Alex Schomburg–Still Thrilling at 110!

May 10, 2015 by

Startling 39-09Born in Puerto Rico on May 10, 1905, Alex Schomburg moved to New York City in the early twenties to find work as a commercial artist. In 1925, Schomburg met publisher Hugo Gernsback, about a year before he launched the first specialized science-fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES.

After seeing some of Schomburg’s art, Gernsback asked the artist to contribute some interior illustrations to his electronic and science magazines. In late 1925, Schomburg illustrated his first magazine cover, the December 1925 issue of THE EXPERIMENTER. Decades later, during the Second World War, Alex Schomburg would produce about fifty covers for Gernsback’s RADIO CRAFT magazine.

During the 1930s, Schomburg began to freelance for pulp magazines, creating black-and-white interior art for POPULAR DETECTIVE, THRILLING ADVENTURES, POPULAR WESTERN, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and other pulps. He would paint his first science-fiction cover for the September 1939 issue of Ned Pine’s STARTLING STORIES. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that he became a regular cover artist for the science-fiction market. He was still contributing cover art to the science-fiction magazines of the early nineties.

Shortly after the appearance of his first science-fiction cover, Schomburg began to produce cover art for the comic book industry. His first covers were published by Timely Comics, the forerunner of Marvel Comics. Shortly thereafter, he began working for Ned Pines’ Standard Comics, the parent company of Better Publications and Nedor Publishing. He would produce about three hundred covers for Standard and two hundred for Timely/Marvel. His best remembered works are his covers for the Timely superheroes Captain America, the Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner.

In addition to his work for the pulp and comic book industry, Alex Schomburg also painted paperback covers for Ace and Popular Library, the hardbound Winston science-fiction juveniles, and most of the covers as well as interior art for Standard’s crossword puzzle and astrology magazines.

Startling Comics 48-01Alex Schomburg, whose career as an illustrator lasted for over seventy years, passed away on April 7, 1998, about a month shy of his 93rd birthday. He was a longtime and important contributor to Standard, the pulp and comic book publisher we’ll be saluting at PulpFest. He would have been 110 years old today and represents yet another reason to make 2015 a “Thrilling” year by attending PulpFest in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Our programming scheduled for August 13th through the 15th will feature presentations on Standard’s pulp detectives and western heroes, its pulp and comic book heroes, and Leo Margulies, the managing editor of the Standard pulp line, known as “The Little Giant of the Pulps.” We hope to see you in August. Click here to learn how to register for the convention.

(According to Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, “Alex Schomburg . . . 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.” In addition to his work for Timely/Marvel, Schomburg contributed substantially to Ned Pines’ Standard Magazines and Comics, including the September 1939 issue of STARTLING STORIES and the January 1948 issue of STARTLING COMICS. To learn more about Alex Schomburg and other pulp artists, please visit David Saunder’s Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists by clicking here.)

Science Fiction, the Marvel Way

May 18, 2014 by

Marvel Science Stories 38-08By the summer of 1938, the science-fiction genre seemed to be flourishing. Astounding was generating a good deal of excitement by helping readers to “. . . experience the new worlds that science might offer.” Thrilling Wonder Stories was nearing a peak, publishing action-adventure stories for kids. Ray Palmer was rapidly turning Amazing Stories around following years of struggle.

Martin Goodman, who would later be the publisher of Marvel Comics, debuted Marvel Science Stories in July. Very adept at spotting trends, Goodman would, “Let someone else risk their money experimenting with different types and genres of magazines . . . Once a winner emerged, Goodman would jump in with a knockoff. Or two. Or twelve . . . .”

Noticing the growing success of the science-fiction pulps, Goodman decided to launch his own. He acquired cover art from illustrator Norman Saunders and stories by journeymen such as Arthur J. Burks, Stanton A. Coblentz, and Henry Kuttner. Later issues would feature fiction by Eando Binder, David H. Keller, Harl Vincent, Jack Williamson, and others, and covers by Frank R. Paul and Wesso.

Not content with just one science-fiction pulp, Goodman released a second in early 1939—Dynamic Science Stories. Again using covers by Paul and Saunders, Dynamic published stories by Nelson Bond, L. Sprague de Camp, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert Moore Williams, and others. A third Goodman science-fiction title, Uncanny Stories, appeared in 1941.

Dynamic Science Stories 39-02For Goodman, “. . . success meant . . . jumping on a successful trend and pumping multiple similar titles . . . through the pipeline as fast as possible in order to rake in as much profit as possible . . . . If any one foundered below a certain profit threshold, it was scuttled without so much as a backward glance.” Thus, Uncanny Stories lasted but a single issue while two numbers of Dynamic Science Stories found their way to the racks. Marvel Science Stories ran for five issues before being added to Goodman’s Red Circle weird-menace line as Marvel Tales. After two shudder pulp issues, Goodman converted it back into a science-fiction magazine entitled Marvel Stories for two more issues, the last dated April 1941. He tried another Marvel pulp during the science-fiction boom of the early fifties, but only six issues appeared.

To learn more about the image used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.