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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy 110th Birthday Alex Schomburg!

Alex Schomburg 
born May 10, 1905 – died April 7, 1998

He was the preeminent World War II cover artist defining the look of all comic book covers of the time with his illustrations on most of Timely's (Marvel's) comics as well as many of Nedor's.

The great comic artist, Alex Schomburg created some of the most iconic covers of the Golden Age of comics like this 1942 cover of All Winners #7 with it's incredibly dynamic action of Timely's three main characters fighting the Japs.

According to Stan Lee, "Alex Schomburg was totally unique. I remember hearing Timely Comics publisher Martin Goodman tell me time and again how great a cover illustrator Alex was, and how he wished we had more like him. He was the only artist I knew able to combine strong, dramatic layouts, and exciting superhero action with a simplistic, almost cartoony style of execution. One could never be sure if Alex was an illustrator who approached his work like a cartoonist, or a cartoonist who chose to render his artwork like an illustrator. Despite the quantity of work we gave him, despite the care and effort that went into every Schomburg cover, I cannot remember Alex ever being late with any illustration. He was as reliable as he was talented."

Alex Schomburg started out illustrating covers for Timely (Marvel's old publishing name) in 1940 on books like Daring Mystery Comics, Mystic Comics and their leading title, Marvel Mystery Comics for Timely Comics, the early name for what would become Marvel Comics 
Alex'es first efforts were very competent but not very different from anything else that was being done by a dozen other artists at the time as seen here in Daring Mystery Comics #5, June 1940.

The damsel in distress was a very common theme in pulp magazine and comic covers of this time as seen here in Mystic Comics #1, Mar 1940.

Alex'es art of the time, as seen here in this Marvel Mystery Comics #6, April 1940, was really good but it hadn't yet developed into his full unique style that he would come to be fondly remembered for.
But by 1941 we begin to see some elements of what would become classic Alex Schomber.
In the first issue of the Sub Mariner (Mar 1941) we see a giant Sub-Mariner tipping over a boat full of Nazis. This gigantism would become one of the hallmarks of Schomburg’s mature style. 
In this cover of the Human Torch #5b, Fall 1941, we see Schomburg’s playful side with a cartoony Sub-Mariner riding in a fantastic machine while alien beings shoot at the Human Torch. This fun cartooniness would show up in varying degrees in Schomburg’s classic work. 
In 1942 we see work that is closer to classic Schomburg with it's all of it's energetic action but it hasn't quite reached his full mature style.
In Marvel Mystery Comics #43, July 1942, we see Schomburg's characteristic busy composition with our heroes happily destroying the enemy, though, unlike Schomburg's later work, they are in proportion with the enemy. 

In All Winners #7, Winter 1942, we see Schomburg's classic phase coming into full flower with it's incredibly busy composition of our cartoony heroes gleefully smashing horribly caricatured Japanese soldiers.  

This Human Torch cover from the winter of 1942 has all the hallmarks of a classic Schomburg cover with a giant Subby and Human Torch destroying Nazi subs and boats.
Schomburg would do some of his most memorable and iconic work in the coming war years, works like All Select Comics #1, Sep 1943, with the giant Cap, Subby and Torchy laying siege to a German castle. 
Roy Thomas would use this cover and others like it as inspiration for his 1970's series, the Invaders, where he retroactively created the World War II team of  heroes to fight the Nazis, including Cap, Subby, the Human Torch and side kicks.
We see Schomburg at his energetic best in covers like All Winners #10. Fall 1943.

The Human Torch joyfully destroys a Nazi blimp in this 1944 cover of Marvel Mystery Comics #40.

Schomburg would also illustrate many of Nedor's covers as well, covers like America's Best Comics, Exciting Comics and Wonder comics.
Schomburg adds his genius to Nedor's heroes in this America's Best Comics #5, Apr 1943.

This offbeat classic by Schomburg highlights his playful side by showing the Black Terror and Tim excitedly running over Japs with a steam roller. in Exciting Comics #35, Oct 1944.

Wonder Comics #1, May 1944, features the new offbeat hero of the Grimm Reaper who has just subdued a goofy Hitler and Hirohito
When the war came to an end, we were no longer fighting the Nazis and the Japs and so Schomburg had to switch his focus from destroying Nazis armies to something else. 

In All Select Comics #9, Sep 1945, instead of fighting Nazi hoards Schomburg has our heroes fights little alien midgets with large fangs instead. 

In Marvel Mystery Comics #69, Feb 1946, our heroes are fighting what look like some kind of colorful secret society of sadistic Neanderthals that gets off on public torture. 

In America's Best Comics #18, June 1946, our heroes interrupt what appear to be a ritualistic sacrifice ceremony of the KKK's queer, inbred cousins.
These are some of the more colorful post war covers that Schomburg produced. Some of the more tame covers are equally as fun for their mundane-ness.

In Exciting Comics #50, July 1946, the Black Terror invades the Duck-verse and foils the Beagle Boys robbery of one of Scrooge McDuck's vaults. 
Meanwhile, across town Cap calls in Subby's help in subduing some fur thieves who, judging by their masks, are part of the same outfit. 

Later, they track the racket all the way back to Canada where they were illegally trapping the furs to ship to the city? Unfortunately Bucky got snagged and has to be saved from the sled of death!
This was some great stuff in it's goofiness but even that wouldn't last. The post war readers tastes weren't interested in goofy bank robbers. They didn't want to see a bunch of goofy hoods getting their heads busted open. Their tastes were a little more provocative than that.

In Exciting Comics #53, Jan 1947, sexy Miss Masque, scourge of the underworld made her debut. 

She (and her legs) would become so popular that she would become it's main feature as seen here in America's Best Comics #25, Feb 1948. 

It seemed that America loved Miss Masque, but how they enjoyed her was another story as seen here in America's Best Comics #24, Dec 1947.
The markets were changing and so would Schomburg's art. He would start to do paintings of scantily clad, beautiful women for many of Nedor's covers.
Nedor changed the look of their covers to appeal to the market as seen here in Exciting Comics #61, May 1948

People wanted to see jungle girls running around in bathing suits as seen here in Exciting Comics #63, Sep 1948

Or scantily clad space girls in peril as seen here in Startling Comics #48, Sep 1947

In Startling Comics #49, Jan 1948, we see Schomburg take the damsel in distress motif to space, with this tied girl being taken away by a space robot. 
Schomburg left comics in the early 50's to do covers and illustrations for Science Fiction magazines but his legacy lives on. His World War II covers are the most iconic covers of the era. His work set the standard for the whole of the industry at the time. How many people can you say that about?

Stan Lee has said about him, “Alex Schomburg was to comic books what Norman Rockwell was to The Saturday Evening Post...When it came to illustrating covers, there simply was no one else in Alex's league."


1 comment:

  1. This is a very nice homage to Schomburg.

    By the way, I noticed you are a fan of Tanino Liberatore so you might enjoy checking out my blog:

    www.artbyarion.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete