Art direction and design of comics – part 6

Logos & mastheads

I’ve seen multiple references in the comics community to “logos on covers” and maybe it’s my editorial background, but I’ve always referred to these things as mastheads. So that’s how I’ll refer to them here.

If you’re curious about how to build a masthead, check out my earlier post about how I designed and built the On the Verge masthead. This post is more in keeping with the art direction and design series and I really want to focus on the overall design philosophy when you set out to make the masthead for your new book/series so that you can create a custom solution that sets your stuff apart. When sitting down to think about designing your own masthead you need to keep a couple of things in mind:
1. Keep it simple
Take a look at mastheads like Time, National Geographic, Esquire or Wired. The best mastheads have been around for years with very little change. Not only that, they’ve survived changes in mediums – from print to the web and now into mobile with smartphones and tablets that are redefining editorial design. Think outside of what you intend to use your masthead for because you never know what it will be put on. The simpler you keep things, the better it can adapt. 
2. Make it easy to read
A masthead’s purpose, in its simplest form, is to make a book or magazine easily identifiable and make it stand out from the pack. Add to this that a masthead is going to be put on covers featuring a variety of different illustrations and the easier it is to read, the better the results will be over time. This also applies to your typeface choice. Make sure that it’s something that people can A) read and B) read from 10-20 feet away. You want people to be able to find your book in a store, right?
3. Don’t get cute
Maybe I should have called this “don’t try so hard” but the main point is that you should try to limit the concepts, drawing/illustration and cool effects that you use. In most cases, the masthead isn’t supposed to be the center of attention on the cover. Trying to do too much with your design will just give you too many elements to deal with on a regular basis. 
4. Be flexible
What you think your masthead design should be now will inevitably change over time. Not only should you be flexible, but you should design a flexible masthead to give you the most options down the road. Does it work small on a keychain? Does it work large on a poster? What happens if it animates? You need to think about all of these future uses before you start to design. 
5. Be creative
For my own masthead for On the Verge, I hadn’t nailed down all the design elements when I produced it. My solution was to try to tie the design of the masthead into the artwork for the story. To do this, I first played around with type on the computer and then drew the type by hand, editing the type for a more customized design. I scanned my drawings and turned them into vector art so that I could use it for anything I needed. The point of this little story is to get you to think outside the box; think outside of the typefaces you’ve got on your computer or that you can find online. What can you do that’s different and not just type?
Let me finish this post by saying that your masthead should reflect something about your book. Just like everything else in this series, the masthead should tie into the overall art direction. Look at the list of magazines I used above. None of them are the same and yet each reflects a bit of what is found inside. This is another reason to come up with a custom solution – no one else will have it and your stuff will stand on its own.

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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