The Secret History of Ira Schnapp

SchnappDonenfeld

Throughout Comics history, there are names that have been lost to time. Maybe they left an indelible mark on a title that was revered for decades, perhaps they worked with some of our more well-known historical figures, or thanklessly turned in work that pushed a company higher in the sales charts. There was a man who did all three, and he may finally be getting the recognition he deserved. His name was Ira Schnapp, and if you like Silver Age comics you probably already know his work…

Ira Schnapp had humble beginnings growing up in Austria, Germany and coming to America with his family in 1910. His early life the embodiment of the Immigrant dream, coming from foreign soil to the US and bringing valuable skills to make his way. Ira and his father brought to America a trade as stone-cutters, as well as Ira’s strong education. This helped Ira find work quickly in the US designing logos and sometimes even carve them himself.

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Schnapp’s words on the New York Public Library

Schnapp’s work ethic and skill led him to next design postage stamps and (silent) movie fonts and house ads called Lobby Cards. Schnapp’s way with words would become a defining part of his career paths for decades.

SchnappLobbyCards

Unfortunately, Schnapp’s skills depended on the need for hand-drawn lettering and his film work declined with the rise of “Talkies”. Schnapp then moved to illustrating Dime Novel covers, possibly encouraged by his friend Raymond Perry and fellow artist. The company and building owned by the publisher of those Dime Novels would one day become DC Comics.

Several events had to take place before Ira “worked” for DC Comics: the comic book itself had to be invented in 1929-1933 (depending on whether you count the Sunday Funnies reprints or the original content as the true beginning), National Allied Publications (where DC Comics started) would have to publish several titles, and Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster would have to create Superman. When it came time to print Action Comics #1, Ira was called up due to his talent in creating dynamic logos by Vin Sullivan, the editor of the book.

ACTION COMICS 1
Schnapp’s words in Action!

With the arrival of Action Comics #1, both the comic medium as well as the Superhero genre would explode and Ira Schnapp had one hell of a line on his resume. Due to Superman’s immense debut, he was given a his own self-titled second series alongside Action Comics. Once again, Schnapp would be called upon to leave a mark on the Man of Tomorrow.

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The title font of the this and the next two issues of Superman would all differ from each other, and finally someone asked Schnapp to refine the Superman logo that Joe Shuster had prototyped…

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Ira Schnapp’s second and possibly most recognizable contribution to Superman.

The logo that almost anyone who has seen Superman in comics or several adaptations was done by Ira Schnapp, and ran unaltered for 40 years. This cemented Schnapp’s career at DC well into the late 1960’s working on literally hundreds of title font covers (such as those at the top of this post) and in-house ads for other DC comics, all of which were hand-drawn by Schnapp. By a strange turn of fate, Ira Schnapp was only credited once in DC Comics for his work despite his many contributions.

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For Mad Men fans, think of Salvatore Romano, dutifully working in the art department of a company, both suffering a less than ceremonious exit as well.

In the 1970s, Carmine Infantino (the same artist who worked on the Silver Age Flash) was promoted as Publisher of DC Comics, and Ira Schnapp left soon after. Details are scarce as to the why, but it is not unreasonable to think Infantino fired Schnapp due to his age and wanting new blood in the art department. Schnapp, who had never taken a sick day in his life and almost always found work in his younger days, retired to Florida and died 6 months later.

Ira Schnapp, a well-educated early 20th century Immigrant who left his mark in stone and paper has gone almost entirely unrecognized since his death. The efforts to change that are in progress, such as his own exhibit at the The Type Directors Club in New York City. The exhibition’s opening and existence owes a debt to Arlen Schumer, a comics historian and author of The Silver Age of Comic Book Art. I had the privilege of hearing Mr.Schumer give lectures on both Ira Schnapp and the Silver Age of Comics, and highly recommend them to fans of history and/or art. Arlen Schumer will be giving a lecture on Ira Schnapp at the San Diego Comic Con for those on the West Coast, while those on the East can see the Schnapp exhibit on display in New York until September 25th (minus June 22th-July 3rd when it will be closed). The exhibit has gotten stellar reviews, and will hopefully spread awareness and the legend of Ira Schnapp.

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Credit for this post and the information I received is due to Arlen Schumer and DialBforBlog who have diligently archived Schnapp’s career and helped to protect his legacy.

7 thoughts on “The Secret History of Ira Schnapp”

  1. Josh, this is an excellent article that highlights the contributions of an important person to the history of comics. Well done, sir!

  2. btw, that photo you chose? I don’t think that’s Schnapp; it looks like Harry Donenfeld, one of the original heads of DC Comics. Or it could be his son, Irwin, who ran DC until 1968.

    1. Yes, that’s Harry Donenfeld. A new rights-free image of Ira Schnapp is available on Wikimedia Commons, and would work much better here. There are many errors in this article, the Wikipedia article on Ira Schnapp is a better reference, and many more details about Ira’s life and work can be found on my blog at kleinletters.com.

  3. Rob Salkowitz‎ on The Super Type of Ira Schnapp

    Just got back from SDCC where I saw, among other interesting things, Arlen Schumer’s great lecture on Ira Schnapp and his contribution to the look and ambiance of DC comics in the Silver Age.

    Folks, this kind of scholarship that connects comic art with wider trends in fine art and culture – best embodied in Arlen’s Silver Age of Comic Book Art book – is what will keep the Silver Age we love relevant and VALUABLE to future generations of fans. It’s great to appreciate the stories in the context of our own personal lives (“I remember when that book came out!”), or within the narrow scope of comics history, but just about every comic fan under 40 no longer has the interest or attachment to this material that we do, and sooner or later that will be reflected in the market value of the books and art.

    One good reason for the culture to pay attention is because of the influence that comic artists like Kirby, Infantino and Steranko have had on graphic design, down to the present day. Arlen is one of the very few people informed and passionate enough to make the case, and he’s doing it in the face of an art world that is still largely ignorant or indifferent to the talents of these geniuses.

    The best way to make sure this kind of scholarship gains traction is to make it successful: that is, BUY ARLEN’S BOOK and talk it up to your friends! No one can afford to do this caliber of work for free, and if we don’t support work like his, who will? Plus, if you call yourself a fan of Silver Age art, this work belongs on your shelf. This isn’t a plug for Arlen: it’s a plug for us, the stuff we love, and a rare opportunity to influence the wider conversation.

    From: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152955180263045&set=gm.1610127422580088&type=1&theater

  4. ComicSpectrum’s Bob Bretall
    Bob’s Top 10: San Diego Comic Con International 2015
    July 15, 2015

    #3: The Super Type of Ira Schnapp

    Getting schooled on the man who hand designed almost all of DC’s silver age logos by Arlen Schumer. Schnapp also designed the DC house ads and letters on a lot of public buildings in NYC, as well as the Comics Code seal. This was a real eye-opening lecture delivered with Schumer’s signature enthusiasm that revealed a lot of information about an unfortunately little known man who played a key role in the Silver Age of comics. I’m really happy that I attended this panel and would heartily recommend that anyone hear Schumer speak whenever they get a chance. He has a passion for what he talks about and mixes entertainment with learning wrapped in a really eye-pleasing package that keeps the audiences attention from start to finish. Schumer had a whole section on DC’s house ads that was really an eye-opener. I know I’m going to be paying closer attention to these gems the next time I crack open a DC back issue from the 1960s.
    From: https://comicspectrumblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/bobs-top-10-san-diego-comic-con-international-2015/

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