'Captain America' movie rekindles interest in Schomburg

Alex Schomburg's cover art captured the fascination of young readers in the 1940s.

The upcoming summer release of Captain America: The First Avenger, a motion picture homage to the Marvel comic book hero of the 1940s and ’50s, is rekindling interest in one of the comic book cover artists who brought the character to life more than a half century ago.

Alex Schomburg, who designed hundreds of Marvel comic book covers during the medium’s heyday in the World War II era, moved from New York City to Spokane, Wash., in 1954 and, eight years later, relocated to Newberg, Ore. He remained in the suburban Portland, Ore., area until his death in 1998.

He is best remembered for his depictions of heroes Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner single-handedly defeating German and Japanese soldiers and assuring the American public that the forces of evil will not prevail.

Even after moving to Oregon, Schomburg remained active as an artist, recreating some of his comic book covers into paintings that were sold to collectible dealers. He continued to create art into his 80s, and he was known to guest lecture at George Fox University, the Christian college bordering his property. George Fox purchased his home, located at 608 N. Meridian St., in Newberg, after his death and today uses it to house undergraduate students.

A widely publicized quote from Stan Lee, former president and chairman of Marvel Comics, speaks to Schomburg’s impact: “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.”

One of Schomburg’s most popular subject matters, Captain America, will be on the big screen this summer with the release of Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. The film, scheduled for a July 22 release, stars Chris Evans as the sickly young man who is transformed into the super-soldier title character to assist the U.S. war effort against Nazi Germany.

During comics’ height in the 1940s, Schomburg created more than 300 covers, all of which were birthed by his own imagination. Later, Schomberg’s talents graced the covers of science fiction publications, including more than 50 covers for Hugo Gernsback’s Radio Craft magazine. Gernsback, along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, is popularly considered “The Father of Science Fiction.”

Schomburg House on the George Fox Newberg Campus Today, his former Newberg residence serves as housing for undergraduate students at George Fox.

In the 1960s, Schomburg had the opportunity to work for six weeks in New York with director Stanley Kubrick as he developed the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Schomburg would regale us with anecdotes of meeting and knowing Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and many of the notable ‘founding fathers’ of the ’40s and ’50s pulp era,” recalls former George Fox English professor Ed Higgins, who hosted Schomburg as a guest in his science fiction class in the 1970s and ’80s. “I remember him as being very unassuming – dressed in a cardigan sweater like Mr. Rogers – and I honestly never knew he was so widely known as an illustrator. His dust jacket and paperback covers were done for some of the most well-known science fiction writers of the ’40s through the ’70s.”

In his lifetime, Schomburg won every major award for science fiction art, as well as comic book art, from a Lifetime Achievement Award (accepted for him by Susan Schomburg) at the 1989 Hugo Awards to the Inkpot, to the first Doc Smith Lensman Award in 1978 and the Frank R. Paul Award in 1984. He was inducted posthumously into the Eisner Award Hall of Fame at the 1999 Comic-Con International.  

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