In the early years, from 1938 to 1944, the covers of most DC comics, including ACTION, used mainly set type for any blurbs or captions. I believe the first work Ira Schnapp did for National (DC) comics was his revamp of Joe Shuster’s Superman logo that first appeared on the cover of SUPERMAN #6 cover-dated Sept-Oct 1940. At the time, I think Ira was doing logos and cover lettering for some of the pulp magazines published by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, who also owned DC by the time ACTION began, and he was also still doing showcard signs for movie theaters in Manhattan, and probably other kinds of freelance lettering. Once he started working for DC, the company gradually began to use him more and more often for cover lettering. The first cover I think he lettered is above, and since it’s cover-dated January 1943 it must have been created at least three months before that in the fall of 1942. The larger letters use an Art Deco style that Ira liked, and the smaller letters are very regular and even like his interior lettering, but perhaps a little more carefully done. The hand-drawn caption is a better match for hand-drawn art than set type, and I think DC realized that and began to use more of it starting around this time.
The first appearance of word balloons on an ACTION cover predates Ira, and is above. I don’t know who lettered the balloons. The cover artist is Fred Ray, and it’s possible he did, but at the time, and really throughout comics history before the advent of desktop publishing, cover art was usually turned in to the publisher without any logos, trade dress, balloons or text. All that was added in the company’s production department by staffers, and one of them may have lettered this one. A staffer certainly added the typeset caption at lower right as well as the logo and trade dress, which is all the other material at the top. I’m not sure, but I think the small Superman logo at upper left is a modified version of the one by Ira with a different S to fit the space better and other small changes, though possibly it’s by Joe Shuster, who did the character in the circle.
Ira’s Superman logo shows up here on the second cover I think he lettered. Ira’s block capitals were quite close to type in appearance at times, but this sign is all hand-lettered except for the logo, which is pasted on in two places. The bottom one is the wrong angle compared to the lettering. More covers with only text followed.
Ira’s third lettered cover is this one, in my opinion. The sign pinned to the logo looks like his work, and the scroll caption does too, though it’s not a style he used very often. Ira probably also lettered the text on the cigar box.
The caption lettering here includes a script title, “Valentine Villainy,” in a style Ira was using on interior story titles as well. It’s a style he turned to through the 1940s, but moved away from later. I don’t know if Ira lettered what the kid is writing, but he might have.
This caption is very much in Schnapp’s style, and I doubt many others would have used that archaic method of combining AE in Æsop, though it’s quite correct.
Not all the covers were lettered by Ira, this is one I think is not. The style reminds me of the lettering of Frank Shuster, who was the regular Superman letterer from 1940 to about this time, and it could be by him. The long caption under the logo does not look like his work, though, and both may be by someone else.
This caption is definitely by Ira. He’s using the style of R in Superman that he picked up from Frank Shuster, and the rest uses an old form of the script letter E that Ira liked and often used in his display lettering. Printing and binding at the time were crude, and Ira took a chance lettering so close to the cover’s margins (this is the lower right corner). On some copies part of the bottom title is cut off.
This kind of loose, bouncy lettering is something I once thought was not by Ira, but I now think it’s his. Even here his careful construction of each letter makes it easy to read.
On the other hand, this does not look like Ira’s work. Possibly it’s by cover artist Wayne Boring, but that’s a guess.
There’s no doubt that this caption featuring handsome script and circus-style lettering is by Ira. He also did the Red Cross text at the top.
This balloon is by Ira using the same style he was using on the Superman newspaper strip at this time. “7th War Loan” is not typical of his work and might have been added by someone else.
The balloon and caption are both by Ira here.
This caption is not typical of Ira’s work, but at this time I think he was still using a wider variety of styles that he had developed for showcards, and had not yet settled on the styles he used most often in comics. Possibly by someone else, but I think it’s by Schnapp.
Here again is that script title style Ira was using at this time but later moved away from.
This looser style is one I think Ira was using for humorous characters like The Prankster and Mr. Mxyzptlk. I used to think it was by someone else, but now believe it’s by Shnapp.
Note the use of two kinds of emphasis in the balloon, bolder letters and underlining. This follows the style established by Frank Shuster in earlier Superman work.
As we get into 1947, Ira was lettering most of the covers on ACTION. His skill in a variety of styles allowed the blurbs to look varied and interesting.
More styles in these blurbs by Schnapp. Later he would settle on a handful, but in 1947 he was still using a wide variety.
More artful variety by Ira to finish out 1947 cover-dates. One factor in his move to fewer styles might be the increase in work he was doing for DC as the years went by.
More classic Ira Schnapp cover lettering with the kind of Blackletter or Old English approach he liked on CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE. From this point on nearly all the covers with lettering are by Schnapp, so I will move ahead now to later work.
By 1950, the cover art and lettering is settling into the style familiar across the DC Comics line in the 1950s: top line for backup feature or features, story title near the logo, word balloons for lead characters or villains. Once they started talking in this era, they rarely stopped.
Like the stories inside, some of the covers such as this one have lots of lettering. Here Ira had not only the cover blurb and balloons to do, but the billboard featuring a lengthy title and more word balloons! The lettering style here is now completely in Schnapp’s mature cover style, and I find it very appealing.
More of Ira’s version of Old English style in the story title.
Many of you may be familiar with this cover featuring the debut of Supergirl from 1959. Lots of great Ira Schnapp lettering here to help tell the story!
By 1964, both the stories and the cover lettering were going to some silly places, and beginning to look old-fashioned, but Ira’s style is still appealing to me.
The 80-Page Giant, an offshoot of the Annual format, often had covers like this broken into many panels about the different stories. I think this one is particularly well-designed and attractive, even if some of the story ideas are pretty lame.
The last ACTION cover with Ira Schnapp lettering is this one, #360, March-April 1968. What a great cover and loaded with fine Schnapp lettering. On this title at least, Ira went out in style. After this issue, most of the cover lettering was by Gaspar Saladino as Schnapp was eased into less visible work, and soon into retirement in 1968.
Here’s a list of the ACTION covers I believe were lettered by Ira Schnapp:
56, 58, 69, 71, 75, 78, 80, 83, 85, 86, 88, 89, 92, 93, 95, 97, 99-104, 106, 109-117, 119-122, 124-140, 142-143, 145-307, 309-344, 346-357, 359-360.
Not counting the three I’m not sure about with question marks, that’s 267 covers, an impressive number.
Next, in Part 2, I’ll look at Schnapp’s story lettering on this title. More Ira Schnapp articles, and others you might enjoy, are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.