The original style guide for DC Comics characters surfaces for the public

In 1982, DC Comics totally standardised DC superheroes for product licensing. The manual, drawn by comic legend José Luis García-López, is just seeing the light of day.

19 June 2024

Standards Manual, the publisher focused on archiving design history, has just launched an unlikely edition. Not your usual graphics manual, this is a re-issue of a rare 1980s style guide DC Comics created for its superheroes. It’s the first time the work has been available to the public, stitched together from two original copies Standards Manual acquired over “several years through eBay”.

“To us it was this kind of bizarro graphics manual that had somehow dropped into the DC comic universe and come out the other side!” says Hamish Smyth, Standards Manual co-founder. The original manual was an ambitious project from DC. The company decided to hire the artist José Luis García-López (regularly referred to as the “secret weapon” of DC Comics) and inker Dick Giordano to deliver the key art for a binder featuring hundreds of pages of character profiles, finished artworks and swatches.

This is however, not a style guide in the traditional graphic sense. “There’s a common misconception about the true intent for the manual (and we thought this in the beginning too),” Hamish says. Rather than guiding all artists who worked for DC, the style guide was intended to give licensees consistent artwork to pull from for products like T-shirts or lunch boxes. Up until this point, comic artists would regularly have their work cut apart and pasted onto products, without receiving any additional commission.


Standards Manual: The DC Comics Style Guide (Copyright © DC, 2024)

The model sheets created by García-López guided licensees for years; even as character design changed in the 80s, the manual itself was updated. “The original was in a three-ring binder so you could swap out obsolete pages, and add new ones as required,” Hamish says. Eventually, as DC Comics shifted its style, the manual became obsolete. Evidence of it could only be found in poor quality, watermarked images online.

This is likely not the only example of a vintage character licensing manual, but: “This is certainly an early example of a neat system,” says Hamish. “That’s one of the things that attracted Jesse and I to the Style Guide.” Hamish points out some similarities between the DC Comics manual and traditional graphics standards manuals, “which at the time were still typically very ‘Swiss’ feeling”.

The 1982 DC Comics Style Guide is based on the original manual and features 165 artwork scans by José Luis García-López, and an introduction by Paul Levitz, former president of DC Comics. It is now available for pre-order on the Standards Manual site.

GalleryStandards Manual: The DC Comics Style Guide (Copyright © DC, 2024)

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Standards Manual: The DC Comics Style Guide (Copyright © DC, 2024)

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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