Being asked to put together a new take on an existing idea is sort of like being asked to sleep with your best friend's wife. You simply don't do it. Especially not if the existing idea is working for you and doesn't require any, pardon the pun, screwing with.
That being said, you can imagine there was some hesitation on my part when I was approached by Top Cow Publisher and my secret admirer, Filip Sablik, to redesign the Witchblade logo for the six-issue story arc "War of the Witchblades." The idea was simple enough, we wanted to create a limited, new look for this arc, something that would let everyone know that this was one of the most important and consequential stories ever told in the pages of “Witchblade.” The redesign would include the Witchblade logo itself, as well as the cover design, and all of it was meant to work together to let the fans know this wasn't going to be just a simple girl fight between current bearers Sara and Dani -- no, this was going to be an all out war.
Credit is due to three people for how this all eventually came together: artist Chris Bachalo, former Top Cow editor Rob Levin, and Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik. Legend has it that when the concept of the “War of the Witchblades” originated, Chris Bachalo created a series of thumbnail cover sketches offering up his take on how we could use the covers to establish the story arc as a major event.
In his usual fashion, Chris did an amazing job and gave us a great foundation to build from. Rob Levin was the biggest supporter of a redesign for the arc and urged us to work with the concepts Chris had given us. After some discussion concerning what was working with Chris's initial sketches, Filip Sablik came to me with the general idea for the logo and cover redesign. He suggested the idea of having a simplified Witchblade logo placed across the word war in big, bold, grunge letters and done so in a way so that while the Witchblade logo is still visible, “WAR” dominates the logo. It was a simple enough idea. It got the point across immediately to the reader and it kept with the spirit and aesthetic of the existing Witchblade logo.
Now for the hard part. It was up to me to actually start making this great concept a reality. Taking into consideration the suggestions of Rob and Filip and of course, the concepts of Chris, I put together a few initial logo designs.
Usually when I start designing a logo, I sketch my initial thoughts out on paper, just to get a feel for the possibilities. In this instance, I skipped that stage and went directly to playing around with the letterforms in Photoshop. The reasoning behind skipping this first step was primarily because the concept of the logo was not inherently complicated. There was no logo form or symbol to create, simply two different letterforms that needed to work together, which can only effectively be done in the computer.
The current Witchblade logo is a sharp, hard-edged letterform with a series of ornate, armor-esque elements around it. The logo form was designed by master letterer and designer Todd Klein with rendering elements added by Top Cow Production Manager Chaz Riggs. It's a complex logo and I knew initially that the word “WAR” would have too much to compete with visually if the existing Witchblade logo was used as is. To that end, I stripped the logo of its armor elements, with great apologies to Chaz, and left the simple Witchblade letterform you see above. For giggles I've been calling this the "bone" version of the logo because it's literally the logo stripped down to the bare bones.
To convey the idea of war and the sheer carnage of the arc, I made “WAR” red and experimented with a few different texture ideas, mostly blood splatter effects. While working with the logo on a white background, it became clear that the simple "bone" version of the Witchblade logo created an interesting bit of negative space that allowed WAR to dominate the logo without eclipsing the Witchblade letterform altogether. In the end, we decided on the concept below.
This is an evolution of the third proposed design. The inner shadow was removed from the "bone" logo and replaced with a drop shadow to give it a bit more separation from the white background, making it easier to read. I'm proud of this logo in particular because of the way the “WAR” letterform slashes through the lower title, separating “witch” from “blades.” Just a subtle suggestion of the division that takes place in the actual story arc that ultimately makes for a better logo.
With the logo figured out, it was time to move on to the cover design. I knew from the way I designed the logo that I wanted to use some sort of a letterbox technique in the cover design. If not, the negative space concept of the logo would be lost atop complex comic illustrations. With the “Wanted” comic series, we used a letterbox design for our covers, so I started from there and the idea eventually evolved into the concepts below.
So, here's where the problems began. Any idea is all well and good until you actually have to watch it play out in practice. The look of the covers was good and they worked well with the logo. The problem was with the manner in which the art had to be handled due to the letterbox effect. A sizable amount of art is lost as a result, and none of these covers were designed and illustrated with the letterbox in mind. With “Wanted,” they were. After some discussion, the decision was made to lose the white letterbox at the bottom of the cover, leaving just the white across the top to maintain the look of the logo. Our fancy logo box was scaled down to fit within this space as well, and Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic's credits were moved next to the logo on top. The end result looked, well, exactly like this.
At this point we began to experiment with color choices. In the past, we've color corrected our logos to better fit with the scheme and look of a cover. I took the three main covers for issue #125 and pulled the dominant color from each and applied them to the logo. We ended up with the following.
All of the Top Cow staff was pulled in to decide on the direction to go here, including founder Marc Silvestri. Let me tell you, when Marc Silvestri is taking a look at work, it's nerve racking as hell. Luckily for me, and my blood pressure, Marc preferred the idea of maintaining a single color throughout the cover designs, and along with everyone else here at the Cow, we decided on the final cover design.
There was still an issue to resolve, however, that being the full usage of our cover art. The cover design is great and all, but it's in exchange for less of the cover art. There are some amazing covers for this story arc and we wanted to show them off in their full splendor. I was charged with the task of creating a stripped down version of the “WAR” logo that wouldn't require a letterbox. The initial pass looked like this.
Basically, the original logo without the “WAR” letter form behind it and a cleaner version of the "War of the Witchblades" title. The idea was to use this logo for all of our special variant covers and All-Beef editions used in the “Let Us Win You Over” promotion we’re currently running. Here's how it looked on the front of Chris Bachalo's exclusive wrap around cover.
Look at all the pretty art you can see now. Not too bad, but folks here at the Cow weren't sold on the bare bones version of the logo. It looks good and follows the aesthetic of the other covers, but it was missing that standard Witchblade look and feel a bit. Top Cow Managing Editor Phil Smith offered up the perfect solution: take the existing armor elements and simply apply them at a lower opacity. The basic integrity of the logo is maintained and we get that little something extra to make the logo feel uniquely Witchblade. Here's the result.
And here it is on the final draft of the Chris Bachalo cover.
And that, boys and girls, is how you design a new take on an existing concept, or how you sleep with your best friend's wife, to wrap up the metaphor. I'd be lying if I said the whole process was easy, change never is, even if it's just a brief change lasting for six issues of a comic book series. I can say that I enjoyed the challenge and was excited when I finally saw the finished product in print. This was an across the board group effort from the folks here at Top Cow, one that included the input and talents of Rob Levin, Filip Sablik, Phil Smith, Chaz Riggs, Marc Silvestri, Chris Bachalo and even “Witchblade” scribe Ron Marz. Graphic design isn't the easiest gig out there, but when you've got a collection of creative masterminds behind you like this, it does make it a whole lot easier.
Hope you all enjoyed this little inside look at how we do what we do here at the Cow. Now do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of “Witchblade” #125, in stores now. And don't worry; if anyone asks, I'll tell them you bought it for the great writing and amazing art instead of the top-notch design work. It'll be our little secret.