Ira Schnapp and the early DC logos, new information

Images © DC Comics, Inc.

Since I began seriously researching old logos about five years ago, one of the more tantalizing and elusive credits has been the early work of Ira Schnapp. Schnapp worked on staff at DC Comics from about 1949 until 1968, but many people in the field have said Schnapp designed or redesigned the logo above, which first appeared on issue 6 of SUPERMAN dated September-October, 1940, based on several earlier versions by Superman co-creator Joe Shuster. (His logos appeared on issues 1-5 and other places.)

I never had the chance to meet Ira, who died in 1969, but in trying to pin down this “common knowledge” attribution I’ve spoken to or corresponded with at least a dozen people who knew Ira or met and talked to him about his work, from contemporaries like Jerry Robinson and Murphy Anderson to kids who took the DC office tours like Marv Wolfman and Alan Kupperberg. When asked, most of them repeated the story about Schnapp designing this logo, some also gave him credit for other early DC logos like ACTION COMICS and DETECTIVE COMICS. But when asked if they themselves ever asked Ira Schnapp if he had designed those logos, the answer was either “no,” or “I don’t recall.”

I examined the earliest DC logos in THIS logo study and came to the conclusion that most of them did not look like the work of Schnapp, though the ACTION one did stand above the others in design quality, so I thought that one might possibly have been by Ira. I made guesses about possible designers for some of the others.

Recently on my “Todd Klein, artist” page on Facebook I ran this logo image from the DC files, done by Schnapp, which combines a photostat of the original SUPERMAN logo in part with new lettering for BABY. I said the perfect match in styles reinforced the idea that Schnapp had designed that SUPERMAN logo back in 1940, for which I had no real evidence. In response I got a message from comics writer and Batman movie producer Michael Uslan, who visited the DC offices several times as a child, and worked there as an intern a few years later. Michael wrote me about his memories of talking to Ira Schnapp, though he combined those memories with later talking to letterer Ben Oda and dated his recollection to 1972-73. When I pointed out that was impossible, since Ira had passed by then, we untangled his memories and Michael said it must have been in 1964-65 when he spoke to Ira, during some of the regular office tours given at that time. The important statement from Uslan, and one that I find convincing based on other accounts from those who talked to Schnapp is this one:

“He (Ira Schnapp) loved that I was interested in the history of the industry and DC. He showed me many of his logos and was proudest of creating the classic trademark Superman logo. I then assumed he designed every DC logo and he said he did not do the ones before Superman like Detective Comics or Action Comics but that he started right after that.”

This description fits very well with what I’ve heard from others; that Ira loved to talk about his work, was very friendly, and often talked to the kids on the office tours and showed them things he was working on or had done. Uslan was an enthusiastic comics fan, especially DC Comics, and the perfect audience for Schnapp. The fact that he mentioned the classic SUPERMAN logo in particular says to me that, not only was he proud of working on it, he probably told lots of people the same thing, leading to that “common knowledge” so many have repeated. And, while Uslan’s memory may be a little hazy in some areas, it makes sense to me he’d remember that conversation.

That returns the designer of ACTION COMICS to a complete mystery, as it was before I started my research, but it does open up some other interesting possibilities. We know the designer of the BATMAN logo, Jerry Robinson, but the creator of other logos for the company in the 1940s are mostly unknown. Those done for All-American Comics, the sister company to National (as DC was then known) do not look like the work of Schnapp to me, but perhaps he designed the WORLD’S FINEST logo or the script WONDER WOMAN logo. I’ll have to think more on this, but I’m grateful to Michael Uslan for his memory of what Ira Schnapp said on this subject. While not hard evidence, it may be the closest I’ll get to the truth on this topic.

8 thoughts on “Ira Schnapp and the early DC logos, new information

  1. Pingback: Todd’s Blog » Blog Archive » Logo Study: Action Comics/Superman part 1

  2. Pingback: Todd’s Blog » Blog Archive » Logo Study: Action Comics/Superman part 2

  3. Michael Bradley

    For what it is worth, while the first cover usage was SUPERMAN #6, it had been previously used on the opening splash panel to the Superman story in the 1940 issue of NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR COMICS from a few months prior.

  4. Todd Post author

    Thanks for the information, Michael. If you have an image of that page I’d love to see it.

  5. Todd Post author

    Thanks, Michael, I see I do have that in the DC Archives book “Superman in World’s Finest.” Kind of odd it was used there, as the following story from World’s Best #1 has another Shuster logo, but that could be an older story.

  6. Todd Post author

    I had the date wrong on SUPERMAN #6, it’s cover-dated Sept.-Oct., so the time gap is not as large as it seems. Plus, the actual release dates of the two might be closer, as NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR COMICS 1940 would not have had the kind of post-dating used on monthly comics to encourage newsstands to keep them on their racks longer. Both titles might have been out for the summer of 1940. I think that narrows down the creation of the logo to no later than June, 1940, perhaps May.

  7. Pingback: Todd’s Blog » Blog Archive » Logo Study: DC’S EARLIEST LOGOS

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