SCHNAPP VS. PROTO-SCHNAPP – A NEW DECISION

All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #110, July 1947

I first heard the name Ira Schnapp when I started working on staff in the DC Comics production department in 1977. I knew his work well, I’d loved it growing up, but had never been able to put a name to it. While at DC I began to learn about Ira’s important role in DC Comics from the 1940s to the 1960s, and wanted to know more, but it took years for me to have the time and resources to do that. When I started my blog in 2007, I decided to write about comics history, and soon began researching and writing articles about letterers including Ira Schnapp with help from Alex Jay and early research published by Kirk Kimball on his site, “Dial B for Blog.” Around 2010 I commenced studying the early lettering and logo designs in DC Comics of my childhood, much of it by Schnapp, and in 2015 I began systematically working my way through every DC Comics issue from 1940 to 1968 looking for and cataloging Ira’s work and publishing articles about it HERE. I knew what Ira’s story and cover lettering looked like from the early 1950s on, but before that I had more trouble. Ira’s son Martin Schnapp, born in 1930, told me he remembered his father working on comics lettering at home starting in the early 1940s, but he didn’t recall exactly what that work was. Marty had no artistic talent, and he did not have much interest in his father’s work other than reading the DC comics Ira brought home, though Marty and Ira’s bond was a loving one. The first DC work by Ira I was sure about was his revamp of Joe Shuster’s Superman logo that first appeared on the cover of SUPERMAN #6 in 1940. I’d learned it was his first DC logo from Michael Uslan, as recounted HERE. At the time I think Ira was doing logos and cover lettering for some of the pulp magazines published by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, who were also the owners of National (now DC) Comics. Ira knew Liebowitz from at least the 1930s, as detailed in THIS post of mine about his life and career, and I think they were related, if not closely. I found work in many 1940s comics that could be early lettering by Ira, but it was different enough that I wasn’t sure. Still, it made sense that Ira’s style could have evolved some from his earliest work, so at first I was thinking it was all him.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #120, Air Wave Story, Feb 1947

When I compared this early style, I saw many elements that were similar to what Ira did later, but some that were definitely different such as the frequent use of an R with an upwardly curved right leg and letters that were generally wider than a square. What puzzled me the most was comics where this style appeared in one story and in another there was work much more like Schnapp lettering from the mid 1950s or later. I couldn’t see any logical reason why Ira would be using more than one style at a time when style didn’t seem likely to be important, just getting the work done was the goal. That’s when I came up with my Proto-Schnapp theory. I imagined another older letterer, name unknown, working on staff at DC who might have served as a model for Ira’s own comics lettering. Ira had been doing lettering since high school, signs were his career before comics, but perhaps he needed some help and advice with this particular medium. The articles I wrote for most of the DC series that began in the 1940s included this idea, and when I was writing them I have to admit deciding which stories were by Proto-Schnapp and which were by Ira was very difficult, and I often flip-flopped several times before putting the list of Schnapp credits in the articles. There were even stories where some pages seemed like Proto and some like Ira, a possible but unlikely division of labor for the time.

I’ve recently completed cataloguing Ira’s work on the Superman (1939-1966) and Batman (1943-1946) newspaper strips, and there I was finally able to see how early lettering by him evolved into the later style I knew well. Ira’s work on the Batman strip from 1944 to 1946 is documented not only by comics historian Joe Desris, but by a first-person account he collected from the strip’s main inker Charles Paris, who remembered getting lettered strips from Ira not only at DC but at Ira’s home. By following the lettering from those years through many similar daily Superman strips into the 1950s, I was finally convinced that the early styles I had for a while attributed to my theoretical “Proto-Schnapp” was also Ira’s work. I also came to see that Ira did sometimes modify his story lettering to match the feature, picking up elements from previous letterers on Superman and Batman stories and strips, and also occasionally imitating the style of the previous lettering when he started working on a new feature. There was more variety in Ira’s early work than I expected once I had compiled further evidence, not only in stories but also on covers and in house ads. Therefore, I’ve done away with all references to Proto-Schnapp, and over the last few weeks I’ve looked again through all those early DC issues and recompiled my inventory to add all the work to it I formerly thought was by the mythical Proto-Schnapp. Thousands of covers and pages have been added to Ira’s credits, and some articles have had major rewrites, particularly the ones on ACTION COMICS, SUPERMAN and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, but other articles have had important additions too. It’s possible I haven’t gone back far enough, that Ira’s ability to imitate the work of other letterers can include even earlier examples than the ones I’m calling for him, but where I wasn’t sure I didn’t try to include more of those.

I apologize to anyone and everyone who’s read and learned from my Ira Schnapp posts for leading you down this incorrect path, but sometimes I get things wrong, and I did here. This will mean that many entries in the Grand Comics Database drawn from my blog articles will be wrong or incomplete. I’m particularly sorry about the extra work that will create for the volunteers who labor on the credits in that important resource.

One area that needs expansion is Ira’s ad work in the 1940s. I’ve removed the single post I did about that and over the next two weeks will put up six new posts covering Schnapp’s DC ad work in the 1940s. The list has expanded from just a few to over 100 items. Still to come after that will be a new series of articles about Ira’s logos, putting all my ideas about them and identifications of them in one place chronologically. Finally, when that’s done, I will work on a summary of Ira Schnapp’s entire career by the numbers, and then my years-long project to identify and celebrate the work of DC’s first major letterer will be complete. Or as complete as I can make it!

Goodbye, Proto. You were a theory that didn’t pan out.

6 thoughts on “SCHNAPP VS. PROTO-SCHNAPP – A NEW DECISION

  1. Ray Bottorff Jr

    Don’t sweat the GCD credits Todd, most of the proto-Ira credits were probably entered with a question mark and all that would be needed is to remove the question mark.

  2. J. Kevin Carrier

    Good on you for being willing to revise your theories as new information comes to light. Thanks for all your efforts in this area — lettering credits may not seem that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but I think the historical record is important on every level, and credit should be given where due. And Schnapp obviously had a huge influence on the overall “look” of DC Comics during his time, and that’s worth studying.

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