As with the Superman daily strips, Ira had a very long run on the Sundays. Above is the top half of a full-page version of the strip (it was provided in several formats to newspapers: full page, half page and third page) and it includes a variation of Ira’s Superman logo done by him for the strip at this time. Ira’s small, square letters are in his familiar style then, but let’s begin at the beginning.
Joe Shuster’s brother Frank had been the regular letterer on both the Sunday and daily Superman strips from early 1940. Above is a panel from the last Sunday I think he lettered. Notice his wide, regular style and the letter R with the loop not connected to the left leg. Note also his question mark style which has a single loop over a period. For more on Frank’s strip lettering see THIS post.
The following Sunday has a similar style, but I think it’s lettered by Ira Schnapp imitating Frank Shuster. For instance, Frank’s letter G is an oval with a serif at the center, while Ira usually used one with a vertical right side, as in the word AGAIN here in the last balloon, though the other G in LONG is more like Frank’s. The R’s here are similar to Frank’s but not quite the same, and that’s true of many of the letters.
The next Sunday has typical Ira Schnapp question marks which have a double curve like a small 2 over a period, a style he used through most of his lettering career. Again, this example is similar in general to Frank Shuster’s work, but not the same. Ira had revamped Joe Shuster’s Superman logo in 1940 (his version first appeared on the cover of SUPERMAN #6 cover-dated September 1940), and Superman creators Siegel and Shuster certainly knew his work on that. Ira created several variations of that logo in the early 1940s for copyright applications, and I think would have been available as a letterer in 1943, as he was not yet very busy with similar work on DC comics story pages. That made him a good choice to replace Frank when he was called into the Army in late 1942, though Frank somehow was able to continue on the strips for about a year.
The next Sunday has another typical Schnapp question mark in the first balloon, and a less convincing one in the second balloon, but I think this is Ira’s work. He became the regular letterer on Superman Sundays from this time forward.
By about a year later, Schnapp’s style had gradually become more like what he would do for the rest of his career. The letter R is now made like a P with the right leg coming down from the loop.
Here’s the original art for the earliest Schnapp-lettered Sunday I could find. Note that Ira’s Superman logo is being used at the top, it replace one drawn by Joe Shuster with the strip for Jan 16, 1944. It would continue until the one shown at the top of this post began in 1949. The creator credit for Siegel and Shuster is still present, as it had been from the strip’s beginning, but by this time Siegel was in the army and no longer scripting, Joe Shuster was doing very little drawing because of his worsening eyesight, and most of the strips were being drawn by his assistant Wayne Boring. Boring had been hired directly by National (DC) Comics to draw the strip. Scripts were probably by DC editor Whitney Ellsworth, and Ira was lettering. As with the daily strip, the art was very large, this strip is 19.5 by 25.5 inches, and created on two pieces of paper. You can see the join line between the second and third tiers. Half of a Sunday was about the size of two daily strips, and the entire Sunday was roughly the same amount of work as two comics pages.
A closer look at one panel. Already some influences of Frank Shuster are fading: the letters are less wide, many would fit into a square, as was usual for Ira Schnapp’s work, and the question marks are looking more like what he would do later. Emphasis still follows the Frank Shuster style of bold but not italic. I estimate the lettering height to be about a half inch, about twice what I was asked to do when I started lettering comics in 1977.
Another panel from original art of 1946. The overall look is similar, but a little less even, suggesting it was done in a hurry. The letter S is beginning to often have a straighter middle bar. Some R’s have curved right legs, some don’t. The open next week title letters are pretty rough for Ira, again a sign this was lettered quickly, probably to meet a deadline.
By late 1948, Siegel and Shuster’s credit had been removed after they sued DC in a failed attempt to get ownership of their creation, Superman, replaced by an art credit for Wayne Boring. That would continue for years. You can see how the Superman logo is getting crowded out, which is probably why they went to the thin header across the whole strip seen earlier.
A closer look at one panel of the same strip shows lettering that’s even more like typical Ira Schnapp work, including narrower letters, and the question mark is getting smaller and more angular.
As with the daily strips, Ira did not letter all the Sundays, there are gaps, but usually not more than one to three strips, perhaps when he was away on vacation or otherwise unable to do them. On two larger gaps in 1950, the lettering, sample above, somewhat resembles that of Frank Shuster with R’s that have loops that don’t quite connect and underlined words for emphasis. I considered whether this could be Frank’s lettering, but it seems unlikely that DC would have hired him then so soon after the lawsuits began, and this isn’t really all that close to what Frank was doing. I think it’s by someone else imitating his style, perhaps Wayne Boring himself, but that’s a guess. Boring had worked with Frank since the Siegel-Shuster studio days in Cleveland, Ohio, so he certainly knew the style.
This original art from November, 1950 shows the half-page format with a different small title panel only crediting Wayne Boring.
A close look at one panel shows typical Ira Schnapp lettering for the time. Most of the R’s have straight right legs. The G is made with a single stroke and has a vertical right side. Where he had room, as here, Ira was still going somewhat wider.
By 1952, the lettering was nearly always this narrow, again with most letters fitting in a square, and the S is getting more angular.
Very typical Schnapp lettering for 1954. Note that Superman’s thought balloon now uses the later standard tail of diminishing bubbles and the emphasized words are bold italic.
Here’s an odd style point from 1957, the words PUFF! are surrounded by parentheses, the early style for words that are breath only, but these are within thought balloons, so how does that work, exactly? I’m sure Ira was just following the script.
Another original art panel from 1959 with very typical and recognizable Schnapp lettering, but notice the R in ETHEREAL has a curved right leg, a holdover from Frank Shuster’s influence. The S in GHOST is very narrow and angular, one way Ira saved space when the words were a tight fit. I like that you can see individual pen strokes here, something you can’t make out on printed strips.
At some point in the late 1950s, editor Mort Weisinger added the strips to his editorial duties, and usually that meant plots for the strips were pulled from past comics. This sort of time travel story is one, where Superman flies through large year numbers, of course lettered by Ira. Mort made a few style changes. One was to make all thoughts and captions italic. This did help set them apart from regular speech balloons. Mort also rehired Superman creator Jerry Siegel to write/adapt the stories into strip form, reuniting him with artist Wayne Boring, though Jerry’s involvement was kept quiet and he received no public credit.
As the strip began to show its age and run out of steam, so did Ira’s lettering. He was about seventy when this was lettered, and it shows in the uneven look. His horizontals and verticals are no longer as straight as they once were, and the letter shapes are somewhat wobbly. Note that around the word GASP! are the later version of breath marks.
Here are the last two panels of the very last Superman Sunday strip. Too bad Superman couldn’t add Ira Schnapp, Jerry Siegel and Wayne Boring to his list of people to thank!
Below is a list of all the Sunday strips lettered by Ira Schnapp.
#212 (11-21-43) to #252 (8-27-44), #255 (9-17-44) to #304 (8-26-45), #306 (9-9-45) to #316 (8-18-45), #318 (12-2-45) to #320 (12-16-45), #324 (1-13-46) to #362 (10-6-46), #364 (10-20-46) to #386 (3-23-47), #388 (4-6-47) to #464 (9-19-48), #467 (10-10-48) to #532 (1-8-50), #542 (3-19-50) to #564 (8-20-50), #569 (9-24-50) to #584 (1-7-51), #587 (1-28-51) to #588 (2-9-51), #593 (3-11-51) to #636 (1-6-52), #639 (1-27-52) to #726 (9-27-53), #729 (10-18-53) to #772 (8-15-54), #775 (9-5-54) to #804 (3-27-55), #809 (5-1-55) to #854 (3-11-56), #857 (4-1-56) to #882 (9-23-56), #885 (10-14-56) to #980 (8-10-58), #988 (10-5-58) to #1042 (10-18-59), #1047 (11-22-59) to #1096 (10-16-60), #1099 (11-6-60) to #1148 (10-15-61), #1151 (11-5-61) to #1171 (3-25-62), #1173 (4-8-62) to #1193 (8-26-62), #1196 (9-16-62) to #1213 (1-13-63), #1218 (2-17-63) to #1222 (3-17-63), #1225 (4-14-63) to #1248 (9-22-63), #1252 (10-20-63) to #1273 (3-15-64), #1278 (4-19-64) to #1303 (10-11-64), #1307 (11-8-64) to #1326 (3-21-65), #1333 (5-9-65) to #1353 (9-26-65), #1358 (10-31-65) to #1380 (4-3-66), #1386 (5-1-66)
If my math is right, that’s 1,083 Sundays, or the rough equivalent of 2,166 comics pages, lots of work for Ira. Next time I will look for his lettering in Batman newspaper strips.
Other posts like this are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.