Great comic logos: Ghost Rider
Last week, letterer/designer Todd Klein discussed his top ten greatest comics logos at Comic Book Resources. His list includes a lot of good selections and interesting comments, though I think his/CBR’s stated criteria of “instantly recognizable… by members of the public at large” is tricky. I mean, assuming that “by the public at large” means a majority of said public, I’m not sure that there are ten comics logos which are instantly recognizable. For that matter I’m also uncertain about how we define “recognizable.” All of these logos are text, spelling out in English the name of the character or series which they represent, so it seems difficult to separate recognition of the property’s logo from recognition of the property.
In any event, Klein winds things up writing “That’s my list. I’d be interested in hearing yours!” Since I already (unintentionally) produced my own response to his history of the Fantastic Four logo, I might as well accept this invitation. I’ve gone through my collection and pulled out five logos which, for various different reasons, strike me as worthy of notice.
At number one: Ghost Rider.
The relaunched Ghost Rider series of the 1990s was probably one of those concepts which was both innovative and perfectly in synch with the moment, at least when it began. And yet even now, 20 years on, a lot of the series’ visual “design” still looks smart and impressive. The horrific transformation scenes; the distinctive big, blocky shapes of the Ghost Rider’s motorcycle; the Rider’s “magic” chain tricks which were eye-catching without violating the early stories’ relatively-realistic action-movie, as opposed to overt fantasy-horror, tone.
And the redesigned Ghost Rider logo, if not flashy in quite the same way, was probably just as remarkably fresh and innovative at the time.
On the surface, the design is simple and rather obvious. “Ghost Rider,” surrounded in flames just like the head of the eponymous character; nothing too surprising or new, there. But compared to most comic book logos, particularly as of 1990, the updated Ghost Rider logo was a dramatic departure from the ordinary.
Most comic book logos share a broadly similar “neat” and “clean” rendering style. Klein’s top ten logos illustrate this perfectly. Fairly simple shapes; smooth, uniform outlines; possibly a solid drop shadow and/or other simulated dimensionality but still, in a sense, always belonging to a flat, smooth and polished universe.
The Ghost Rider logo took all of this, and threw it out behind onto the highway while roaring away at a speed considerably in excess of the posted limit.
All the logos on Klein’s list appear to be the product of very precise technical pens; the designers might just as well have never heard of brushes. Whereas the Ghost Rider logo leaves one wondering whether it was the product of a brush, or of taking some fabric that the dog’s been chewing on and dipping a frayed end in ink. This thing is rough. It’s not over-the-top, but there’s definitely a hint of spatter, not out of place in the fairly-violent action series. The scribbly forms were also a great compliment to the gritty, textured style of the early issues’ artwork from Mark Texeira, whose style is about as far from the clean, traditional look of a Joe Sinnott or Terry Austin as the Ghost Rider logo is from that of Superman or the FF.
It’s also interesting how the Ghost Rider logo, in some ways a very complicated shape (creating a vector-art version in a computer drawing program would require many more points than typical clean-line logos, at any rate), is also unusual in its simplicity. Solid letters in the foreground, flames in the background. Sometimes an outline was added to the flames, as in the example above, but it wasn’t essential to the logo. On dark backgrounds the outline could be left out or at least blend into the shadows; the flame shape itself basically was the outline, eliminating the need for additional strokes or drop shadows.
Foreground and background; two shapes and two colors. No need for shadows or gradients or other simulated dimensionality, because the forms of the logo itself suggested motion, energy and space quite effectively by themselves. Very well done.
Late in the 90s Ghost Rider series’ existence, the logo was briefly replaced with a relatively traditional version as part of a poorly-received revamp. The revamp was soon abandoned in favor of the earlier look, and logo, both of which have generally remained attached to the concept even since the 90s series’ cancelation and subsequent revivals.
The logo has not to my knowledge appeared outside of comics, even though Ghost Rider was made into a feature film, so the logo probably doesn’t qualify for a top ten per the criteria of Klein’s list. All the same, as both a very good design by itself and the lasting logo of an enduringly popular character, I submit that Ghost Rider certainly belongs in some sort of comics logo top ten.
A bit later this week, I’ll offer up a few “Honorable Mention” candidates; stay tuned.