Designing the Laughing Man Logo

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The Laughing Man is one of the most unique logos in anime for it’s style and design. Paul Nicholson the brain behind the illustration shares the development of the logo along with the story of how he became the first none Japanese creative to work with anime studio Prodiction IG.

Here’s some more info from Paul regarding the project on from how he got hired to the logo development.

From the mid to late 90s, I had been designing for a Japanese game developer and music label, Frognation. At the time, I had and sent the guys in the Tokyo office a load of Prototype 21 stickers, which were liberally plastered around.

Prototype 21 was a clothing label I designed for which ran from 1992 to 2002.  Dai Sato, one of the guys at Frognation, is also a scriptwriter at Production I.G. and had been working on early drafts for the animated TV series of Ghost in the Shell – Stand Alone Complex.  His laptop being covered in those stickers I had sent were seen by the director of Stand Alone Complex, Kenji Kamiyama.  He loved the stickers and as he was looking for a graphic designer, one thing led to another.

I was sent a brief and invited to submit designs for the Laughing Man, a hacker central to the storyline. That was the summer of 2001.  For this Laughing Man, it was the first time Production IG had chosen to work with a non-Japanese creative.

The brief was particularly interesting in that it only asked me to read a short story by J D Salinger – ‘The Laughing Man’ – and get inspired. Which I did.

The text around the logo was given to me by Production I.G. and reads: “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes”. It is an excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye, also J D Salinger. In the book the text continues: “That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddamn stupid useless conversations with anybody.

If anybody wanted to tell me something they’d have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They’d get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I’d be through with having conversations for the rest of my life”. At first, this text made little sense but after watching the series, I appreciate the relevance to story and in particular the Laughing Man character.

What did Production I.G’s think of your work?  In May 2003 I travelled to Tokyo to meet Kenji, the production staff and animators at the Production I.G. studios. Through an interpreter, I was very pleased to be told that they loved the logo and felt the submissions from Japanese designers had not quite come up to scratch.

At the meeting I was shown how the logo was used throughout the series and on a whole load of promotional merchandise.  I was also given a brief to design another logo for the second series, this time a terrorist organisation called the Individual 11.

What is it like seeing your artwork in the anime series?  I have seen all the episodes and rate the series second to none and cannot over emphasise what a privilege it was to be involved in the project.

In episode 9 I am even mentioned by name, something they had not told me they were going to do. So, whilst watching the episode I was caught by complete surprise and replayed the scene just to double check I had heard correctly.

I was really pleased to see how the logo was used throughout the series. For instance, when Aramaki doodles it or how, in the scene with fans of Laughing Man, people had appropriated the logo in much the same way as they would a band or football team.

His approach and ability to creative something unique and so close to the brief is why we asked him to work on the Super Robot Mayhem logo too.

For more follow Paul on Instagram


Posted by Adi Mursec on April 1, 2017

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