SCHNAPP, DONENFELD and the PULPS Part 3

All images © the respective copyright holders.

As I mentioned last time, Harry Donenfeld and his partners (Jack Liebowitz and others) launched a new pulp magazine imprint in 1937 called Trojan Publishing. The intent was to tone down the sexual themes (which the authorities were castigating in obscenity trials), but the second title, PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES, doesn’t seem to have gone very far in that direction. Indeed, while the covers did tend to show less skin, the contents of the Trojan pulps were much the same as the previous ones under the Culture Publishing imprint and others. In fact, it’s reported that all the Donenfeld pulps routinely reprinted each other’s stories. My main focus here is the logo and cover lettering, and I think this is all the work of Ira Schnapp. The style choice for all but DETECTIVE is kind of an odd one that looks back to Old English thick and thin brush strokes, but it’s somewhat similar to what Schnapp did in the comics occasionally. The placement of PRIVATE and STORIES over DETECTIVE is also a bit odd, and I would say this is one of the less successful logos by Schnapp from the pulp period, if it is indeed by him.

Something else was going on in the publishing world of Harry Donenfeld in 1937: his printing company produced this comic book, the third title edited by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. The Major had been involved in comics since 1934, and in pulp magazines before that, but he was not a good businessman, and in order to get this issue printed, he had to form a legal partnership with Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. (Are alarm bells going off in your head, yet?) The imprint, Detective Comics, Inc., was the beginning of what would become DC Comics (with the DC being drawn from the initials of this title). Wheeler-Nicholson did not last long in the venture, and was pushed out before the launch of the company’s next title, ACTION COMICS, in 1938. The Major’s company had been at 432 Fourth Avenue in Manhattan I believe, but once he had control, Donenfeld brought it to his headquarters at 480 Lexington Avenue, where it remained for many years.

As for the logos of these early comics, some have long attributed them to Ira Schnapp, I don’t think any are by him until 1940. See my article on DC’S EARLIEST LOGOS for my thoughts on the subject, and reported testimony by Ira himself in THIS article, where he told a young Michael Uslan that his first work for DC Comics was refining Joe Shuster’s SUPERMAN logo. Ira’s version initially appeared on the cover of SUPERMAN #6 in 1940.

Back to Donenfeld’s pulps. After eight issues of THE LONE RANGER MAGAZINE, the character was dropped and the magazine retitled as ROMANTIC WESTERN in either late 1937 or early 1938. This handsome logo seems like the work of Ira Schnapp to me. He always did fine script lettering, as in ROMANTIC here, often liked to use banners like the one behind it, and WESTERN is once again in an Art Deco style rather than the more expected old west poster look. Some of the letterforms in WESTERN are not typical of Ira’s work: the rounded E and the lower case N, but I find them quite attractive. One oddity is the way the banner goes behind the letters of WESTERN but in front of the outline around it, suggesting that was added after the banner. The rest of the cover lettering is similar to work we’ve seen before and probably also by Schnapp.

Also beginning with this February, 1938 issue is a companion Trojan Publishing title using the same logo lettering for ROMANTIC and a very square DETECTIVE (except for the D). It seems likely it’s also by Schnapp. The square corners are not typical for him, but the clever way the letters are tucked in around each other suggests a master designer at work. In a sense it’s a very modern approach, especially the way the I is tucked under the T, something I used to do in the 1980s and 1990s. The rest of the lettering is in familiar Art Deco styles we’ve seen on these pulps before, probably by Schnapp. Note the use of rounded E’s again there.

Later in 1938 Trojan began this title. The design seems very much in Ira Schnapp’s style, both in the way CANDID fits into DETECTIVE, and the telescoping drop shadow, which is a little hard to see on this dark background. CANDID is sans serif with an inline fill (here in blue) and DETECTIVE has very small serifs that add a touch of elegance to my eye. The rest of the cover lettering is likely by Schnapp. Logo designs were a plum assignment, and hopefully paid well, but the story title and author lettering was a more regular source of income that I’m sure Schnapp would appreciate.

When ACTION COMICS #1 featuring Superman hit the newsstands in 1938, it was a smashing success, and soon the title was selling millions of copies. (And much has been written about the poor business deal made by the character’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with Donenfeld and Liebowitz for Superman’s ownership, so I won’t go into that here, but you can see that it follows a familiar pattern for them.) This created an upheaval in the comics and pulp publishing world as everyone scrambled to try to imitate that success with similar books and characters. Donenfeld consolidated his comics publishing under the National Comics Publications name (which included the distribution company Independent News) at 480 Lexington Avenue, and by 1939 had not only launched another smash hit with Batman in DETECTIVE COMICS, he increased his Superman output with the character’s own title. Joe Shuster, with help from assistants, was producing all or most of the Superman material, including the covers for this new title, but there was a problem with the logo. He would redraw it for nearly every issue, and while his intent was clear, the results were uneven. I’ve suggested that Harry Donenfeld brought in Ira Schnapp to refine Shuster’s design in 1940, with Schnapp’s version first appearing on the cover of issue 6. You can see what an improvement it is from the Shuster version that appeared on issues 4 and 5. (You can read more about this HERE.)

Back in the pulps, Donenfeld and his partners must have felt it would be a good time to revive their previous title SUPER-DETECTIVE, this time featuring Jim Anthony, a character very similar to Doc Savage, and having some nearly Superman-like abilities. The title seems a natural for the company, combining two ideas and titles that were selling like hotcakes in the comics.

The logo for this one is kind of surprising in that it seems to be modeled after the Joe Shuster logo seen on issue 4 of SUPERMAN above. The uneven shape of the S, the way the letters overlap, and the overall approach are much more like that than Schnapp’s refined version. Both the first issue of SUPER-DETECTIVE and the sixth issue of SUPERMAN are cover dated October, 1940. If Ira Schnapp did this logo, why wouldn’t it more closely reflect his version of SUPERMAN? One reason might be that Donenfeld had applied for a trademark on Ira’s Superman logo, and didn’t want to confuse things by mimicking it elsewhere. He might have asked Ira to imitate the Shuster version instead. Or, perhaps this logo was done by someone else with the same mandate. While some of the cover lettering looks like Schnapp, the title BLOATED DEATH is atypical for him. Before this I’d never seen Schnapp use triangles for the letter A, though there is another example coming up in Part 4 of this study, and the very thin inner shapes in other letters are also unlike his usual work. Perhaps it’s partly someone else’s work, perhaps it’s just an atypical experiment.

When Trojan began DAN TURNER, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE in late 1941, the Schnapp style was clearly evident, and particularly some elements he used on the SUPERMAN logo like the thick sans serif letterforms, the curved shape, the telescoping drop shadow, even the shading on the curves where the telescoping goes from black to open areas. DAN TURNER is a handsome script that Schnapp excelled at, and the other cover lettering looks like his Art Deco-influenced work as well. Love that extremely long vertical strokes on BY! When the DAN TURNER part was dropped in 1943, the resemblance to the SUPERMAN logo was even more pronounced.

In fact, it begs the question, did Donenfeld request that Schnapp imitate his own logo, or was it simply a matter of “it worked before, I’ll try it again”? I guess we’ll never know. In any case, I think this logo is the most compelling evidence I have that Ira Schnapp was working for the Donenfeld pulps.

We’ll look at the rest of those pulps next time. More logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.

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