Batman 1989: Why the iconic movie logo and design work by Anton Furst still resonate

L: from Batman, out now 4K Blu-Ray; image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc. R: detail from piece by Rory Kurtz

To celebrate 30 years of the Tim Burton classic, Jason Fabok, Chip Kidd, Tom Muller and other artists and designers discuss their love for the movie's logo and look.

Close your eyes and think of the Batman symbol for a second. Which version of the superhero's logo do you see? Is it the bat-shape within a bat-shape as sported by Christian Bale for The Dark Knight?  The small and simple emblem seen on Adam West's chest in the 1960s?

Most likely you're thinking of one Bat-Symbol and one Bat-Symbol only, as unveiled all the way back in 1988 on a simple teaser poster sporting only logo, release date and the colour black. Nothing else was needed, and indeed the old mantra of 'Keep it simple' worked as this masterstroke of marketing set tongues wagging among audiences on what to expect from this Batman movie being so mysteriously advertised.

As we all know, the director of 1989's Batman was Tim Burton, whilst less known is that the designer of the logo was Britain's Anton Furst, a production designer best known at that point for his work on Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

Furst would bring his world-making skills to Batman in a grandiosely gothic vision of Gotham City, one that had as much influence on genre cinema as the poster did on movie marketing. Where simple was more in the teaser, Furst's rendering of Bruce Wayne's home city drew from the Babylonian overtures of Hugh Ferriss and atmospheric sprawl of Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

His city was an overbearing one, against which Michael Keaton's Dark Knight cut a sleek, simple figure; eagle-eyed viewers will note though that his Bat-Symbol isn't so minimalist, having a three-pronged tail to its design. This was due to Furst's logo being designed after costumes were, meaning the logo we all know and love is only seen in the film in the form of Bat-Signal projections, the teaser poster's impact having had influence on the movie's post-production phase when such effects were being added in.

The Furst symbol would go onto take its rightful place on the chest of the Caped Crusader in sequel Batman Returns, while the designer's take on Gotham would go on to inspire the noir look of classic cartoon Batman: The Animated Series and even a reboot of the city's look in the main DC comic book continuity (all thanks to a well-placed earthquake storyline). Unfortunately, Furst would never see the reach of his influence, having tragically taken his own life in 1991.

Speaking to illustrators, designers and comic book artists, Digital Arts has found Furst's influence reached even further, with eagerly anticipated graphic novel Batman: Three Jokers basing its Gotham on the Burton-verse look, and the iconic logo inspiring Tom Muller with his recent X-Men branding for Marvel.

Find their thoughts below in time for both Batman 89's 30th anniversary and the upcoming Joaquin Phoenix Joker tour de force.

Tom Muller

The man behind studio helloMuller has rather uniquely made waves designing comic book title logos for both DC and Marvel; unique as he's based in London not the States, and because it's not very often a designer gets the chance to brand superhero comics. Examples of Tom's work include rebranding the X-Men line and creating the logo for Tom King's superhero trauma saga Heroes in Crisis.

"As a lifelong comic fan I was incredibly excited to see those initial Batman teaser posters appear everywhere. I was 15 at the time and already studying art and design in high school, so I was really sold on this version of the classic Batman chest emblem: the bat shape set in a yellow oval (it had evolved from a simple black bat on grey).

"It's a logo and emblem as recognisable as the Superman ’S’ or the Nike swoosh, and to use that as the only thing on teasers was a bold move. The gold and black colour scheme, and the fantastic airbrushed rendering (done by Bill Garland at the B.D. Fox ad agency) of the symbol made the film look very dark and serious, which I thought was incredibly cool at the time.

"Looking back now, it was a stroke of genius, both from a design and marketing perspective: iconic, direct, and beautifully executed. The main thing for me though was that the emblem (and later the word mark) were all taken directly from the comic books, showing that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel when comics get translated to film.

"As someone who has worked in the comics industry for the best part of two decades and has designed many logos for DC Comics, you always hope that you can contribute to those stories and create a logo or symbol that speaks to the imagination of so many."

Jason Fabok

Canadian comic book artist Jason is known for his work on titles Batman Eternal and Detective Comics, along with the Batman/Flash/Watchmen crossover The Button. He's currently working with writer Geoff Johns on universe-bending graphic novel Batman: Three Jokers.

"Anton Furst was a master artist and designer, who with Batman 1989 designed a unique vision of Gotham that would go on to redefine Batman's world for decades. His vision of Gotham was filled with character, originality, history and mood, and would be so impactful that Batman media, from comics to animated TV, would soon adopt Furst's vision as the standard for Gotham.

From Batman, out now 4K Blu-Ray; image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.

"As a child, I was mesmerised when I first saw the towering gothic skyscrapers and the bullet shaped, turbine driven Batmobile (above) tearing through the streets chasing after The Joker. I knew then that I wanted to be an artist and one day tackle Batman for myself.

"Anton's work inspired that eight year old kid and I'm thankful that while he is gone, I can relive his masterwork every time I visit the world of Batman.

© DC Entertainment

For those interested, original props like the Batmobile and Bat-Signal were recently loaned for a Batman anniversary honouring-art project by Alex Israel.

Rory Kurtz

Rory Kurtz is an illustrator and artist living on the shore of Lake Michigan in America’s Midwest. Focusing in pencil, ink, and digital paint, his work can be seen regularly in publishing, editorial, and advertising around the world. Each of his pieces are individualistic yet share a sense of fantasy in a modern reality, and we're big fans of his Batman 1989 piece for the 2018 New York ComicCon below.

"I was a kid when the Batman film came out in theatres, and I straight up begged my parents to take me, despite its obviously dark violent tone.

"I was immediately obsessed, and drew that damn Bat-Symbol on everything in sight. I couldn’t get enough. Oddly enough, I actually prefer Keaton’s chest emblem, with its extra batwing scallops, to the more universally recognised film logo. That opaque yellow on black design still brings back all that nostalgia."

(We respect your choice, Rory.)

Darran Anderson

Darran is the author of Imaginary Cities, a look at fictional architecture throughout history.

"I was a bit too young when Batman came out to see it but I got my hands on a sticker book that had scenes from the film and I was mesmerised.

"I didn’t know anything of Art Deco or gothic architecture or the futurism of Sant’Elia and the Expressionism of Fritz Lang but there it all was, in Furst’s work. As such it was a gateway not just to a fictional comic book world but to the actual past.

"I think therein lies Furst’s genius. He could take the raw material of what had already been or what had once been dreamt about, much of it long-forgotten, and make something that appeared both familiar and dazzlingly new; futuristic but with a deep past.

"He built monuments essentially from wreckage. There is something quite visionary about that, given our dreams and nightmares are built from fragments of lived experience. Furst brought that dream-world with all its resonances and shadows and echoes from history somehow to life, in a way that seems more tangible than a lot of ephemeral CGI today."

Sam Dyer

Graphic designer Sam is best known as the creative director behind Bitmap Books, an award-winning independent publisher of retro gaming books which aims to celebrate the software, hardware, developers, and code shops which laid down the foundations for the billion-dollar industry we know and love today.

Check out our feature on Bitmap here and find below Sam's thoughts on the Batman 1989 logo from a unique angle: that of its computer game adaptation from the same year.

"Say the words ‘Batman’ to me and I’m instantly transported back to 1989. It’s Christmas Day and my grandmother has just given me a copy of Ocean Software's Batman the Movie for the Commodore 64. This glorious game, which came on single cassette tape (Google it it you’re born after 1990), followed the plot of Tim Burton’s film perfectly and featured a gorgeous 8-bit soundtrack.

"The game aside, it’s actually the game box that evokes the most memories for me – the image of the jet black card box, emblazoned with a beautiful gold Batman logo is burnt in my memory forever. Let's not forget, this was an era when video game packaging was cluttered and usually involved space ships, explosions and general chaos. With Batman the Movie though all we got were the Batman and Ocean logos, both in gold. A great example of 'less is more’ in graphic design.

David Airey

David Airey is a graphic designer in Northern Ireland specialising in logos and brand identity, and the man behind website and book Logo Design Love, an exploration of all thing logography.

"The Batman logo mostly appeals for nostalgic reasons. It makes me think of the original TV series, and that takes me back to my childhood.

"Like any logo, it takes meaning from what it identifies. People unfamiliar with the superhero won't think as highly of the logo as fans of the show and films would."

Chip Kidd

Image: Justin Briars under Creative Commons

Chip is an award-winning graphic designer and writer in New York. His groundbreaking book jacket designs for Alfred A. Knopf have elevated the form for close to three decades, working with hundreds of writers like Cormac McCarthy, Michael Crichton, Orhan Pamuk, Neil Gaiman, and Haruki Murakami.

Chip is also a major Batman lover as explored in our recent interview with the designer, and like Tom Muller has designed various logos for Batman and DC over the years, along with the iconic T-Rex logo for classic film Jurassic Park. Here's Chip on how he approaches logos differently to the Anton method, and how branding the comic book world of Batman is different to branding the hero's cinematic one.

"While I appreciate Furst's work very much, I'd say it has had little influence on mine.

"His take on the Batman logo for the 1989 movie was to make it as 3D looking as possible, which makes perfect sense for that medium. But my approach to such material is to keep it very much 2D, especially for the Jurassic Park T-Rex: straight-forward, flat, no tonality, like how actual park signage would appear.

"I'm not big on the 3D rendering of type and logos in general for anything, but there are all sorts of schools of thought on this, and the movie bigwigs want to see words that shine! and gleam! and sparkle! and move! and whatever. Comic book logos, I think, don't have to do that (hell, they can't.) They are ink on paper and should look proud of it. It's pretty hard to improve on the original logos for Action Comics and Detective Comics."

Read next: Chip Kidd talks Batman as the Society of Illustrators celebrates 80 years of the Dark Knight in comics, manga and illustration 

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