Ira Schnapp in GANG BUSTERS and MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY

This and all images © DC Comics

The genre of “true crime” magazines became popular in the 1930s, often focusing on headline-grabbing gangsters like Al Capone and John Dillinger. The first comic to follow the trend was CRIME DOES NOT PAY by Charles Biro and Bob Wood for Lev Gleason Publications, beginning with issue #22 dated July 1942. It proved popular, and reached sales of over 1 milllion copies a few years later. Biro and Wood’s comics were known for their gore and violence and tackled adult subject matter like sex and drug use. Other publishers followed with similar comics, as is usually the case, with perhaps the most shocking content appearing in the crime titles from EC Comics in the early 1950s. DC (National) Comics entered the genre with this title’s first issue dated Dec. 1947-Jan. 1948, but it was tamer and less violent than crime comics from other publishers, and it was based on a popular radio show that ran from 1936 to 1957 and also spun off into a successful movie and a TV show. The radio show was overseen by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, and could only depict closed cases, but of course it played up the violence when possible. DC’s version seems to have tried to follow the radio show plan at first, but I don’t know if any of the comics were close adaptations of the radio programs or not. Certainly as the comic went on it veered off into more fanciful directions. I’m not sure who designed the logo and did the cover lettering for the first issue, it might have been Ira Schnapp, or it might have been the unknown letterer whose work inspired Ira that I’ve nicknamed Proto-Schnapp. Proto-Schnapp did a lot of inside page lettering for the title early on. Ira did very little, his work was mostly on covers, starting later.

The cover of issue #2 has cover lettering that looks like Ira Schnapp work at first glance, but look at how rounded the S’s in the top line of the caption are, and also the rough, notched approach on the story title. These suggest Proto-Schnapp to me. Both letterers used that same script style seen in A SENSATIONAL EXPOSÉ! I think it’s likely by Proto-Schnapp, who I believe was an older man working on staff at the company. I’d say he was the cover letterer on these early issues.

The first cover I think is lettered by Ira Schnapp is #8 dated Feb/March 1949, but again is might be by Proto-Schnapp. It’s hard to be sure.

Issue #15, April/May 1950 is the first cover I feel sure is by Ira, though the bottom line is from an earlier cover lettered by Proto-Schnapp, and that tagline appeared on many later covers. Proto-Schnapp’s work disappears around this time, and I think he either died or retired around late 1949, and Ira replaced him as the staff letterer.

Issue #19 has one of the nicest Schnapp captions artfully color-separated to follow the spotlight beam.

By issue #25, Dec. 1951/Jan. 1952, Ira’s familiar balloon and caption styles, used on most DC titles, had emerged, and were used often.

On issue #46, June/July 1955, Ira’s balloon and caption borders were thicker than usual, but in his familiar style.

Here’s an example from late in the book’s run of more fanciful crime stories that surely never came from the FBI files.

I see Ira Schnapp lettering on the following covers: 15, 18-23, 25-42, 44-66. That’s 46 covers.

Here’s a story page from the first issue with typical Proto-Schnapp lettering. The style is similar to Ira’s, but notice how wide many of the letters are.

The first story lettering I see by Ira Schnapp is this four-page story in issue #11. Ira’s letters are genrally narrower and most would fit into a square.

Ira did little interior lettering for the book, here’s an example from late in the run, issue #64. These are the stories I think Ira did:

#11 Aug/Sept 1949: A Perfect Crime Mystery 4pp (reprinted in #42)

#21 April/May 1951: A Casebook Mystery 4pp

#26 Feb/March 1952: A Casebook Mystery 4pp

#53 Aug/Sept 1956: G.I. Cop 6pp

#64 June/July 1958: The Daredevil Bandit 6pp

#65 Aug/Sept 1958: The Detective with 1,000 Traps 6pp

That’s 30 pages, a mere trifle for the always busy Ira Schnapp.

In 1948 DC launched a second crime comic also based on a popular radio show. This one had a regular protagonist, but he was unnamed, going only by the title of this comic. The style of this logo is similar to GANG BUSTERS, and the lettering on this cover is by Proto-Schnapp, who lettered many early covers and many stories in the first dozen issues. Perhaps Proto-Schnapp also designed the logos for both books.

The cover of issue #17, Sept/Oct 1950, is the first one I think is lettered by Ira Schnapp, though it could be by Proto-Schnapp. His work had largely vanished by this time, but the cover could have been prepared ahead of schedule. Starting with issue #19 I see more convincing Ira Schnapp lettering on many covers of this series, though some were lettered by another person.

By issue #30, Nov/Dec 1952, the cover lettering had taken on the familiar look of most DC covers of the time by Ira.

Issue #44 has a rare example of a thought balloon in this series, as readers were generally kept out of the character’s heads, as in a radio drama.

As the series neared the end of its run, sillier and more desperate plot ideas became more common, as on this cover of issue #63.

I see Ira Schnapp lettering on the following covers: 17 (probably), 19-20, 23-24, 28, 30-48, 50-51, 53-66. That’s 39 covers.

Here’s a typical page of story lettering by Proto-Schnapp from the first issue.

Here’s the first story I think was lettered by Ira Schnapp. Both he and Proto-Schnapp used this kind of script title letters, but the narrow width of the balloon letters overall suggests Ira to me.

Again, Ira did very little story lettering for this title. Issue #34 had this example, one of three he lettered, perhaps filling in for someone. Stories in these two titles were often full of lettering, with many pages about half art and half lettering, so I’m sure they were a chore to get through. Perhaps Ira’s position as an on-staff letterer gave him more choice of which books he preferred to work on, and certainly he did a lot more on humor and romance titles.

Here’s the final Ira Schnapp story lettering in the book from issue #65. I found Ira’s story lettering only in these issues:

#8 March/April 1949: I Set Convicts Free 8pp

#34 July/Aug 1953: Headquarters Underground 6pp, The Crimes of Charlie the Actor 6pp, The Amazing Crimes of Mr. X 8pp

#41 Sept/Oct 1954: The Cruelest Racked in the World 6pp

#65 Sept/Oct 1958: Mr. D.A. Enemy Agent 6pp

That’s a total of 40 pages on this title. More articles in this series can be found on the Comics Creation page of my blog.

More about the Gang Busters radio show is on this Wikipedia page.

More about the Mr. District Attorney radio show is on this page.

One thought on “Ira Schnapp in GANG BUSTERS and MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY

  1. Lou

    Thank you again, Todd. I’ve always had a desire to be able to read these series, and your overview of Ira Schnapp’s lettering in them has given me a chance to at least view some of the pages. I’ve always wished DC or some other publisher would reprint these in their entirety, but realize that due to rights issues, this will probably never happen.

    There are many books out there in genres other than superheroes that are worthy of saving from obscurity by reprinting them (even if only for historical context), but will never happen due to overall interest or return on investments, so it’s always a pleasure to run into small samples of them from time to time.

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