The Tor.com rocket logo, drawn by Greg Manchess, is affectionately called “Stubby” around the office. When we talked about dedicating October to Steampunk, one of the first things we all wanted was a Steam Stubbs, of course.
Here is the evolution (perhaps the devolution) of Stubby to the H.M.S. Stubbington.
Greg: At this stage of concepting, I find it best to just draw whatever comes to mind, and let the process dictate the direction. It’s better to have more “off” iterations than completely “correct” ones because something might come up from unexpected attempts. Elements can then be combined later, in refinement. Here, I was searching for the right engines...
Irene: All of these first iterations were fun. It was very difficult to have to exclude options that looked great but didn’t quite have the steampunk flavor we needed.
Red Baron Stubbs
Irene: This has a ton of character and I loved the idea of a bi-wing spaceship. But it referenced something too specific.
Greg: This one made me laugh as I pictured some enterprising guy in his backyard trying to make a stick and canvas copy. I knew it wouldn’t fly, so to speak, but it allowed that pusher prop to stay in the final sketch.
Greg: I’ve designed funky airplanes for decades, and putting pipes on them just seems outrageous. I was thinking of how other countries “hot rod” fighter planes that they purchase from the US. Seems crazy, but it’s real.
Irene: This was slightly too modern for what we wanted. It also looks like a fighter rocket and I’d much rather have our Stubbs be about exploration. Still, I like to think that this is part of our fleet somewhere in the tor.com phantom federation.
Irene: Many people in the office liked this one since the airship basket is such a strong signifier for steampunk. It also had the advantage of looking a lot like StubbyClassic. But the fact that the hanging basket seemed grafted on to the rocket, which in itself still looked like a fully contained ship, bothered me.
WWII Bomber Stubbs
Irene: I’d love to see a squadron of these piloted by Jimmy Stewart, but it looks more like WWII bombers than steampunk.
The chosen one...ish
Irene: After sadly saying goodbye to the others, we honed it down to this one.
Greg: This one came from my vague memory of the ship in “Master of the World” starring Vincent Price. (But that one had tons of propellers.) I liked the substantial gondola...more like the Graf Zeppelin.
Which got fined tuned to:
Irene: This was shaping up nicely but I feared that the main cabin was a bit too far removed from our original rocket. We needed to bring the stubbness back into it.
Greg: Irene said we still needed to keep the Stubby profile, as if it was on its way up in engineering toward StubbyClassic. I cut some engines, and made the profile much closer to the logo rocket.
Irene: This was almost approved for final but something was nagging me. It almost seemed too subtle and even too plausible. Those that know anything about engineering can stop laughing—visually speaking, it was missing a bit of fantasy and Steampunky whimsy.
Irene: At this point Greg and I went back to looking at various real airships, reminding ourselves of their scale and about getting back to the “lighter than air” aspect of dirigibles. He made this set after that conversation. This time, we immediately knew it would be the last one. It struck a nice balance between our actual logo, dirigibles, and the fussiness that steampunk loves to imbibe in.
Greg: I looked at more and more constructions, photos. I drew looser and faster, trying to find the shape. I finally, out of frustration, put crap and lines hanging all over it, and stuck the prop in the back. Bingo. ’Zactly what happened when I designed the first Stubby—that was the last thumbnail, too.
Finalizing the sketch
Greg: With an ecstatic “that’s it!” from Irene, I enlarged and refined the thumbnail sketch and drew this one. But it had too many waffle lines indicating the gas bag.
Greg: I decided that as a small logo it needed better darks, so I developed the shading along the bottom lines and up into the middle of the ship. Now I had to decide on how many rib lines.
Irene: At this point I remember comparing it to our usual logo and seeing how the shadow areas could help reference one another. We also talked about the line that separates the gas bag from the cockpit. In ClassicStubby the line comes from the nose. It made this airship version look a little smaller, but it also brought it back to our rocket.
Greg: I wanted it to have a feeling of reflection along the top to middle rib lines, so after simplifying those, I got to this final sketch.
The final drawing
Greg: I did this final version in pencil on a sheet of Denril. Then it was Jamie’s turn to vectorize!
Irene: At this point our designer Jamie Stafford-Hill scanned and vectorized it. With that we were able to look at it in the various sizes needed and make a slew of refinements to get it read at the scale we needed it to. And viola, the H.M.S Stubbington, “SteamStubbs” for short.
Irene Gallo is the art director for Tor, Forge, and Starscape Books, and Tor.com.