The Legendary Yet Unknown Lettering Artist Ira Schnapp

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Ira Schnapp’s personal history is shrouded in mystery, despite the fact that his revolutionary lettering style for DC Comics continues to live on and inspire lettering and comic artists today. Even the DC Comics website neglected to publish a bio for a man who helped develop DC Comics’ “house style.” The website merely credits him as a letterer.

During his employment with DC Comics from 1937 to 1968, Schnapp created the lettering designs for every cover, and the conventions he created for comic book cover logos became the standard in the comic book industry.

“Everyone’s been influenced by Schnapp’s ubiquitous DC cover logos (and hundreds of house ads), whether subliminally or consciously,” said illustrator and comic book historian Arlen Schumer. “Certainly every successive DC Comics letterer has, in addition to other comic book letterers and logo designers. Schnapp’s works are as beautiful and Americana as the classic hand-lettered posters and fruit crates of the 19th and 20th centuries that have enjoyed post-modern revivals and reconsiderations among graphic designers, art directors, typographers and calligraphers of the 21st century.”

What Do We Know About Ira Schnapp?

Action_Comics_1Here’s what we do know about the talented lettering artist: Ira came in on the ground floor of the comic book industry in the mid-1930s.  In 1938, he designed the Action Comics logo featured on the cover of Action Comics No. 1, which featured Superman’s first ever appearance and the advent of the comic book genre as we’ve come to know it. According to the National Museum of American History, “Superman’s June 1938 appearance in Action Comics No. 1 gave birth to the superhero genre.” For the decades that followed, Schnapp continued to design letterings for D.C comics. The height of his career was during the Silver Age of Comics (1956-1970.)

Ira later refined the Superman logo from Superman’s co-creator Joe Shuster’s original 3-D effect design to the universally recognized symbol used today.

Clark_Kent_004image courtesy of http://dc.wikia.com

Prior to his defining work with DC comics, Schnapp, a descendant of stone carvers, designed in Roman lettering the phrase, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” which is engraved on the façade of James Farley General Post Office at Penn Station in New York City. He also designed the Roman title lettering for the exterior of The New York Public Library.

Ira Schnapp Exhibition

SCHNAPP 8x12 72dpiComic book historian, writer, illustrator and designer Arlen Schumer will present a lecture for the Type Director’s Club of New York‘s exhibition centered on the overlooked, talented lettering artist. It will feature large, oversized prints of Schnapp’s “greatest hits” provided by the producer and sponsor of the exhibit, A to A Studio Solutions. The lecture opens the exhibition on May 14th and the exhibition will run til September. Tickets can be purchased online.

Arlen is an enthusiast of Schnapp’s work and is eager to do a lecture specifically on the lettering artist. He “hope[s] that people will learn about the man behind some of the most indelible graphic icons of the 20th century that we’ve all taken for granted; that comic book fans learn who designed the comic book logos that are a part of their childhood DNA, and that New Yorkers will learn who designed the Roman lettering atop two of the most identifiable architectural landmarks in the city.”

As a comic book historian, Arlen had heard Ira’s name here and there. But he didn’t really know much about the lettering artist until he stumbled upon another comic book historian’s blog, Dial B for Blog. Then his admiration grew, but not only for Schnapp’s lettering designs.

“I really love Schnapp’s distinctive DC house ads maybe more than his cover logos, because they gave him broader range to really strut the stuff that he learned years before designing engraved Roman letters, U.S. stamps, movie lobby cards and pulp magazine cover lettering,” says Arlen.

Arlen’s fondness for Schnapp’s house ads inspired a separate section of the exhibit titled “Schnapp’s Greatest Hits.” This section showcases six full-page enlarged ads, 24″ x 36″ sized posters, designed by Schnapp.

Prior to attending the exhibit in May, you can view a chronological list of Ira Schnapp’s work. To attend the event, purchase tickets here.

Arlen Schumer is the author/designer of The Silver Age of Comic Book Art. He is also a member of The Society of Illustrators, creating comic book-style illustrations for advertising and editorial usage, which can be seen along with his other works on his site.


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