Continuing my research into the work of lettering legend Ira Schnapp, I’ll discuss cover lettering for ACTION here and interior lettering in Part 2. Many National Comics (now DC Comics) in the 1940s were “poster” covers rather than scenes relating to stories inside, but ACTION did buck that trend sometimes, as seen above, and used cover lettering more than many of the others. Issue #75 dated Aug. 1944 has the first example I think might be lettered by Schnapp.
Ira’s cover lettering was usually very square and even, as seen here, and the use of the glyph combining A and E, to begin Æsop seems like something he might have done. This could be the earliest cover lettering for Schnapp that I’ve found, if I’m correct, but I’m not sure about this one and will keep a question mark on it.
Issue #78 dated Nov. 1944 has another cover blurb that could be by Ira Schnapp, it has elegant script that could be his, but I’m not sure it is. The problem is, ACTION has lots of lettering at this time by another letterer with many style similarities to Schnapp. In fact, I think Ira may have used this unknown person as a model for his own work.
Things that suggest that other letterer, who I’ll call Proto-Schnapp for the convenience, are the very rounded open story title, and the word SUPERMAN, which has unjoined loops on the P and R as well as a curved right leg on the R and a serif at the top of the S. Also, the script is more upright than what Schnapp usually did, his tended to be more italic. UPDATE: After looking at early Schnapp cover lettering on BATMAN from the same time, I now think this one IS by Ira Schnapp.
This blurb from the cover of issue #80, Jan. 1945, doesn’t particularly look like either of them, though it could possibly be Ira Schnapp trying to be wild and crazy in this story about Mr. Mxyzptlk, but it’s hard to be sure. Ira with a question mark.
This cover blurb from issue #81, Feb. 1945, is definitely NOT by Ira Schnapp or Proto-Schnapp, it’s by another letterer who did lots of work on Superman stories in the early 1940s. His lettering is very wide, and the loop of the R is usually not connected.
Issue #83, April 1945, has this cover blurb that could be by Ira Schnapp. The first word is in handsome italic script, and the rest is circus-type lettering. Not really enough of it to make a call, though, so it gets a question mark.
On the other hand, issue #88, Sept. 1945, has a similar blurb that does look more like Ira Schnapp’s work to me, as does the word balloon.
Issue #93, Feb. 1946, has a script banner that’s not typical of Ira Schnapp, but he did use a similar style on story titles occasionally. The caption above looks like Ira, so I’m calling this one his.
Issue #95, April 1946, has lettering that is definitely NOT by Ira Schnapp.
Issue #97, June 1946, does look like Schnapp lettering to me. Notice the italic script of ANOTHER and the very square letters of SUPERMAN, for instance.
Issue #100, Sept. 1946, is definitely NOT Schnapp lettering, notice how rounded the blurb lettering is. Even the balloon lettering is too curvy. This could be by Proto-Schnapp.
The blurb on issue #106 looks like Ira Schnapp work to me, despite the somewhat rounded open lettering of the title. Even that is very even and regular, not bouncy.
Issue #109, June 1947, is a tough call. It could be by Schnapp, but I’m not sure. The solid letters seem too uneven for Ira, but the open title does look like his work. I’ll give it a question mark.
Issue #110, July 1947, is, I think, by Proto-Schnapp, who also lettered the title story in a similar style. The open lettering here matches that, and is very rounded. The solid letters above don’t look like Ira’s work either.
Issue #111, Aug. 1947, looks again to be by Proto-Schnapp with a very rounded title and other lettering not in Ira’s style.
On the other hand, I think this blurb on issue #112, Sept. 1947 is by Ira Schnapp, despite the bounce in the story title. That open YES! is very much in his style, and even the bouncier letters are very regular and similar to each other. There are other small clues like the opening in the tops of the O’s in the story title.
I think this one from issue #113, Oct. 1947, is by Proto-Schnapp, not Ira. Too rounded, and I don’t think Ira ever used that particular lower-case style.
Issue #114’s blurb is very much Ira’s, everything square and even with his typical letterforms. Classic Schnapp work.
Issue #115 is just the opposite, very rounded open letters, and I think a good example of the unknown person I’m calling Proto-Schnapp. Clearly there was no chosen favorite for cover lettering assignments on ACTION COMICS. Perhaps whoever was there when the art came in got the job.
Issue #116, Jan. 1948 has another good example of Ira Schnapp cover lettering, and by now, his style is becoming the one we know from all his cover work hereafter, though the slightly drippy letters on the story title are not so typical.
More classic Ira Schnapp cover lettering on issue #117, Feb. 1948, with the kind of Blackletter or Old English approach he liked on CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE.
Issue #119 I think is the final example of cover lettering by Proto-Schnapp, whose work seems to dwindle away some time in 1948. Perhaps he was an older man who retired around then, making room for Ira on staff, but that’s just a guess.
I have to be careful not to generalize about Ira Schnapp’s work too much, as there are always exceptions. This blurb on the cover of issue #120, May 1948, has a very bouncy title for Ira, but is still clearly his work to my eye.
More typical Ira Schnapp work on the cover of issue #121…
…and issue #122. After this, all or nearly all the cover lettering on ACTION is by Ira Schnapp for many years.
Issue #131, April 1949, is classic Ira Schnapp. I particularly like the 4TH on this one.
By issue #149, Oct. 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.
Like the stories inside, some of the covers such as this one, #196, Sept. 1954, 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 for issue #231, Aug. 1957.
Many of you may be familiar with this cover featuring the debut of Supergirl, issue #252 dated May 1959. Lots of great Ira Schnapp lettering here to help tell the story!
By issue #317, Aug. 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. Issue #334, March 1966.
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:
75?, 78, 83?, 88, 93, 97, 106, 109?, 112, 114, 116-117, 120-122, 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 235 covers, an impressive number.
Next, in Part 2, I’ll look at Schnapp’s story lettering on this title. Many more Ira Schnapp articles, and others you might enjoy, are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.