Ira Schnapp in PHANTOM STRANGER and PETER PANDA

Images © DC Comics

The original PHANTOM STRANGER comic ran for just six issues from Aug/Sept 1952 to June/July 1953. It was edited by Julius Schwartz. I can only imagine that sales were poor for it to be cancelled so quickly. Despite that, the title character remains an important part of the DC Comics universe, and had a much longer series later, as well as many guest appearances. His origin, name and powers remain a mystery. This was an anthology title with several stories in each issue, along the lines of HOUSE OF MYSTERY, some with the Stranger, some without.

Ira Schnapp designed the logo, and I find it one of his least effective efforts, especially for this time period. Ira never did scary or spooky very well, and this is a good example of that. Rather than looking scary, to me it just looks badly drawn. Ira also lettered this and all the covers.

Before settling on the name for this title, DC was considering another one and had Schnapp do a logo for this ashcan, a hand-made sample sent to the U.S. Copyright Office to secure rights to the name. A similar one was probably made for PHANTOM STRANGER, but is not in public hands if it still exists, the one above was found on the Heritage Auctions site ha.com where Alex Jay spotted it, thanks Alex! For some reason I like this logo a little better than the one that was chosen. Note that the cover art and contents on ashcans were completely random and had nothing to do with the name. This cover art is from ALL STAR WESTERN #60.

The Carmine Infantino art on the cover of issue #3 is effective, but marred by a too-large logo and poor coloring in my opinion. It features a Schnapp word balloon.

The final issue is the most interesting in concept, and the lettering by Ira is fine, too. Schwartz later reused the idea on the cover of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #2 in 1960. As I said above, Schnapp lettered all six covers of this brief series.

Most of the stories inside were lettered by Gaspar Saladino, but Ira Schnapp did four stories, one in each of the first four issues. Here’s his lettering for the first issue with an appealing smoky title.

And this is the first page of his story in issue #4. The story may reflect editor Julie’s interest in jazz music, but the script is by John Broome. Here are the stories Ira Schnapp lettered:

#1 Aug/Sept 1952: Goblin In The Bottle 6pp

#2 Oct/Nov 1952: Three Signs of Evil 8pp

#3 Dec 1952/Jan 1953: Ghosts For Sale 6pp

#4 Feb/March 1953: Riddle of the Ghostly Trumpet 6pp

That’s 26 pages in all.

Switching gears, PETER PANDA was a fantasy title that ran 31 issues from 1953 to 1958 edited by Larry Nadle. It’s not exactly a funny animal book because Peter, a talking panda with no real origin given, interacts with two human children and most of the stories involve magic and/or magical beings of some kind. The closest thing to it at DC is probably the Jimminy stories in late issues of MORE FUN COMICS. A regular backup was Stanley the Timid Scarecrow, probably taking a cue from the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. It’s obviously aimed at young children. The main and perhaps only artist was Rube Grossman, also working on DC’s RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER and various funny animal comics.

Ira Schnapp designed the logo, which I find appealing, and lettered the fanciful story title. Both were much more in his comfort zone than PHANTOM STRANGER. Ira lettered most of the covers on this series and many of the stories inside.

The cover of the second issue has a different but equally charming fancy story title, and many issues followed that plan.

Issue #4 adds word balloons by Schnapp. I find the idea that Mother Nature has been vacationing in Atlantic City amusing.

And look, issue #11 from 1955 has a previously unknown-to-me appearance of Sandman! I bet Neil Gaiman would have worked this into his series somehow if he’d known about it. Lots of charming Schnapp lettering here.

As you can see, candy and food were common themes, another indication the comic was aimed at young kids. More fine Schnapp lettering on issue #16 from 1956.

Ira Schnapp’s story titles for this series are creative and appealing. I think he also lettered the name on the hat.

The final issue’s cover has gray washes and color probably by Jack Adler. Ira’s title is short but perfect. Here are the covers lettered by Schnapp: 1-7, 9-28, 30-31. That’s 29 in all.

Ira Schnapp lettered all but two of the stories in the first 16 issues, and many after that, though there are a few later issues with nothing lettered by him except the cover. This first page from the first issue introduces Peter Panda and three frogs who will soon star in their own stories. The first few issues had long stories divided into three chapters. After that it was all unconnected short stories.

Here an example of Stanley, the second feature, with lettering by Schnapp. He probably did the character logo as well.

This Peter Panda page from issue #10 has fun with the lettering. Similar creative lettering ideas appeared in many of the stories.

A sample page with the three frogs from issue #16 in 1956. Their stories would qualify as funny animal ones, I think. The dialogue here is along the lines of what Walt Kelly was doing in the Pogo comic strip.

The title page of the only story Ira lettered in the final issue, #31. Other letterers with similar styles did the rest.

Here are the stories lettered by Ira Schnapp. Peter Panda (PP) usually had three or four stories. In issues where Ira only did some, I’ve numbered his.

#1 Aug/Sept 1953: PP 6pp, 8pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#2 Oct/Nov 1953: PP 6pp, 8pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#3 Dec 1953/Jan 1954: PP 6pp, 8pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#4 Feb/March 1954: PP 6pp, 8pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#5 April/May 1954: PP 6pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp, Hop Skip & Jump 4pp

#6 June/July 1954: PP 6pp, 6pp, 4pp, Stanley 4pp, HS&J 4pp

#7 Aug/Sept 1954: PP 6pp, 6pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#8 Oct/Nov 1954: PP 6pp, 6pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#9 Dec 1954/Jan 1955: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#10 Feb/March 1955: PP 6pp, 4pp (1-2), Stanley 4pp, HS&J 4pp

#11 April/May 1955: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, HS&J 4pp, Stanley 4pp

#12 June/July 1955: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, HS&J 4pp, Stanley 4pp

#13 Aug/Sept 1955: PP 6pp, 6pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp, HS&J 4pp

#14 Oct/Nov 1955: PP 6pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp, HS&J 4pp

#15 Dec 1955/Jan 1956: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#16 Feb/March 1956: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, HS&J 4pp

#17 April/May 1956: PP 6pp, 4pp, 6pp (1, 3-4), Stanley 4pp

#19 Aug/Sept 1956: PP 6pp, 4pp, 6pp, 4pp

#20 Oct/Nov 1956: PP 6pp, 6pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#21 Dec 1956/Jan 1957: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#22 Feb/March 1957: PP 6pp (1)

#23 April/May 1957: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#25 Aug/Sept 1957: PP 6pp (1), Stanley 4pp

#26 Oct/Nov 1957: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#28 Feb/March 1958: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#29 April/May 1958: PP 6pp, 4pp, 4pp, 6pp, Stanley 4pp

#30 June/July 1958: PP 6pp, 4pp, 6pp (1, 3-4), Stanley 4pp

#31 Aug/Sept 1958: PP 6pp (3)

That’s a total of 612 pages. More articles in this series are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.

Phantom Stranger on Wikipedia.

More on Peter Panda.

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