During my phone conversations with Ira Schnapp’s son Marty and his wife Pam, I told them about the Ira Schnapp exhibit by Arlen Schumer then running at the Type Director’s Club, and they wanted to see it. So did I, and I suggested we go together. Unfortunately, we all had busy schedules, and by the time we arranged for the trip, it turned out to be on the very last day of the show, Monday, Sept. 21st, 2015. I had spent time with Marty the day before at his apartment, where he and I had another long talk, and looked at the few photos of Ira and his family he’d found. Pam is recovering from an injured shoulder, and was unable to join us, but Marty and I planned to meet at the show at 10 AM, and would be joined there by my research partner Alex Jay, the exhibit creator Alex Schumer, and as it turned out, a few of Arlen’s friends.
That morning I had some time and decided to spend it revisiting the Farley Post Office building on 8th Avenue from 31st to 33rd Street, the place where Ira Schnapp’s long career in design and lettering began. There’s restoration work being done, and a large crane was in front of the building, making for a less than ideal image.
The beginning of the famous quote from Herotodus that runs along the front facade. As I outlined in my recent research on these inscriptions, Ira Schnapp did not design the letters, which are in the style of ancient Trajan’s Column in Rome, nor did he carve the letters. What I believe he did was to transfer the relatively small drawings of the letters by the architects McKim, Mead and White to very large vellum or tissue paper so that they could be transferred to the surface of the stone and carved by the stone-cutters.
This close look at one giant letter revealed a detail I hadn’t noticed before. The sides of the cuts go in at a 90 degree angle first for a short distance before the angle changes to about 45 degrees, with each side meeting at the center of each stroke. This make sense, as it gives the letters more depth and better shadows, making them easier to read. And are those serifs ever pointy!
Attention is usually focused on the Herodotus quote, but there are two other inscriptions at the building’s upper corners…
…giving a very brief history of world postal services. Ira Schnapp worked on these inscriptions in his teen years. Just six blocks away, on 37th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, I was about to see an exhibit based on his lettering career that began here.
By the time I got to the show, everyone else was already there. Here, in front of the first display are Alex Jay, Arlen Schumer and myself. Not sure who took this picture, but I like the fact that Ira’s signature is above us all.
Here’s Arlen with Marty Schnapp posing for a photo by me, this photo by Alex Jay. Next to me is George Papadimatos, and behind him is the main gallery. Marty seemed very happy to be there to see his father and his father’s work being celebrated.
Here’s that photo I took with Arlen and Marty, and Arlen’s handsome book, “The Silver Age of Comic Book Art,” recently reprinted, which he was kind enough to give to those of us who didn’t already have it.
I had seen Arlen give his slide show/lecture on Ira Schnapp at the San Diego Comic Con, and that included pictures and a video of the exhibit, so I knew what to expect, but it was all new to Marty, and Arlen essentially gave him a good part of the lecture while the rest of us listened and commented. In the background of this display is the Farley Post Office inscription I’d just visited. Some of the information about Ira Schnapp’s history and early work seen here needs to be revised if Arlen mounts the show again, and that was something we talked about. This and some of the other show photos are by Alex Jay.
The rest of the show focuses on Ira’s work for DC Comics from 1940 to the late 1960s, and the displays are excellent, employing clever use of space, as with the Schnapp cover logos here floating in front of a giant ACTION COMICS logo. This image was found online, and I rearranged it by cutting it in half and stacking the halves so the logos would be more visible, sorry Arlen! My only quibble is that I don’t believe Ira designed the ACTION logo, but the display is very effective.
As Arlen talked about Ira, his love and enthusiasm for the man’s work and the era it appeared in was evident and heartfelt. Marty seemed to take it all in with slight astonishment. “Did Ira really do all this?” he asked, and we assured him he did.
Arlen talks while Marty stands in front of some full-page DC house ads that are infused with energy, creativity and fun. I remember many of them from the comics of my childhood, and wishing I could buy every comic featured in them!
Arlen points out some of the creative and unusual lettering styles Ira used on his half-page DC Comics house ads, with Arlen’s favorite full-page house ads behind us.
Arlen in front of the giant Superman logo pointing out some of the finer details of this display, as Marty and I listen.
Arlen was thrilled to have Marty there, and everyone enjoyed talking to him.
I was very happy that my idea for us to go to the show together had worked out, and I loved seeing the joy in Marty’s eyes when everyone praised Ira’s work.
In turn, Marty told Arlen some things about his father that were new to Arlen, things you’ve read about in this blog series. “My sister Teddy would have loved this,” Marty said. About the exhibit, he added, “It’s phenomenal. I really am blown away by it.”
Marty had to leave after about an hour, but before he did, we arranged with Carol, the gallery manager, to get group shots of us all. Arlen passed out some of the cookies with Ira’s logos on them he’d had made for the opening in May. They might be stale, but they look cool! Marty brought one home for Pam. Left to right are John Colquhoun, Bob Gill, Arlen Schumer, J.J. Seledmaier, Alex Jay, Marty Schnapp, Todd Klein and George Papadimatos.
Here’s what Arlen had to say about the experience:
“Talk about ‘saving the best for last’!
“Thanks to Todd’s efforts, I was shocked and awed to meet Martin Schnapp, Ira Schnapp’s son! Eighty-five years old and in great shape, still working in the ladies’ clothing business, and with a gentle, warm spirit that I can only imagine he got from his father, who came across the same way to me via recollections from Neal Adams and others who had contact with him.
“Though I was immediately struck with regret that I dropped the ball back in May — in terms of ‘hunting’ Martin down so I could have invited him to the May 14th opening of my Schnapp exhibit, as he would have loved to witness all the Schnapp love in the Type Directors Club air that night — that regret was immediately dispelled by the pleasure I had taking Martin through my exhibit of his father’s ‘greatest hits’ during his nearly 30 years at DC Comics!
“The specialness of Martin’s visit was only burnished by getting to see two of my favorite typographic practitioners and influences, the great Alex Jay, whom I last saw around 30 years ago at his studio in NYC — he doesn’t looked like he’s aged a year — and, of course, Todd Klein himself, who honored me by coming to my exhibit and arranging for Martin Schnapp to be there! Thank you, Todd!”
It was a fun time, and a great way to celebrate the life and work of Ira Schnapp, made particularly special by sharing it with his son Marty. Arlen plans to continue his lecture, “The Super Type of Ira Schnapp” at future comics conventions and wherever he can do it, and you can find a video of the talk on YouTube HERE. Arlen’s enthusiasm is infectious. I enjoyed seeing it in person at San Diego a great deal. Thanks to Arlen for having us in for the final day of the exhibit. Hope he gets to do it again elsewhere. Arlen’s website with information on this and his other lectures and books is HERE.
I wish I had room for more of Ira Schnapp’s lettering and design, like the series of Public Service one-pagers he lettered for DC Comics, sample above. I’ve only scratched the surface of his massive output, but this article is long enough! Here are some other places to find it:
• A ten-part article about Ira on the Dial B for Blog website begins HERE. While I feel some of the facts in the series need to be revised, it does have lots of Ira’s fine comics work on display, especially from part 4 on, and it was the place where many first learned about Ira’s career.
• Collections of or searches for DC House Ads from the period 1950-1967 will contain mostly Ira Schnapp display lettering.
• Most DC covers from 1950 to 1967 have Ira Schnapp lettering on them, and some from earlier and later. You can browse through cover galleries of any title on the Grand Comics Database. If you’re not familiar with what titles DC published in the past, year-by-year listings can be found on the DC Wikia site.
• Alex Jay’s blog, Tenth Letter of the Alphabet has many articles about comics creators that include even more of his detailed research than I had room for here. I’ve linked to specific ones, but others there may interest you, as well as commentary on some of Alex’s own work.
• Finally, my own blog has comics history and design articles you might enjoy on the COMICS CREATION and LOGO LINKS pages. I’ve quoted from or linked to most that involve Ira Schnapp, but there are lots more on other topics.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together. Comments and corrections are welcome. Thanks for reading.