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Fantastic Four cover logos, part one

2010 November 4

This November marks 49 years of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic book series. (More or less; the first issue had a cover date of November, though I’m not sure what day it actually arrived at newsstands, etc.)

A year from now there will probably be all kinds of hoopla. Genius/contrarian that I am, I thought I would post something marking a half-century of this series a year early.

Fantastic Four was the first superhero comic book I really got into. (I read the Transformers comic book before that, but never “branched out” from it to any other series.) At one point I had heaps of Fantastic Four comics, including about 140 consecutive issues at a time when that was more than one-third of the total issues ever published, along with a significant minority of the remaining two thirds of the series. I stopped reading it nearly a decade ago, now, for the most part, and I’m not sure when I last bought a new issue.

But the FF stays with me, as have a lot of Fantastic Four comics even after one or two rounds of purging. And as this is (very loosely) a design blog, I thought I might do a little retrospective of the many and varied Fantastic Four logos appearing during the past 49 years.

Admittedly it may well be that someone has already done this, perhaps even my friend Sean; the guy used to run a gigantic Fantastic Four web site and currently posts to his blog nearly every single day(!!) so it’s entirely possible I could have missed something like that. But what the hey; I write this blog as much for my own entertainment as for the edification of others.

Cover of Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four #1, November 1961. (See? Told you.)

Above is the decidedly-iconic cover to the very first issue of the Fantastic Four. (Scanned from a reproduction; if I had a mint copy of FF #1 I would probably be busy playing Sotheby’s against Christie’s for the auction rights rather than writing a blog post.)

Way back then, no one had any concept that the series would last six issues, let alone a half-century. Yet it did, as did the basic design of that wacky logo, apparently designed by Sol Brodsky. Without meaning any slight to old Sol, however, I’m pretty sure that the original Fantastic Four logo was not the product of extensive thought and experimentation. I’ve got a Marvel history coffee table book which I believe contains a cover from an earlier series with similar lettering (I would scan it in if it were handy, but it is not). I think I also recall someone once commenting that, at the time, he “thought it was a funny animal book” based on the style of the logo.

At any rate, it isn’t what I would come up with were I tasked with designing the cover logo for a new series about a team of science-fiction superhero adventurers. Yet, more than one lasting design began almost accidentally. In this case, although the details have continually been tweaked as will be seen below, the original FF logo is the Fantastic Four logo, and will presumbly remain such for as long as the concept exists even if the series itself continues to experiment with different looks now and then.

Fantastic Four logo from cover of #279

FF logo from issue #279

The above is probably the closest thing to a settled, basic, “final” version of the original logo that exists. The “wackiness” is toned down just a bit, and an outline has been added while the definite article (“the”) is absent. The title is also left-aligned, as has been the case for most of the history of this version of the logo (in this case, the resultant white space is used for a blurb, as is the case with many other covers).

Fantastic Four logo from cover of issue #409

FF logo from cover of issue #409

It could be a toss-up between the previous logo and the above version, admittedly, in terms of the “most basic” version of the “traditional” logo design. A thinner outline plus a drop shadow has appeared on many covers; I’m not going to attempt to count them up and compare but it could be that this version has gotten more use than the plain, outline-only version.

Frequently, though, the responsible parties have apparently felt that neither a single outline nor an outline-plus-drop-shadow were quite enough.

Logo from Fantastic Four volume 2, issue #10

From the cover of Fantastic Four volume 2, issue #10

The above version from the late 1990s, for example, has: 1) an outline, 2) a drop shadow, 3) an outline around the drop shadow, and 4) one more outline around the whole thing for good measure. (Plus a gradient effects on the inside of the main letter forms.) Yowzas.

Fantastic Four logo from cover of issue #510

Logo from the cover of issue #510 (don't ask which volume; it gets confusing)

While on this cover from several years ago, we have: 1) an outline, 2) inner and outer strokes added to the outline itself, 3) an inner drop shadow, 4) an outer drop shadow and 5) a second, red drop shadow which almost looks like a registration error but presumably is not. Who knows. Ai-yi-yiii.

Fantastic Four logo from cover of series issue #116

From the cover of the tenth anniversary issue, #116. This comic is nearly four decades old.

There have been at least a couple of further variants of the “traditional” logo over the decades, as well. This squarish version with an increased x-height was used briefly about a decade into the series’ existence.

Logo from cover of Fantastic Four 1 2 3 4 limited series

From the controversial (but, as it turned out, excellent) limited series by Grant Morrison and Jae Lee

Then there was this about ten years ago, combining a condensed version of the traditional logo with a beveled effect.

Logo from "Marvel Action Hour: Fantastic Four"

From the "Marvel Action Hour" Fantastic Four comic (and animated cartoon). Yes, those are the twin towers in the background; kind of instantly dates this issue doesn't it?

The mid-1990s animated series (and accompanying tie-in comic) featured a squared-off version of the classic FF logo. As a teenager I loved this version of the logo when it was being used, though looking back from years later it seems rather ill-advised and stiff. (It is interesting that the drop shadow is below-right, which is more or less the traditional position for shadows in graphic design, whereas all other FF logos place it below-left.)

There have also been a number of Fantastic Four logos which bore no resemblance to the traditional logo. At this point I think it’s not unreasonable to break this post into two parts; part two will appear tomorrow.

5 Responses
  1. November 4, 2010

    Since you called me out twice, I figured I should probably respond. Although given the subject matter, I’m sure you knew I would anyway! 🙂

    Despite considering it more than once, I’ve never really written on the FF logo. I had a passing mention of Brodsky designing it on FFPlaza but nothing close to comprehensive. As far as I know, this has never been tackled online before.

    The street date for FF #1 was actually Aug. 8, 1961. At least, that’s the earliest record I’ve seen of it hitting newsstands. I suspect that with the spotty distribution at the time, there were actually multiple street dates over the course of several weeks, depending on what part of the country you were in.

    That font style was also used on Amazing Adult Fantasy #7 when it was retitled from Amazing Adventures. That issue has a month later cover date than FF #1 and has higher job numbers attached, so it’s likely that the FF logo came first. (FF #1 was job number V-372 but the stories in AAF #7 range from V-391 to V-396.) I’ve seen it suggested before that AAF #7 came out first, but I have yet to see any real evidence or even a cogent argument for that.

    I also always thought it was odd that that “Fantastic” is generally displayed in a larger font size than “Four”. Seems that it should be the reverse to make for smoother spacing overall. Although, as you point out, the extra dead space around the logo is often used for some kind of text blurb.

    I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that I was the one who created the Fantasti-Font based on this logo. It has some kerning issues that still bug me to this day and the numbers are a bit thicker than they should be, but I still think I’ve got a MUCH better design for “g” and “4” than the official version of the font.

  2. Matt permalink
    November 4, 2010

    This is an awesome comment; all of these are great notes to have appended to this post. Thanks!

    (Also, dude. You know what the job number was for Fantastic Four #1. And other comics besides that! I think that may even trump knowing Clark Kent’s social security number…!)

  3. November 4, 2010

    All the job number thing shows is that I know they exist and where to look to get those numbers fairly quickly. There’s more Google-Fu involved than memorizing arcane bits of data. I had looked them up at one point so I knew I could throw that tidbit out there, but I had to hit a couple of different web sites to get the specific numbers.

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