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.
Here’s an image of the button. It was part of a large series of pin-back buttons used as premiums in Pep. There were five sets of 18 buttons featuring comics characters, but because of the radio show sponsorship, each set included the Superman button, so there were 86 different buttons in the series. There were other button series on other topics, all sought after today by pin-back button collectors.
What interests me more is a series of two-color one-page Superman comics stories that ran on the back of Pep boxes, as in the first example above. It’s clearly lettered by Ira Schnapp in the style he was using at the time on both Superman comics stories and the Superman newspaper strip. Robert Beerbohm says there were at least 12 different strips. They’re numbered in the top banner left of the Superman logo, the one above is number 2. Images of 10 have been found with help from Jim Davidson and Doc DC on Facebook, including #11, so twelve in all sounds right. My guess is they were issued one per month, about the frequency that a family might buy a new box of Pep cereal, and that would mean they ran for a year. You can see the copyright year of 1945 on at least one of these images, so I’m guessing they all were issued in and around that year.
This appears to be #1, with the number in black on the red banner. I don’t think there are any continuing elements in these one-page stories, they’re all meant to stand on their own. The art size and amount of lettering is about the same as a typical comics page. A caption in small type under the art reads, “For further Adventures of Superman, read the backs of other PEP packages and follow the Superman radio program on the Mutual Network.” That ties the mutually advantageous licensing arrangement together nicely, even though Superman comics are not mentioned.
Here story #3, in a photo which shows more of the entire cereal box. While all such boxes today are probably printed in four colors, Kellogg was saving money by only using black and red. The stories made good use of the red in Superman’s costume and other places, including the word SUPERMAN in the lettering. I’m sure the art was produced by National (DC) Comics for Kellogg, but a production person there may have done the color separations. I would have loved these as a kid.
This image of story #4 shows the other side of the box where other premiums are described: a beanie cap you can order, 6 color pictures of war planes likewise, and a comic character pin-back button right in this box. Since there were five times as many Superman buttons as any of the others, you had a pretty good chance of getting one, and some have survived and can be found for sale online.
Story #5, and as with other images found, the owner cut it out of the cereal box and saved it. Thanks to Jim Davidson for finding this image.
Story #6 has not been found, but story #7 is a great one with a science fiction weapon and a cool diagram with Schnapp labels in panel 3. Thanks to Doc DC for finding the image.
Story #8 brings the action to the skies as Superman fights a helicopter. Thanks to Jim Davidson for finding the image.
Story #9 was also found by Jim Davidson. Despite the limited space, these stories cram in a lot of action, as well as a lot of Schnapp lettering.
For story #10, Jim found this crumpled box, with the comic at an extreme angle and hard to see. I’ve brightened the image so it’s almost readable.
The final one I found is story #11, and it’s the worst quality image, but you can just about read the lettering and understand what’s going on. So far the likely final one, story #12 has also not been located, but Jim Davidson reports: “An auction listing I found for one of the Pep boxes says it contains the strip “Superman and the Bank Robbers!” but there’s no image included or strip number. It’s presumably number 6 or 12.”
Jim typed up this list of the story titles on the ten existing images:
1 – Superman and the Terrible Underseas Monster!
2 – Superman and the Pirates!
3 – Superman and the Super Rocket Bomb!
4 – Superman and the Menace of the Man-Made Lightning!
5 – Superman Battles the Radio Robots!
7 – Superman Versus the Devouro-Ray Gun!
8 – Superman Battles the Helicopter Hoodlums!
9 – Superman Battles the Dive-Bombing Bandits!
10 – Superman and the Terror of the Bursting Dam!
11 – Superman Versus the Solar Firebugs!
If anyone reading this has images of the two missing stories, I’d love to add them, please contact me. Meanwhile, I will consider this work the equivalent of 12 comics pages and add them to my summary of Ira Schnapp’s comics work HERE. Thanks again to Jim Davidson and Doc DC for their help, and to Robert Beerbohm for enlightening me that these comics exist.