Ira Schnapp in WONDER WOMAN

Images © DC Comics except as noted

Though the DC logo is on early issues of WONDER WOMAN from 1942 on, it was published by National Comics’ sister company All-American Comics until the two merged in 1946. Publisher M.C. Gaines inked a deal with William Moulton Marston, already a successful psychologist and author, to create a new female superhero, Wonder Woman. Marston brought in his own pick for artist, H.G. Peter, and the two created the series in their own studio, delivering finished stories to the publisher which included lettering. The editor at All-American was Sheldon Mayer. It’s not known who designed the script logo, but after looking at all the early covers for this article, I’m now thinking it was created by Peter, as I will explain below. The caption on this first issue might have been added by the publisher, as the style is more like other cover lettering they were doing than anything Peter produced. Peter employed assistants on the stories, but I think all the early covers are entirely his work.

Harry G. Peter was sixty years old when he started working on Wonder Woman. He’d had a long career as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines, first in San Francisco, then in New York. At some point he became friends with Marston probably due to their mutual interest in women’s suffrage. Peter had just begun to get work in comics when Marston invited him to be the artist of Wonder Woman. The two opened a studio together in Manhattan. The cover of issue #7, above, has sign and caption lettering I believe is by Peter, and you can see that his script handling of the character’s name on the signs is not the logo but very similar to it, I think too similar to be a mere copy of someone else’s work. Peter had to have lettering skills for newspaper illustration, which often included hand-drawn titles, and I think his deft work on these early covers, as well as story titles inside the book throughout his run, shows that, and supports the idea that he designed the logo, though I have no other proof.

By issue #30 from 1948, All-American’s titles had been folded into those of National Comics, and all were being handled from the National offices. The editor was now Robert Kanigher, who had begun at All-American and continued as an editor for National (DC) for many years, as well as writing lots of their comics. The caption on this cover is the first one that I suspect was lettered by someone at DC, and not Peter, and it’s by Ira Schnapp using a style he employed on other covers at the time, but later moved away from. Marston, the co-creator with Peter of the feature, had died in 1947, and from then on Kanigher and DC gradually took control of the series from the Peter studio, though H.G. continued to draw all the stories (with his assistants) until his own death in 1958. I think one of the first signs of that is having cover lettering done at DC.

On issue #37 from 1949, the caption at upper right could again be by Schnapp, but the word balloon is definitely not in his style. I don’t know who lettered it, and I’m not calling it for Ira. All the story lettering produced by Peter’s studio used more mechanical Leroy lettering, which I’ll explain below, and looked nothing like this.

Issue #40 from 1950 shows the next step in DC taking control of the series: Peter is no longer the cover artist. This one is by Irwin Hasen and Bernard Sachs. It works fine and presents figures not too far from what Peter did, but as time went on, the Wonder Woman seen on the covers became decidedly more modern and more typical of other DC characters than the quirky, old-fashioned version by Peter inside. I think the caption is again by Schnapp, as the story title style is one he used at the time. Kanigher was now also writing the stories, and moving away from the ideas of Marston and his writing assistants.

Issue #41 also has Ira Schnapp cover lettering. Ira was still developing the cover lettering styles he would use throughout the rest of his career, and this is moving toward that.

Issue #42 has a story title very much in Schnapp’s style, including the creative speed lines on the story title.

Issue #45 has Schnapp lettering and shows the more modern Wonder Woman of the Silver Age. Kanigher continued to modify the Marston concept and origin over the years.

Ira’s caption on issue #48 from 1951 shows his ability to work in extreme perspective when needed.

Issue #51 from 1952 has lots of Schnapp balloon lettering, still not quite in his later style, but getting closer.

Issue #60 from 1953 replaces the original script logo with a new Ira Schnapp one using upper and lower case with some elements of script, but much wider and blockier letters that were easier to read. Ira also did the caption. The transformation of the Wonder Woman covers to the Silver Age was complete, but the stories inside remained like those of the previous decade as an elderly H.G. Peter and his assistants soldiered on.

Issue #82 from 1956 teams the character with Robin Hood, who was also appearing in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD by Kanigher and would soon be in his own brief series. Otherwise, Wonder Woman and her stories remained separate from the rest of DC’s characters.

H.G. Peter’s final stories appeared in issue #97. With issue #98, Kanigher essentially relaunched the series in his own vision with art on covers and stories by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Ira Schnapp’s cover lettering helped make the transition seamless on the covers, while inside the lettering changed from that produced by Peter and his assistants to the work of Gaspar Saladino.

Fanciful stories like this one from issue #106 in 1959 became common. I like Ira’s bold sign work here.

By issue #126 from 1961, Kanigher had introduced younger versions of the character: Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot, and often had them appearing together in the same stories, an odd idea. Magic and fantasy became the general feel of many stories, which often took place in and around Paradise Island rather than America, where Wonder Woman was now appearing in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA with DC’s other main heroes.

For issues 152-153 from 1965, Wonder Girl took a starring role and had a new logo by Schnapp at the top of the covers. She began teaming up with other teenage heroes Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad in THE TEEN TITANS around this time. It was not explained quite how that worked, with the adult character appearing in other titles simultaneously.

Issue #158 from 1965 had another new Ira Schnapp logo, this time using all capital block letters with telescoped drop shadows in a familiar Schnapp style. Certainly easy to read. Kanigher had decided to bring back some elements of the character’s first decade, reviving old villains, and even having Andru and Esposito somewhat mimic Peter’s art style on the stories.

On issue #159, Ira’s work dominates the cover in a surprising way, as Kanigher tries to interest readers with more new origin stories. The large word balloon seems awkward, and may have been enlarged and revised by someone else in DC’s production department.

Ira’s final cover lettering appeared on issue #175 from 1968, around the time he left the company. The book would soon gain a new editor and another new direction.

Here are the covers lettered by Ira Schnapp: 30, 40-74, 76-78, 80-139, 141-146, 148-154, 156-170, 172-173, 175. That’s 130 covers in all, and that run of 60 in a row from 80-139 might be the record for Ira.

From her very first appearance in a short story in ALL-STAR COMICS #8, above, the lettering used for Wonder Woman had a very regular look that some readers might have thought was typeset. (Note also an early and cruder version of the logo I think is by the artist, H.G. Peter, and Marston using his pen name Charles Moulton.) In fact it was lettered by hand, but using a device created for lettering on architectural plans.

Image © Todd Klein

It was called the Leroy Lettering System, made by Keuffel and Esser starting in the 1930s. Templates of different sizes were used to make letters with a scriber, as seen above. With an adjustment of the pin arm, letters could be vertical or lean to the right for italic. It was a very time-consuming process, but as with most things, the more you did, the faster it became. I suspect H.G. Peter had a Leroy set from his illustration work, and decided to use it on Wonder Woman stories, but he did not do it very well. If you look at the first page above, all the lettering is italic, suggesting he didn’t know how to adjust the pin arm, and larger bold words are lettered by hand, suggesting he didn’t have different size templates. In the second panel, the first balloon runs into the caption, showing poor placement.

All of Peter’s stories were lettered with Leroy for many years, but I think he soon passed the job to his assistants. Research by Jill LePore and others have named Peter assistant Marjorie Wilkes Huntley and others as doing some or all of the lettering. If so, they learned from Peter, as the work shows many of the same kinds of errors, like this example from issue #8, still using all italic and with some odd spacing between words and awkward hyphenation.

In 1945, Peter and Marston hired the team of Jim and Margaret Wroten to do their Leroy lettering. Jim had been a top salesman at Keuffel and Esser, and also their best Leroy demonstrator at trade shows. Once they were on board, the lettering looked much better, as on this page from issue #15, I think the first one the Wrotens lettered. They didn’t draw the balloon shapes, but the lettering is no longer all italic, and the spacing is much improved. The Wrotens would letter nearly all of the stories from the Peter studio from this point on, and would also do other work for M.C. Gaines, and later his son Bill Gaines for EC Comics.

Starting with issue #84 in 1956, hand-lettered non-Leroy lettering began to appear on some stories like this one. I think it was still done at the Peter studio, as the story title is by him. Perhaps he was getting pressure from DC to move away from Leroy lettering. This work is somewhat similar to what Ira Schnapp was doing, but not the same. By issue #96, all the Peter stories were lettered this way, and his final art appeared in issue #97.

With Kanigher’s revamp of the title to update the look and character in issue #98, above, he began using his favorite letterer, Gaspar Saladino, who lettered every Wonder Woman story from here to issue #147, and many after that.

Ira Schnapp’s only story lettering in the series came in issue #156, above, where he lettered pages 13-24 of the main story, thereby making his story lettering total just 12 pages. He may have been chosen because his lettering looked old-fashioned, and this story was an attempt to recreate the look of older stories from the 1940s, but it was a brief use of his talent. Ira’s work on logos and covers is his legacy on this title.

More articles in this series are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.

More about Jim and Margaret Wroten’s Leroy lettering.

William Moulton Marston on Wikipedia.

Wonder Woman on Wikipedia.

H.G. Peter on Wikipedia.

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