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THE VISIONARY - PART 2 of 10
The BIG BANG!


Young Ira Schnapp came to America in the early 1900s as an Austrian immigrant with a talent for stone carving and engraving. What strange destiny would he find in the new world? He began by making his mark on Manhattan -- literally -- by carving inscriptions in the Public Library and the Post Office.

Then, in 1934, this visionary Jewish designer entered the world of dime-novel fantasy fiction magazines -- the world of the pulps! But how? What strange quirk of fate led Schnapp from carving stone inscriptions to creating logos and blurbs for pulp magazines?

Some accounts of Schnapp's career infer that he was initially introduced to the business because he was related to DC boss Jack Liebowitz. Schnapp was related to Liebowitz -- but it's far from certain that family ties alone led Schnapp to DC. Here's why...
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Schnapp's old business associate, longtime DC colorist Jack Adler, recently told Alter Ego magazine that Schnapp "was a relative of Jack Liebowitz." Schnapp's pal from the old days, legendary DC artist Murphy Anderson, added another clue when he told Mark Evanier that "Jay Emmett's uncle on the other side of his family was Ira Schnapp."

Since Jay Emmett was a nephew of Jack Liebowitz, it may seem we have found the connection that led Schnapp to Liebowitz -- but in fact, several key pieces are missing from the puzzle.

First of all, the idea that Schnapp met Liebowitz through Jay Emmett is improbable for one very simple reason: Schnapp started working for Liebowitz in 1934, and at that time, Jay Emmett was only six years old! Jay Emmett, pictured left in the year 2000 at age 71, was born in 1929. .It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that he was calling Uncle Jack on Schnapp's behalf from his grammar school pay phone.

Add into the mix the fact that Jay Emmett was only related to Liebowitz because Liebowitz' half-sister had married Emmett's father, a man related to Ira Schnapp not by blood but by marriage, and we see just how distant Schnapp's relation to Liebowitz was. To spell it out, Ira Schnapp was the uncle (by marriage) of Jay Emmett; Jay Emmett was the blood nephew of Jack Liebowitz, and Emmett was related to Schnapp by marriage.

The Schnapp - Liebowitz family relationship, however distant, certainly didn't hurt Ira's chances of connecting with Jack Liebowitz, but theoretically, he could have used this "in" at any time. Why would he have waited until 1934? I, Robby Reed, creator of this blog and author of this article, believe I have found the missing link between Ira Schnapp's stone carving career and his entry into the world of pulp magazines... and that missing link is a man named Raymond Perry (pictured right).

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"From the Studio Window, Brooklyn" by Raymond Perry
Raymond Perry (1883-1960), born in Sterling, Illinois, was an artist who studied at the American Institute in Chicago and was a member of the American Watercolor Society. Perry did work for numerous magazines, including some published by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz.
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Perry was a good friend of Ira Schnapp's who had much in common with him: Both were artists, both were cultured gentlemen who enjoyed intelligent .conversation, both played cards frequently, and... both played the cello! (Pictured left is Perry with his cello, from Roy Thomas' Alter Ego magazine.) Ray Perry even painted Ira Schnapp's portrait in watercolor, a portrait that, according to Jack Adler, somehow ended up in a Cape Cod restaurant!

Ray Perry got into the advertising and magazine illustration game in the 1920s, while Schnapp was making silent movie intertitles, so it's quite possible that it was Ray Perry who encouraged an out-of-work Schnapp to give his distant relative, "famous big-shot" publisher Jack Liebowitz, a call.

Shown right is the front cover of New York World's Fair Comics #1 (a title that would soon be changed to World's Finest Comics). Raymond Perry drew the back cover of this particular comic, pictured below...
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.THE MAJOR

In 1935, a former WWI vet named Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson (pictured right), came to Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld in search of someone to distribute his recently-created "New Fun" title (cover shown left). This was the first comic book in history to feature all new humor and adventure .stories, many of which the Major wrote himself.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of the Superman strip that had been rejected repeatedly by the entire comic publishing industry, had sold several other stories to the Major, but unfortunately, they had yet to be paid for them. The Major may have been a decorated veteran, but an accountant he was not. His publishing company, Allied National Publishing, was in a financial shambles almost from day one.

Nevertheless, Harry and Jack agreed to distribute the Major's comics, perhaps with a plan in mind. Pictured below are several issues of the Major's first comic books, starting with 1935's "New Comics," which became "New Adventure Comics" in February 1937, and "Adventure Comics" in May 1937. As "Adventure," this comic would eventually feature Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl, and scores of other familiar characters.

NEW (ADVENTURE) COMICS - 1935
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NEW COMICS - DEC 1935 NEW ADVENTURE COMICS - JAN 1937 ADVENTURE COMICS - MAY 1937


MORE FUN COMICS - 1936
In May 1936, the Major started publishing "More Fun Comics," a collection of all-new stories from every genre. Ironically, this book would one day be the home of such totally "fun" superheroes as the Ghostly Guardian of undead vengeance himself, the Spectre! Note the extreme crudity of "More Fun's" premiere logo. It looks like it was drawn by hand with a magic marker in one minute. But on the book's next issue, the logo is suddenly straightened out, and matched with the familiar "COMICS" logo. Had a unifying presence named Ira Schnapp begun to work his design magic on the Major's fledgling line of comic books?
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DETECTIVE COMICS - 1937
In 1937, financial reverses caused by the Great Depression bankrupted the never-solvent Major Wheeler-Nicholson. Harry loaned him some money, then told him to relax and take an ocean cruise. He did -- and while he was away, Harry took the Major's "Allied National Publishing" to court for nonpayment, and subsequently acquired the entire company and all its assets. And so it was that Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, two Jewish immigrants who had arrived in America with little or nothing, went from being the publishers of pulp magazines to being comic book publishers. Their newest title: Detective Comics.
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Detective Comics #1, cover shown above left, was the first publication in history to feature all-new comic stories devoted to a single theme. The title proved to be so wildly successful that Jack and Harry adopted its name as their own, and "Allied National Publishing" became Detective Comics, Inc., or, for short, DC Comics.
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The cover of Detective's first issue was drawn by the title's editor, a man named Vincent A. Sullivan. Sullivan, also the editor of DC's More .Fun Comics, was currently on the lookout for fresh material to run in a new book still in the planning stages -- another single-theme title, this one to be called "Action Comics."

Sheldon Mayer, at this time an editor for both a newspaper syndicate and for DC, asked Vin Sullivan to take a look at a strip he had rescued out of a "slush pile" -- the name given to the towering pile of rejected submissions from would-be comic creators. The strip Shelly recommended to Vin -- with great enthusiasm -- was written and drawn by two teenagers from Cleveland, Ohio. Sullivan agreed to review the story, which starred a brand-new hero named "Superman." Sullivan began to read...
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Wow! At first glance, this "Superman" guy sure seemed, as Vin Sullivan put it (in the understatement of the century), "interesting," and "different." This evaluation was the complete antithesis of Siegel and Shuster's earlier rejections, which had called the character "ordinary" and "immature." Then, as Sullivan continued reading the story, he witnessed the most incredible and portentous moment in comic book history...
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VIN SULLIVAN'S LETTER TO
JOE SIEGEL AND JERRY SHUSTER:

"I have on hand several features you sent to Mr. Liebowitz in connection with the new magazine that is still in the embryonic stage [Action Comics]. The one that I like best... is 'Superman.' From the drawing I can readily see that Joe Shuster is the one who handled the pen and ink job. With all the work Joe is doing now, would it be possible for him to still turn out thirteen pages of this new feature?"

JERRY AND JOE'S ANSWER...

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IRA IN ACTION

In Superman, editor Vin Sullivan had a lead feature for Action Comics... now he needed a logo for the book. Comic logos up to this point in time had been crude, hand-scrawled affairs for the most part. In terms of quality, they ranged from the barely competent to the hideous.

None of the current comic logos could hold a candle to the classic pulp logos, and some of these had been created by a person located right in Vin's own building... DC and Trojan's offices were both located at 480 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan!

Vin Sullivan, himself a cartoonist of no small talent, had an eye for quality. Perhaps the obvious superiority of Trojan's pulp logos inspired him to go searching for the logo-maker who had done such good work for Harry and Jack, a man he may have known was a distant relative of Jack's who had been .associated with Trojan since 1934 -- our hero, the one and only IRA SCHNAPP!

Projected imaginary conversation:

Vin Sullivan: "Hello, Ira? This is Vin Sullivan, from upstairs -- with DC. Listen, would you be interested in creating a logo for our new title, Action Comics? Ira? ... Hello? Hello?"


(Buzzer on Sullivan's desk sounds.)

Secretary: "Mr. Sullivan, there's an Ira Schnapp waiting to see you. He wants to know if you're ready to look at some roughs of the 'Action Comics' logo!"
So, Schnapp went from Trojan Publications to DC Comics -- two divisions of a parent company owned by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz -- and was charged with designing a logo for DC's brand new title, "Action Comics." (Ira Schnapp is pictured below, right, in a watercolor portrait by Jack Adler. Schnapp was apparently right-handed --- I flopped Adler's portrait to make my fake "Visionary" cover.

.Reader, if you've ever designed a logo for your own purposes, you know how incredibly difficult it is. But if you're a graphics professional who's ever had to design a logo for someone else, for money, then you really know how difficult it is. Every client who ever commissioned a logo gave the following directions to the logo's designer:

"Make my logo great! Immortal! Make it big! Beautiful! Bold! And memorable! Make it flashy! But not too flashy. High-toned! Yet accessible. Large! But small. Make it amazing! Stupendous! Colossal! Hypnotic! Make it an irresistible encapsulation of every wonderful thing I ever dared to dream about or wanted to be! Make it the most fantastic thing anyone has ever seen since the beginning of time! Make it all things to all people, and -- most importantly -- make it by tomorrow!"

"Civilians" may laugh at such directions, but I know the graphic pros out there are asking, "What's so funny? All he did was repeat, verbatim, the exact directions I always get when I'm doing a new logo for someone!"

At any rate, Ira Schnapp must have been given something resembling these directions, and here's what happened next... Ira Schnapp sat down at his drawing table and did the impossible: He created a logo that actually WAS great, immortal, big, beautiful, bold and all the rest, and -- most importantly -- he probably made it in a single day. From the 1938 Action #1 Ashcan Edition, here's Schnapp's first version of the classic ACTION COMICS logo...
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Schnapp rendered the original, pre-publication ACTION logo (seen above), in solid black, which would mean that in practice, it would always have to be colored a solid color, with no outline. Let the pulps have their timid logos -- DC comic books believed in logos of bright, bold primary color, surrounded by a thick, black outline. And so, under the watchful eye of "Action" editor Vin Sullivan, Schnapp's brilliant logo made it to print totally intact, with only one small modification: the words ACTION and COMICS were both outlined, to make it easier to color the logo differently each issue, for maximum newsstand visibility.

Schnapp was relatively new to the field of fantasy fiction, and completely new to the world of comic books. His original design for the ACTION logo reveals a pulp designer's sensibilities and style. It also meshes perfectly with the pre-existing DC logos of the time. I don't know if Schnapp created either the "Adventure" or "Detective" logos. If he did design them, the ACTION logo can be seen as an extension and perfection of that style. If he did not, then the ACTION logo shows Schnapp's ability to adapt as a designer to an existing house style, even while subtly improving upon it. Schnapp's final design looked like this...
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And here's the original art for the cover of the first issue...
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IN THE BEGINNING...

Into a vast, black and empty void had come the Comic Book, spawn of M.C. Gaines...

Detective Comics, Inc., the illegitimate child of Wheeler-Nicholson, Donenfeld and Liebowitz, served as the fuse...

Superman, the creation of Siegel and Shuster, provided the explosive material...

and a LOGO for the ages, created by IRA SCHNAPP, caused the spark.

It all came together in a single, history-making comic book that is not simply a comic book, but THE comic book -- the single issue which introduced the concept of the superhero to the world, and in so doing, birthed the entire comic book industry. Here it is... the cover of Action Comics #1:
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Reader, please hold your breath and maintain a respectful silence, for you are about to witness the creation itself -- as the very first copies of Action Comics #1, featuring the debut of Superman, are placed on the racks of a newsstand in 1938. This moment is nothing less than sacred to all comic fans, for it is here, in this moment, that our beloved comic book industry is born...
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Look at the bottom of the picture, near the middle. There, in 1938, amidst the dozens of old magazines and pulps -- something new has been added to the racks. And something new has been added to the world. And because it has, the world will never be the same again.

Action Comics #1 hit the racks with a small tap, but that tap initiated a BIG BANG so intense it generated not just an industry, but an entire universe... the comic book universe! And there, at the very beginning, present at the very moment of creation itself, stood a young Jewish immigrant who had come from Austria to America seeking his destiny, and found it in the pages of a new art form. Ira Schnapp had arrived.



CLICK HERE TO READ "THE VISIONARY" PART THREE

SECRETS HIDDEN FOR SIX DECADES
ARE REVEALED AS THE GREATEST
LOGO EVER CREATED TAKES SHAPE!

You'll never forget...

"THE SECRET HISTORY
OF THE SUPER LOGO!"