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Science Fiction & Fantasy => Comic Book Creators => Topic started by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:34:56 pm

Title: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:34:56 pm
Continuing my series on the best artists in comics...

Jim Steranko


The Incredible Hulk King-Size Special #1 (Oct. 1968). Cover art by Steranko; head redrawn by Marie Severin.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:36:46 pm
James Steranko (born 5 November 1938, Reading, Pennsylvania, United States) is an American graphic artist, comic book writer-artist-historian, publisher, and film production illustrator. His most famous comic-book work was with the 1960s superspy feature "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." in Marvel Comics' Strange Tales and in the subsequent eponymous series. Steranko earned lasting acclaim for his innovations in sequential art during the Silver Age of comic books, particularly his infusion of surrealism, op art, and graphic design into the medium. His work has been published in many countries and his influence on the field has remained strong since his comics heyday. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:37:52 pm

Captain America #111 (March 1969): Steranko's signature surrealism. Inking by Joe Sinnott.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:39:11 pm
According to his authorized biography, Jim Steranko's grandparents emigrated from the Ukraine to settle in the anthracite coal-ming region of eastern Pennsylvania. Steranko's father, one of nine siblings, began working in the mines at age 10, and as an adult became a tinsmith. Steranko's early childhood, during the American Great Depression, was spent in a three-room house with a tar-paper roof and outhouse toilet facilities. He slept on a couch in the nominal living room until he was more than 10 years old.[1] Steranko's father and five uncles showed musical inclination, performing in a band that played on Reading radio in the 1930s, Steranko has said.[2]

Steranko began drawing while very young, opening and flattening envelopes from the mail to use as sketch paper. Despite his father's denigration of Steranko's artistic talent and the boy's ambition to become an architect, Steranko paid for his art supplies by collecting discarded soda bottles for the bottle deposit and bundled old newspapers to sell to scrap-paper dealers. He studied the Sunday comic strip art of Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, and Chester Gould. Radio programs, Saturday movie matinées and serials, and other popular culture of the time also influenced him.[3]

He learned stage magic using paraphernalia from his father's stage magician act, and in his teens spent several summers working with circuses and carnivals, working his way up to sideshow performer as a fire-eater and in acts involving a bed of nails and sleight-of-hand. At school, he competed on the gymnastics team, on the rings and parallel bars, and later took up boxing and, under swordmaster Dan Phillips in New York City, fencing.[4]

Up through his early 20s, Steranko performed as an illusionist, escape artist, close-up magician in nightclubs, and musician, having played in drum and bugle corps in his teens before forming his own bands during the early days of rock and roll.[5] Steranko, whose first band, in 1956, was called The Lancers, did not perform under his own name, claiming he used pseudonyms to help protect himself from enemies[6] He also claims to have put the first go-go girls onstage. The seminal rock and roll group Bill Haley and his Comets was based in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Steranko, who played a Jazzmaster guitar, often performed in the same same local venues, sometimes on the same bill, and became friendly with Haley guitarist Frank Beecher, who became a musical influence.

During the day, Steranko made his living as an artist for a printing company in his hometown of Reading, designing and drawing pamphlets and flyers for local dance clubs and the like. He moved on after five years to join an advertising agency, where he designed ads and drew products ranging from baby carriages to beer

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:40:03 pm

Steranko's first published comic-book art: Inset of George Tuska cover, Harvey Comics' Spyman #1 (Sept. 1966)

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:41:27 pm
Breaking into comics

After first attempting to find work at Marvel Comics in 1965, Steranko entered the comics industry the following year through editor Joe Simon at Harvey Comics, where Steranko created or helped create the characters Spyman, Magicmaster and the Gladiator for the company's short-lived superhero line, Harvey Thriller. Shortly afterward, he showed his "Secret Agent X" proposal to Paramount Television's animation unit in New York City (nothing became of it), and met with Marvel editor Stan Lee. Steranko inked a two-page Jack Kirby sample of typical "Nick Fury" scenes (first published in 1970 by Supergraphics in the extremely limited edition "Steranko Portfolio One" and then again thirty years later in slightly altered form in the 2000 trade-paperback collection Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.; see "Collected works", below), leading to Lee's assigning him the "Nick Fury" feature in Strange Tales, a "split book" shared each issue with another feature.

Future Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, then a staff writer, recalled Steranko's arrival at Marvel:

“ I met Jim [in 1965]; he brought his work up to Marvel then, I think, but it wasn't considered quite pro quality yet. The next year ... he came up to the office again — I presume he had an appointment — and I was sent out by Sol [Brodsky] to look at his work and basically brush him off. Stan was busy and didn't want to be bothered that day. But when I saw Jim's work, which was even better than what I'd seen the previous year, on an impulse I took it in to Sol and said, "I think Stan should see this". Sol agreed, and took it in to Stan. Stan brought Steranko into his office, and Jim left with the 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' assignment. ... I think Jim's legacy to Marvel was demonstrating that there were ways in which the Kirby style could be mutated, and many artists went off increasingly in their own directions after that

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:42:46 pm

A rare quiet moment for Nick Fury: Strange Tales #168 (May 1968). Art by Steranko and Joe Sinnott.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:43:48 pm
Silver Age Steranko

The 12-page "Fury" strip was initially by Lee and Jack Kirby, with the latter supplying such inventive and enduring gadgets and hardware as the Helicarrier — an airborne aircraft carrier — as well as LMDs (Life Model Decoys) and even automobile airbags. Marvel's all-purpose terrorist organization HYDRA was introduced here as well.

Steranko began his stint on the feature by penciling and inking "finishes" over Kirby layouts in Strange Tales #151 (Dec. 1966), just as fellow new Marvel artist John Buscema had done on the feature previously. Steranko began drawing the every-other-issue "Nick Fury" cover art two issues later, and, in a rarity for comics artists, took over the series' writing with #155. He additionally became the uncredited colorist along the way.

"Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." soon became one of the creative zeniths of the Silver Age, and one of comics' most groundbreaking, innovative and acclaimed features. Ron Goulart, in his Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, wrote, "[E]ven the dullest of readers could sense that something new was happening. ... Which each passing issue Steranko's efforts became more and more innovative. Entire pages would be devoted to photocollages of drawings [that] ignored panel boundaries and instead worked together on planes of depth. The first pages ... became incredible production numbers similar in design to the San Francisco rock concert poster of the period".[11]

Steranko introduced or popularized in comics such art movements of the day as psychedelia and op art; built on Kirby's longstanding work in photomontage; and in Strange Tales #167 (Jan. 1968), created comics' first four-page spread — again inspired by Kirby, who in the Golden Age had pioneered the first full-page and double-page spreads. All the while, Steranko spun outlandishly action-filled plots of intrigue, barely sublimated sensuality, and a cool-jazz hi-fi hipness. And he created his own version of Bond girls, pushing what was allowable under the Comics Code at the time.[12]

Steranko "combined the figurative dynamism of Jack Kirby with modern design concepts", wrote Larry Hama. When Steranko took over the series, he recostumed Fury from suits and ties to "a form-fitting bodysuit with numerous zippers and pockets, like a Wally Wood spacesuit revamped by Pierre Cardin. The women were clad in form-fitting black leather a la Emma Peel in the Avengers TV show. The graphic influences of Peter Max, Op Art and Andy Warhol were embedded into the design of the pages — and the pages were designed as a whole, not just as a series of panels. All this, executed in a crisp, hard-edged style, seething with drama and anatomical tension".

Fury's adventures continued in his own series, for which Steranko contributed four much-reprinted 20-page stories: "Who is Scorpio?" (issue #1); "So Shall Ye Reap...Death" (#2), inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest; "Dark Moon Rise, Hell Hound Kill" (#3), a Hound of the Baskervilles homage, replete with a Peter Cushing manqué; and the spy-fi sequel "What Ever Happened to Scorpio?" (#5). Yet after deadline pressures forced a fill-in "origin" story by another team in issue #4, Steranko did a handful of additional covers only, then dropped the book. Decades afterward, however, their images are among comics' best known, and homages to his art have abounded — from updates of classic covers with different heroes in place of Fury, to recreations of famous pages and layouts. (See "Homages", below.)

Steranko also had short runs on Captain America (three issues out of four, missing a deadline that required Kirby to draw an issue over a weekend) and X-Men, for which he designed a new cover logo. Steranko also dabbled with a romance story, as well as a horror story — "At the Stroke of Midnight", published in Tower of Shadows #1 (Sept. 1969) — that precipitated a breakup with Marvel. Though that seven-page story would go on to win a 1969 Alley Award, editor Lee, who had already rejected Steranko's cover for that issue, clashed with Steranko over panel design, dialog, and the story title, initially "The Lurking Fear at Shadow House". According to Steranko at a 2006 panel[14] and elsewhere, Lee disliked or did not understand the homage to horror author H.P. Lovecraft, and devised his own title for the story. After much conflict, Steranko either quit or was fired. Lee phoned him about a month later, after the two had cooled down, and Steranko would return as a cover artist for Marvel from 1972-73 and also created a new fan club magazine (FOOM) for Marvel which he produced in its first year.

Steranko gradually withdrew from comics between 1969 and 1974. Projects such as the history of comics and his own publishing efforts took up more and more of his time.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:45:19 pm

Steranko's Bond girl-like Contessa Valentina Allegra di Fontaine, from same issue as above left.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:46:43 pm
Publisher and paperback-artist

Writing, penciling, inking and coloring his own work, Steranko was unable to meet the monthly publication deadlines of the comics business of the time. He gravitated away from monthly comics toward covers and special projects. Never thinking of himself exclusively as working in comics, he branched into multiple other areas of publishing. He compiled a portfolio of acrylic paintings and met with Lancer Books art director Howard Winters, to whom he immediately sold a fantasy painting from among his samples. This led to a career illustrating dozens of paperback covers, popularly including those of Pyramid Books' reissues of the 1930s pulp novels of The Shadow.

Steranko also formed his own publishing company, Supergraphics, in 1969, and the following year worked with writer-entrepreneur Byron Preiss on an anti-drug comic book, The Block, distributed to elementary schools nationwide. In 1970 and 1972, Supergraphics published two tabloid-sized volumes entitled The Steranko History of Comics, a planned multivolume history of the American comics industry, though no further editions have appeared. Written by Steranko, with hundreds of black-and-white cover reproductions as well as a complete reprint of one story of The Spirit by Will Eisner, it included some of the first and in some cases only interviews with numerous creators from the 1930s and 1940s Golden Age of Comic Books.

Through Supergraphics he also published the magazine Comixscene (retitled Mediascene and finally Prevue), which began as a folded-tabloid periodical on stiff, non-glossy paper, reporting on the comics field. It evolved in stages into a general-interest, standard format, popular culture magazine. It ran from 1972 through 1994, and in its later years was criticized for doing double duty as a catalog for Steranko's retailing business, particularly its erotica. In 1973, Steranko became founding editor of Marvel's official fan magazine, FOOM, serving for four issues before being succeeded by Tony Isabella.[15]

Occasionally returning to narrative forms, Steranko wrote, drew, and produced the illustrated novel Chandler: Red Tide (1976), published by Byron Preiss Visual Publications/Pyramid Books as part of its "Fiction Illustrated" series.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:47:42 pm

The artist-historian's wraparound covers on the two-volume Steranko History of Comics

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:48:47 pm

Unpublished splash-page pencils, Wraitheart #4: Writer Frank Lovece and artist Hector Gomez's homage to Steranko's Nick Fury #6 cover.

Title: Re: Jim Steranko
Post by: Psycho on July 27, 2007, 11:51:22 pm
Film work

For the movie industry, Steranko was the conceptual artist on Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, designing both the look of the film and the character of Indiana Jones. He also served as project conceptualist on Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula and wrote the episode "The Ties That Bind" of the DC Comics animated TV series Justice League Unlimited. Brad Bird has stated that Steranko's work was his main comic-book influence on Pixar's The Incredibles.[citation needed]

Steranko also drew a comic-book adaptation of the 1981 film Outland, serialized in Heavy Metal magazine. The lighthearted spy movie If Looks Could Kill (1991) features Roger Rees as the villain, Augustus Steranko.


Steven Ringgenberg: "Steranko's Marvel work became a benchmark of '60s pop culture, combining the traditional comic book art styles of Wally Wood and Jack Kirby with the surrealism of Richard Powers and Salvador Dalí. Steeped in cinematic techniques picked up from that medium's masters, Jim synthesized a style he christened 'Zap Art' — an approach different from anything being done in mainstream comics, though it did include one standard attraction: lots of females in skintight, sexy costumes. Countess Valentina (Val) Allegro De Fontaine (sic) made her debut in Strange Tales #159 (Aug. 1967) by flooring Nick Fury during a training session, proving that she could take care of herself! She looked like a character who had just stepped out of a James Bond poster".[19]

Mark Evanier: "Jack based some of his characters (not all) on people in his life or in the news.... Big Barda's roots are not in doubt. The visual came about shortly after songstress Lainie Kazan posed for Playboy...and the characterization between Scott 'Mr. Miracle' Free and Barda was based largely — though with tongue in cheek — on the interplay betwixt Jack and his wife Roz. Of course, the whole 'escape artist' theme was inspired by an earlier career of writer-artist Jim Steranko".


The Silk Stocking Killer art print featuring Steranko's private eye character Chandler. Frank Miller would use similar patterned shading in Sin City.