IRA SCHNAPP in BATMAN Part 2

Batman 22 detail
This and all images © DC Comics.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, the Grand Comics Database has many of the lettering credits for this title filled in, some confirmed by the people who did them, a great help to me in identifying the work of Ira Schnapp. This time my focus will be on Ira’s lettering on Batman stories inside the books, but let’s start with a few other identified letterers.

George Roussos had a long career in comics. He’s best remembered today as a prolific colorist for Marvel, but he began in comics as an artist and letterer in 1939. In 1940, according to his Wikipedia entry, George was hired by Bob Kane and Bill Finger to assist Jerry Robinson on Batman stories, beginning with BATMAN #2, cover-dated Summer 1940. George did background pencils, inks and lettering for many of the stories produced by Bob Kane’s studio over the next few years. Eventually he and Robinson went to work directly for DC (National) Comics. Above is an example of his lettering from BATMAN #22, April-May 1944. As you can see, it’s nothing like Ira Schnapp’s work. It uses a wedge-tipped pen point, giving the lines different amounts of thickness depending on the direction of the stroke. Also, many of the letter shapes are unlike those of Ira. Roussos confirmed all his lettering credits on BATMAN, and is the most credited letterer in the first five years of the book.

Batman 20 detail

The second most-credited letterer in those years is Betty Bentley. A sample of her work from BATMAN #20, Dec. 1943 – Jan. 1944, is above. Betty was the sister of comics artists Jack and Ray Burnley, and she assisted them as a letterer on Jack’s stories while Ray did backgrounds. The GCD credits Jack as confirming her work. Her style is pretty similar to Roussos, with a slightly wider pen point and somewhat less regular and even letters. Betty’s lettering here is quite different from her early work with her brothers on Superman where she did not use a wedge-tipped pen. Confirmed lettering credits on the first issue of BATMAN are for Jerry Robinson and Sheldon Moldoff.

Batman 16 detail

The first time Ira Schnapp’s name is credited (with a question mark, so a guess) is for this story in BATMAN #16, April-May 1943. It does have many similarities to Ira’s work, though I’m not convinced it’s by him. Unlike the examples above, Ira used an even-weight line on his lettering, and his letters are very square, regular and even. That applies here. But many of the letter shapes are not typical of Schnapp, including the S, which is more evenly rounded, and the M, which has slanted sides, but it’s pretty close. For me, the story title rules out Ira, it’s much too uneven, unlike anything Schnapp did, so in my opinion the letterer of this story remains a mystery.

Batman 26 detail

Two of the Batman stories in issue #26, Dec. 1944 – Jan. 1945, are credited to Pat Gordon with a question mark. Pat Gordon was the pen name of Lora Sprang, the wife of Dick Sprang, the artist on both these stories. Like Betty Bentley, Laura began assisting her husband, then went on to letter for others. These stories could be lettered either by Dick or Laura, their styles are about the same, from what I can see. I think both used those distinctive exclamation marks. This uses a wedge-tipped pen, and some letters are wider than square. Again, nothing like Ira Schnapp’s work.

Batman 27 detail

BATMAN #27, Feb.-March 1945, has the first two Batman stories identified with certainty (no question mark) as lettered by Ira Schnapp. The first one, “Voyage Into Villainy!”, sample above, does not look like Ira’s work to me. The letters are too wide, the pen seems to be a wedge-tipped one, and many of the letter shapes are unlike Ira’s. This is a style I’ve seen often on other DC books of the time, but I don’t have a name to put with it.

Batman 27 detail

The other story, “A Christmas Peril!” does look to me like Ira Schnapp lettering, and the use of Old English in the title and caption here, a favorite Schnapp style, adds to my conviction, as does the look of the regular lettering: even line weight, very square and regular, typical Schnapp S shape, square sides on the M in most examples. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the cover of this issue is the first one I believe was lettered by Ira, and also uses one of his Old English styles.

Batman 27 detail

Another detail from that story. Ira’s lettering had not yet settled into the familiar style we know from a few years later, and this is a little more uneven than his usual work, but I do think it’s by Schnapp, the first one on this title. Note the loop of the R is often unconnected to the left side. I’ve used that as an indication of lettering NOT done by Schnapp in the past, but am now thinking it’s just an early variation of his style. By 1944, when this story was done, many Batman stories were being produced directly from the National/DC offices, where Ira Schnapp was getting work, rather than in Bob Kane’s own studio.

Batman 28 detail

Issue #28, April-May 1945, has three Batman stories, and all seem to match the style of Ira Schnapp as seen in #27. Above is a detail from the first story. The Grand Comics Database identifies them all as lettered by Ira Schnapp, as cited by comics historians Martin O’Hearn and Joe Desris. Clearly Ira wasted no time adding BATMAN to his assignment list!

Batman 31 detail

There is no Schnapp lettering in issues 29 and 30, but the first Batman story in issue #31, Oct.-Nov. 1945, is very much so, with Ira’s elaborate Old English title clinching the deal. On these early stories, Ira sometimes makes his M with vertical sides, and sometimes slanted. Later they would almost always be vertical. Note the R loops are connected here.

Batman 31 detail

Another detail from the same story. Schnapp’s tendency to fit large balloons by overlapping the panel above is evident here, as are his very small question marks.

Batman 31 detail

Here’s the title caption of the third Batman story in issue #31, and the regular lettering looks a little different. Here the right leg of the R is usually curved and the letters are a little wider. Is this still Ira, or could it be another letterer? I’m not sure. In other research I’ve suggested there might have been someone with a similar style that Schnapp used as a model for his own lettering, a person I’ve called “proto-Schnapp.” Could this be him? Or is it just Ira trying something a little different? My vote is for Proto-Schnapp.

Batman 31 detail

Another detail from that story. The more I look at this, the less it seems like Schnapp. Of the three Batman stories in this issue, and one four-page Alfred story, all but the first one look like this, and not so much like the “Punch and Judy” story. Perhaps O’Hearn and Desris had some information I don’t have that would confirm this is Ira Schnapp using a slightly different style, but I have a hard time accepting this as Ira’s work. I think it is by Proto-Schnapp.

Batman 32 detail

In issue #32, Dec. 1945-Jan. 1946, O’Hearn and Desris have identified only the four-page Alfred story as lettered by Schnapp. This does look like Schnapp to me, but…here the right leg of the R is curved in many places, something Ira didn’t usually do, and never did a few years later. These older stories sure are confusing me! I vote for Proto-Schnapp here.

Batman 33 detail

There are three Batman stories in issue #33, Feb.-March 1946, and O’Hearn and Desris credit them all to Ira Schnapp. The title caption of the first story, above, has a title that certainly looks like Ira’s work, but the regular lettering has those wide letters and curved R right legs that I don’t think of as Schnapp style. I think this is by Proto-Schnapp, who I think Ira used as a model for his own story lettering.

Batman 33 page

A page from the second Batman story, “The Looters!” looks more like Schnapp lettering, but is it? It still seems too wide and has too many curves.

Batman 33 page

Page 13, the final page of “The Looters,” and one that contains an important clue in the wide central panel.

Batman 33 detail

One of the signs says “Schnapps Bar-Grill,” or as much of that as you can see! Could Proto-Schnapp have put this in as a subtle tribute to his friend Ira? It seems unlikely to me that Ira would have put his own name in. He was a very modest man, according to his son, and it seems uncharacteristic of him. So, my guess is these stories are all by Ira’s friend and work-mate at DC whose name I don’t know, and who I call Proto-Schnapp.

I’m going to look at the rest of the interior Batman lettering next time in the concluding part of this article. Part 3, and more posts you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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