Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on David Kaestle, Graphic Designer

by G. Jack Urso
Hot Hero Sandwich Logo, designed by David Kaestle.

The Hot Hero Sandwich logo looks a bit deceptively simple — just the title and a sandwich — yet highlighted in full neon splendor set against a black background and it really pops. Since most images of the logo are low-resolution screen shots from VHS source tapes, I recently had a graphic designer friend recreate the logo design, and at any size and on any medium the image stands out and is instantly recognizable.  

The logo is the work of David Kaestle (1945-2004), a 1967 graduate of the Pratt Institute who won many awards for his work, including an Emmy and the Art Directors’ Club Gold Medal. Amazingly, I can consider Kaestle something of a hometown boy. I live in Albany, NY, and Kaestle was born one city over in Schenectady, NY, and was raised in the nearby town of Scotia.

National Lampoon Staff: Henry Beard, Michael Gross, Matty Simmons, Brian McConnachie, Len Mogel, Michael O’Donoghue, Barbara Atti, and David Kaestle in DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON. ©Magnolia Pictures.
Kaestle was a graphic designer who was instrumental in the first several years of National Lampoon, establishing the look and design of the legendary publication, and then with National Lampoon art director Michael C. Gross (also his former roommate), left the magazine in 1974 and set up their own graphic design company, Pellegrini, Kaestle, & Gross, Inc., which continued to do work for the magazine as well as for The Muppet Show, and Hot Hero Sandwich, of course. In fact, Kaestle’s then-wife Mari worked as a Muppet designer with Jim Henson Productions and had a hand in creating Miss Piggy. PK&G Inc. also did the logo for Henson Associates (see below). Kaestle later established his own company, David Kaestle Incorporated, and did work for Dreamworks, Lucasfilm, and Nickelodeon.

Hernson Associates logo design by Pellegrini, Kaestle, & Gross, Inc.
In 1979, while working up the Hot Hero Sandwich logo, Kaestle also did graphic design work on the cult classic Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, by Saturday Night Live writer and fellow National Lampoon alumnus Mike O'Donoghue and starring several SNL cast members. From National Lampoon to The Muppet Show to Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, Kaestle, who was in his 20s and 30s in the 1970s, was in touch with the youth zeitgeist of the era. His work dovetails with many of the touchstones of that generation.

Kaestle’s Hot Hero logo was also used as the masthead on the show’s stationary.
In a 2015 interview with The Comics Journal, Michael Gross spoke fondly of Kaestle, commending his best friend not only on his talent and work, but also for his modestly and integrity. When I commented to Dr. Tom Cottle about how kind and gracious the Hot Hero cast and crew I spoke with have been Cottle wasn’t surprised because, according to him, Bruce and Carole Hart didn’t tolerate “unkind, un-nice people. You wanted professional people. They didn’t want to deal with rude people.” To find someone like Kaestle in the cut-throat business world of New York City, and in television no less, must have been like finding a diamond in the rough.

David Kaestle caricature by Hot Hero series writer Sherry Coben,
drawn during the time of the series (1979).
David Kaestle passed away far too early at 58 in 2004 due to cancer, yet he left an indelible mark on his generation few outside the industry are even aware of. The comments about his kindness and the quality of his character refute the notion you have to be shark to survive the often murky waters of the entertainment industry. Kaestle found his way by connecting with like-minded talented people who shared his values and created their own opportunities by tapping into the spirit of the time.  

David Kaestle’s Hot Hero Sandwich logo in a neon gif!

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