Ira Schnapp Lettering Exhibition at the TDC!

It’s tempting to use the language of classic comic books to describe the current exhibition of lettering by Ira Schnapp at the Type Directors Club in New York City. Schnapp lettered some of the most famous logos, mastheads, and issues of American comics, and his work has become synonymous with the emphatic declarations and questions of comics, such as “MEET THE NEW BATGIRL!” and “WHAT IS HER STARTLING SECRET IDENTITY?” You might ask “WHO WAS IRA SCHNAPP?” This exhibition reveals the identity of the man behind the lettering in many great American comic books.

Portrait of Schnapp by DC colorist Jack Adler, 1960s.

Portrait of Schnapp by DC colorist Jack Adler, 1960s.

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Schnapp’s story is a fascinating one. He was born in Sassow, then part of Austria, in 1895. Like many persecuted Galician Jews, his family emigrated and arrived in America around 1900. He is credited with a role in the design of monumental, incised lettering on a couple of prominent New York buildings: the “neither snow not rain…” on the James Farley Post Office, and lettering on the grand 42nd Street New York Public Library.

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Schnapp’s exact role in this early architectural lettering is unclear. Later, he lettered titles for silent movies, movie advertisements, show cards, and pulp magazines. His route into the comics business is described in detail on Robby Reed’s informative blog. Schnapp started working for DC Comics in 1938 and designed the masthead for Action Comics. In 1940, Schnapp refined the Superman logo, based on Joe Shuster’s original design, and it first appeared on Superman #6.



From about 1949 through 1968, Schnapp worked in the DC Comics bullpen (the shared office area). He was forcibly retired from DC, moved to Florida, and died in 1970.

As exhibition curator Arlen Schumer writes, Schnapp was skilled at bringing words to life, “making the letterforms look and feel and sound, onomatopoeically, like the words themselves…” Schnapp’s expressive lettering for vibrant comics became a potent part of American culture.

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The TDC thanks Arlen Schumer for sharing his text, images, and enthusiasm. Arlen also designed the exhibition and exhibition poster. A to A Studio Solutions produced and sponsored the exhibition, which is on view until September 25th. Email to arrange a viewing of the exhibition post May 14th. Please note the TDC will be closed from June 22 – July 3, 2015.