Thursday, August 03, 2006

Number 5
COVERING IT: Classic covers of Golden Age Comic Books, Part 1 Alex Schomburg

Alex Schomburg was a much sought after artist for various publishers in the comics industry during the forties. His artwork on the cover of a Golden Age probably sold more comic books than books with anyone else's artwork. In the case of Schomburg, you can judge a book by its cover, since the comic inside has little value without the cover!

In 1963 I bought a copy of All Select Comics #1. I bought it sight unseen through the mail. In those days no one published reproductions of covers, unless it was to trace them off on stencils for a spirit duplicator. Xerox machines were very uncommon, and photo-offset printing of a fanzine with something as eclectic as old covers would have been prohibitively expensive. So I had never seen the book and didn't know what I was in for when I opened the package.

For full-size image click here.

I was floored by the cover. I was in awe of the drawing, the activity going on, the giant figures of the super heroes. However, awesome turned to awful when I looked at the contents, which as I remember were a hurried and amateurish looking comic shop job. By the time this came out in the summer of 1943 all of the great artists were in the Army, I'm sure. I sold the book a year later for $4.75. Ouch.

A couple of years later I was in Berchtesgaden and visited what was called "Hitler's Tea Room," for lunch. I thought about this cover, wondering what the Germans around me would have thought if they'd seen it.

Schomburg gave equal time to the Japanese. The Timely superheroes were equal opportunity. They bashed everybody! While the Germans were depicted as stock caucasians, Japanese on the covers of comics fared poorly when depicted by any artist, not just Schomburg. They were usually so horribly caricatured that it's almost embarrassing now to look at them. Asians in general took a beating in comic book and comic strip art. They were either jug-eared, buck-toothed and goofy, or monkey-like in appearance. Racism against Asian races was rampant in America, and reared its head again during both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

For a full-size image click here.

I'm presenting this cover as an historical piece, not as any kind of agreement with its depictions of Japanese. And this was one of the milder Schomburg covers when it came to Japanese stereotypes.

Alex Schomburg was heavily in demand and did covers for several publishers. His drawing board must've been full of jobs during those war years. He usually did variations on a theme: some sort of sinister equipment, sometimes marked (Nipponese Earth-Boring Machine or some such nonsense), or as with the covers above, with swastika or Rising Sun prominent, and the heroes of that particular comic book publisher beating the snot out of the enemy. This was wartime with millions of men and women in uniform. Publishers just followed the trends and printed what at the time was morale-building and patriotic, and we should look at them as Americans did 60+ years ago, and not as how they look to us now.

Of the two covers, All Select #1 has to be one of my all-time favorite comic book covers by anyone, and I'm sure this issue flew off the stands when it appeared in 1943. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide describes it as "Classic Schomburg cover," and that would be a classic understatement.

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