Category Archives: Lettering/Fonts

IRA SCHNAPP and PEP CEREAL

This and all images © DC Comics.

Recently on a Facebook post by Robert Beerbohm, I was made aware of another commercial lettering job by Ira Schnapp when Bob posted one of these images. Kellogg’s Pep cereal was a sponsor of “The Adventures of Superman” radio show in the 1940s, and in 1945 Superman premiums were featured on the cereal boxes, and inside in the form of a Superman pin-back button.

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IRA SCHNAPP’S COMICS CAREER BY THE NUMBERS

Ira Schnapp in the DC offices, 1955, photo by his son Martin Schnapp.

I’ve been researching Ira Schnapp’s comics career for more than ten years, and I believe I’ve now compiled as complete a list of his work as a letterer and ad and logo designer as I can. In this long article I’m putting it all together in chronological order year by year to present a more complete picture of Ira’s entire body of comics work along with some biographical information to put it in context.

Israel (Ira) Schnapp was born in the small town of Sassow, Austria (now Sasiv, Ukraine) on October 10, 1894. His father emigrated to America in 1895 to find work and prepare for the rest of the family, and they joined him in 1900. There were eventually five brothers and three sisters, and with their parents they lived initially in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a Jewish immigrant community. Ira’s father was a grocer probably selling from a cart at first. Ira was the fourth child, and he did well in school. By high school he was taking art classes, and some of his work is in his high school yearbook. Somehow during that time he worked with a team of craftsmen creating the huge inscriptions on the James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan, on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Street. Ira did not design the letters, his job was to transform the architect’s drawings of them on the building plans into much larger drawings that could be transferred to stone blocks for carving. However that happened, it set young Ira on a course to become a lettering specialist. After high school he worked at a company that made titles for silent films, and he gradually developed a freelance career as a letterer and sign maker for Manhattan businesses like movie theaters. He also probably designed pulp magazine logos and did cover lettering for them. In the late 1930s, Ira prepared a series of one-panel strips called “Art of the Ages” which he hoped to place with a newspaper syndicate for national distribution. but it wasn’t a success, and ran in only one newspaper as far as I know. Much more about Ira’s life, early work and family can be found in a series of articles on my blog beginning HERE.

Ira entered the comics business in 1940 when he was asked to revamp the Superman logo from versions by the character’s co-creater Joe Shuster. Ira knew Jack Liebowitz, the co-owner of National (DC) Comics, and was probably related to him. I think he was lettering logos and covers for the separate line of sleazy pulp magazines also owned by Liebowitz and his partner Harry Donenfeld beginning around 1934, and through that connection I believe he was given the Superman logo redesign. It was a great success, and gradually Ira picked up more and more work from DC until by 1945 he was doing so much that his other freelance work must have dwindled to little or none. Ira continued as DC’s busiest letterer from that point until he left the company in 1968. He was 45 years old in 1940 when his comics career began, and 73 when it ended, a span of 28 years. That seems like a long time, but many other comics creators started much earlier in their lives. For example, Ira’s younger lettering work mate Gaspar Saladino started at DC in 1949 when he was 22 and he continued full-time work for the company until 2002 when he was 75, a span of 53 years. Despite his late start, Ira was a hard worker, and he must have been a fast one too, as the list of his work below testifies. On the Comics Creation and Logo Links pages of my blog you’ll find detailed information on all the work I’ve listed here, refer to that for more details.

Each year entry is divided into work categories: Logos, Ads, Covers, Pages, and Newspaper Strips. I’ve listed every Logo individually. For Ads, I’ll give yearly totals, for Covers I’ve listed each one by number. For Pages I’m only showing a range of the issues worked on in each year in each title and a page total for each title. For Newspaper Strips I’ve given the strip numbers and totals. Again, for details and many images for any of these things, see the specific articles about them on my blog. I’ll be adding comments after each year entry, and at the end I’ll have career totals. Numbers in parentheses are the number of pages or items in each entry. Here we go.

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Ira Schnapp and the DC-Columbia Movie Serials

Images related to DC Comics characters are © DC Comics. Promotional poster from the 1943 Batman serial.

From 1937 to 1956, Columbia Pictures produced 57 movie serials. Each serial was divided into chapters, and was meant to be shown one chapter per week as an added attraction to the main feature film shown that week. Nearly all of them ran 15 chapters, and each chapter had a running time of about 15 minutes. Subjects were drawn from all kinds of popular culture, fictional and historical properties, with sources including pulp magazines, comic strips and comic books. Despite a long running time, they were low-budget and well below feature films in quality, with actors who were not big stars. They were meant to appeal to kids and readers of the source material, hoping to keep them coming back into theaters even when they’d seen the feature already, or at least that’s my guess. Ten were based on characters now owned by DC Comics, but at the time of their release only six were actually licensed from National (DC) Comics. Here’s the list of those ten:

  • Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) (licensed from Fawcett)
  • Spy Smasher (1942) (licensed from Fawcett)
  • Batman (1943)
  • Hop Harrigan (1946) (licensed from All-American Comics, sister company of DC)
  • The Vigilante (1947)
  • Superman (1948)
  • Congo Bill (1948)
  • Batman and Robin (1949)
  • Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)
  • The Miraculous Blackhawk: Freedom’s Champion (1952) (licensed from Quality Comics)

For each serial, Columbia prepared a press book for theater owners. This offered them all kinds of material to promote the serial to theater owners, and also to theater patrons. In addition to reviews, actor photos and biographies, there were film posters of various sizes, banners, counter displays, lobby cards with photo stills from each chapter, and more, all of which could be ordered for a fee in lots from one to many. On the ones licensed from DC Comics, there were additional items prepared by them, usually a comics-style poster like the one above and a “Comic Strip Herald,” which was a single sheet 6 inches high by 18 inches wide, folded in half to create a four-page flyer. Often the front cover was the same as the poster, but sometimes they were different. Inside across both pages was a large comic strip something like a daily strip with five or six panels describing the serial and including actor and other film credits. I don’t know what was on the back cover. These items had comics art drawn by DC artists and most were lettered by Ira Schnapp.

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Ira Schnapp’s DC Ads: 1949

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #130, March 1949

The big news in early 1949 issues was the debut of Superboy’s own title. It had a great new logo by Ira Schnapp, and this ad by him is full of fine lettering and enthusiasm. Ira had been associated with Superman since 1940 when he revamped Joe Shuster’s Superman logo. He’d begun lettering the Superman newspaper strip in 1943, and became a regular on Superman stories in the comics soon after. When Superboy began appearing in 1945 in MORE FUN COMICS, Ira was there as letterer for many of them, and he also lettered many stories in this new title. Ira’s ad lettering was often meeting new high points of style and lettering skill, as seen here. I particularly like the giant exclamation points.

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Ira Schnapp’s DC Ads: 1948

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #116, Jan 1948

A second crime comic from DC followed closely after the first one, GANG BUSTERS. This was also based on a radio show, and unlike the other title, it had a continuing lead character who was known only as Mr. District Attorney. I wonder what DC co-owner Harry Donenfeld thought about these comics, as he reportedly had friends in the criminal world and had faced prosecution in the past for the sexual content and images in his pulp magazines. This ad shows Ira Schnapp beginning to reach his full potential as a house ad designer. The black areas add depth and contrast and the lightning bolt borders add energy. The blocks of lettering still show his early style with unfinished letters and more bounce than seems appropriate for the subject, but the top and bottom bands are excellent. I love the word EVERYWHERE with the Y extending below the border.

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