Successful Logo Design

Branding may be the last thing you think of, but the logo for your comic book is an important element of identity. This is true in all branding, of course, but in comic shops, where books can be stacked in overlapping bins, your comic's logo is often the first thing that a potential new reader sees - and it can't hurt to make it as striking as you possibly can. After all, nobody buys a comic without picking it up and flipping through it first. The goal of your logo (and the entirety of your cover) is to make sure they pick it up!

     First, let's talk about what a logo isn't.

     It's my opinion that there is a difference between a logo, and a word or phrase typed out in an interesting font. The difference may be subtle. A logo may start out as a word or phrase typed out in a font, but a good designer never lets it end there. Your logo should convey mood, and there are a million interesting and creative ways to make those letters unique. You are limited only by your imagination, and your ability to design. I often start my logo designs with good old fashioned pencil and paper and circumvent the fonts all together. The possibilities are endless, so don't take the lazy way out.

     In college, I focused on corporate identity design. Five or six years after graduation, when I began working professionally in comics, I devised a checklist of requirements for successful logo design. The list was based on some of the lessons I'd learned in class and some of my personal experience. What follows is an expanded and improved version of the checklist that I reference each and every time I work on a new logo, with a few of the most commonly asked questions that I receive on the topic of logo design.

What materials should I use to design my logo?

     I'm a guitar player, and we musicians love to talk to each other about gear. Who's using what guitar with what effects pedals through what amp - and the same goes for artists and designers. We all love to talk shop about paper, ink and computers. But the truth of the matter is, as you grow as an artist, you come to realize that materials are not the Holy Grail. I have no doubt that Jimi Hendrix could have picked up a $5 guitar at a yard sale and still dazzled an audience with it. The success of your design relies more on your skill, rather than what version of Adobe Illustrator you're using. For the record, I almost always start out doodling ideas on sketch paper. When I've got something I'm happy with I scan it in and develop the idea to fruition in Adobe Illustrator using a Wacom Cintiq. I also use Photoshop and Fontlab quite a bit. And to put the age-old debate to bed, I am both a Mac guy and a Windows guy. I have several of both in my studio, and I use them interchangeably.

Is this design readable?

     Legibility is the single most important factor for your logo. If you cannot convey in an instant what the logo says, it's poorly designed. One of my first corporate ID professors taught me this: Print out your logo at about 6" wide, tape it to the wall and step back. If you can't read it from more than a few feet away, it's not a legible design.

Does this design work in color/black & white/grayscale?

     Make sure you devise a black and white and a grayscale version as well as your color version. Take your print needs into consideration. A good logo should work on a twenty-foot sign in glorious neon, and on a 1" ad in grayscale.

Will this work on varied backgrounds?

     Logos need to be readable on flat colored backgrounds and busy cover background art. Try it on both. Especially if you have action-packed covers. You never know if ten or twenty issues from now, you'll have some insanely detailed panorama that will hinder the effectiveness of your logo.

Will this work in print and the web?

     Print is fairly easy. Inkjet and laser printers these days have come a long way. You can simply print it out yourself and see. If you have some webspace, you can make some different size JPGs, GIFs, or PNGs and put them on a dummy index page to view in a few different browsers or monitors. This is especially important if you're working on a webcomic.

What color considerations are there?

     The best rule of thumb is this: CMYK is best for print. RGB is best for the web. You'll want to have both versions. This goes hand in hand with the print test above. No two output devices will give you the same exact color results. The best you can hope for is a close match to what you originally intended.

What's the hook?

     As I said above, typing out two words with a font does not a logo make. It is text. It lacks a conceptual touch specific to your comic. A logo should have a cohesive, binding, unified sense of purpose to convey a message beyond what the text element tells you. It should convey a "feeling" that reflects the comic's subject matter.

Is the hook successful?

     Sure you know what the image is supposed to convey...but will others? Show other people. If they don't immediately seize on the hook ("Oh yeah, it looks like a pirate flag!") then try again. This is the point where you need to divest yourself emotionally from the design. I know, you've been working hard on it, but when you show other people, you have to take their criticisms seriously. Furthermore, you have to know which suggestions are helpful and which are not. Only experience can teach you that.

Should the logo include an icon?

     Logos can include icons. Think of the many publishers' marks you see in the top left corner of comic books. Many of them have some sort of recognizable symbol incorporated. Most of the time, I tend to say, "no," to the question of icons in context of a book's logo - it's a slippery slope to go from recognizable icon to totally cheesy. If you do design a purely graphical element to the logo, ask yourself: Can the icon stand alone? Icons are meant to be instantly recognizable and maybe eventually come to be just as understood as its text component. It may not convey the idea as well as your text, but the tests mentioned above can all be applied to an icon.

How can I get better (or even really good!) at logo design?

     It's the answer you don't want to hear: Practice. Logos are all around you. You probably see hundreds in a day if not more. Train yourself to notice them. Mentally dissect the logos you see. What makes the good ones work? And I'm not talking about just comic books. I have a huge library in my studio of logo design portfolios, design theory, calligraphy, graffiti, historical art, classic album covers, movie posters, wine name it. And if you're a little short on cash, your local library will come to your rescue.

     I hope this is some help. Stop by my logo design gallery for some of my work.

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