Thursday, March 17, 2016

Typography of Dark Shadows

In regards to marketing, DARK SHADOWS has never put its best foot forward. This problem did not result from a want of limbs, but clarity of vision. Like a character in a Patricia Highsmith novel, DARK SHADOWS has been willing to be whatever people needed it to be. And every once in a while, people needed it to be kind of stupid. (Which is totally OK.)

This personality disorder is most flagrant in its marketing. Today, the folks tasked with promoting an intellectual property would shudder at the lackadaisical way that DARK SHADOWS was sold to the public. Modern marketing has a fascistic devotion to brand identity. Today, you’ll never — ever — see a toy, puzzle, t-shirt or other licensed property allowed to deviate from approved corporate branding. If a t-shirt company won the rights to produce STAR WARS clothing today, you can bet your ass they wouldn’t be allowed to design their own version of the movie’s iconic logo. Some crap still manages to slip through the filter (I have trouble believing Warner Bros. really approved the Batman logo to be used on camouflaged kid’s clothes) but the goal is to achieve maximum consistency.

But that was not the principle that guided the marketing of DARK SHADOWS. Just about every product released during the show’s extended lifespan was branded with a different logo. And how those designs differ is quite telling. (Note: This list is probably not complete.)

It’s surprising how durable the original logo has been, because it’s the simplest of the bunch. It’s essentially a bold Times font, flagged with (presumably) hand-drawn lettering to add a gothic touch. This design says a lot about the tone of the series when it began, with the gothic lettering essentially representing the low-key spooky elements of the otherwise traditional melodrama. DARK SHADOWS was a soap first, a gothic romance second and a ghost story whenever it was convenient.

Gold Key Comics clearly had no interest in selling the soap opera aspects of DARK SHADOWS to its readers. The logo was re-designed for the comic as a tool to fully sell the show’s horror aspects. Considering the comic outlasted the television show by several years, it’s hard to call this decision wrong … but I have to imagine the comic’s mission statement turned off some female readers. This principle was represented in the content of the books, as well. Gold Key’s DARK SHADOWS was a boys club, with its female cast of characters demoted to making cameo appearances in the on-going adventures of Barnabas Collins. This is not the best logo attached to DARK SHADOWS, but it’s not the worst, either. We’re getting to the worst in just a moment …

Whitman Publishing, which produced puzzles and games based on characters from DARK SHADOWS, took a look at the original logo and thought, “We can do better!” They were wrong. Oh god, were they wrong. This logo is a confusing mess and looks less like words than it does the kind of tattoo worn by the drummer of a NĂ¼-metal band during the 1990s.

It’s new! It’s hip! It’s now! And how! (Translation: “We don’t know what the hell this is.”) Centsable Toys produced arguably the worst DARK SHADOWS merchandise ever — three pillows bearing the likeness of Barnabas Collins, the werewolf and some witch that absolutely wasn’t Angelique. The product was called “Horror Heads” to help mask the fact that it was profoundly stupid. See for yourself HERE.

Given MGM’s decision to market HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS as exploitation films, it’s a pleasant surprise that neither of them featured logos with dripping Rocky Horror letters. I actually kind like these, even though the designs show a lopsided attitude toward their perspective titles. The word “House” is downplayed in the first logo, possibly to emphasize that this was a DARK SHADOWS movie. The second logo is much better balanced, giving it its own identity. This is interesting because MGM had not only lost the benefit its celebrity vampire in this film, but the daily presence of the television show, as well. There might have been some discussion behind the scenes about distancing NIGHT from the cancelled series, leading to the bolder design.

This versions is mostly forgotten. It’s also the first step taken to retrofit DARK SHADOWS for a new era. If the 1966 logo announced the show’s identity as a soap first and supernatural tale whenever, this design essentially strips away what was left of the show’s melodramatic roots. When DARK SHADOWS went into syndication, it was without the first 200 non-Barnabas episodes, which were absent from the airwaves until the show’s debut on The Sci-Fi Channel in the early ‘90s. In syndication, DARK SHADOWS was “all vampire, all the time.” Even the woeful Bramwell Collins storyline that represented the show’s swansong remained in the vaults during this period.

This design reigns in some of the more lurid aspects of the syndication logo. Yes, it’s now ALL GOTHIC, but gone is the drop of blood and hinky flourishes that uglied up the syndication version. I suspect a lot of fans didn’t even recognize the changes, either from the syndication logo or the one used from the original series. It probably helped that the original logo was used in advertising by NBC to promote the launch of the series.

For the Tim Burton movie, Warner Bros. wanted a clean slate. To create an all-new logo for the film, anything resembling traditional gothic lettering was scrapped. This was a new DARK SHADOWS for a new audience, and needed something wholly original to help the film find its own identity.

And by “wholly original,” I mean they used the font from the poster of 2004’s A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS.  Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration — but he failed to reckon with the role played by procrastination. Because the 2012 logo? It looks like something that was pieced together five minutes before deadline. Which is fair, because the script feels like it was written using the same kind of work ethic.

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