Superman 1 cover
All images © DC Comics

Continuing my research into the early work of letterer/designer Ira Schnapp, the first issue of SUPERMAN was produced before Ira did any work for the company. By his own words, that was his re-imagining of the Superman logo by Joe Shuster, as seen here. According to the Grand Comics Database, Leo O’Mealia did the handsome frame and cover lettering on the first issue.

Ira’s revised Superman logo first appeared on the cover of issue #6 dated Sept-Oct 1940. It’s possible he also did the signature lettering, but it could have been by someone else.

The first cover I’m sure has Ira Schnapp lettering is issue #34 from 1945. Ira did similar Red Cross lettering on other covers at the time, though this is the largest and best.

Ira did the blurb A 52-PAGE MAGAZINE that appeared on this cover, but it also appeared on others, so I won’t credit him here.

Issue #37 has balloon and caption lettering similar to what Schnapp was doing on stories at the time with much wider letters than he would use later. I think this is his work.

Superman 40 cover

Issue 40, May-June 1946 has a caption that’s definitely by Ira.

Superman 40 cover detail

These letters are mostly very regular and square, and show typical Schnapp style. The extra flourishes in the word SUPERMAN are not so typical of his later work, but are seen on his early cover lettering.

Superman 44 cover

The next possible candidate is issue 44, Jan-Feb 1947.

Superman 44 cover detail

There’s a lot of roundness in these letters, something Ira didn’t do often, and the top line and VS. don’t look right for him, either, but in the 1940s, Ira’s cover lettering used more styles than he did later, and I believe this is by him.

Superman 49 cover

Issue 49, Nov-Dec 1947, looks very much like Ira Schnapp work to me.

Superman 49 cover detail

The top line of script, in particular, is a style that Ira continued to use throughout his career, and the rest is pretty typical for him as well except for the extra-curly C’s.

Superma 53 cover

Issue 53, July-Aug 1948, does not look like Ira Schnapp work. I think it’s by someone else.

Superman 55 cover

With issue #55, Nov-Dec 1948, SUPERMAN covers settle into a more regular use of cover captions, most of them by Ira Schnapp.

Superman 55 cover detail

Ira’s cover lettering is also settling gradually into the styles he used for the next two decades. These open letteres are very much in his style, especialy the S in HEROES.

Superman 56 cover

The next issue has a more creative caption that again shows Ira settling into his cover lettering role. Note the alternate style EE in MEET, something Ira liked to do.

Superman 57 cover

Lots of great Schnapp lettering here, especially in the bottom banner, where his characteristic script FEATURING is present, though a bit hard to see on dark blue.

Superman 59 cover

On issue #59, July-Aug 1949, another typical Ira Schnapp open lettering style makes an appearance in the open words at the bottom.

Superman 62 cover

By issue #62, Jan-Feb 1950, Schnapp word balloons were beginning to appear on covers. What a fun one this is!

Superman 64 cover

Issue 64 has chalkboard lettering that could be by Ira or is it by the cover artists (Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye)?  My guess is, it’s Ira trying to make his lettering purposely more loose and hand-made than usual to fit the situation. For one thing, the final text to be lettered probably wasn’t written until the cover art was finished and turned in. Was Ira’s work actually done with white paint on the cover art, or separately in black ink and then reversed with a photostat? Hard to be sure, but probably the latter.

Superman 73 cover

Issue #73, Nov-Dec. 1951 has a caption that does not look like Schnapp’s work, though the word balloon does. Perhaps the caption was added by someone else. In any case, I will still count this for Ira.

Superman 74 cover

Compare the caption above with this following issue, lots of excellent Schnapp style and composition there.

Superman 91 cover

Issue #91, Aug 1954 (the title was now coming out eight times a year) has something strange in the cover lettering. Do you see it? Perfectly oval balloon shapes, something Ira almost never did. Perhaps it was an editorial edict on this one. The smaller balloon looks fine, the larger one has too much air  above and below the lettering, showing that Ira was not used to doing this.

Superman 132 cover

By Issue #132, Oct 1959, the company had begun to experiment with multi-part book-length stories. This one is full of wonderful Schnapp lettering. In fact, if you count his logo design, his work is about half of the cover.

Superman 151 cover

Issue #151, Feb 1962, is another example of someone other than Ira Schnapp imitating his style. This one is better than the earlier example, but a close look will show it’s not as well done. The balloon shape is also nothing like Ira’s usual ones.

Superman 181 cover

By issue #181, Nov 1965, Lettering was becoming an even larger part of the cover design. I love Ira’s classic numbers drawn large here. But Ira was now 71, and his style was looking old-fashioned, essentially unchanged since the late 1940s.

Superman 182 cover

The following issue, #182, has the first lettering on this title by Gaspar Saladino, who had been working alongside Ira Schnapp since late 1949. Gaspar was a much younger man, and he would succeed Ira as the regular DC cover letterer in a few years. His style has more energy and punch than Ira’s, especially in the captions.

Superman 205 cover

Issue #205, April 1968, is the last one with lettering by Ira Schnapp, possibly requested by his friend, artist Neal Adams. Here you can see Ira trying to imitate the balloon shapes of Gaspar Saladino. Ira left the company a short time later and died in 1969.

Here’s a list of all the SUPERMAN covers I believe were lettered by Ira Schnapp:

34, 36-37, 39-40, 44, 49, 55-71, 73-75, 77-101, 103-105, 107-150, 152-160, 162-177, 180-181, 183-187, 189-190, 192-197, 199-201, 205

That’s 143 in all, not a bad run! Next time I’ll focus on Ira’s interior lettering for this title. Other articles in this series, and more you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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