IRA SCHNAPP in SUPERMAN Part 1

Superman 1 cover
This and 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. Ira’s version first appeared on the cover of issue #6. According to the Grand Comics Database, Leo O’Mealia did the handsome frame and cover lettering on this first issue.

Many of the early Superman covers did not have any cover lettering. They used only the logo and some type, if anything. The few that do have cover lettering reveal none that I believe was done by Ira Schnapp until possibly this one:

Superman 40 cover

Issue 40, May-June 1946 (the title was put out six times a year) has a lengthy caption that certainly could have been lettered by Ira, though I can’t be sure.

Superman 40 cover detail

These letters are mostly very regular and square, and show typical Schnapp style for the most part. The extra flourishes in the words MR. MXYZPTLK and SUPERMAN are not so typical of his work, but may well be typical of his early cover lettering. What makes it hard to be sure is that at least one other letterer at the time had a very similar style. I’ve nicknamed him “Proto-Schnapp” because I suspect Ira used his work as a model for his own. But everything here says Schnapp to me, and I’m calling it the first cover lettering by Ira on this title.

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. I suspect this was lettered by Proto-Schnapp, but again it’s just a guess.

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. I think this is Schnapp’s second SUPERMAN cover lettering.

Superma 53 cover

Issue 53, July-Aug. 1948, does not look like Ira Schnapp work at all, or like that of Proto-Schnapp either. This is 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. Ira’s work for the company in the 1940s is something I’m still discovering, but by this time there was plenty of it, and I believe he was working on staff in the National Comics (DC) offices by 1949. He probably also did plenty of work at home, but had a regular spot in the production room when he was there.

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, is one of several that do not have Ira Schnapp lettering. Someone else is trying to imitate Ira’s style, and has done pretty well on the word balloon, but in the caption the word SUPERMAN is way too narrow, and the rest is too poorly drawn to be by Ira. Perhaps he was away at the time. Also, the word balloon might have been done by Ira, and the caption added later when he wasn’t available. I’m putting this in my “Not Ira” list, though.

Superman 74 cover

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

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 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. It’s the only such example I’ve seen.

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
Superman 181 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.
By issue #181, Nov. 1965, Lettering was becoming an even larger part of the cover design. I love Ira’s classic numerals drawn large here. But Ira was now 71 years old, 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.

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

40, 49, 55-71, 74-75, 77-101, 103-105, 107-150, 152-160, 162-177, 180-181, 183-187, 189-190, 192-197, 199-201, 205

That’s 137 total, 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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