There have been several Batman newspaper strips since the character was created in 1939. None lasted nearly as long as the Superman strip. The first ran from 1943 to 1946, and much of the run was lettered by Ira Schnapp, as with the Superman strip. In fact, Ira started on the Batman one a few months before Superman. In this article I’ll cover his work on the dailies first, then the Sundays. I’ve looked at examples from the brief 1953 version and I’ve also looked at the version that began in 1966, examining all the strips through 1969. I didn’t find any Schnapp work in those. Later versions ran after Ira’s death. Above is a panel from the only Sunday I could find from the early Batman strip. The lettering by Ira is very similar to what he was doing on the Superman strip at the same time. The original art is very large, about 19 by 26 inches, allowing the lettering to be about a half inch tall, twice the size of what I was doing when I started lettering comics in 1977. The daily strip originals are equally large, in fact slightly wider.
All my scans of printed dailies come from the book “Batman The Dailies 1943-1946” published by Sterling in 2007, but reprinting the earlier three volumes published by Kitchen Sink Press/DC Comics in 1990, so the introductions by Joe Desris date from that time. They are excellent and full of great information. One thing I was interested to learn is that Bob Kane is credited as penciller on many of the dailies. Kane was well known as an artist who hired ghosts and assistants to produce much of the Batman work with his name on it, though having his name as sole creator was in his contract with DC. The work of his assistants and ghost artists like Jerry Robinson, George Roussos and Dick Sprang is well known, but even though he did little work on the Batman comics after 1943, Kane did like working on the daily strip. Like many artists of his generation, he considered comics small time and strips big time. This panel is credited as Kane pencils and Charles Paris inks. For lettering, Joe Desris simply says it was done by the DC bullpen. I think this and other early strips were lettered by George Roussos. He and Robinson had been hired directly by DC to work on Batman material by 1943, and both worked in the DC bullpen, a large room with desks for staffers and freelancers. Roussos used a distinctive exclamation point with a triangular wedge over a large period, as here.
Compare this panel lettered by Roussos from a comics story of the same period. The pen used for the letters has more of a wedge tip giving thick and thin variation to the lines, but the exclamation points are the same and so are the letter shapes.
Other letterers followed Roussos, such as the one in this example. I don’t have names for them, they were probably also working in the DC bullpen.
This panel is from the first strip I believe was lettered by Ira Schnapp. Many of the letter shapes here are similar to the style Ira would settle on later in his career, and the small question marks are beginning to look like that too. Even the balloon shapes composed of large scallops are similar. This work is actually closer to 1950s Schnapp lettering than what he did early in his Superman strip run, suggesting that there he was trying to follow what Frank Shuster, the letterer before him, had done. On this example notice that the letter M has two variations. Some have vertical sides, which is what Ira would stick with later, while some have angled sides, which is what the previous letterers on this strip were doing. I think that shows Ira was trying to match his lettering style to the strip at least somewhat, though over time those differences disappeared and his own preferred style dominated.
As with the Superman strip, Ira didn’t letter them all once he started, there were a few gaps lettered by others. Above is a panel from the last strip lettered by Schnapp in his first batch.
The next strip is lettered by someone else, I don’t know who. Notice the wider spacing between lines, the more angular S and a very different question mark.
Ira’s lettering returned on this strip, inked by Charles Paris, who was the main inker throughout this run of dailies. Joe Desris interviewed Paris about his work on the strip, and quotes him in this paragraph:
“When I first started inking, Kane’s father was bringing Bob’s stuff into the office.” After passing through the hands of editor [Jack] Schiff, Paris explains that “The strip came to me with all the panels pencilled and all the balloons lettered. Ira Schnapp lettered most of this material. Sometimes he worked at home and sometimes he worked in the bullpen. I do remember taking stuff up to his apartment; he lived around 72nd or 73rd Street, on the west side.”
This is great confirmation of Ira’s lettering work! Ira and his family lived in an apartment at 515 West 110th Street from about 1935 until Ira’s death in 1969, so Paris has that detail wrong, but the rest sounds right. Ira’s son Martin remembers his father working on his lettering at home beginning in the early 1940s when he was a boy, though Martin did not recall exactly what that work was or when it started. Paris’s memory of Ira sometimes working in the DC bullpen in this period (1944-46) puts him there earlier than I expected, but seems perfectly plausible. Many freelancers would spend some time in the bullpen even if they also worked at home.
This example has very typical Schnapp question marks. Some of the R’s have upward curved right legs coming from a loop that does not connect to the left leg. This is a style point Ira must have picked up from looking at the lettering of Frank Shuster on Superman strips, which he was taking over right around this time. It’s interesting to see it appearing here in Batman, not something that happened often. The lettering is also wider than Ira’s later work, another tendency he might have picked up from Frank.
On the other hand, when he had less space and needed to make his letters narrower to fit, Ira’s work is much more like what he usually did later. George Roussos lettered another batch of strips from Nov 20 to Nov 25, 1944, then Ira returned for a long stretch.
On this example there are no open loops or curves on the R, but the M still has slanted sides, unlilke what he was doing on the Superman strip.
Heritage Auctions has a handful of original dailies, and they give a much clearer look at the lettering, which was always somewhat distorted in printing. In this example, Ira is again using upcurved right legs on the R in some places. Notice how the S is getting narrower and often has a straight section in the center, a trend that would eventually take over. Ira apparently didn’t feel it was necessary to point the woman’s balloon toward her mouth. The line through the art at the bottom shows where the daily strips were rephotographed at a smaller height for some papers. The bottom strip of art would have been covered by a pasted-on strip of white paper for that. The strips were sent out to newspapers in both versions.
Another example with a large sound effect by Ira. Larger than he usually did at the time, so he was probably following what was pencilled by Jack Burnley in this case. Note also that the modern version of a thought balloon is in the first panel, nothing like what Ira was doing in the Superman strip at the time following the style used there established by Frank Shuster. Another example of ways in which Schnapp was tailoring his lettering to work best in each strip.
This art example shows more clearly how DC prepared the strip. They added the copyright text at lower left, photographed the strip at full size, then drew the line for the less tall version, covered the part below the line with pasted-on white paper (now removed) and added another copyright text for that version. Emphasized words were less common in the Batman strip than in the Superman one. Here Ira uses the same thicker pen point for that as on Superman, and there are a few R’s with curved right legs, even though the M’s have angled sides. Perhaps it was hard to keep his style points in mind!
This panel shows a different style for emphasis on the personal pronoun I: it’s slanted and bold, and retains the serifs that such personal pronouns usually had to make them read well, even though most of the other letters had no serifs. Bold italic for emphasis became the standard style eventually.
This sample from a few months later is back to non-italic emphasis. Note that Ira’s question marks were not all the same, he often did larger and rounder ones at the end of a balloon. Here all the M’s have vertical sides but the R’s still have curved right legs. Most of the letters would fit into a square, typical of Ira’s later mature style.
This is a panel from a series of strips dated Feb 11 to March 23 pencilled and lettered by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye. It was the only work by either on the strip. Sprang’s lettering style is similar to that of George Roussos. One may have copied the other, I don’t know. Both have similar letter shapes and exclamation marks. It’s possible the lettering was actually by Sprang’s wife Lora. She lettered much of his work under the pen name Pat Gordon, though why she even needed a pen name isn’t clear since the lettering was never credited, but I suppose to keep things separate for DC accounting and payment. Lora had been taught lettering by her husband, and their styles are about the same. After this storyline, Ira returned to letter most of the remaining strips.
This panel has a rare radio balloon from Ira, and an even rarer sound effect inside that balloon. Note that the lettering in that balloon is all italic to set it apart from the spoken dialog.
The final panel from the final daily strip in this run. Joe Desris presents several theories as to why the strip did not do as well as Superman, and one is the cartoony approach, which did not compete well with other adventure strips of the time like Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant. Whatever the reason, it went no further for many years.
Like the dailies, I think some of the early Sunday strips were lettered by George Roussos, as above.
And here’s lettering by the same unknown person doing the dailies in early 1944. The S’s are very angular reminding me of what John Workman would do a few decades later.
Another unknown letterer whose letters are more similar to what Ira Schnapp would soon be doing. Perhaps he took this person’s work as his style guide for the Batman strip.
A panel from Ira’s first Sunday strip, probably done around the same time as his first dailies. The question mark is clearly his, and the letter shapes, but the letters are again wider than what he would do later. This may be partly because he had the room. Those large Sundays must have seemed expansive.
In this example Ira’s letters are getting narrower perhaps partly to fit them in to the space available.
This handwritten letter by Ira uses an older version of the script letter E that Ira often used in his display lettering, but I haven’t found it on many other similar hand-written notes in the comics. While the note was lettered carefully, it suggests Ira was using that E in his own handwriting at the time, which makes sense, and is a gratifying discovery.
Once he started on the Sundays, Ira lettered nearly all of them, even when he wasn’t doing the dailies. This was possible because the artists on Sundays and dailies were often different, and the storylines were not connected. This panel has an even earlier use of the now standard thought balloon which Schnapp did not begin to use in the Superman strip for several more years. Again we see he doesn’t feel it important to point the tails toward the character’s mouths or heads.
In this example the M’s have vertical sides rather than angled, and the R’s have curved right legs. Ira’s early lettering sometimes leans slightly to the left, as here.
The second balloon in this example shows how letterers change the width of letters in some lines to make them fit better. The fourth line is much more condensed than the others. This is something that comes with practice, you can tell when you need to make that adjustment and it’s made almost automatically.
As the strip gets close to its end, compare the examples above to this one and notice how it has changed subtly even in these three years, yet there are also enough consistent elements to confirm it’s by the same person. There’s also the factor of how quickly it had to be done to meet a deadline, that can alter the look of the lettering, too.
A panel from the very last Sunday, and with Ira Schnapp lettering to close it out. Ira would move on to lots of other work at DC Comics and of course would continue to letter the Superman strip for decades. Below is a list of the Batman strips lettered by Schnapp. I’m using the strip numbers, but they are often missing or hard to read on the strips, and there were a few numbering errors. I’ve counted all the strips to make sure the amounts are right, and the strip dates are the best way to find them.
#251 (8-18-44) to #264 (9-2-44), #277 (9-18-44) to #331 (11-18-44), #338 (11-27-44) to #715 (2-9-46), #752 (3-25-46) to #913 (9-28-46), #920 (10-7-46) to #943 (11-2-46)
#43 (8-27-44) to #153 (10-6-46), #156 ( 10-27-46)
That’s 632 dailies, which is roughly equivalent to 316 comics pages and 112 Sundays which is roughly equivalent to 224 comics pages for the equivalent of about 540 comics pages on this strip.
This wraps up my look at Ira Schnapp lettering in comic strips. DC also did a Wonder Woman strip, but that was lettered by Jim and Margaret Wroten using the Leroy template system as the Wonder Woman comics were at the time. DC’s sister company All-American Comics put out a newspaper strip for their character Hop Harrigan in 1942 that lasted just a few months and it was not lettered by Ira.
ADDED: I recently discovered two weeks of Ira Schnapp lettering on the DONDI newspaper strip in 1955, sample above. I’ve written about it in THIS article, more details there.
More articles you might enjoy are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.
The Batman newspaper strip on Wikipedia.