Ira Schnapp in SHOWCASE

Images © DC Comics

In 1956 DC Comics launched a new bimonthly title that was a tryout book for new series, characters and subjects. The original idea was for readers to write in with suggestions, and the editors would use the most popular ones. I don’t think that plan lasted more than a few issues if it was really followed at all. Here’s the idea as lettered by Ira Schnapp on the first page of the first issue:

However long this idea was used, the book soon became a tryout series for every DC editor’s new ideas, and each tryout had its own editor. Mort Weisinger was the editor of the first issue that actually might be based on reader suggestions. The series ran to 104 issues, ending in 1978.

While Ira Schnapp only lettered three full issues of the series and a few short pieces, he was the main cover letterer until issue #72 in 1967, and he also designed most of the new logos needed. For the cover of issue #1 he not only designed the SHOWCASE banner, but also the FIRE FIGHTERS logo. Here it is from the DC files:

Not Ira’s best work, but it does the job. Ira also did the rest of the cover lettering. A larger image of this logo is HERE.

Issue #2’s theme was wild animals in an issue edited by Robert Kanigher. Schnapp again did the logo and cover lettering. One gets the feeling that his logo styles here were meant to be rougher and more organic as a contrast to the very formal SHOWCASE banner.

Issue #3’s THE FROGMEN is more cover lettering than logo, but also by Schnapp. Kanigher also edited this one. It might be considered a sort of tryout for SEA DEVILS.

The initial big success for SHOWCASE was in issue #4, the first of editor Julius Schwartz’s revival of revamped Golden Age superheroes. Ira did the new FLASH logo and cover lettering. This was appealing to readers and must have sold well, but it took some time for sales figures to reach DC, so they didn’t know it for a while.

Issue #5 featured crime-fighter stories with a MANHUNTERS logo by Schnapp as well as cover lettering. Jack Schiff was the editor.

Issues 6-7 had a tryout for a new team combating weird menaces created by Jack Kirby with probable help from Joe Simon and Dave Wood. Jack Schiff was the editor. The CHALLENGERS logo is not by Ira, it’s pulled from the first page of issue #7, and I don’t know who lettered that. Ira did PRESENTING and the word balloons, though “Ultivac is Loose!” does not look quite like his work, and might have been a late addition by someone else. Note that SHOWCASE has dropped the banner and angled look.

Issue #8 had a second tryout for The Flash with a different version of the logo by Schnapp, along with cover lettering. Both are similar to but not the same as the one he would do when the character gained his own series.

Issues 9-10 were a tryout for SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE. Ira’s logo followed the plan of his JIMMY OLSEN logo for the top part, but LOIS LANE is more sedate Art Deco letters. Ira also did the rest of the cover lettering. The Editor of this and all Superman-related books was Mort Weisinger.

Issues 11-12 again featured Challengers of the Unknown, and issues 13-14 again starred The Flash. Perhaps those in charge were reluctant to go ahead with new series until more sales information came in. Issues 15-16 featured new science-fictional crime-fighter, Space Ranger, with a handsome beveled logo by Schnapp in a stylized (and old-fashioned) rocket shape. The editor was Jack Schiff. He and Julius Schwartz were each asked to create new science fiction heroes, one from the present and one from the future. Schiff’s was the future hero, though his future was decidedly unscientific, relying on familiar gangster and monster themes.

Issues 17-19 featured Julie Schwartz’s editorial creation Adam Strange, who was transported to the distant planet Rann on a regular basis by “zeta-beam.” Schnapp did the new logo ADVENTURES ON OTHER WORLDS and the caption.

Issue #19 relegated the general title to a bottom caption, and Ira designed a new logo for Adam Strange. I feel that should have been done from the start, as it’s much more appealing. Adam Strange proved more popular than Space Ranger over time.

Issues 20-21 featured another science fictional series from editor Jack Schiff. Rip Hunter explored the past with his Time Sphere, along with three friends. The logo by Ira is unusual, with rounded letters in a large bullet for no particular story-related reason. It works fine, and I found it appealing as a young reader.

Issues 22-24 featured the second of editor Julius Schwartz’s Golden Age hero revamps. The large logo by Ira Schnapp has sedate block letters in a flaming rectangle. The flames are an odd choice, and actually relate to the original Golden Age Green Lantern, whose power was expressed in green flame. The new Silver Age version’s power came out in more modern green energy beams. Despite the disconnect, green flames were long used on this character’s logos.

Issues 25-26 again featured Rip Hunter. Issues 27-29 starred Sea Devils, scuba-diving thrill seekers from editor Robert Kanigher. The logo by Schnapp is again very large but sedate block letters. I guess that was a better choice than trying to add a “devil” look.

Issues 30-33 featured Aquaman and Aqualad. Aquaman had been created in 1941 by writer Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris. He’s one of the few DC superheroes to appear continuously from the Golden Age into the Silver Age, along with Superman, Batman and Robin, and Wonder Woman. This logo was created for issue #100 of his series in MORE FUN COMICS in 1944, and used on most later appearances:

I can’t tell if it was used as-is or if Ira redrew it, they’re quite similar. In any case, Ira added AQUALAD and did the rest of the cover lettering. It’s possible Ira did the original 1944 version, or it might have been by the unknown letterer who worked on that story, or even by the artist.

Issues 34-36 featured another revamped Golden Age superhero from editor Julius Schwartz. Ira’s logo for THE ATOM is again large and very square with a narrow telescoping drop shadow. The square O seems an odd choice, but it reads fine. Ira might also have incorporated the atom on the character’s costume somewhere, but instead kept things simple.

Issues 37-40 featured a new kind of team made entirely from living metals in this series from editor/writer Robert Kanigher. Schnapp’s beveled letters with rivets in each M conveys the idea perfectly, and is strong and appealing. Note the extra-long caption probably written by Kanigher.

Issues 41-42 and 44 featured Tommy Tomorrow, who first appeared in REAL FACT COMICS in 1947, and was one of several features in ACTION COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS. The editors were Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan. The idea was West Point cadets in space. Ira Schnapp’s logo was again large, with the emphasis on TOMORROW. This cover has lots of lettering, but it works well.

Interrupting that tryout was this one-shot adaptation of the first James Bond film, which had been prepared for Gilberton’s CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED line in England. The U.S. publisher decided it was not right for their line here, and passed it to DC. Arriving at the company many months before the film was released, Ira Schnapp’s logo went to his usual Oriental treatment for the title, a style that imitated Chinese writing as seen by Americans. A product of its time and timing, neither the logo style nor the issue were successful.

Issue #45 was a one-issue tryout for Sgt. Rock from war comics editor Robert Kanigher (with a logo by Gaspar Saladino). Issues 46-47 were two more Tommy Tomorrow entries. Issues 48-49 featured CAVE CARSON ADVENTURES INSIDE EARTH, which had previously had a tryout in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, and used the same Schnapp logo. Issues 50-51 used reprints of King Faraday stories from DANGER TRAIL and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS under the new name I–SPY! The logo by Schnapp is pretty typical of his work. I’m not sure why there’s a double dash instead of a single dash, but that was decided by the editor, who was either Larry Nadle or Robert Kanigher.

Issue #52 was another Cave Carson one, issues 53-54 were titled GI JOE, and featured reprints of stories about several branches of the armed services from editor Robert Kanigher. Ira Schnapp’s logo is very large and eye-catching.

Issues 55-56 featured more Golden Age characters, but this time not in revamps. Editor Julius Schwartz had brought back the Golden Age superhero team The Justice Society of America in the pages of his JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and here was attempting to interest fans in new stories about them. Ira Schnapp’s character logos are large and blocky, easy to read but having no features that relate to the characters.

Issues 57-58 featured a tryout of the World War One German air fighter Enemy Ace, with a logo by Gaspar Saladino. Issue #59 featured The Teen Titans, using a logo Schnapp created for their tryout appearance in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. Issues 60-61 featured new stories about another Golden Age character from editor Julius Schwartz. The Spectre’s new logo by Schnapp, with a character head from artist Murphy Anderson, is, in my opinion, the most successful “scary” design that he ever produced. I think it’s because he kept the waviness of the outlines small and retained pointed serifs, giving the logo a spiky appeal. Ira’s bold, wavy caption border at the bottom is also unusual and effective.

Issues 62-63 introduced a goofy parody of superheroes from creators E. Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando under editor Jack Miller. The logo by Schnapp was also pretty goofy for him, and he had lots of cover lettering to do as well. It all feels a bit desperate and over-the-top, trying for MAD humor and going too obvious, in my opinion.

Issue #64 was The Spectre again, and issue #65 was The Inferior Five. The divided releases of some tryouts may have come from missed deadlines by the creators, but it couldn’t have helped sales. Issues 66-67 contain what I think is the low point of the series. They feature a white hero in Africa full of clueless racist themes. The logo by Schnapp is, in my opinion, one of his worst, though the name itself and the character’s costume are just as bad. The cover lettering is by Gaspar Saladino, who was beginning to gradually take over that job at this time in 1967.

On the other hand, issues 68-69 feature The Maniaks by creators E. Nelson Bridwell and Mike Sekowsky under editor Jack Miller. They were a sort of rock band, and their stories attempted to achieve the humor of TV’s “The Monkees.” The logo by Schnapp with figures by Sekowsky is charming and fun, even though the music-note serifs on the letters don’t really work.

Issue #70 featured reprints of the teen humor series LEAVE IT TO BINKY, last published about ten years earlier, with a new logo by Schnapp. It would lead to a revival of the series with the same logo.

Issue #71 was The Maniaks again, and I’m showing it because of the appearance in a DC Comic of comedian Woody Allen. What an unlikely thing that is! The joke lettered by Ira is pretty good, too.

Ira Schnapp’s final cover lettering and logo for this series was on issue #72 from 1968 featuring western stories originally edited by Julius Schwartz. I like this logo by Ira, probably one of the last ones he did. The notched, ragged letters and target in the O suggest to me he was looking at the work of Gaspar Saladino for ideas, but it was a fine last effort.

Here are the covers lettered by Schnapp, including a few where he only did the feature logo: 1-5, 7-38, 40-44, 46-47, 49-50, 52-56, 58-62, 64, 66-72. That’s 64 in all. With the addition of so many logos, it was a substantial amount of work.

After lettering the first page of the first SHOWCASE issue, shown above, Ira’s involvement in story lettering was sparse. Here’s half of a two-page filler he lettered for issue #15 supporting Space Ranger.

Ira lettered a similar filler in issue #20 on dinosaurs supporting Rip Hunter.

For issue #54 Ira lettered two introductory pages supporting GI Joe and a one-page request for mail titled G.I. Joe battle prize.

It wasn’t until issue #62 in 1966 that Ira lettered an entire issue, probably at the request of writer and editorial assistant E. Nelson Bridwell.

Bridwell used Schnapp again in two of his Maniaks issues, #69 above, and #71, Ira’s last story lettering for the series. Here are the story pages lettered by Ira Schnapp:

#1 March/April 1956: Showcase intro 1pp

#15 July/Aug 1958: Space Ships of the Past 2pp

#20 May/June 1959: Dinosaur Album 2pp

#54 Jan/Feb 1965: Intro 2pp, G.I. Joe Battle Prize 1pp

#62 May/June 1966: Inferior Five 24pp

#69 July/Aug 1967: The Maniaks 24pp

#71 Nov/Dec 1967: The Maniaks 23pp

That’s a total of 78 pages on this series. More articles like this one are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.

Showcase on Wikipedia, including more details on each feature.

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