissioned by Steve from Rian Hughes called "Scrotnig" and the recurring hexagon motif. A couple of Progs later, Steve brought back the "Starring Judge Dredd" in its own floating panel.
Steve made further tweaks every so often to keep the logo looking fresh, though none of these changes were drastic. With Prog 842 (3 Jul 1991), the corners were rounded off and the Judge Dredd lettering temporarily dropped, but it was back with Prog 844 (17 Jul 1991) floating in its own panel just below the main logo, making it look subliminally like an exclamation mark!

Prog 888 didn't really need the "Starring Judge Dredd" panel. It's pretty obvious who it is kicking down the door. The revision to the logo on Prog 889 brought a slightly more sophisticated look.
The Dredd panel was dropped again for Prog 888 (20 May 1994) - I can't remember why, but probably because it would have been obscured by Judge Dredd's head. Then Steve once again revised the logo for Prog 889 (27 May 1994), adding contoured outlines and bringing the "Starring Judge Dredd" lettering back into the background panel. This style would persist for three years until incoming editor Dave Bishop dumped Steve's logo concept completely for a complete re-think.

HERE'S HOW YOU MESS WITH A LOGO

Once we had Steve Cook's new logo to play with, everyone associated with the comic wanted to join in, but as it was Steve's baby, he got to go first. Prog 584 (23 Jul 1988), expanded the new logo to dominate the whole cover, casting a giant shadow across Dredd's helmet and a sinister splattering of blood. Prog 606 (24 Dec 1988) revived the time-honoured tradition of adding snow to the logo of the Christmas issue, though we were doing it ironically. And Prog 615 (25 Feb 1989) featured Rian Hughes' clever design, celebrating 12 years of Thrill-Power - the really bad pun is mine.

These were some of the milder examples of "messing with the logo" that Richard, Steve and I perpetrated during the early days of our tenure on the Galaxy's Greatest Comics. We took the point of view that the logo could be varied as long as there was a reason behind it.
The following year, Steve Cook celebrated the comic's 13th birthday with an inspired beatnik design with Prog 667 (24 Feb 1990). He followed this with the special "Low Visibility" issue cover for Prog 772 (16 Mar 1991). We'd noticed we were getting a lot of letters from British soldiers serving on the front line in Iraq and, while the 2000AD editorial team had no political views on the war, we were determined to show support for the troops ordered in to harm's way. Needless to say, the soldiers' response to that issue showed us it had been a good call. Then, for Prog 764 (4 Jan 1992), the in-house Fleetway art studio created a montage of Brigand Doom images from the interior strip, but styled it like a (then-current) Macintosh computer interface.

As the editorial team grew in confidence, the level of messing became more daring. Prog 667 took the logo down to the foot of the cover, something few magazines would try then or now. The "Low Visibility" Prog 722 was designed so that soldiers serving in the gulf could read it safely. And Prog 764 played with the idea that if each issue was 'Programme" then it should be run on a computer - we chose the publishing standard, the Macintosh.
Master artist Cliff Robinson was also inspired to create many clever visual jokes using Steve Cook's logo. His first was on Prog 584 (15 Oct 1988), where he depicted Dredd holding up the logo, like a referee's red card. His next visual pun embedded the logo in the side of Dredd helmet, for the cover of Prog 619 (25 Mar 1989). And the cover of Prog 738 (4 Jul 1991) had Dredd using the logo for target practice.

As well as being a superb artist, Cliff Robinson is also a talented graphic designer, and instantly saw the possibilities for incorporating the Robo-Cook design into his cover layouts.
We had a few more instances of messing with the logo during this period. For the 15th Anniversary issue, Prog 772 (29 Feb 1992), Steve produced a gift-wrapped cover, and had the wrapping paper repeating the logo. We could probably have sold that design to Clinton Cards. For the cover for Prog 836 (22 May 1993), Steve worked with the late, great Brett Ewins to produce this tip of the cap to design legend Jean Paul Gaude, who had created the iconic cover and video for the Grace Jones album Slave to the Rhythm. The Valentine's Day heart-shaped logo on the cover of Prog 875 (18 Feb 1994) was especially fun, and showed Tharg had a romantic streak.

Still playing with the readers' expectations, Steve Cook produced a gift-wrapped 2000AD for Prog 772. And, inspired by the Grace Jones add for Citroen, designed by Jean-Paul Gaude, Steve and Brett Ewins worked up an homage for Prog 836. And who can forget the Valentine's Day Prog 875, with its heart-shaped logo?
Then, my own personal favourite distortion of the logo was on the cover we did for Prog 843 (3 Jul 1994), the second of the Summer Offensive and the first to feature "love him or hate him" Big Dave. The Daily Mirror had been running a billboard campaign that summer with the tagline, "It's a newspaper, not a comic!", which was presumably suggesting that The Sun was a comic. I was a little offended by that, as the editorial team felt that our efforts had far more dignity and sophistication than either The Daily Mirror or The Sun. So our "red-top" cover was created in protest. Steve and I sat together at the computer, with a couple of tabloids for reference, and did our own version, with me writing the text as we went. And, of course, we included the tag line on the logo, "It's a comic, not a newspaper".

There was, of course a precedent for designing the cover of a comic like a newspaper. It was the standard format for the great 1960 tabloid comic TV21, and I later discovered that 2000AD's first art editor Kevin O'Neil had also done a newspaper cover for an earlier issue of the comic. So, not startlingly original, but I do think ours was done better.

TV21's newspaper design was pretty revolutionary for a comic at the time. It certainly captured my attention, and I followed the paper for the first year or so of its life. Later, 2000AD would do a newspaper cover for the story "Ant Wars". The newspaper cover from my tenure was much more of a joke, rebutting a stupid strapline The Daily Mirror had used in its advertising.
Of course, the logo lent itself to merchandising too, and we produced teeshirts, mugs and other assorted paraphernalia that used Steve Cook's logo design. I don't think he ever earned any extra money out of it. I still have my 2000AD enamel badge, though I don't wear it so much these days.


The 2000AD badge, using Steve Cook's logo, was one of the must-have items of the early 1990s. We even did a gold "Contributor" version, of which I think only about 100 were made.
Later in the run of 2000AD, after I'd left, incoming editor David Bishop had Steve redesign the logo again, moving away from the classic logo that had worked so well for so many years. The result, which debuted on Prog 950 (20 Jul 1995), was still an attractive logo, but it lacked the cleverness and versatility of its predecessor.

The revised logo that appeared on Prog 950 was okay, but it didn't lend itself to playful messing the way its predecessor did, and a new version of the classic red-white-and-black logo was back as soon as incoming editor Andy Diggle could feasibly manage it, on Prog 1234.
Tellingly, once David Bishop had left and Andy Diggle took the editor's chair, the logo reverted to an updated version of the classic, specially redrawn by Steve Cook, on Prog 1234 (21 Mar 2001). The cover was an homage to John Higgins' original version on Prog 555 ... and the line Dredd's uttering is an in-joke, as it was the catch-phrase of Fleetway's Managing Director Jon Davidge, who wasn't a great fan of change for change's sake. There was a further revision on Matt Smith's watch, but the exclamation mark style 2000AD branding was retained and is still in use today.

Which sort of goes to show that you can't keep a good logo down.

Next: Some late 1960s DC Comics I did like.


5 comments:

  1. Hell's bells, most of that happened while I was freelancing for the comic, so thanks for the time-jaunt, Al. If I recall correctly, you even had me letter a 'Next Prog' logo based on Steve's 2000 A.D. design.

    Incidentally, a U.S. 'ashcan' isn't quite the same thing as a U.K. 'dummy'. An ashcan was merely for the purpose of securing copyright on the title of a mag, and sometimes contained nothing that resembled the contents of the first proper issue, whereas a dummy was designed to show the powers-that-be something that at least resembled the proposed comic. A distinct difference I'd say, Al. That apart, another fascinating post.

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  2. Brilliant collating job, Alan. I'd forgotten how many variations we did with Steve's great design. As you quite rightly said, it opened up the whole cover to new, dynamic layout ideas. You know, most of those still look pretty good today! Have to agree that Bishop's traditional strapline seems very much like a retrograde step.

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  3. The original logo still remains the strongest in my humble earthlet opinion.

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    1. I agree. The original logo had a woefully short life span compared with the 'fan' logo that has gone on for far too long. Not sure what the point is now either on the current progs of stating 2000AD 2000AD twice?

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  4. Enjoyed this blast from the past. Grud knows I deserve multiple Rigellian hotshots for some of my decisions while editing 2000AD, but I didn't take on the Rosette of Sirius until Prog 979. The new logo on Prog 950 was introduced by the editorial team of Steve MacManus, John Tomlinson & Steve Cook in the summer of 1995 - before my time as Tharg. I retained it when I became editor six months later, just before xmas 1995.

    Steve and I introduced a rounded corners version of that logo for the 20th anniversary issue in 1997 [Prog 1033], but it remained much the same throughout my time as editor. Just as I was leaving, the cover & logo did get a makeover [Prog 1200, summer 2000] - and it was not a success. Can't recall if that was down to me, incoming editor Andy Diggle, or Steve Cook - but I'll happily take the blame for that error of judgement [I made plenty, add it to the list of charges].

    Andy & Steve wisely reinstated the design classic version eight months later and it still graces the Galaxy's greatest comic 15 years on. Long may it reign!

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