The idea of annuals as larger than usual collections of material, often reprints, has a long tradition in England and America going back to the late 1800s. Comics annuals, or annual-sized collections of reprints, began turning up from DC as early as 1935 with THE BIG BOOK OF FUN COMICS from National Allied Publications, the company that became DC Comics, and some publishers like Archie were issuing them regularly by 1950. DC did not begin annuals featuring their superheroes until 1960 with the publication of SUPERMAN ANNUAL #1, cover above, which set the style, a large central image surrounded by smaller ones. At the time, reprints of DC comics were almost unknown, and back issues were hard or impossible to find, so readers often knew little about the history and previous appearances of the characters. This comic, delving into the past, was the first time many like myself had any idea what had come before 1960, and it must have sold very well, as DC was soon putting out several annuals a year. In 1964, they decided to make a series from the annual format called 80-PAGE GIANT, and for over a year issued monthly annual reprint collections under that name. After issue #15, the Giants abandoned their own numbering and later ones were numbered as issues of the series they were collecting, so for instance, 80-Page Giant #G-16 featured The Justice League of America and is also issue #39 of that series. I’ve already shown a few of those in other articles, and won’t be covering them here, where I’ll focus on annuals that had their own numbering and were not part of any other series.
One thing that made reprints harder at DC was that they did not have copies of the art or printing materials for many of their older stories. Some time after Irwin Donenfeld, son of company co-owner Harry Donenfeld, joined the editorial staff around 1948, he established a new policy that the company would get back the film negatives created by the color separator to make the printing plates for all their titles rather than the previous system of chemically melting them to recapture the silver used to make the negatives. DC’s film archives begin at that time, and having them meant that reprinting those stories was much easier. Stories before then could only be reprinted by more expensive and time consuming methods like bleaching the color out of actual comics pages to make new art images and then retouching them, sometimes heavily, to get anything printable. It was done occasionally for important early issues, but not on a regular basis in the period covered here, which is to the end of the 1960s. That’s why DC’s reprints are mainly drawn from 1950s-1960s stories in this era.
Ira Schnapp did cover lettering on nearly all the annuals from the 1960s, sometimes including the back covers, and he occasionally lettered special one or two-page fillers inside the books. On the cover of the first annual, above, dated Summer 1960, he designed GIANT and ANNUAL to go with his SUPERMAN logo from 1940, as well as the rest of the lettering.
For the back cover he did the large lettering across the center. Three of the old covers shown have logos and cover lettering by Ira, but they’re indexed in those titles, and not here. Many of the reprinted stories in the annuals are lettered by Ira too, but again, covered elsewhere under the original printings. The Map of Krypton mentioned on the cover was not lettered by Schnapp. Rather than go strictly by date, I’m going to cover each annual series separately, so all the Superman ones first.
For the cover of issue #2 dated Winter 1960, Ira added an exclamation point to the logo, and of course did all the other lettering. This one was a favorite from my childhood, I knew almost nothing about the villains featured.
Ira did two large blurbs for the back cover. The top one was reused many times on other annuals. The idea of any comic being a collector’s item was still new to many readers, but obviously it caught on in a big way!
I couldn’t find a good image of the map described on the cover, but I did find the original art on the Heritage Auctions site (ha.com), and it has lots of Schnapp lettering. I don’t know who wrote and drew this, but it’s a clever summary of the Superman origin at the time, and Ira’s lettering makes it all look official. I particularly like his bottom title. This was a single page here, but reprinted as two pages in other later comics.
Ira’s cover lettering for issue #3 follows the same plan as the others, so everyone must have liked it. The thing that catches my eye is the long stroke on the F in the subtitle at the top that extends down over the picture.
The back cover has a pinup or signed “photo” of Superman. The art for this had been around since the early 1940s, and was used on promotional postcards. That version had different lettering in the inscription, so I think Ira redid it for this version.
Ira lettered the two-page filler “Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude” mentioned on the cover, and I’m showing it here in two parts. The full explanation mentioned was set in type. I bet these fillers were a nice change of pace for Ira, and less work than lettering regular pages.
Issue #4 has a new design with a large round Schnapp caption at the center. Ira rarely used round captions, but it works well here. Though they were called Annuals, DC was issuing these twice a year, so for instance #3 is dated Summer 1961 and #4 Winter 1961. Starting here the issue number is lettered.
On the back cover of #4, the top blurb is a reprint, the bottom one is new.
Ira lettered this two-page filler about the Legion of Super-Heroes in issue #4. Again, the details were elsewhere and typeset. Interesting that Chameleon Boy had to have explanatory balloon lettering.
Issue #5 has another new cover layout but otherwise familiar Schnapp lettering. The back cover has no new lettering. Starting here the price and 80 PAGES are lettered, so now there’s almost no type on the cover.
Issue #6 dated Winter 1962-63 returns to the original layout, which I think works best. Some of Ira’s lettering is cropped or almost cropped off the edges here, At the time, high-speed printing and trimming was less precise, and I bet other copies of this cover avoided that.
The back cover of #6 has this great Superman Family pinup by artists Curt Swan and George Klein (no relation). Ira lettered only the label at the bottom, but I thought it was still worth counting. This also appeared in other places later.
Issue #7 has a metallic color treatment on the logo (not by Schnapp of course) and some fine lettering on the trophy as well as the usual captions by Ira.
Issue #8 dated Winter 1963-64 is the last in this series.
On the back cover, Ira lettered two large blurbs. Future Giant Annuals would actually be 80-Page Giants.
While not called an annual, this comic is one in every other way. It’s dated Summer 1961, the same as SUPERMAN ANNUAL #3. I had this as a child, and it answered many questions about the characters, and made me want to know more. The Challengers intro is just a section of the first story by Jack Kirby, and it took decades for me to find out what happened next. Everything is lettered by Ira Schnapp except the character names in the black banner. I like his SECRET ORIGINS logo, which would be used more times in the future, though this book was a one-shot. The back cover was essentially a house ad.
With the success of the Superman annuals, DC soon did the same thing with Batman. This first issue is dated Summer 1961, again the same as the third Superman Annual. The logo by Schnapp combines the classic Batman logo by Jerry Robinson from 1941 with new words GIANT and ANNUAL in a matching Art Deco style. Ira also lettered the subtitle in the box to the right of the logo, but the rest of the cover uses type. The layout is different from the standard Superman one, but follows the same idea.
With issue #2, everything is lettered by Schnapp except the price and issue number.
The back cover has this Batman Family pinup with a script signature I think is by Ira Schnapp. Despite the Bob Kane signature, the art is by Sheldon Moldoff.
Ira also lettered the large, handsome title on the calendar mentioned on the cover. It’s two pages, but the second page is all type. I love the way the A in CALENDAR is tucked into the C, and the swash on the right leg of the R.
Issue #3 has an innovative design probably by Sheldon Moldoff again, though it’s not credited. Everything is hand-lettered by Ira.
The back cover has a large blurb across the center by Schnapp.
Issue #4 dated Winter 1962-63 has new lettering by Ira in the subtitle caption and down the center. Notice how the word AND in the middle pulls it all together. I’m not sure what “Personal” adventures means, and the back cover has no new Schnapp lettering.
Issue #5 has lettering by someone other than Schnapp, I’m not sure who. Issue #6, above, has Ira’s lettering and follows the same design as #4. Issue #7 again has non-Schnapp lettering, and that’s the end of this series.
Surprisingly, Lois Lane had two of her own annuals dated Summer 1962, above, and Summer 1963. Ira only did lettering for the front cover of the first one, the second had Gaspar Saladino lettering. These covers followed the Superman Annual layout.
The Flash had a single annual dated 1963, and type was used on most of the cover. Ira’s only addition were the words GIANT and ANNUAL around his FLASH logo, though ANNUAL might have been picked up from elsewhere, along with 80 PAGES and the price.
The back cover has a pinup signature probably by Schnapp, though it’s hard to be sure with these short non-typical examples. The way the word FLASH is handled does suggest it’s by Ira.
Superboy had one annual dated 1964 with lots of front cover lettering by Ira, including additions to his SUPERBOY logo.
I missed this annual when I first published this blog article, thanks to Bob Bailey for pointing it out on Facebook. It’s dated Winter 1964, and all the lettering except for the words SGT ROCK is by Schnapp. The Rock logo is by Gaspar Saladino. The action on this cover is all from Joe Kubert’s fine art.
The inside front and back covers are also lettered by Ira on Kubert’s gray wash art. I love the way the table of contents is integrated into that art, and Schnapp probably also lettered the artists’ names on their helmets. That’s all of the stand-alone annual series from DC in the 1960s.
In 1964 DC decided to combine all their annual-sized books into a monthly series titled 80-PAGE GIANT that ran for 15 issues before being folded into the regular comics runs. This might have been a last minute decision, as this first issue was intended to be SUPERMAN ANNUAL #9. If you look at the burst around Ira’s 80 PG. GIANT lettering at the top, the bottom edge of the burst shows the outlines of the previous word GIANT from the GIANT SUPERMAN ANNUAL logo. Otherwise, the lettering is all fine, including another rare round caption by Schnapp.
The back cover blurb by Ira is full of old news, as the upcoming Lois Lane book would be 80-PAGE GIANT #3, not LOIS LANE ANNUAL #3. Same idea, of course.
Issue #2 focuses on Jimmy Olsen, and the cover design follows the most used Superman Annual one. If any series could provide weird stories, it’s Jimmy’s.
The back cover has a large Schnapp blurb across the center with some fine script.
Issue #3 is surprisingly light on images and lettering, with the simple background giving it a fresh look.
Issue #4, on the other hand, has lots of small pictures and plenty of Schnapp lettering. The art and layout by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson is quite appealing to me.
Issue #5 is back to Batman, uses the same layout as previous Batman annuals, and is full of Ira’s lettering. Each of these issues would have been prepared by the editor of each series or feature, and followed their ideas.
Issue #6 is back to Superman and uses the standard layout for his annuals, which I still like the best. Note Ira’s attempt to be scary on the word THINGS.
Issue #7 features the return of Sgt. Rock’s Prize Battle Tales. Again, all the lettering except the Sgt. Rock logo is by Schnapp.
This two-page spread in #7 is lettered by Schnapp, and it’s almost a house ad, but there’s nothing really trying to sell these titles to readers. Instead it just explains who the stars of each title are. I’m calling it a filler not a house ad. Ira’s banner at the top is great.
Issue #8 dated Winter 1963-64 is the second use of Schnapp’s SECRET ORIGINS logo, this time with MORE added. I would have wanted this badly as a kid if I’d seen it.
Issue #9 is another I would have loved to read when it came out. Ira’s lettering in the central black box is particularly appealing.
Issue #10 follows the Superman Annual layout again. Who could resist those enticing stories?
Back to Superman for issue #11 in this all-Luthor issue.
Here’s an interesting one-page filler from #11 showing an unused cover for SUPERMAN #175. Some of the text in the lettering is the same, but the revised cover was all relettered by Schnapp. This version would have remained unknown if not seen here. I’m not sure if Ira did the title at the top of the page.
Issue #12 is Batman again, following the Batman Annual layout, and with lots of large, appealing Schnapp lettering in the open spaces. Ira spent more time on covers than inside pages, and it shows.
Issue #13 has an interesting twist: all the stories are described in newspaper headlines rather than regular captions. Putting them in curved perspective was no problem for Schnapp.
Issue #14 has a more open layout and fewer boxes, and the art and lettering look good. Calling Supergirl a girlfriend of Superman is a bit of a stretch.
This one-page filler showing Lois’s hairstyles in different stories is new for #14 and lettered by Ira.
The final issue in this series features stories from WORLD’S FINEST COMICS without using that book’s logo. Instead, the dual character logos from many of the story splash pages are used, and they work fine with all the other Ira Schnapp lettering. The circular panels are an interesting choice.
Here are the covers lettered by Ira Schnapp. Where he did both front and back covers I’ve noted it as two pages.
Superman Annual: #1 2pp, #2 2pp, #3 1pp, #4 2pp, #5 1pp, #6 2pp, #7 1pp, #8 2pp
Batman Annual: #1 1pp, #2 1pp, #3 2pp, #4 1pp, #6 1pp
Secret Origins #1 (1961) 1pp
Lois Lane Annual #1 1pp
Flash Annual #1 2pp
Superboy Annual #1 1pp
Sgt Rock’s Prize Battle Tales #1 1pp
80-Page Giant #1 2pp, #2 2pp, #3 1pp, #4 1pp, #5 1pp, #6 1pp, #7 1pp, #8 1pp, #9 1pp, #10 1pp, #11 1pp, #12 1pp, #13 1pp, #14 1pp, #15 1pp
That’s a total of 42 covers.
These few new inside pages were also lettered by Ira:
Superman Annual #2: How the Super-Family Came to Earth 1pp
Superman Annual #3: Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude 2pp
Superman Annual #4: Origin and Powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes 2pp
Batman Annual #2: 1962 Calendar 1pp
Sgt. Rock’s Prize Battle Tales #1 inside covers 2pp
80-Page Giant #7: DC’s Blazing Gallery of Battle Stars 2pp
80-Page Giant #11: Unused Cover for Superman #175 1pp
80-Page Giant #14: Lois Lane’s Hairstyles 1pp
That’s 12 pages in all.
More articles like this are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.