Rian Hughes

Rian Hughes
Nationality British
Education London College of Printing
Known for Illustrator, comics artist, cover artist, typographer, type designer, graphic designer, writer
Notable work Dan Dare
Cult-ure: Ideas can be Dangerous
Website devicefonts.co.uk

Rian Hughes is a British graphic designer, illustrator and comics artist, who worked in the anthology 2000 AD at the seriesRobo-Hunter, Tales from Beyond Science,[1] Really and Truly and Dan Dare, among others. His work was highly distinctive, wearing its design influences on its sleeve, daring to be two-dimensional and bold in its use of large expanses of flat, bold colours. This stood out particularly during the early 1990s, when British comics were leaning ever more towards fully painted art. Unusually, Hughes preferred to be his own letterer, and designed several unusual fonts for this purpose.

Since leaving comics illustration, Hughes has become a successful advertising artist, graphic designer and font designer. He runs his own company, Device, with clients including Virgin Airways, Penguin Books, DC Comics, Eurostar the BBC and a range of magazines and newspapers. Hughes prefers to design his own fonts for new projects usually giving them humorous and occasionally rude names. The font Knobcheese was marketed as "A typeface in the Swiss (cheese) tradition. With knobs on."


Early days

Hughes graduated from London College of Printing and was employed at various advertising agencies where he worked for ID magazine, Smash Hits and Condé Nast. He arrived late at his very first job interview at an advertising agency with a lump of dog excrement stuck to the bottom of his portfolio, managed to transfer some of it on to the white shirt he was wearing and the rest onto the meeting-room table. Directors had to open windows to let the stench out. Despite this, he got the job. At the same time he was drawing his own comics, released as small press minicomics in editions of around 20 copies. Three issues of Zit were published between 1983 and 1984 and through these he got involved with the British small press comics scene of the time based around the Fast Fiction stall Paul Gravett was running at the Westminster Comic Mart in London.

Hughes was a regular contributor to Gravett's Escape Magazine from 1983 to 1989 with strips including Norm and The Inheritors. In 1987 his first graphic novel, The Science Service, co-written with John Freeman, was published by Belgian publishers Magic Strip in seven languages. The UK edition was co-published in 1989 by ACME press in the UK and Eclipse Comics in the US.

Design and logo design

From the mid-1980s through to the present day, Hughes has been involved with design work for a wide range of comics publishers. He is responsible for the distinctive look of the Knockabout Books line of collected underground comics and periodicals from 1985 to 1992. By the early 1990s it seemed like every aspect of the British comics industry had Hughes' stamp on it, from the carrier bags at Forbidden Planet to the logo of Mega City Comics. In 1990 the strip Dare was drawn by Hughes, serialised in Revolver, a magazine he designed, and written about in Speakeasy, a news magazine he'd also redesigned.

At Fleetway he did influential work, designing a new display font for their weekly comic 2000 AD, under the supervision of innovative Art Director Steve Cook. When the adult comic Crisis was launched it featured a radical Hughes design and he continued to spearhead Fleetways identity with the launch of Revolver and their graphic novels line.

For Titan Books he was given the task of designing books that repackaged American comics for the UK market. Most notable was his work on Love and Rockets, a personal favourite of Hughes. His design was considered daring but the American publisher, Fantagraphics Books, was impressed and used similar concepts in their own collections.

For DC Comics Hughes has designed numerous logos and covers, initially for the Vertigo imprint where many British creators were working. Here he continued his collaboration with Grant Morrison, creating covers and identity for The Invisibles.[2] He has also worked on covers for DC's superhero lines, notably the Tangent series of Elseworlds comics.

Other notable design work for the comics industry includes the 1986 MTV Europe Awards booklet Outbreaks of Violets, possibly the rarest Alan Moore title, late-era issues of Deadline where he worked on the entire magazine on a minimal budget in three days, and the retro covers for Flex Mentallo produced with artist Frank Quitely.

Hughes design output has broadened into work for clients in the music industry, advertising, toy industry and publishing.

Hughes recently completed artwork for Oxford-based rock group The Winchell Riots, designing the vinyl & CD sleeves for their 'Red Square EP' which is released September 2010.


Example of Rian Hughes' illustration

Hughes' discovery of the Mac in 1993 pushed his illustration work in a more stylised graphic direction. Adopting first Freehand than Adobe Illustrator, he used expanses of flat colour and texture in asymmetric and dynamic layouts, his characters became more elegant and exaggerated, and the type, generally custom designed for each illustration, became an integral part of his imagemaking process. This very influential flat vector style has been dubbed "Sans Ligne" in reference to the European "Ligne Claire" school by artist Will Kane. Though enabled by the Macintosh, Hughes' considers his combination of design, illustration and typography to be a return to the working methods of the poster artists of the early 20th century, a period when artists like the Stenberg Brothers, Cassandre and Jean Carlu combined type, image and layout to achieve a dynamic, integrated whole.

Hughes illustration work includes title sequences for The Box, poster designs for Tokyo fashion company Jun Co.'s Yellow Boots chain, the animated on-board safety film for Virgin Airlines, Eurostar's poster campaign, a collection of Hawaiian shirts, a range for Swatch and the BBC's CD edition of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In 2007 he collaborated with ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell on a series of six children's books, Ugenia Lavender.

Now widely copied, the influence of Hughes' illustration style can be seen in advertising, on covers for mass-market women's paperbacks, children's books and editorial illustrations worldwide.

Type design

Selection of fonts designed by Hughes and released through his Device foundry

Hughes' has described typography as "the particle physics of design". Hughes' interest in letterforms began at an unusually young age thanks to a Letraset catalogue his architect father had lying about the studio. At 15 he visited Letraset, where he saw Rubylith being used for the first time to create type.

This is the technique he used in the early days of his career when producing custom type for his design work. Early fonts like FF CrashBangWallop and FF Revolver (originally designed for Speakeasy and Revolver magazine respectively) were digitisations of fonts originally done in this old-fashioned method of Rubylith on board.

His first fonts were released back in 1992 as part of the FontFont range, while subsequent designs have been released via his own foundry, Device Fonts.[3]

Many of Hughes' fonts were created for specific design commissions, and their names reflect their application or the circumstances of their conception. The chunky no-nonsense Judgement family was commissioned for 2000 AD', home of Judge Dredd. Metropol Noir, which was created specifically for the BDA Gold Award winning 1996 MTV Europe Music Awards programme is named after the Paris hotel Hughes was put up in for the event. Others are more descriptive; FF Knobcheese suggests a knobbly Swiss Cheese; Foonky and Laydeez Night derive from a kitsch 70s aesthetic.

A retrospective catalogue "Ten Year Itch" was published in 2005 and features all Hughes' type designs up to that point.


Comics, Graphic Novels and Books

Comics work includes



  1. Truitt, Brian (19 September 2011). "Artist revisits 'Tales from Beyond Science' in new book". USA Today. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  2. Irvine, Alex (2008). "The Invisibles". In Dougall, Alastair. The Vertigo Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 92–97. ISBN 0-7566-4122-5. OCLC 213309015.
  3. Down the Tubes.net News Archive: March 2007.



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