Hellboy logo design Interviews 

Mignolaversity: Title Design in the Hellboy Universe

By | September 28th, 2023
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

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The Hellboy Universe has expanded in so many different directions in the last decade, and every time there’s a new miniseries, a new title’s needed too. So today we’re chatting with two of the Dark Horse designers that have put together several of them, Ethan Kimberling and Patrick Satterfield.

Title design is such an important part of comics that I don’t think gets talked about enough. We recognize good title design when we see it―Kevin Nowlan’s “Hellboy” logo being an excellent example of that―but there’s so much more to it than just looking good. When you’re tasked with designing a new title design, what are your primary concerns? What are the kinds of things you need from the creative team to give you a strong foundation to work from?

Ethan Kimberling: Knowing the specific genre, the tone of the story, and the major plot points are always a must for me when starting on a logo for a new project. There’s so much existing content available in the comics world (and pop culture in general), so most genres already have well established aesthetics that a designer should be aware of. A good starting point is just looking at what other logos are out there for whatever genre you’re working with and really picking up on the essential components that create that genre’s particular look.

For example, if you’re designing a logo for a Gothic vampire story you want that logo to convey some aspect of that genre at a glance, whether it’s using blackletter typography or incorporating vampire elements like fangs, a coffin, or bat wings into the logo. The tricky part is making a logo feel unique in that larger genre while also feeling familiar and accessible. That’s where knowing the specifics of the story are helpful, that information can really be the inspiration for that special twist that a designer is looking for. Beyond that, sometimes creative teams have particular requests or sources of inspiration they want the designer to draw from, so having that information clearly communicated is incredibly helpful.

Patrick Satterfield: Knowing the tone and genre will get you on your way to the research stage. For most of the titles in the Hellboy Universe I am tasked with, I work with already established logos like the Nowland “Hellboy” logo you mentioned. Same with “B.P.R.D.” They do not require quite as much research as many of the logos Ethan has created. His are much more unique to the Hellboy Universe. Much of what I am tasked with is adding something extra or something slightly different to those already existing logos.

We’ve certainly seen a lot more of those unique titles over the last decade, with one-shot miniseries exploring different corners of the Hellboy Universe. Often the reader comes into these titles with only a few preconceived notions of what the book is going to be. It’s not enough to just be eye-catching and readable from a distance; the logo needs to impart a sense of what the book is.

Ethan: I can’t emphasize how important research is in designing a comic logo. Before I even start sketching out some logo designs I go out and find comic logos for stories that are similar to the one I’m designing for. Part of this is to make sure I’m not treading over something that’s already been done, and part of it is for me to be aware of the visual language for a particular genre. Usually my research also extends beyond comics and into cinema and television. For instance, if I’m working on a slasher horror comic logo I’m looking at both existing slasher horror comics and slasher horror movie posters.

For the logo I recently designed for the “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” series, I ended up looking at a lot of Egyptian iconography to see if there were design elements that could be incorporated into the logo. I was especially drawn to some of the elegant, curving shapes in the Eye of Ra icon and integrated that into the “N” of the logo, and then used more subtly curving elements in the rest of the letters to help unify everything.

Continued below

Ethan Kimberling’s logo for “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse”

Patrick, I feel like tone was a very important aspect of the “Hellboy in Love” title design. After all, it is still a “Hellboy” title, so it needs that familiar Kevin Nowlan logo, but you’re also trying to communicate that this is a tonally different series. Plus whatever you add for the “in Love” part of the title needs to sit harmoniously with the “Hellboy” portion.

Patrick: It was a bit of a challenge for me at the start because I was unsure of the tone of the book. Was it serious? Funny? Horrific? With Hellboy, it really could have gone anywhere. The logo had to be designed before we had any of the art so I did some research looking at a whole bunch of Golden Age romance comics. The typography in those comics were pretty unique so I was hoping to pull something from that. I made quite a few options, including a couple with hearts floating around the title, and some that were more integrated with Nowlan’s original “Hellboy” logo (like I did with “Young Hellboy”). Eventually, Mike Mignola went with really one of the most simple, no-frills designs I submitted.

Kevin Nowlan’s logo for “Hellboy” augmented by Patrick Satterfield into the “Hellboy in Love” logo

Ethan, in the case of “The Sword of Hyperborea,” you had the Hyperborean Sword, an iconic weapon that has shown up in many series in the Hellboy Universe, so you could draw from that iconography in your title design. Did this constraint make the design easier for you to lock into?

The Hyperborean Sword in “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth—The Abyss of Time” #1
illustrated by James Harren with colors by Dave Stewart

Ethan: Absolutely. The design of that sword is so unique and just happened to be easily integrated into the typography, so that’s a great example of the stars aligning for a logo design. I still explored other options that didn’t integrate the sword design into the logo just to make sure I was giving this a good exploration, but it pretty quickly became clear that having the sword in the logo was the way to go.

Ethan Kimberling’s logo for “The Sword of Hyperborea”

In the case of something like “Miss Truesdale and the Fall of Hyperborea,” there’s little existing iconography to draw from. Readers have no idea who Miss Truesdale is, and the story is set in two wildly different eras. There are so many different directions you could take this design. What became your anchors as this one developed?

Ethan: This is a good example of a logo where the creative team largely guided the look of the final logo. That team provided me with a rough sketch of what they had in mind, which was to lean heavily into the Victorian aspect of the story. With that information I did my typical research by gathering up dozens of examples of Victorian typography to help me craft something appropriate for the story. I designed some options that subtly alluded to some of the more gladiatorial aspects of the story, such as ornamental elements that incorporated spear points and barbs. But ultimately the logo that was selected was the one that was closest to that original sketch. This logo definitely feels unique in the larger Hellboy catalogue, and was a lot of fun to work on.

Ethan Kimberling’s logo for “Miss Truesdale and the Fall of Hyperborea”

Patrick, you handle the book designs for the Hellboy Universe. Obviously, the title design is a part of that, so when Ethan is working on developing a title design, what’s the communication between the two of you as a book develops? How involved is the cover artist in these discussions?

Ethan: Honestly, there isn’t a ton of communication between Patrick and me while we’re working on our respective parts because we’ve both been doing this for so long that we just have an understanding of what needs to happen. Occasionally I’ll do some of the book design and I’ll check in with Patrick to make sure my design fits in with the broader Hellboy Universe look. As for how involved the cover artist is, that can vary a bit. As I mentioned before, sometimes the cover artist will provide some thoughts or sketches for what they think might work for a logo, and sometimes they’re very hands-off. Ultimately, the creative team does need to approve the logo design, so sometimes the cover artist is more involved by providing feedback on that first draft of logos.

Continued below

Patrick: Ethan and I work pretty independently. It is just the way the books and logos are assigned, really. But, yes, the Hellboy Universe has been going on for so long now, there is a very conscious effort to make sure we are doing all we can to stay within the long established boundaries of the designs, which can be difficult and confusing at times. It sometimes takes both of our experience working in the Hellboy Universe to figure out the right solution.

If you have further interest in the logo designs of the Hellboy Universe, I recommend picking up the collection for “Castle Full of Blackbirds,” which has a sketchbook section showing how the logo evolved.

//TAGS | Mignolaversity

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on BlueSky.


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