K1 — KISS
Adored by some, denounced by others, the infamous KISS logo has generated millions of dollars for the outlandish US rocker-shockers. Is it just tongue in cheek, or something more sinister?
Writing in Brandweek magazine, Sandra O’Loughlin claimed that: “KISS has licensed its name to more than 3,000 product categories, from lunch boxes and comic books to credit cards and condoms to become nearly a one-billion-dollar brand”. And most of this b(r)anded paraphernalia, no doubt, features their eminently drawable, all-caps logo, with its outline lettering and distinctive double S ‘lightning bolts’.
The marque was originally designed by lead guitarist Ace Frehley, then tweaked and cleaned up by rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley, who’d previously worked as a graphic artist. It made its first appearance on KISS’s second album, ‘Hotter Than Hell’ in 1974, and stuck around forever after.
Michael Doret, a hugely accomplished New York hand-letterer and illustrator, who created the intricate artwork for ‘Rock and Roll Over’ (1976) and ‘Sonic Boom’ (2009), took it upon himself to redraw the logo for both LPs, saying: “I never really liked the way it fit together”. In Doret’s version below, the logo is slightly more condensed, while the width and angle of the S’s is more uniform and pleasing to the eye.
Finer typographic gripes aside, it was the logo’s runic double S that caused a stink and even brought about a ban in Germany from 1980 onwards. Its similarity to the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) icon is clear, and for obvious reasons ‘use of symbols of unconstitutional organisations’, is forbidden by law in Germany.
However, the band are sticking to their story that the paired S’s represent lightning bolts, a visual motif they’d adopted since their earliest days. Band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are both Jewish, so maybe there’s some truth in this. However, the band weren't too stubborn to sanction a new version of the logo, complete with reworked S’s, especially for the lucrative German market.
Kiss are certainly not the first or last metal band to flirt with fascist iconography (if indeed that’s what it is). From Mötorhead to Mötley Crüe, gothic blackletter fonts and umlauts are almost de rigueur in this arena. It’s undoubtedly all tied up with creating that essential hard-living, hard-rocking, bad-boy mythology, that sees heavy metal bands casually referencing devil worship and medieval instruments of torture.
With their face paint, spandex posturing and tongue wagging, there’s always been an element of pantomime villainy about KISS. But perhaps their logo was a ghoulish graphic gag too far.