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 believe the logo was designed by Ira Schnapp, who also lettered the caption on this first issue. Some issues had no cover lettering. Where they did, most were by Ira, who also lettered a fair number of stories inside the book.
The cover of issue #2 also has lettering by Schnapp using some of his familiar styles, but adding notches to the letters in the story title to give it a rough look.
Issue #4 has an even more ragged story title by Ira.
Issue #8 from 1949 has more familiar Schnapp lettering in the caption, which works well reversed in white against the dark blue background.
Issue #15, April-May 1950, has more Schnapp lettering in the caption, the signs, and a revised version of the tag line at the bottom now lettered rather than typeset.
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 issue #63, 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: 1-2, 4, 7-9, 11-12, 14-15, 18-23, 25-42, 44-66. That’s 57 covers in all.
Ira was a frequent letterer on the first dozen issues of this series, and an infrequent one after that. Above is a page from a story he lettered in the first issue, one of two. I think the artist did the story title.
Above is a page from a story Ira lettered in issue #3 with a title he probably did do.
There were no continuing characters in the book, just lots of criminals and G-Men, but there were a few continuing features. One was “A Perfect Crime Mystery,” and this is the first of those lettered by Schnapp from issue #4. The badge image always repeated.
Another one from issue #11 of 1949. These were all four-page puzzle stories, challenging the reader to solve the crime.
A page from a story Ira lettered in issue #12 that includes a music radio balloon.
Ira did little interior lettering for the book after that. Here’s an example from late in the run, issue #64.
These are the stories lettered by Schnapp in GANG BUSTERS. I’ve abbreviated some feature names after the first appearance.
#1 Dec 1947-Jan 1948: Hot Money 8pp, Murder Was My Business 8pp
#2 Feb-March 1948: I Smashed the Hot Car Mob 8pp, Flames For Profit 8pp, The Little Charlie Gang 8pp
#3 April-May 1948: Secrets of the G-Men 2pp, Millionaire Mobster 8pp, Criminal Without a Country 8pp
#4 June-July 1948: He Trapped the Train Robber Gang 8pp, I Cover the Death House 6pp, A Perfect Crime Mystery 4pp
#5 Aug-Sept 1948: The Kings of Counterfeiters 6pp, Sea Cop 6pp, The Maxon Mob 9pp, APCM 4pp
#6 Oct-Nov 1948: Customs Cop 6pp, APCM 4pp
#9 April-May 1949: Harbor Cop 6pp, I Am A Bodyguard 6pp, APCM 4pp
#10 June-July 1949: APCM 4pp
#11 Aug-Sept 1949: APCM 4pp
#12 Oct-Nov 1949: The Vigil of Patrolman Crowell 10pp, APCM 4pp
#14 Feb-March 1950: APCM 4pp
#21 April-May 1951: A Casebook Mystery 4pp
#26 Feb-March 1952: ACM 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 115 pages, a small amount 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 the comic. The style of this logo is similar to GANG BUSTERS, and the cover lettering and logo on this one are also by Ira Schnapp. Ira would letter many of the covers and some story pages, mostly in early issues.
The cover of issue #2 has some handsome upper and lower case lettering by Schnapp, and note that he also did the top line, the issue number and date, and the small radio blurb at the bottom.
Issue #7 from 1949 has the first word balloon by Ira on the cover as well as his caption.
The cover of issue #17, Sept-Oct 1950, has a minimal blurb by Ira, and while he continued to letter many of the covers, others also did some.
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 from 1958.
Here are the covers I believe were lettered by Ira Schnapp: 1-12, 15-20, 23-24, 28, 30-48, 50-51, 53-66. That’s 56 covers in all.
Here’s a page of story lettering by Schnapp from the first issue. He did many stories in the first five issues, then his involvement tapered off to just occasional work on this series.
A typical story page from issue #3. The stories were fairly heavy with words, as was usually the case at this time at DC.
This story from issue #4 has a handsome Schnapp title.
Another one with a fine title by Ira using his open script style.
Issue #34 from 1953 has this example of a busy word-filled page. I think Schnapp was happier doing humor and romance stories, and that may be why there was little of his work in these crime titles after 1949.
Here’s the final Ira Schnapp story lettering in the book from issue #65.
Below is a list of Ira Schnapp lettering in MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY. Some features are abbreviated after the first appearance.
#1 Jan-Feb 1948: The Innocent Forger 8pp, Five Days That Shook the City 8pp, Studio Cop 6pp, The Million Dollar Racket 8pp, The Spook Crooks 7pp
#2 March-April 1948: The Richest Man in Prison 10pp, The Case of the Blind Crook 6pp, Station K-I-L-L 8pp
#3 May-June 1948: The Honest Convicts 8pp, The Case of the Fat Crook 10pp, In This Corner–Death 9pp
#4 July-Aug 1948: The Merchant of Death 8pp, The False Code of Honor 5pp, Border Cop 6pp, Death Writes a Forgery 8pp, A Perfect Crime Mystery 4pp, The Case of the Loan Shark 7pp
#5 Sept-Oct 1948: The Booby-Trap Killer 8pp, The Gas-Man Sleuth 8pp, Subway Cop 6pp, APCM 4pp, I Guard the Convict Trains 8pp, The Counterfeit Medicine Mob 8pp
#8 March-April 1949: I Set Convicts Free 8pp, APCM 4pp
#9 May-June 1949: The Case of the Living Counterfeit 10pp, APCM 4pp
#10 July-Aug 1949: Under the Green Flag 9pp
#11 Sept-Oct 1949: A Casebook Mystery 4pp
#13 Jan-Feb 1950: ACM 4pp
#18 Nov-Dec 1950: Guardians of the Law 4pp
#29 Sept-Oct 1952: Police Science 1pp
#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 Racket in the World 6pp
#65 Sept-Oct 1958: Mr. D.A., Enemy Agent 6pp
That’s a total of 248 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.
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.