By popular demand, or, more accurately, by one request, here is a follow-up to our “H.M.S. Stubbington” post. This time we will show some of the early sketches for our official logo, Stubby, the Tor.com rocket.
Before we get to Stubbs, I feel like we should go further back in time. Tor.com was the brainchild of our publisher, Fritz Foy, but despite what the initial proposal said, we pretty much knew the site couldn’t be called “Fritz’s Fantasy.” Naming the site turned out to be the single most agonizing issue over that year.
We were the TheRange.com for a nanosecond.
Torus.com for a few heartbeats. (Get it!? Tor Us!) We were Torus.com long enough for me to threaten to make the logo an inner-tube sticking on top of a mountain, ring-toss style, which means we were Torus about forty-five seconds too long.
We were Lightspeed for a long while. I thought it was a bit generic but I didn’t have a good argument against it. And we had a cool tagline for it, “Science Fiction at 186,000 miles per second, give or take.” So, we started making masthead designs. Eventually, we decided that Lightspeed had too many other businesses and associations attached to it.
Suddenly: SciFiDiner! I don’t remember who came up with it, but I loved it. Our editorial director, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, hated it. In fact, everyone else hated it. I figured, in no time we’d simply be called “the diner” and diners are places were old friends get together to talk all night while eating fries. Not the worst association to have with a community site. But in case you missed it: everyone hated it, and all the “Blue Plate Special” jokes that were inevitable.
At the last minute, someone had the brilliant idea to call us Tor.com. After a year of fretting it was instantly clear that we should own up to our background, which we never intended to hide anyway, and take advantage of a three letter URL that was already a well known entity in the sf/f world. Truth be told, we spent the whole year continually coming back to Tor.com; it just took us a long while to realize that sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer.
These are just a few of the early masthead designs we had Drive Communications create for us:
The robot was super cute but, oddly, looked a bit like Boing Boing's logo, even though the Boing Boing logo is not a robot.
This winged figure is very elegant, but a little more corporate then we wanted to be.
The second flying man was very enticing. I liked that it would bridge science fiction and fantasy. (It also reminds me of Brazil, and I never mind being reminded of Brazil.)
The Tor mountains did not have enough whimsy to it and would make the fact that we are not the official Tor Books website even more confusing. But, man, do I wish that was our logo for Tor Book's. (Whoops. Did I just type that out loud?)
The retro rocket...Everyone loved the retro rocket. I loved it too, however, I did fear going full-on retro would make the site look like a smaller arena than we wanted it to. It also had the potential for looking dated quickly—which I know sounds odd given that "dated" is the point here, but, still, a balance needed to be made.
So, we decided to take the clean and elegant feel of the flying man, but add a different image. All we needed now was our very own rocket.
I asked Greg Manchess to do some drawings for us that were classic, yet modern! Whimsical, yet authoritative! Retro, yet timeless! All those contradictions that designers just love.
Greg Manchess: “Contradictions, alright. Not too modern, not too retro? Shoot me in the head! I grew up watching re-runs of Flash Gordon and reading the Flash Gordon Sunday comics whenever my grandmother would cut them out of the Chicago Tribune. So that's where I started sketching: full-on retro and worked forward.”
Irene: This was a first stab at developing shapes...
...and discovering how difficult it would be to stay clear of anything too phallic looking...
...and realizing how important it would be to simplify the shapes so that could read at a very small size.
Another round of loose shape-finding sketches. I didn't realize it at the time but it seems the highlighted one was the genesis for our Stubbs.
Irene: Here, I clearly remember pointing to the first red-circled rocket and saying,“Yeah, short and stubby, like that!” (Thereby condemning us to a lifetime with the name “Stubby.”) That bit of cartooning suddenly made the ship into a character rather than an inanimate object.
Greg: After Irene pointed to the first one, my eyes were crossing from looking at so many shapes. So I pushed the next sketch and thought to myself, “there, that’s fat.”
Irene: At this point we wanted to start seeing them as bolder shapes needed for a logo. Clearly the bottom two were further along in the right direction; still, we wanted to keep some other options around to see how they developed. (Secretly, I love the top right just because it looks like a flying fish head.)
Greg: There’s Stubby’s granddad on the lower right...
Irene: Here we simplified the shapes even more, trying to reduce it down to as few lines as possible. And there is our Stubby in the bottom corner, pretty much fully formed. It was hard to leave behind the top right rocket but unfortunately the Nemo-ness that made it so cool was what made it wrong for the site.
Greg on the top right ship: Remember the Proteus from Fantastic Voyage? Yeah, me, too. So cool. I need one of those.
A few explorations of the ship at different angles. (And yes, a brief look as astronauts, as well as robots not seen here.)
Irene: Not much changed from the last version to this except the cockpit window reflections were reversed. This gave it a subtle “eye,” to add more personality.
Greg: As you can see, Stubby came out as a blend of these two more finished sketches. I like its forward motion, the movement it needed to project a sense of exploration and adventure.
The final drawing.
And finally, sharpened up and logo-ized via Jamie Stafford-Hill’s Adobe Illustrator chops.
Irene Gallo is the art director for Tor, Forge, and Starscape Books and Tor.com.