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THE VISIONARY - PART 9 of 10
THE IRA SCHNAPP STORY!

IRA SCHNAPP -- the man who designed most of DC's Golden and Silver Age logos and almost all of the company's house ads for three decades -- was born on October 10, 1895, in the small, rural village of Sassow. As shown on the map below, this village, once Polish territory, is now located in the Ukraine, but at the time of Schnapp's birth, Sassow was part of Austria.
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Schnapp's birthplace, Sassow, was originally part of an area known as Galicia, which was created out of Polish territories ceded to Austria in 1773. There had been virtually no Jews in Austria, but when Galicia was annexed by Austria, its 170,000 Jews .suddenly came under Austrian rule. Now, for the first time, the Austrian population included a significant number of Jews -- including, perhaps, Ira Schnapp’s great grandparents.

Amazingly, the grandfather of cosmologist Carl Sagan was also born in the tiny village of .Sassow, located along the Bug River. Since there were no bridges or ferryboats, and horses were scarce, Sagan's grandfather used to make money by carrying people across the Bug River -- on his back!

Several industries in Galicia were run almost entirely by Jews, including flour-mills, alcohol distilleries, small oil refineries, sawmills, brick-yards, and plants producing celluloid. (Ira Schnapp’s ancestors may have worked in either brick or celluloid, passing down a family business that gave young Ira early exposure to stone carving and creating film titles -- two crafts he would later master.)

Austria imposed harsh new restrictions on Galicia’s Jews. Jewish artisans were forbidden to work for Christians, and Jewish traders .were outlawed from selling products controlled by Austrian state monopolies. Exorbitant new taxes were levied on Jews, including poll and marriage taxes. In 1810, it was decreed that no Jews could marry unless they passed a complex religious examination based on German catechism.

Austria’s Ant i-Semitic decrees lasted until 1848. By then, about half of Galicia’s Jews had been forced into poverty -- so it seems almost certain that Schnapp’s grandparents (if they lived in Sassow at this time) led difficult and challenging lives.

.Galician Jews were granted equal rights in 1867, but their situation took a turn for the worse in 1881, when Russian Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by anarchists. His son shifted blame to the Jews, and launched a series of brutal pogrums that wiped out entire Jewish villages. (In February 1919, in Proskurov, Ukraine, 1,600 Jews were killed in just four hours. Fortunately for the comic book industry, one son of Proskurov -- DC Comics co-founder Jack Liebowitz, pictured right -- had escaped to America in 1910.)

Schnapp’s parents came of age at this time -- living in fear of the growing Anti-Semitism sweeping eastern Europe, but bravely deciding to marry and start a family anyway. According to the 1910 U.S. Census (an amazing document unearthed by DIAL B for BLOG reader Matt Tauber), Schnapp's parents' names were Sadie and Max Schnapp. Max and Sadie had three sons: Jacob (born in 1888), Samuel (1890), and Joseph (1893).

OCTOBER 10, 1895

Max and Sadie's fourth son -- ISRAEL SCHNAPP, was born on October 10, 1895. That's right, reader, census documents show that "Ira" was born with the name "Israel" and, following in the footsteps of Jacob Kurtzberg, who changed his name to Jack Kirby, and Stanley Lieber, who became Stan Lee, "Israel" changed his name first to "Irving," then finally, legally, to "Ira."

What sort of life did little Israel Schnapp have, growing up in Sassow, on the banks of the Bug River, with his parents and his four older brothers? The Bug, or Buh River, flows from central Ukraine to the west, forming part of the boundary between Ukraine and Poland. The river meanders through a wide valley with gently sloping sides.
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Israel Schnapp spent his first five years of life growing up near the Bug River -- his family left Sassow for America about 1900. And no matter where a Jew grew up in the old world, his life was dictated to a great extent by the ancient rituals of Judaism. These include daily prayers, as well as certain ways of eating, dressing, and behaving. Work stops every Friday night as Jews gather around Sabbath tables. All stores and workshops are closed on Saturdays. Religious schooling, which begins at age three, teaches children the Torah and basic Hebrew, as well as history and geography.

If either bricks or celluloid were Schnapp family businesses, young Ira would also have been taught the basics of these trades from an early age. According to an old Hebrew saying, “A man is obligated to teach his son a trade. The man who does not teach his son a trade teaches .him to become a robber.”

When -- and WHY -- did the Schnapp family leave Sassow for America? Did something happen in Sassow at the turn of the century that might have driven Schnapp’s family from their native land? The answer, without question, is yes. During the years 1900-1914, Judaism in Galicia faced a life-threatening crisis. Across the continent, anti-Semitism was on the rise -- in France, the Dreyfus case; in rural Russia, whole Jewish villages wiped out; and elsewhere, the forging of the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," supposed proof of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world.

Years of persecution and exclusion had already driven most Galician Jews into poverty, and continued prejudice meant that opportunities for advancement were non-existent. As the Jewish economy sunk into a deep depression, virtually ALL Galician Jews were forced to leave their homeland, or starve. Where did they go? Where else! To the new world -- to America!

In the years 1881-1910, the United States naturalized more than three million immigrants from Austrian lands. 281,150 of them were Jews, and the main source of .Austrian emigrants was Galicia. Carl Sagan’s grandfather emigrated from Sassow to New York in 1904.
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All together, an astounding 236,504 Jews left the province of Galicia in the years 1881-1910. Among them, for certain, was young Israel Schnapp, his parents Max and Sadie, and his three brothers. Israel was about five years old at the time he came to America. Quite an adventure for a young boy!

In America, by 1910, Max Schnapp and his oldest son, Jacob, were running a grocery. Samuel struck out on his own to become a hat salesman, while Joseph's occupation (if he had one, other than sweeping up at the family grocery) is unknown. As covered previously, young Israel, at the ripe old age of 15, got a job carving the name "New York Public Library" in stone. Had Schnapp's first primitive linework been done on signs advertising the "Specials of the Day" in the family grocery? It's more than likely!

According to census documents, Schnapp married a woman named Beatrice in 1919, and the couple took up residence at 1510 Boston Road in the Bronx, New York. They would later relocate to 1455 Sheridan Avenue in the Bronx, an apartment building near a large park.

Israel and Beatrice's first child, a boy named Martin, was born in 1923. Their second child, a girl named Theresa, was born in 1930. (It is unknown if these children are still alive today. If so, they would be 83 and 76, respectively.) Schnapp's work in the thirties as a creator of silent movie titles and lobby cards was covered earlier in this ten-part series. It was during this period that "Israel" Schnapp changed his name first to "Irving," then to "Ira."

After WWII ended with Hitler’s defeat, the territory formerly known as Galicia was divided between Ukraine and Poland. Today, Schnapp’s native village of Sassow is part of the Ukraine. In 1934, the Jewish population of Sassow was 1,150. Today, the TOTAL population of the village is between 1,000 and 5,000 -- none of which are Jews. This was Nazi Germany's deadly legacy.

Ira Schnapp was 47 years old when America entered WWII in 1942, and although he spent the duration of the war working for DC comics in Manhattan, we know that, like any good (naturalized) American male citizen, Schnapp registered for the draft in 1941. We know this because, incredibly, a copy of Ira Schnapp's actual draft card has been discovered! This amazing find, a gold mine of information on Schnapp, was contributed by DIAL B for BLOG reader Bob Rivard, and is pictured below...
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But wait! Before we dig in to this treasure trove -- how do we know for certain that this is the card of "our" Ira Schnapp? Is there any way we can compare the handwriting to a sample of writing known to be done by Schnapp? Again, the answer is YES -- and that sample can be found in the most fitting place imaginable! It's on the cover of the first issue of Superman to feature Schnapp's newly-refined Super-logo -- Superman #6 (Sept 1940):
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Take a close look at the "Clark Kent" signature on the cover, enhanced version pictured above. When it's compared with the handwriting on the Schnapp draft registration card, particularly the curly-topped, upper case letter "C" (comparison shown right), it becomes clear that the same person wrote both these items, and that the name of that person is... Ira Schnapp!

Also, as shown below, Schnapp initially used what must have been the original German spelling of his last name, SCHNAPT, then altered it to the "Americanized" version by making the "T" into a "P." He also initially using the Polish spelling of his birthplace's name, SASOW, then added a second "S" to make it SASSOW...
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Besides revealing Schnapp's birthplace and age, this card also gives us Schnapp's address at the time -- he had moved to 515 West 110th St., in the borough of Manhattan, in the neighborhood of Morningside Heights. Long thought to be a DC staffer, Schnapp lists himself here as "self-employed" (at least in 1942), and he also maintained an office at 442 West 42nd Street. Between the two were the Trojan Pulp/DC Comic offices at 480 Lexington Avenue. Here's a map of Manhattan that lays it all out, courtesy of Google Earth:
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Schnapp's draft card says the "person who will always know his address" is George Iger. Could this have been a relative a Jerry Iger, former partner of Spirit creator Will Eisner? I don't know. (Anyone got any clues?) Here's the neighborhood Schnapp lived in, Morningside Heights, again courtesy of Google Earth.
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.And finally, on the right is Schnapp's West Side apartment building, 515 West 110th Street aka the Dartmouth and St. Albans, located between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, in Morningside Heights.

In the old days, Morningside Heights, like many New York neighborhoods, was an ethnic enclave -- predominantly Jewish. Despite its proximity to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, this area became a gathering place for Jews who had come to America to escape persecution -- such as Ira Schnapp and his family. The area's ethnic makeup, plus its proximity to the Hudson River, which probably reminded Schnapp of his boyhood on the Bug River in Austria, made this apartment building in Morningside Heights the perfect home for Schnapp.

Morningside Heights would later become the home of a thriving writers community. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in this neighborhood while writing "This Side of Paradise," and beat Generation icon Jack Kerouac once lived here while attending nearby Columbia University. Science-fiction great Isaac Asimov also went to Columbia, as did Herman Wouk and Paul Robeson.

Speaking of writers, let's get back to the writing on Schnapp's draft registration card. Seeing that writing gave me a great idea -- why not use that sample of Ira Schnapp's handwriting to psycho-analyze his personality? I took Schnapp's draft card to a professional handwriting analyst, but discovered there simply wasn't enough handwriting on the card to accurately analyze Schnapp's personality. Undaunted, I -- Robby Reed, creator of this blog and author of this article -- set out to get a more complete sample of Schnapp's handwriting. And, predictably enough, I, Robby Reed, found what I was looking for!
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.Early in his career, artist John Romita (pictured left in 1967), long associated with Marvel's Spider-Man, worked for DC, collaborating with Ira Schnapp on a series of romance stories about a nurse!

“I drew some Bob Kanigher romance stories," Romita recalls, "Young Love and Young Romance. All the captions were done longhand, as if out of the nurse's diary. I did the longhand, and Ira Schnapp, the letterer, would follow my lettering on it. I used to letter every word in pencil and outline every caption and every balloon. In fact, after a while, I was in such a hurry that I used to outline the balloons in ink, and Ira would fit the copy over my pencil copy inside the balloons. So I would put pointers on balloons and caption outlines in the story and then ink them, and Ira would letter them after I had finished the inking.”

Below are some panels from the "Private Diary of Mary Robin, R.N." series (Young Love #51, December 1965), drawn by John Romita and lettered by Ira Schnapp...
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.And so, armed with a substantial amount of Ira Schnapp's handwriting, I returned to my handwriting expert, who was now satisfied that I had provided him with a sample that could yield an accurate analysis of Ira Schnapp's personality.

Ira Schnapp had escaped from Eastern European persecution as a child, come to America as a stone-carver, and ended up as his chosen industry's top designer. What sort of man had been formed from this complex maelstrom of European upheaval, ancient Jewish traditions and American opportunity? I told the handwriting analyst nothing at all of Schnapp's life, not even his sex or name.

I presented the analyst with handwriting samples taken from Ira Schnapp's draft card and hand-lettered romance comic books. I warned the analyst that the sample was inked over someone else's pencil, but he assured me this would not invalidate the accuracy of his analysis, because it is impossible for a person to disguise or submerge the unique aspects of their own style when writing lengthy passages. Even if you're "tracing" someone else's writing, your own style will soon show through.

Below is my handwriting analyst's report on the sample of Ira Schnapp's handwriting I gave him, presented here word for word, in its entirety (emphasis added by me):
"Although tryin g to determine a person’s sex from a writing sample is generally not advisable, I feel quite confident in saying that this handwriting sample came from a man, and that the dominant characteristics of this man are his towering strength, rock-solid steadiness, and total dependability.

He is robust and vibrant, an honest man of even temper -- a master planner, a perfectionist who is completely dedicated to getting every detail correct. He radiates strength, certainty, and old-school confidence. He is an unreconstructed traditionalist, and there is not the slightest trace of conflict in his soul.

In terms of a profession, the subject’s fluid, well-formed letters show him to have an artistic nature, and the rhythm and formation of his writing indicates musical talent, but at the same time, he is also a decent businessman who understands the value of money. He is a very proud man who could be expected to regard both himself and any job he undertakes -- regardless of what that work may be -- with the utmost seriousness. He is likely to get along famously with his co-workers, because he is completely unpretentious and not given to holding grudges of any kind. In short, he is an ideal employee.

In terms of relationships, the subject’s writing style shows him to be a thoroughly masculine individual who deplores “games” and petty romantic conflicts. His motto in love might well be “no fluff wanted,” as he himself is completely honest and straightforward, and not one for duplicitous romantic entanglements.

To sum it up, the subject is a strong, proud man who is an artistic perfectionist of rock-sold dependability. Any organization fortunate enough to entice this man into joining would benefit immensely from his quiet strength and considerable talents."
.Wow! What a guy! And it all seems to fit. We've seen Schnapp's abundant graphical talents, and as far as musical talent goes -- he also played the cello!

But how does the rest of my handwriting analyst's highly flattering portrait of Ira Schnapp match up with what little information we have about the man from those who knew and worked with him?

The caricature of Ira Schnapp pictured right, from Inferior Five #6 by Bridwell, Sekowsky and Esposito, certainly portrays Schnapp as an unreconstructed traditionalist who regards his job with the utmost seriousness!

Is there any evidence Schnapp was a strong man? Neal Adams said Schnapp "was never sick a day in his life."

Writer Marv Wolfman interned at DC way back in the late 1960s, when he met Schnapp as a teenager. "I don't remember much," Wolfman says, "but I do recall that Ira was a very nice man -- kind."

Joel Pollack, owner of Big Planet Comics, met Schnapp when he was just a child. "One of my aunts, a woman I love named Kitty Goldberg, lived in Manhattan,” Pollack recalls. His aunt Kitty had a dear friend who worked at the offices of DC Comics -- none other than Ira Schnapp. Pollack, too, remembers Schnapp as "an extremely nice man."
And so, it all comes down to this: A young boy from a family who left their native country to escape persecution and find a better life in the United States rose to the top of his chosen profession by virtue of his rock-solid dependability and unique talents, and in so doing became the kind of man who made America great. This, The Ira Schnapp Story, is also the story of America itself -- for it could only have happened in America.

Reader, have you ever heard someone try to stop a trivial argument by saying "In 100 years we'll all be gone and forgotten"? I hope no one ever tried that line on young Ira Schnapp! Schnapp was born on October 10, 1895. Tomorrow is Schnapp's 111th birthday! More than 100 years have gone by, and Ira Schnapp is still -- as never before -- discussed and debated, imitated and celebrated... anything but forgotten!


CLICK HERE TO READ "THE VISIONARY" PART TEN

THE MIND-BLOWING CONCLUSION!
MORE BLURB-TACULAR HOUSE ADS!
THE FINAL FATE OF IRA SCHNAPP!


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"The BIG FALL!"