Superman 1 page
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 earliest 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 this 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.

Superman 4 page detail

As Superman took off in popularity and both the comics and the newspaper strip needed to be filled with stories, Joe Shuster added several 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.

Action Comics 6 page detail

The only one of Shuster’s 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.

From SUPERMAN #21, March-April 1943

By early 1940, Joe Shuster’s brother Frank had become the regular letterer of Superman stories and newspaper strips, and above is an example of his lettering on SUPERMAN from 1943. Frank’s mature lettering style is in evidence, with his R’s that have a wide loop continuing into an upward curved right leg. The rest of the letters are slightly curved or very round while still being even and regular. Note two style points: his question marks are a single loop over a period, and he did THE END in all caps in a box.

From SUPERMAN #25, Nov-Dec 1943

The last story I think was lettered by Frank was the third story in issue #25, excerpts above. Note again his question mark and THE END styles, and at this time Frank was lettering wider.

From SUPERMAN #24, Sept-Oct 1943

I think the second story in issue #24 is also by Frank, but the other three are by another letterer imitating his style, Ira Schnapp. It took me a while to notice this, as the imitation is quite good, but in this sample panel you can see one of Ira’s question marks which usually have a double curve like a small 2 over a period. There are other differences, but that’s the most obvious one.

From SUPERMAN #25, Nov-Dec 1943

I think Ira also lettered three stories in issue #25. This panel from one has the script style THE END that he often used. If you compare these examples to what Frank was doing, I think you can see there are two letterers at work. Schnapp was a good choice to replace Frank when he was no longer able to do Superman lettering (probably because of his military service). Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster knew Ira from the Superman logo he revamped in 1940, and Ira was a long-time non-comics letterer, but just starting to get work at National (DC) Comics, so he was likely to be available. He also started lettering the Superman newspaper strip around the same time.

From SUPERMAN #27, March-April 1944

This panel from issue #27 has both a Schnapp question mark and his script styles in THE END. From issue #26 on, Ira was the main letterer on SUPERMAN, and would remain so through the 1940s.

From SUPERMAN #30, Sept-Oct 1944

This story from issue #30 has a title using the kind of Old English style that Ira liked, and a fancy initial capital at the beginning of the caption.

Superman 35 page 1 detail
From SUPERMAN #35, July-Aug 1945

The story title from issue #35 shows Ira beginning to develop the open lettering he would use often on covers in the coming years.

From SUPERMAN #36, Sept-Oct 1945

Some issues from this time have four page Lois Lane stories also lettered by Schnapp.

Superman 46 page
From SUPERMAN #46, May-June 1947

Another example from 1947. By this time Schnapp’s story lettering style was beginning to mature into the one he would use for many years.

Superman 46 page 2

It’s even more evident in the second page of the same story. By this time Ira rarely used Frank Shuster’s style of R, instead his was made like a P with the slightly up-curved right leg coming down from the loop.

From SUPERMAN #35, July-Aug 1948

Superman’s origin was retold in this story from 1948 with a handsome scroll caption by Ira.

Superman 63 page
From SUPERMAN #63, March-April 1950

By 1950, stories were overloaded with text and Schnapp’s lettering was always more condensed, with most letters fitting into a square.

Superman 64 page

Another overwritten story 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.

Below is a list of the Superman stories in this series lettered by Schnapp. All feature Superman except as noted. Where Ira did not letter all the stories in an issue I’ve numbered the ones he did.

#24 Sept-Oct 1943: 12pp, 11pp, 11pp (1, 3-4)

#25 Nov-Dec 1943: 12pp, 12pp (1 & 4)

#26 Jan-Feb 1944: 12pp, 12pp, 11pp, 12pp

#27 March-April 1944: 12pp, 12pp, 11pp, 12pp

#28 May-June 1944: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, Lois Lane 4pp

#29 July-Aug 1944: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#30 Sept-Oct 1944: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#31 Nov-Dec 1944: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#32 Jan-Feb 1945: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#33 March-April 1945: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#34 May-June 1945: 13pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#35 July-Aug 1945: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#36 Sept-Oct 1945: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#37 Nov-Dec 1945: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#38 Jan-Feb 1946: 12pp, 11pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#39 March-April 1946: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#40 May-June 1946: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#41 July-Aug 1946: 12pp, 12pp, 13pp

#42 Sept-Oct 1946: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp, LL 4pp

#43 Nov-Dec 1946: 12pp, 12pp, 13pp

#44 Jan-Feb 1947: 12pp, 12pp, 13pp

#45 March-April 1947: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#46 May-June 1947: 12pp, 13pp, 13pp

#47 July-Aug 1947: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#48 Sept-Oct 1947: 12pp, 12pp (1-2)

#49 Nov-Dec 1947: 12pp, 12pp, 13pp

#50 Jan-Feb 1948: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#51 March-April 1948: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#52 May-June 1948: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#53 July-Aug 1948: 10pp, 10pp, 13pp

#54 Sept-Oct 1948: 12pp, 13pp, 12pp

#55 Nov-Dec 1948: 12pp, 8pp, 10pp

#56 Jan-Feb 1949: 10pp, 12pp, 10pp

#57 March-April 1949: 12pp, 10pp, 12pp

#58 May-June 1949: 12pp, 8pp, 13pp

#59 July-Aug 1949: 10pp, 12pp, 12pp

#60 Sept-Oct 1949: 12pp, 10pp, 12pp

#61 Nov-Dec 1949: 12pp, 10pp, 12pp

#62 Jan-Feb 1950: 12pp, 10pp, 12pp

#63, March-April 1950: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#64, May-June 1950: 12pp, 12pp, 12pp

#65, July-Aug 1950: 12pp, 10pp, 13pp

#66, Sept-Oct 1950: 12pp, 12pp (1 & 3)

#67, Nov-Dec 1950: 12pp, 12pp (2-3)

#68, Jan-Feb 1951: 12pp (1)

#69, March-April 1951: 12pp, 12pp (1 & 3)

#72, Sept-Oct 1951: 12pp, 13pp (2-3)

#74, Jan-Feb 1952: 12pp, 12pp (2-3)

#75, March-April 1952: 12pp (3)

#77, July-Aug 1952: 12pp (1)

#80, Jan-Feb 1953: 10pp (1)

#128, April 1959: 9 pp (3)

#136, April 1960: 9pp (1)

#145, May 1961: 9pp (2)

that’s 1,727 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.

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