Category Archives: Creating Comics

IRA SCHNAPP’S DC NEWSPAPER STRIPS Part 2

All images © DC Comics. From Superman Sunday Oct 23, 1949

As with the Superman daily strips, Ira had a very long run on the Sundays. Above is the top half of a full-page version of the strip (it was provided in several formats to newspapers: full page, half page and third page) and it includes a variation of Ira’s Superman logo done by him for the strip at this time. Ira’s small, square letters are in his familiar style then, but let’s begin at the beginning.

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IRA SCHNAPP’S DC NEWSPAPER STRIPS Part 1

All images © DC Comics. From Superman Daily March 9, 1948, image courtesy of Heritage Auctions ha.com

In addition to his comic book lettering, I’ve long known that Ira Schnapp worked for many years on the Superman newspaper strip. The sample above from original strip art of 1948 has his distinctive question mark and characteristic square letters, but when did he start? That question is one I’ve been researching over the last few weeks, looking closely at the many strip reprint books and, where those are not yet available, printed strips in period papers at newspapers.com. My conclusion is that Ira took over lettering the strip in late October 1943, replacing Frank Shuster, the brother of original Superman artist Joe Shuster, who had been the main letterer since early 1940. For more on that, see THIS article. Lettering on the strip has never been officially credited, so I have only style comparisons to work with, but Ira seems like a good candidate for the job. He had revamped Joe Shuster’s Superman logo in 1940 (Ira’s version first appeared on the cover of SUPERMAN #6 cover-dated Sept-Oct 1940), and Superman creators Siegel and Shuster certainly knew his work on that. Ira created several variations of that logo in the early 1940s for copyright applications, and I think would have been available as a letterer in 1943, as he was not yet very busy with similar work on DC comics story pages. In this post we’ll look at examples through the 1940s and into the 50s and 60s when Ira was the main letterer, seeing if we can trace consistent style elements.

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FRANK SHUSTER, SUPERMAN LETTERER Part 2

This and all images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #1, June 1938

In Part 1 of this article I showed a full page from the first published Superman story in ACTION COMICS #1, here’s a panel from it. I believe it was lettered by artist Joe Shuster, as it matches his lettering in other early comics work published previously. Joe was soon so busy with Superman that he needed to hire other artists to help, forming a studio in a small office in Cleveland, Ohio where he and writer Jerry Siegel lived. Some of the assistants did lettering, but in late 1939 Joe’s brother Frank began doing most of the Superman lettering on the daily and Sunday newspaper strips. By spring 1940 he was also lettering most of the Superman stories in ACTION COMICS. Here are some samples.

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FRANK SHUSTER, SUPERMAN LETTERER Part 1

Frank Shuster, 1937, from senior play cast photo, John Hay High School yearbook.

I’ve been researching the lettering of Ira Schnapp at DC Comics for some time, and the one area still to be done is DC’s newspaper strips, beginning with Superman. I’ve gradually acquired all the reprints of the strip available so far, and I thought I should begin at the beginning to see if I could determine who had lettered them. At the start of any strip, it’s almost always the artist who does his own lettering, and it was so with Superman. Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster became friends in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, drawn together by common interests like science fiction, movies and comic strips. They spent years working on Superman strip samples and trying to sell them to newspaper syndicates which distribute strips to newspapers around America and the world. They had no success, and finally offered Superman to National Allied Publications, soon to become National/Detective Comics (DC), as Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson’s company was taken over by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz around the same time. Siegel and Shuster had already been doing comics for the Major beginning in 1936, but they were struggling to make a living from it.

Editor Vin Sullivan wanted Superman as the lead feature in a new title they were launching, ACTION COMICS, so Jerry and Joe cut up and reworked some of their newspaper strips to fit the comic book format. It was a huge hit, and history was made. Jerry and Joe’s deal with DC was a terrible one, but it took a while for them to realize quite how terrible, and they were paid well at first once Superman proved a success. Meanwhile, DC was anxious for them to supply as much Superman material as they could. Soon a side deal was made between DC and the McClure Syndicate for a Superman daily newspaper strip, and later a Sunday strip as well, making Jerry and Joe’s original plan a reality. In addition to his stories in ACTION, a comic with only stories about him (SUPERMAN) was launched, and the character also began appearing in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS. Before long Siegel and Shuster were swamped with work and making enough money to hire help in getting the Superman strips and comic pages done, and the Siegel-Shuster studio in Cleveland began to grow.

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Ira Schnapp’s DC Ads: 1968

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #358, Jan 1968

This was Ira’s final year at DC Comics, and his ad output was much reduced. New policies from Editorial Director Carmine Infantino, including the shift of house ad and cover lettering from Ira to Gaspar Saladino, are now in evidence, and their places were essentially switched, with Ira doing just 21 new ads, and Gaspar creating about 65, with another 25 coming from Henry Boltinoff and various unidentified DC production artists. Ira’s final ad ran in a December 1968 title, and it was probably created in August, or even earlier. I have no evidence, but I think Ira left staff and retired in either July or August. DC was definitely changing from the place he had worked so many years as new blood was brought in: artist Joe Kubert became editor of the war titles, and new editor/artists Joe Orlando and Dick Giordano joined the staff. Artist Neal Adams had begun working for DC in 1967, and by 1968 was gaining new fans for the company and inside the company with his excellent art that added previously unseen levels of realism, dynamic layouts, and in-your-face action to the mix. Steve Ditko launched new properties The Creeper and Hawk and Dove, and other projects that would probably not have been okayed in the past were being tried out like Angel and the Ape, Anthro, Enemy Ace, Bat Lash and more. DC comics in general were gaining a fresh look enhanced by the dynamic work of Saladino, beside which Ira’s lettering often did look old fashioned. The ad above that Ira lettered is prescient: new things were coming, and they would not include him. Ira turned 73 in October 1967. His time in comics was almost over, but these ads show his skills were still present, if showing their age.

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