The main letterer of all Superman stories from 1940 to some time in 1943 was Joe Shuster’s brother, Frank Shuster. Frank had a distinctive style, as seen above, with wide, regular letters made with a dead-line pen rather than a wedge-tipped one that creates thick and thin variations. His letter R usually has a loop that’s not connected to the left leg, and curves upward on the right leg. His question marks are a single loop over a period. He ended most of his stories with THE END in all capitals.
With issue #61, the Superman stories seem to have a slightly different style of lettering. Someone else is imitating Frank, and doing it quite well. So well that I didn’t notice for a long time.
What finally caught my attention was a different type of question mark, as seen above, one that’s shaped like a backwards S over a period, and is much smaller than what Frank was doing. There are other differences, but that’s a significant one because it’s the question mark style favored by Ira Schnapp through most of his comics career. I think Ira replaced Frank on Superman stories beginning with this issue, and he lettered most of them going forward for years.
Another Schnapp style point that first shows up in issue #63 (poor image above) is his use of upper and lower case script for part or all of THE END.
While Ira continued to imitate some elements of Frank’s lettering for a long time, like his letter R, the elements of Ira’s own natural style began to emerge as well. This panel includes more typical Schnapp letter shapes in the balloons, and the note has typical Schnapp script, including the alternate version of the letter E he often used.
Here’s another use of that script in THE END from issue #68.
Some other examples from the 1950s and 1960s.
The title on this Superman story from issue #75 is in an Old English style that Ira liked to use, and more of his script is there too.
At times Schnapp’s imitation of Frank Shuster is so good I have a hard time believing it’s his work, but THE END is definitely Schnapp here, and Frank had to give up lettering Superman stories at some point in 1943 after being drafted.
Another example of the Old English style that Ira used when he had the chance.
At first Ira only did the Superman stories in ACTION, but at some point he began working on other features. It’s hard to pinpoint when that happened because he also did his best to imitate the styles being used on those features when he started lettering them. I don’t have good images for some of the issues in question. I think this Congo Bill story from issue #84 is the first one lettered by Schnapp. He’s using a wedge-tipped pen, so the style is somewhat different, but look at the letter R, very similar to what he was doing on Superman at the time. And there’s one of his question marks in the last balloon.
I think Schnapp also lettered the Vigilante story in that issue using the same pen. I could be wrong about these, as the images are fuzzy, but that’s my call.
I have a better image of the Congo Bill story from the next issue, and I see several things in it that suggest Schnapp: his question mark in the first balloon, the unusual story title style, and the decorative flourish in the bottom left caption.
In issue #86, I think Schnapp lettered his first Zatara story, again imitating the lettering style that had come before, but the story title styles here are ones that Ira used often in the 1940s.
This Congo Bill story from issue #88 show’s Schnapp moving further toward his own style as he was using it elsewhere at the time. Ira had become the main letterer of the Superman daily newspaper strip in the late summer or early fall of 1943, and this is similar to what he was doing there in mid 1945, when this story would have been created. The spaces between lines are a bit wider than what he usually did, but the letter shapes are about the same, and there are distinctive style points like the shape of the R, now made like a P with the curved right leg descending from the loop, and the question mark.
Here are other lettering samples from the same issue. As you can see, there was a variety of styles. At upper left is Ira’s work on Superman. If there was a house style in ACTION this was it, but only on Superman. Upper right is from Hayfoot Henry, lower left from Vigilante and lower right from Zatara, I think also lettered by Schnapp. ACTION was an anthology from its inception and through several decades, so variety was one of the attractions. Variety in lettering styles was common, and Ira tried to preserve that at least for a while.
Another Superman story lettered by Schnapp with elements from Frank Shuster, though that influence is fading.
The lettering on the Congo Bill story in issue #89 again does look like Ira Schnapp’s work, including the R and question mark shapes. The spacing between lines is again wider than what he usually did, but perhaps he was following what the penciller indicated.
The lettering on the Zatara story is even more like what I expect from Schnapp at this time, including the story title. So, how did Ira go from lettering just Superman stories in ACTION to lettering many others? He was already lettering the Superman and Batman newspaper strips at this time, so DC must have liked his work, and perhaps Ira began taking any story lettering from DC that they offered, and they were offering him a lot. From 1947 on, Ira was the regular ACTION letterer on most features until his work became more sporadic in early 1949, probably because he was more spread out into other titles. Comics were not yet so much of an assembly line process in the 1940s, some features had lettering by the artist, or perhaps by their assistant, but you can see the assembly line developing here, at least as far as the lettering goes. Batman inker Charles Paris reported that Ira was sometimes working at home and sometimes in the DC bullpen on the Batman strip, which he lettered from 1944 to 1946, and working on staff, even as a freelancer, would have brought him to the attention of all the editors and made them more likely to offer him work. Ira was clearly a hard worker, and probably fast and reliable, and that helped his cause. My guess is that, having found steady work at DC with the newspaper strips beginning in 1943, Ira gradually gave up his other freelance work and by 1945 was doing comics full time.
Another Schnapp story title with an Old English feel.
By issue #95, the Congo Bill lettering by Ira was very similar to his work on other stories with tighter line spacing. Notice the older form of lower case script E in the story title, something Schnapp liked to use.
Ira’s lettering in the mid 1940s was often wider than what he would settle into later, but the style points are pretty consistent with minor variations. In this story he was using larger and wider exclamation points, for instance, imitating those from earlier Zatara stories he didn’t letter. These early single line story title styles were common from him in the 1940s but he moved away from them to more open titles by the 1950s.
This Superman story’s opening caption and title feature another story title style he was using then but moved away from a few years later.
This Zatara caption shows Ira beginning to use open story titles, and developing the open script he would perfect in the 1950s.
The rough, shaky approach to this story title had me thinking it was not by Ira for a while, but I now think it’s just a style he was trying out. The letter shapes are very much his. Notice how the caption lettering is narrower here, with most letters fitting into a square. This is where Ira’s story lettering was headed.
A rare one-page filler lettered by Ira with an open title, sound effects, and larger lettering in the fourth panel.
Another story title in Ira’s Old English style inside a handsome scroll, and he probably did the holly border on the caption too.
By 1948, Ira’s story lettering style was pretty much set, though he was still experimenting with unusual story title styles. I like this Arabian Nights look.
This story title is a good example of how he tried to match the style to the words. I also like the caption border, which is like something Jack Kirby might do.
The story title and lettering on the book use another medieval style Ira did well. I wonder if he saw himself as the monk here?
Ira’s story work in ACTION began to decline in 1949. I think he was working in the office more often, and at some point he started going there to work almost every day. He might even have taken a salaried position, I don’t know. Certainly his workload in general began to increase, with more house ads, logos and covers as well as stories. Perhaps he was now in a better position to pick and choose which features to work on, and I suspect he gravitated toward humor and funny animal books both because he liked them and because they often had less lettering per page. The story title here is full of the charm and bounce he often used on humorous work.
This was the kind of over-written story becoming more common all the time at DC. More work for Ira for the same pay. Gone were the wider letters he sometimes used, here everything is small and condensed to fit it all in.
Tommy Tomorrow had joined the ACTION lineup in issue #127. This is the first of his stories lettered by Schnapp. It’s likely Ira designed the character logo.
By 1950, Ira was mainly lettering these copy-heavy Superman stories and sometimes Congo Bill. His work in ACTION became even more occasional after that, with none in 1952, for instance, but he remained on call when needed in a pinch for this and almost every DC title.
In 1959, Congo Bill became Congorilla for the first time, changing bodies with a golden gorilla temporarily. This added an element of fantasy to the strip, and kept it going for a while, as gorillas seemed to sell stories for DC. Ira Schnapp lettered this first Congorilla story (and logo) as well as two others.
Ira Schnapp did not letter the first Supergirl story, but he did work on the second one in issue #253. He lettered only one other, in issue #255. Note that the GIRL in the SUPERGIRL logo is Ira’s work, too.
This Superman story from 1961 is the last one he lettered for the title. Note his familiar open letter story titles on these last few examples, typical of his mid 50s to mid 60s work.
Here’s a list of all the stories I’ve found in ACTION COMICS lettered by Ira Schnapp. Note that features are abbreviated after the first appearance.
#61 June 1943: Superman 12pp
#62 July 1943: Sup 12pp
#63 Aug 1943: Sup 12pp
#64 Sept 1943: Sup 12pp
#65 Oct 1943: Sup 12pp
#66 Nov 1943: Sup 12pp
#67 Dec 1943: Sup 12pp
#68 Jan 1944: Sup 12pp
#69 Feb 1944: Sup 12pp
#70 March 1944: Sup 12pp
#71 April 1944: Sup 12pp
#72 May 1944: Sup 12pp
#73 June 1944: Sup 12pp
#74 July 1944: Sup 12pp
#75 Aug 1944: Sup 12pp
#76 Sept 1944: Sup 12pp
#77 Oct 1944: Sup 12pp
#78 Nov 1944: Sup 12pp
#79 Dec 1944: Sup 12pp
#80 Jan 1945: Sup 11pp
#81 Feb 1945:Sup 12pp
#82 March 1945: Sup 12pp
#83 April 1945: Sup 12pp
#84 May 1945: Sup 12pp, Congo Bill 6pp, Vigilante 10pp
#85 June 1945: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp
#86 July 1945: Sup 11pp, CB 6pp, Zatara 8pp
#87 Aug 1945: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 8pp
#88 Sept 1945: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 8pp
#89 Oct 1945: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#90 Nov 1945: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Vig 10pp, Zat 8pp
#91 Dec 1945: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Vig 10pp
#92 Jan 1946: CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#93 Feb 1946: Sup 16pp, Vig 10pp, Zat 7pp
#94 March 1946: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#95 April 1946: Vig 10pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#96 May 1946: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#97 June 1946: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#98 July 1946: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, CB 6pp
#99 Aug 1946: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#100 Sept 1946: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#101 Oct 1946: Sup 12pp, Vig 10pp, Zat 7pp
#102 Nov 1946: Sup 12pp, Vig 10pp, Zat 8pp
#103 Dec 1946: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#104 Jan 1947: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Vig 10pp, Zat 7pp
#105 Feb 1947: Sup 14pp, Zat 7pp, CB 6pp, Vig 10pp
#106 March 1947: Sup 13pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#107 April 1947: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#108 May 1947: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#109 June 1947: Sup 12pp, Zat 6pp, CB 6pp, Vig 10pp
#110 July 1947, Sup 10pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#111 Aug 1947: Sup 13pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#112 Sept 1947: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#113 Oct 1947: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 10pp
#114 Nov 1947: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 9pp
#115 Dec 1947: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 9pp
#116 Jan 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 9pp, Kayo 1pp
#117 Feb 1948: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, CB 6pp, Vig 10pp
#118 March 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 9pp
#119 April 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 9pp
#120 May 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 7pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 9pp
#121 June 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 8pp
#122 July 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp,
#123 Aug 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 8pp
#124 Sept 1948: Sup 12pp, Zat 7pp, CB 6pp, Vig 8pp
#125 Oct 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp
#126 Nov 1948: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 7pp, Vig 8pp
#127 Dec 1948: Sup 10pp, CB 6pp, Zat 6pp, Vig 8pp
#128 Jan 1949: CB 6pp, Zat 6pp
#129 Feb 1949: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 6pp
#130 March 1949: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 6pp, Vig 8pp
#131 April 1949: Sup 13pp, CB 6pp, Zat 6pp
#132 May 1949: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp, Zat 6pp
#133 June 1949: Sup 12pp, Tommy Tomorrow 8pp, CB 6pp
#134 July 1949: CB 6pp
#135 Aug 1949: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp
#136 Sept 1949: CB 6pp
#137 Oct 1949: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp
#138 Nov 1949: Sup 10pp, CB 6pp
#139 Dec 1949: CB 6pp
#140 Jan 1950: TT 8pp, CB 6pp
#141 Feb 1950: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp
#142 March 1950: Sup 12pp
#143 April 1950: Sup 12pp
#144 May 1950: Sup 12pp, CB 6pp
#145 June 1950: Sup 12pp
#146 July 1950: Sup 12pp
#148 Sept 1950: Sup 12pp
#150 Nov 1950: Sup 12pp
#151 Dec 1950: Sup 12pp
#153 Feb 1951: Sup 12pp
#154 March 1951: CB 6 pp
#156 May 1951: Sup 12pp
#157 June 1951: Sup 12pp
#162 Nov 1951: Sup 10pp, CB 6 pp
#163 Dec 1951: TT 6 pp
#176 Jan 1953: CB 6 pp
#178 March 1953: TT 6pp
#181 June 1953: TT 6pp
#182 July 1953: TT 6 pp, Vig 8 pp
#183 Aug 1953: TT 6pp
#184 Sept 1953: TT 6pp
#186 Nov 1953: TT 6pp
#188 Jan 1954: CB 6 pp, TT 6 pp
#211 Dec 1955: CB 6 pp
#213 Feb 1956: TT 6pp
#215-217 April-June 1956: TT 6 pp
#219 Aug 1956: CB 6 pp
#221 Oct 1956: TT 6 pp
#225 Feb 1957: CB 6pp
#227 April 1957: CB 6pp
#242 July 1958: CB 6 pp
#245 Oct 1958: Sup 13 pp
#248 Jan 1959: Congorilla 7 pp
#249 Feb 1959: Cong 6 pp
#250 March 1959: TT 7 pp, Cong 6 pp
#251 April 1959: Sup 13 pp, Cong 6 pp, TT 7 pp
#253 June 1959: Supergirl 8 pp
#255 Aug 1959: Sup 12 pp, Supergirl 7 pp
#256 Sept 1959: Sup 12 pp
#283 Dec 1961: Sup 13 pp
If my calls and math are right, that’s 2,216 story pages in ACTION lettered by Ira, not counting house ads and public service pages that ran across all the titles. Lots of work!
Action Comics on Wikipedia.
Hope you’re enjoying this research as much as I am, more articles about it and many more you might like can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.