Ira Schnapp’s DC Ads: 1948

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #116, Jan 1948

A second crime comic from DC followed closely after the first one, GANG BUSTERS. This was also based on a radio show, and unlike the other title, it had a continuing lead character who was known only as Mr. District Attorney. I wonder what DC co-owner Harry Donenfeld thought about these comics, as he reportedly had friends in the criminal world and had faced prosecution in the past for the sexual content and images in his pulp magazines. This ad shows Ira Schnapp beginning to reach his full potential as a house ad designer. The black areas add depth and contrast and the lightning bolt borders add energy. The blocks of lettering still show his early style with unfinished letters and more bounce than seems appropriate for the subject, but the top and bottom bands are excellent. I love the word EVERYWHERE with the Y extending below the border.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #131, Jan 1948

Replacing the alphabet ad series in this spot in January cover-dates was a four-panel gag story, unusual for a house ad. I don’t know who did the cartoon characters, I doubt it was Schnapp. The title is appealing and the word balloons include the characteristic small question marks Ira usually used in story lettering that are like a small 2 over a period.

From ACTION COMICS #117, Feb 1948

With this title DC jumped onto the western trend that other publishers were having success with. The style of THRILL is a bit odd for a western, but I love the brush lettering at the top. The cloud (or explosion) adds energy, and the black area at the bottom adds contrast. As was usually the case by now, Ira Schnapp designed the logo, did the cover lettering, and lettered many of the stories. Ira had become the most prolific letterer at the company by this time.

From A DATE WITH JUDY #3, Feb 1948

While he worked on nearly all DC titles, Ira seems to have enjoyed the humor books the most. At least that’s what I surmise from the fact that as he moved into the 1950s when there were too many titles and stories for him to do them all, he gravitated toward humor (and romance comics) and gave up some of the other work. In this ad Ira’s looser, bouncier style is completely appropriate and works well.

From STAR SPANGLED COMICS #77, Feb 1948

This is the first ad where DC tells readers how well a new title sold, and how happy they are about it. It’s a good promotional idea, as it might make readers more eager to see what the fuss is about. You can also see how far ahead cover dates were. The ad tells readers to look for JUDY #3 on December 5th, suggesting this issue could have been on sale in late November, but the cover date of the comic it’s in is February. Comics (and probably many other periodicals) were routinely dated ahead in an effort to get retailers to keep them on their stands longer. That’s why some retailers stamped an arrival date on the cover of each magazine so THEY knew how long it had been there.

From WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #33, March 1948

Most of the lettering on this ad is repeated from the one that ran in late 1947 issues. The word FIRST is new, but that could have been picked up from another ad. The use of type in parts of this one suggest it was put together by someone in the DC production department. A less effective layout is another clue. Ira might have done a small amount of new work on it, but I’m not counting it as a new ad.

From A DATE WITH JUDY #4, April 1948

As DC comics became more divided into genres, we see more house ads used just within that genre. A DATE WITH JUDY and BUZZY always ran ads for each other. Sometimes those ads also appeared in other books, but not as widely as in the past. This ad is full of great Schnapp lettering that I find more appealing than the art.

From STAR SPANGLED COMICS #79, April 1948

Of the two teen humor titles, JUDY got the most promotion. This is another well-designed ad for her fourth issue, a longer push than most new DC titles received. Perhaps it worked, as the book continued to be popular for years.

From WONDER WOMAN #29, May 1948

Four issues promoted was not enough? Okay, here’s a fifth! I don’t think any other DC title ever reached this point in house ads, at least not while Schnapp was doing them. Note that Ira’s logo has been modified to make A DATE WITH larger by now. The angled cover adds interest, as does the black area and the graceful shape at lower left. And Ira’s open script is now at its mature style, more graceful than the ad above.

From ACTION COMICS #122, July 1948

DC proudly touts their crime comics with an emphasis on the lawmen rather than the criminals. They might not have been everything I would want in a magazine, but many bought them. While this genre was begun in titles by other publishers like CRIME DOESN’T PAY with the word CRIME much larger than the rest, DC’s motto was YOU CAN’T BEAT THE LAW, and their titles featured the lawmen.

From ACTION COMICS #122, July 1948

DC had success with JUDY and BUZZY, and added a third teen humor title, LEAVE IT TO BINKY, as seen here. I doubt they ever sold as well as the Archie titles, but they certainly had their fans.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #137, July 1948

The non-fiction genre did not do as well for DC, and this attempt was their only one. I think it was a favorite of editor Jack Schiff, but readers were not convinced that reading about real people was as interesting as reading about superheroes, cowboys, gangsters, funny animals and funny people. Ira’s brush lettering at the top of this ad is well done, and his variety of styles on the rest is impressive. But perhaps the variety was part of the problem. No continuing characters to follow.

From ACTION COMICS #123, Aug 1948

With this new title, DC seemed to be trying to cover several genres at once. It featured Dale Evans, a Hollywood star (her husband Roy Rogers had comics from another publisher), it was supposedly the adventures of a real person as well, and it was clearly a western. Ira’s ad lettering is full of variety and artful design. At lower right is an early example of his background art that added depth and made the rest seem larger. If you were a fan of westerns, Hollywood stars and Dale herself, this would have been a must buy.

From BATMAN #48, Aug 1948

Some of Ira’s ads at this time were not as good as others. I find the lettering on this one, especially the open letters at the top, poorly done compared to many other ads from this year. Perhaps it was needed in a hurry. Two of the titles promoted are survivors from All-American Comics after the merge with National (DC). Few of them lasted longer than this decade without major genre revamps, and ALL-AMERICAN has already been converted to a western.

From ACTION COMICS #124, Sept 1948

Oh yeah, DC also published Superman comics! You’d hardly know it from their house ads in the late 1940s. This one is a cross promotion with a new Superman movie serial starring Kirk Alyn as Superman and Noel Neill as Lois Lane, a role she would return to on the TV version. Interesting that THEATRE is spelled the British way. I’m not sure the bottom caption is by Ira, he might have done something else more specific, and this generic replacement was added by someone in the DC production department.

From ADVENTURE COMICS #132, Sept 1948

Most of this lettering is repeated from the one above, so I won’t count it as a new ad for Ira. Clearly DC was getting desperate with this title, here trying to interest western fans. Note that among the titles listed in the left column is Sheldon Mayer’s SCRIBBLY. Mayer did his own house ads for that, so I’m not covering them here, but they were funny and effective.

From WONDER WOMAN #31, Sept 1948

Another Schnapp ad for the teen humor trio with just enough lettering to make the point. SCRIBBLY was kind of a teen humor comic too, but I guess DC didn’t see it that way.

From LEADING COMICS #33, Oct 1948

Four of DC’s funny animal titles, another growing genre for the company. The fifth one was LEADING, where this ad appeared. Increasingly, they were advertised mostly in each other’s pages.

From ACTION COMICS #126, Nov 1948

Even though DC was still publishing comics featuring Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Batman and Robin, and Green Lantern, interest in superheroes was waning, and DC did little to try to reverse that in their house ads. This weak effort is the only one for many of these characters in 1948. The script lettering at the top is also weak.

From WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #37, Nov 1948
From DETECTIVE COMICS #141, Nov 1948

BOY COMMANDOS was another long running title that received little ad attention. Originally produced by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and their studio, but by this time often by others hired by DC I think, the end of World War Two made the characters less relevant. An appearance by a popular baseball player gave DC a rare reason to promote the title. Most of Ira’s handsome lettering is the same in each version, so I will count this as one ad. I love the way some words cross out of the black areas in an almost op art way. Ira was not a sports fan, but his son Martin was, so that might have prompted him to make an extra effort.

From ADVENTURE COMICS #135, Dec 1948

Continuing the trend of real people appearing in DC titles, Ralph Edwards was all over radio at the time, and is best remembered today for his game show “Truth or Consequences” and his biographical show “This is Your Life.” DC liked this kind of cross promotion, and were willing to pay for it. The ad lettering and layout here is not one of Schnapp’s better efforts.

From FUNNY FOLKS #17, Dec 1948

The final ad I have to show for 1948 is this frenetic one full of energy and those cartoon figures by an artist I can’t identify. It promotes the conversion of another former superhero title to one featuring funny animals, a genre that would continue to be popular through the 1950s.

To sum up, I count 20 house ads lettered by Schnapp, and there were others using only type or lettered by others. Still, Ira’s impact on the company’s look continued to grow as he lettered more and more covers and stories as well as quite a few ads.

The 1948 Superman serial on Wikipedia.

Bob Feller on Wikipedia.

Ralph Edwards on Wikipedia.

Other articles in this series and more you might like are on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

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