WORLD’S FINEST COMICS began as WORLD’S FAIR COMICS, two annual-sized issues released in 1939 and 1940 as promotional advertising at the New York World’s Fair of those years, though they may also have had newsstand distribution. There, for the first time, two of National (DC) Comics’ most popular characters, Superman and Batman (with Robin) appeared together for the first time, though only on the covers. Interior stories featured each separately, along with many other stories and characters. The idea was continued in 1941 with a similar comic, WORLD’S BEST COMICS, retitled WORLD’S FINEST COMICS beginning with issue #2. WORLD’S FINEST was issued quarterly for a few years, then switched to bimonthly (6 issues per year) for many years.
Until issue 71 (July-Aug. 1954) each issue had Superman, Batman and Robin together on the cover, but inside Superman had his own stories initially produced by Joe Shuster’s studio in Cleveland, and Batman and Robin had THEIR own stories initially produced by Bob Kane’s studio in New York. Other features came and went between these bookends at the front and the back of each issue. With issue 71, the page count was cut from 68 to 36 pages. In order to keep Superman, Batman and Robin prominent they then began appearing in the same lead story together, and did so for many years.
WORLD’S FINEST was edited initially by Whitney Ellsworth, then by Jack Schiff beginning with issue #8 dated Winter 1942-43. Schiff remained the editor until issue #140 dated March 1964. As the series went on, the Shuster and Kane studios had less to do with the stories featuring their characters. The same was true for the “Boy Commandos” feature by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon originally. World War Two was taking creators into military service for one thing, and keeping up with the amount of material needed to fill several titles for Superman (his own title and ACTION) and Batman (his own title and DETECTIVE) meant that Jack Schiff at the DC offices gradually took the lead in creating story ideas, and hiring writers and artists to produce them. On the stories he handled, Schiff also needed to hire letterers, and that’s where Ira Schnapp comes into the picture.
Ira Schnapp’s first work for National (DC) comics was the revamped Superman logo he created based on the earlier versions by Joe Shuster. It first appeared on SUPERMAN #6 dated Sept.-Oct. 1940. Ira continued to work for the company after that, but exactly what he did and when has not yet been defined. That’s what my research aims to find out.
Let’s begin with Ira Schnapp lettering on covers. Until issue 71, most were “poster” covers featuring the three leads doing something together, but not related to any interior story. They were usually involved in some kind of sport or activity, or sometimes it was a gag cover played for humor. There were no word balloons, and cover lettering was rare except for occasional typeset lists of characters appearing inside. Issue #21 dated March-April 1946, above, has the first example of what might be Ira Schnapp cover lettering, but I believe it’s actually by another unknown letterer I’ve nicknamed Proto-Schnapp because I think Ira modeled many elements of his own work on this man’s lettering. Proto-Schnapp’s work is generally wider and more curved than Ira’s, and on cover lettering his style often included letters with the loops not all connected, as here.
Issue #23, July-August 1946, has a small amount of lettering on the machine that does look like Ira’s to me. Notice how even and regular it is, and most of the letters would fit into a square, it’s less wide and curved than Proto-Schnapp’s. Issues 28 and 40 again have signs that I think are lettered by Ira Schnapp.
Issue #42 dated Sept.-Oct. 1949 has the first more familiar Ira Schnapp cover lettering, including a handsome piece of script in “Introducing” and open display lettering for “The Wyoming Kid!”. Around this time Proto-Schnapp’s lettering diminishes and it disappears by the end of 1949. I think he was an older man who either retired or died, and Ira took over the job of being the company’s main cover-letterer. Because so many of the WORLD’S FINEST covers were the poster type, lettering wasn’t always used on them. I see Schnapp lettering on issues 43 and 44 (the same lettering on both), 45, 49, 52, 62, 63, 69 and 70.
On the cover of issue #71, we get typical classic Ira Schnapp lettering not only telling us that the heroes were now appearing in the same stories together (finally), but what that issue’s story was about. The look of this cover lettering is familiar to anyone who has read DC comics from the 1950s and early to mid 1960s, nearly all by Ira Schnapp.
Ira’s lettering is on issue #72, and Issue #73 features the first example in this series of Ira’s cover-style word balloons.
While it resembles his interior story lettering, Ira’s cover lettering was drawn larger and produced with more care and precision, appropriate for a cover, the main on-site selling point for any comic.
Thereafter, Ira’s lettering appeared on most of the WORLD’S FINEST covers until issue #171 dated Nov. 1967, above. I find it on issues 74 to 97 (issue 98 is by someone else), then issues 99 to 134 (135 again by someone else), then issues 136 to 161, 163 to 166, and 168 to 171.
Thereafter most of the cover lettering is by Gaspar Saladino, except for this issue, #175, dated May 1968. That’s late for Ira Schnapp cover lettering, but this does look like his work, except for the balloon shapes, which may have been done by cover artist Neal Adams.
There are three other areas I want to discuss before looking at Ira’s story lettering. First, there were a series of single page public service features written by Jack Schiff and often lettered by Ira Schnapp that appeared across the entire line of titles. The earliest one I can find in WORLD’S FINEST is this one from issue #42 dated Sept.-Oct. 1949.
Here’s the second one in this title from issue #44 and featuring Batman. I see more of these lettered by Ira in issues 47-51, but have not looked further. There were plenty more, though not all lettered by Schnapp. Issue 46 has one on the inside back cover that does not look like Schnapp lettering, for instance.
Second, DC House Ads also appeared simultaneously in many of their titles. I’ve already written THIS article about the earliest ones I see in WORLD’S FINEST that are lettered by Ira Schnapp. This one is from issue #28 dated May-June 1947. There are many others from then until the mid 1960s.
Third, let’s consider the series logo. The first one could be by Ira Schnapp, though I don’t think it is because of the uneven shapes of some letters, particularly the S in COMICS. Other letters are also inconsistent in weight with some parts thicker than others. I don’t think that’s something Ira Schnapp would have done.
I’m sure he did letter this later version that began appearing on the cover with issue #75. Above is Ira’s original lettering for it from the DC files.
Ira also lettered the splash page titles that began appearing on issue #71: “Your Two Favorite Heroes” “and” “in One Adventure Together!” And, of course, that’s Ira’s revamped Superman logo, though not his work on the Batman one, which was designed by Jerry Robinson. This was used for many years.
In the second and concluding part of this article I’ll investigate Ira’s story lettering. Other Ira Schnapp articles you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.