Comic-book Publisher Transforms Logo

Devil in the details? A comic-book publisher trades its horns for a logo with wings.

Founded in 1997, Oni Press has tended to think of itself as a grittier alternative for comic-book fans seeking something other than superheroes in tights. But recently, the company has been creeping closer to the mainstream. Two of its offerings, Whiteout and the Scott Pilgrim series, were made into feature films, and the company has been pursuing younger readers with family-friendly fare. The problem: Many parents and retailers flinched at Oni's logo—the face of a demon from Japanese folklore. What's more, the old logo didn't work well on digital products. So, in mid-2010, co-founder Joe Nozemack asked Keith Wood, the company's art director, for a redesign. The new logo was unveiled in January; the first books with the new trademark will hit shelves in April.

Before

The Image

The laughing trickster, which also is the company's mascot, was based on a trinket Nozemack's brother gave him as a souvenir from Japan. It was intended to convey an air of fun and mischief, but some parents simply winced at what they thought was a horned, evil creature. "That was a barrier," says Wood. "Younger readers don't have their own disposable income and are relying on their parents to purchase titles."

The Font

Wood found the original Oni font a bit dated, and its bulkiness made it difficult to add other elements to the logo. He also thought the font used for the word press was too small and narrow.

The Detail

The Oni character was highly detailed—so much so that it was difficult to read when scaled down to smaller sizes, in both print and digital products, Wood says.

After

The Face

To create a new image, Wood decided to focus on a quarter of the Oni demon's face, cropping out the character's horns and emphasizing the eyes and cheekbones. "We needed an image that would reflect the original brand but translate to all media and ages," Wood says.

The Typeface

Both Nozemack and Wood wanted a sleeker font. Wood, who designed the typeface, added space between the letters. He also used a new type for the word press, which was harder to read in the original logo.

The Versatility

The official logo was designed with maximum flexibility in mind. So on promotional material such as posters and ads, the logo contains Oni's Web address. On the spines of books (above), the logo lacks the word balloon. Says Wood: "We can do a lot more with it."

The Colors

One imperative was that the color scheme remain unchanged. "We don't want it to be too far of a departure," Wood says.

The Bottom Line

It's not easy to calculate the investment return on a new logo, especially so soon after its debut. But Nozemack says retailers have been impressed. On the other hand, many Oni fans have taken to the blogosphere to complain that the image is indecipherable and offer their own guesses for what it might be (many believe it's a bluebird).

Option 1: The Icon

This image—an O, an N, and an I stacked—was simple and iconic. But it was deemed too radical a departure.

Option 2: Keeping It Simple

This logo scaled down easily and looked good on Oni's comics. But Nozemack couldn't envision a logo without the trickster.

Option 3: A Hint of Old Japan

This was an attempt to include a trace of Asian culture—the white band that wraps around the type is based on a Japanese book wrap called an obi.

Expert Opinion

Fix the font

The silhouette of the new logo is great. The word-balloon shape is comic-booky but also looks very modern and current. The negative space is instantly recognizable and will jump out at customers from far away. However, what's inside still needs some fine-tuning. The O-N-I should be spaced out to improve readability. The new logo is about 80 percent there but still has a little way to go.

—John Roshell, design director, Comicraft, Los Angeles

Make it more dynamic.

I like the speech bubble; it is an apt reference to comics and a signal that the logo is talking to the customer. However, I find some elements of the face inside the bubble distracting and had trouble figuring out what it was. I would suggest that Oni also use that space to promote its other comic-book characters. It has plenty of titles with very cool art, almost all of which could be cropped to fit in that square.

—Ellen Shapiro, owner, Visual Language, Irvington, New York

I don't get it.

It's hard to tell what the image is; my first impression was that it was a chicken. I hate to say this, but it also looks really phallic, which could be a problem if Oni is trying to build a more family-friendly brand. One weakness with in-house design work is that people are tied to the imagery they already have. New customers who aren't familiar with the previous logo are going to have a hard time understanding it.

—Ryan Goodwin, founder and chairman, Struck, Salt Lake City

Nice job. Now tweak the spacing.

The new logo has very strong visual impact. I love the starkness of the black and white, and the positive and negative of the icon and the word balloon. When it reduces down, however, it's hard to read—a common problem. When designing a logo, you have to make adjustments for different sizes, so it can work in a number of places, from large signs to websites. Spacing out the objects would give it a little more power.

—Ellen Woliner, president, CorchiaWolinerRhoda, New York City


We asked Sagi Haviv what a logo can and cannot accomplish.

The hallmark of an effective logo is that it doesn't alienate your audience, says Sagi Haviv, a partner at the New York City design firm Chermayeff & Geismar, whose clients include Chase, NBC, and Mobil.

What should a logo represent about the company?
Many clients expect the world. They say, "It should tell the whole story." We often have to tame and manage expectations and explain that the company's image is the totality of its communications, not just the logo.

When redesigning, is it a bad idea to stray too far from the original logo?
It really depends on how much equity there is in the current mark. The most important thing is to do no harm. When we redesigned Armani Exchange's logo, we had to find a way to maintain the elegance of the A and the X, and accentuate the letters while making them bold. We solved the problem—and very few in the company's audience even noticed.

Is it a mistake to do it in-house?
Some in-house efforts result in some great successes. One of the best logos of all time, the CBS eye, was designed in-house. But it is important to be able to take a step back and look at a logo with objectivity.

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