Ira Schnapp in CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

Images © DC Comics

This team of non-powered trouble-shooters and their series was largely created by Jack Kirby, possibly with help from Joe Simon and/or writer Dave Wood. After four tryout issues in SHOWCASE and eight issues of their own series, Kirby moved on and was soon creating a somewhat similar team for Marvel Comics with Stan Lee, THE FANTASTIC FOUR. The SHOWCASE issues used a logo pulled from a story splash page by a letterer I can’t identify. The new logo seen above was designed by Ira Schnapp for the first issue of their own series from 1958. It uses his standard heavy block letters with hints of Art Deco design, the main point of interest being the curve of CHALLENGERS, which also made room for OF THE. The logo outlines are thin, but it works fine. Ira also did the balloon and caption on this and most of the covers. The series was edited by Jack Schiff and his associates Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, later just Boltinoff. It ran to 87 issues with a few hiatuses, and the team had several later revamps.

Issue #4 shows the effectiveness of the logo with bright colors, and has more typical Schnapp cover lettering. I missed the Kirby issues of this series, but I think I would have bought this one if I saw it!

Issue #10 from 1959 has an example of a Schnapp inscription in stone. The letter shapes are familiar for him, and he’s added shadows to make them look carved into the stone. This interests me due to Ira’s involvement with giant carved inscriptions on the Farley Post Office building in New York City in his youth, though these letters are not in the same style.

Issue #18 from 1961 introduces a “space pet,” usually a gimmick to try to interest new readers. Reversing some of Ira’s caption words, making them white on a pale blue background, might have been hard to read, but it works pretty well since they’re so bold.

By issue #30, the team was facing some very powerful villains, in this case one that’s being helpful. Somehow I feel that an image that needs as much explanation as it’s given in Ira’s speech balloon is not very successful.

Issue #40 shows that, no matter the situation, Ira was up to the challenge of providing clear, readable lettering. The border of the word balloon has been held in blue with the background art, but it’s hardly noticeable.

As we enter the worst era for DC cover design in 1966, there is, as usual, too much cover lettering, but Ira does his best with it.

Schnapp’s final cover lettering was on issue #61 from 1968, and his choice of three different styles for the story title is perhaps a poor one, but the craft is still there. The issue also has a new Schnapp logo that began the issue before, one of Ira’s last. It shifts the emphasis to CHALLENGERS and away from UNKNOWN and adds black telescoping for depth.

Ira did no story lettering for this series. Here are the covers with Schnapp lettering: 1-4, 6-31, 34-35, 37-38, 40-41, 43-44, 46-52, 55-56, 58-61. That’s 51 in all.

Challengers of the Unknown on Wikipedia.

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

2 thoughts on “Ira Schnapp in CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

  1. Jim Doty

    So, i figure that the interior letters were mostly by Stan Starkman, who had heavy use in the Schiff/Kashdan offices. There’s one letterer that i can identify, but don’t have a name for: their style is pretty standard, but often the middle row of words are squished compared to the other rows.

    Keep up the terrific work!

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