Superman 1 page
This and all images © DC Comics

Before I begin examining the inside story lettering of Ira Schnapp in SUPERMAN, let’s look at some other lettering on the title before he got involved. There’s no doubt that Superman co-creator Joe Shuster was the first letterer for the character. His earliest work was formatted as newspaper strips, he and Jerry Siegel’s original plan in the early 1930s. When they were unable to sell it as that, they went to the comic book market where Superman made his debut in ACTION COMICS #1, June 1938. The early ACTION stories were the newspaper strips reformatted as comics pages. The example above is page 8 from SUPERMAN #1, June 1939, which reprinted the Superman stories from ACTION #1-4. You can see from the uneven panel borders that is is one of those reformatted pages, and probably produced well before 1938 when it was just Jerry and Joe. One interesting thing is that each panel in the story is numbered.

Superman 1 lettering

A closer look at some of Joe’s lettering on this page. It’s certainly readable, and pretty square and regular upper-case letters. Note that the personal pronoun I in the top right balloon is a single stroke, no serifs. That was pretty common at the time. Emphasized words are bolder and italic. The balloon shapes are rounded rectangles with the borders looking like they were done with a brush. The lettering is a bit on the small side in relation to the page size, but probably matches what Joe saw on other newspaper strips of the time which were printed much larger than they are today.

Superman 1 page 4

Page 4 from the same story is clearly later work. Note the even panel borders drawn for a comic, not a newspaper strip. The captions are squared off, the balloons are rounder, but it still looks like Joe’s lettering to me. Note, no panel numbering here.

Superman 1 page 60

Page 60 from SUPERMAN #1, the story from ACTION COMICS #4, has lettering that looks a little different to me.

Superman 1 page 60 detail

While somewhat like Joe’s lettering, this is not as carefully done, the letters are less consistent and even. For emphasis, the word REAL is underlined rather than made bold italic. It’s still early in the life of the feature, but I think Joe got some help with the lettering on this story. In an article in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, June 21st 1941, Joe’s brother Frank is described as “a letterer on the Siegel-Shuster staff.” Could this be by him? Only a guess.

Superman 4 page detail

Certainly as Superman took off in popularity and both the comics and the newspaper strip needed to be filled with stories, Joe Shuster added many assistants to his studio, some of whom undoubtedly did lettering. Here’s a panel from SUPERMAN #4, Spring 1940. The lettering style looks a bit different and more polished than Joe’s own work.

Superman 5 page detail

Here’s a different hand on issue #5, though this could be the work of Frank Shuster, as it follows the underlined emphasis style.

Action Comics 6 page detail

The only one of Shuster’s many assistants and studio-mates given a lettering credit in the Grand Comics Database is Paul Lauretta, whose work is shown here from ACTION COMICS #6, Nov. 1938. Notice the style of the initial capital D, and each letter A is shaped like an upside-down U. I haven’t found any of his work in SUPERMAN, though.

Superman 10 page detail

A different style again in SUPERMAN #10, a very professional look. There are no records of who lettered any of these stories, so it’s all guesswork. Some of the many artists who worked in the Shuster studio include Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, John Sikela and Wayne Boring. Any of them might have done lettering as well as art.

Superman 21 page detail

By SUPERMAN #21, March-April 1943, this lettering style is showing up often. Note the letter R has a loop on the right that does not connect to the vertical stroke on the left. The center stroke in the B is also not connected. The letters are wide in general.

Superman 30 page detail

This example from #30 could be be same letterer but now making his letters even wider, very stretched horizontally. Or this could be someone else using a similar style.

Superman 35 page 1 detail
Superman 35 page detail

Here’s the splash page caption from the first story in SUPERMAN #35, July-August 1945. This is an early example on this title of the work of a letterer I call “Proto-Schnapp” because his style is often similar to Ira’s, especially in the titles. I think Ira used him as a style model for his own work. The regular letters are not so much like Ira’s, they’re wider and have some style points we’ve seen before like the unconnected R. Possibly one or more of the samples above are also by him.By SUPERMAN #46, May-June 1947, the situation was much different. The Shuster studio was no more, and Joe was no longer drawing the character. Jerry Siegel was still writing some of the stories, but after a legal battle between Siegel & Shuster and National (DC) Comics, the publisher now owned all rights to the character, and art and lettering assignments came from their New York editors. Some of the Shuster studio artists continued to work on the character, now directly for the publisher. In this panel from the first story, you can see a very professional lettering style that could be by Proto-Schnapp, though if so he’s not doing the open R style.

Superman 46 page

The second story in issue #46 has a title that looks a lot like the style of Ira Schnapp…or Proto-Schnapp.

Superman 46 page detail

A closer look shows styles used by both men, though Ira’s letters tended to by less wide than this, and his S was not often this evenly rounded, so I believe this is by Proto-Schnapp.

Superman 46 page 2

Page two of the same story. Is it the same hand?

Superman 46 page 2 detail

A closer look, notice how the letters are less wide, more often fitting in a square. Other style points suggest it’s the work of Ira Schnapp to me, and the rest of this story is the same. Unless Ira was using a different style for page 1, I would say that was by Proto-Schnapp and the rest is by Ira. Certainly not common, but I can think of reasons why it might have happened. Or perhaps this is Proto-Schnapp narrowing his lettering to fit more of it on the page. You see how tricky Ira’s work is to identify here! I will leave this as undecided, probably not Ira.

Superman 53 page 1

SUPERMAN #53, July-Aug. 1948, has an early origin of Superman in the lead story. Though it looks like Ira Schnapp’s work in many ways, the overall wide and rounded lettering has put it in the Proto-Schnapp category for me, along with the other two stories in this issue and many more to come. In fact, all the Superman stories from here until issue $63 are lettered by Proto-Schnapp.

Superman 63 page

In issue #63, March-April 1950, Ira Schnapp lettering appears on the first and third stories, with Proto-Schnapp on the second. I have a theory about this. I think the unknown letterer I call Proto-Schnapp had reduced his workload on other titles, but continued to letter Superman stories as long as he could, either because it was a favorite, or because the editor liked his work on the title. The sudden stop of Proto-Schnapp’s work here, probably done late in 1949, perhaps was when he either retired or died. From here on, Ira was the main story letterer on Superman.

Superman 64 page

Here’s an over-written page from issue #64.

Superman 65 page

I love the title from this story in issue #65. After issue #80, Jan.-Feb. 1953, Ira’s work was nearly over in SUPERMAN, as other letterers moved in to take many of the assignments. Ira was plenty busy elsewhere. I found no Schnapp story lettering in issues 81 to 127.

Superman 128 page

SUPERMAN #128, April 1959, had this nine-page story lettered by Ira. The story title style is familiar from the many covers he was lettering at the time. Issue #136 had another nine-pager by Schnapp.

Superman 145 page

The last Ira Schnapp story lettering in SUPERMAN was this story for issue #145, May 1961. At the time, the lettering style on the book was all-italic, and Ira followed that.

Here’s a list of all the Ira Schnapp inside story lettering I’ve identified. It may not be exactly right, but it’s my official opinion. These are all Superman stories.

SUPERMAN #63, March-April ’50: #1 12 pp, #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #64, May-June ’50: #1 12pp, #2 12pp, #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #65, July-Aug. ’50: #1 12pp, #2 10pp, #3 13pp

SUPERMAN #66, Sept.-Oct. ’50: #1 12pp, #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #67, Nov.-Dec. ’50: #2 12pp, #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #68, Jan.-Feb. ’51: #1 12pp

SUPERMAN #69, March-April ’51: #1 12pp, #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #72, Sept.-Oct. ’51: #2 12pp, #3 13pp

SUPERMAN #74, Jan.-Feb. ’52: #2 12pp, #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #75, March-April ’52: #3 12pp

SUPERMAN #77, July-Aug. ’52: #1 12pp

SUPERMAN #80, Jan.-Feb. ’53: #1 10pp

SUPERMAN #128, April ’59: #3 9 pp

SUPERMAN #136, April ’60: #1 9pp

SUPERMAN #145, May ’61: #2 9pp

that’s 289 pages, if my math is right, and many of them were more full of words than today’s average comics page. Ira just kept knocking them out, one letter after another.

Other articles in this series and more you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog. More when I have time.

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