Ira Schnapp in BLACKHAWK

Images © DC Comics

BLACKHAWK began as a feature in MILITARY COMICS #1 in 1941, and in 1944 gained its own title with issue #9 above (taking over the numbering of UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY). The man with the cap is Blackhawk, leader of a squadron of ace fighter pilots from many countries who operate independently from their own island base first in the Atlantic, later in the Pacific. In the Quality years they often fought Nazis, but after the war there were more typical villainous opponents like King Condor and Killer Shark. They flew Grumman XF5F Skyrocket planes, but much of the time they were on the ground taking on their enemies. The series’ first logo is very standard block letters. Recent research by Alex Jay has determined it was designed by Al Grenet, who also created the next logo seen below.

With issue #33 in 1950, the book gained this handsome logo by Grenet with narrow Art Deco influenced block letters in a strong upward arc and a black telescoping drop shadow. It’s one of the better logos from the 1950s, and it remained on the book for many years.

DC Comics bought Quality’s properties when they left the comics business in 1956, and BLACKHAWK was one of only three books that DC continued without interruption. In fact they hired the Quality writer and artists to continue it. As it was probably Quality’s best seller, at one time a rival in sales for SUPERMAN, that made sense. DC’s first issue was #108, above, keeping the same logo, and for the cover text they used type, as most of the Quality issues had done, or perhaps this cover was already assembled by Quality staff. It was published monthly, and that continued until 1967, so it must have sold well. DC’s editors originally were Jack Schiff with associates George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff. Later it was edited by Jack Miller, and later still by Kashdan again. The initial DC run was a long one, from issue #108 to #243 in 1968. The run was continued with two long pauses to issue #273 in 1984. Blackhawk was one of only a few DC properties that continued uninterrupted from the 1940s to the 1960s, though at two publishers. Ira Schnapp lettered many of the covers until issue #238 in 1968, but lettered only two stories and one full issue inside the book.

With issue #109, Ira’s cover lettering began in typical fashion, though he seems to be trying to imitate type with his story title.

By issue #112 Ira was using more typical story title styles familiar from many other DC books.

The story title on issue #120 from 1958 has a more angular variation, perhaps to suggest Greek or to echo the robot.

By issue #129, the Blackhawks were facing all kinds of fanciful opponents from aliens to monsters, as was true in many DC titles at the time. The Old English display lettering on the scroll is fine work by Schnapp.

Lady Blackhawk sometimes opposed and later guest-starred with the team, though she was never a regular member. Perhaps the editors thought the idea of a woman alone on an island with a group of men was too risque a situation for their audience.

Most issues had three Blackhawk stories, there were never any second features, and by issue #165 in 1961, they were trying longer stories. That trend continued to increase. The opponents became more and more like costumed super-villains, too. I like this wordy caption by Ira.

Issue #197 from 1964 saw an attempt to revamp the team with new uniforms and a new Ira Schnapp logo. I like it, but not as much as the previous one. The hawk emblem is a great addition, but the logo shape leaves void spaces above it. The inset panel and word balloon are an interesting storytelling idea.

Issue #199 took it even further, with a four-panel story on the cover. Only a few of the DC humor titles followed this theme occasionally.

This cover from issue #215 in 1965 has head shots like a JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA splash page and lots of lettering. Ira makes it work.

With issue #230 the team was revamped again as a sort of Mission: Impossible super-team, and Blackhawk’s word balloon at the top is DC’s idea of hip language. If you’ve been paying attention, the transformation of Chop-Chop from horrible Asian caricature to an effective part of the team has fully taken place. Also, you can finally see that usually-hidden upper right leg of the K in BLACKHAWK with its angled end, which sort of balances the top of the B.

Ira’s final cover lettering for this book appeared on issue #238 dated January 1968, but done in the previous year. Surprisingly, he would have story lettering in the next issue.

Here are the covers lettered by Ira Schnapp: 109-130, 132-184, 186, 188-192, 194-197, 199-204, 206-209, 211-215, 217-233, 235-238. That’s 121 in all, an impressive run.

The first story lettered by Ira is this one from issue #109, the second DC issue. I can’t identify most of the letterers used on the book, but editor Schiff must have had his own regulars, and seldom asked for Schnapp.

Here’s a page from Ira’s second story lettering in issue #128. To force correct reading order, he needed to add a small arrow pointing from the fourth to the fifth panel. Readers might still have read panel six first.

The last and most surprising story lettering from Schnapp is the 23-page story from issue #239, probably done in late 1967. Ira’s story lettering had dwindled by this time, though he was still doing romance stories. I can only guess that none of the book’s regular letterers were available and Ira was. It may have been one of his final story lettering assignments.

Here are the stories lettered by Ira Schnapp:

#109 Feb 1957: Blackhawk the Sorcerer 8pp

#128 Sept 1958: The Vengeful Bowman 8pp

#239 Feb/March 1968: The Killer That Time Forgot 23pp

That’s a mere 39 pages on this title.

More articles like this are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.

Blackhawk on Wikipedia.

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