NorthEast ComicCon & Collectibles Extravaganza is pleased to announce the appearance of Marvel Comics legend, artist and creator Jim Steranko at the Cabin Fever edition of the show March 13-15, 2020 at the Boxboro Regency Hotel. Jim will be meeting fans, telling stories and signing autographs, along with offering posters, prints and original art for sale.
Mr. Steranko has cut a ferocious path through the entertainment arts, with a dozen successful careers to his credit: author, magician, illustrator, escape artist, historian. He is cited as one of the prime architects of Marvel Comics and the co-creator of NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. He also wrote and drew CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE HULK, SUPERMAN, and THE X-MEN (for which he designed the classic title logo).
As a musician, he gigged with Bill Haley in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll; as a pop-culture icon, he has appeared at more than 400 international events and exhibited his work worldwide, including at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC and the Louvre in Paris; and his two volumes of THE HISTORY OF COMICS have sold more than 100,000 copies each. As an escape artist, his death-defying performances inspired the character Mister Miracle and, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, he was the man upon which the protagonist of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & KLAY was based; and more—photographer, ad agency art director, sideshow fire-eater, male model, typographer, designer…the list goes on.
As a filmmaker, he collaborated with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas—for whom he created the look of Indiana Jones—and Francis Ford Coppola on some of their most popular films. He served as Creative Consultant for the History Channel’s two-hour documentary COMIC-BOOK SUPERHEROES—UNMASKED; shook up Twitter with his innovative TNT technique (visit his live Sunday-night sessions by typing in iamsteranko); and is currently prepping AN EVENING WITH STERANKO for theatrical venues across the country.
His dozen CAPTAIN AMERICA variants topped Marvel sales charts; the IDW SHIELD ARTIST’S EDITION sold out before publication (and won an Eisner Award); and his 2017 OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE—with his Batman cover—had record-breaking sales. His covers for ACTION 1000, CAPTAIN AMERICA 700, and DETECTIVE 1000 set high sales records. Recent polls cite Steranko as the 5th Most Influential Comics Artist in the history of the form. And he’s still the best-dressed man in comics.
Jim Steranko 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, pop 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 went on to create book covers, become a comics historian who published a pioneering two-volume history of the birth and early years of comic books, and to create conceptual art and character designs for films including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
He was inducted into the comic-book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.
Steranko had begun 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, as well as the characters of Walt Disney and Superman, provided in “boxes of comics” brought to him by an uncle. Radio programs, Saturday movie matinées and serials, and other popular culture also influenced him.
Steranko in 1978 described some influences and their impact on his creative philosophy “Early influences were Chester Gould’s [comic strip] Dick Tracy (not particularly in my drawing style but in subject matter and an approach to drama), Hal Foster’s Prince Valient.”
By his own account, Steranko 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.
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. 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. 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 and Steranko, who played a Jazzmaster guitar, often performed in the same local venues, sometimes on the same bill, and became friendly with Haley guitarist Frank Beecher, who became a musical influence. By the late 1960s, Steranko was a member of a New York City magicians’ group, the Witchdoctor’s Club.
Comics historian Mark Evanier notes that the influential comic-book creator Jack Kirby, who “based some of his characters … on people in his life or in the news”, was “inspired” to create the escape artist character Mister Miracle “by an earlier career of writer-artist Jim Steranko.”
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 cans”. Interested in writing and drawing for comic books, he visited DC Comics as a fan and was treated to a tour of the office by editor Julius Schwartz, who gave Steranko a copy of a script featuring the science-fiction adventurer Adam Strange. Steranko recalled in 2003, “It was the first full script I’d ever seen, complete with panel descriptions and dialogue. I learned a lot from it and eventually went on to create a few comics of my own.”
He initially entered the comics industry in 1957, not long out of high school, working for a short time inking pencil art by Vince Colletta and Matt Baker in Colletta’s New York City studio before returning to Reading. In 1966, he landed assignments at Harvey Comics under editor Joe Simon, who as one writer described was “trying to create a line of super heroes within a publishing company that had specialized in anthropomorphic animals.” Here Steranko created and wrote the characters Spyman, Magicmaster and the Gladiator for the company’s short-lived superhero line, Harvey Thriller. His first published comics art came in Spyman #1 (Sept. 1966), for which he wrote the 20-page story “The Birth of a Hero” and penciled the first page, which included a diagram of a robotic hand that was reprinted as an inset on artist George Tuska‘s cover.
Steranko also approached Marvel Comics in 1966. He met with editor Stan Lee, who had Steranko ink a two-page Jack Kirby sample of typical art for the superspy feature “Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.“. This led to Lee’s assigning him the Nick Fury feature in Strange Tales, a “split book” that shared each issue with another feature. Future Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, then a staff writer, later recalled in an interview. “[H]e came up to the office … 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, … 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.” Steranko self-published that original sample artwork in 1970 in the limited-edition “Steranko Portfolio One”; it appeared again 30 years later in slightly altered form in the 2000 trade-paperback collection Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Lee and Kirby had initiated the 12-page “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feature in Strange Tales #135 (Aug. 1965), with Kirby 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 many fellow new Marvel artists did at the time. Two issues later, Steranko took over full penciling and also began drawing the every-other-issue “Nick Fury” cover art. Then, in a rarity for comics artists, he took over the series’ writing with #155 (April 1967), following Roy Thomas, who had succeeded Lee. In another break with custom, he himself, rather than a Marvel staff artist, had become the series’ uncredited colorist by that issue.
“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. wrote Les Daniels, in his Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, “[E]ven the dullest of readers could sense that something new was happening. … With 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”. Writer-artist Larry Hama, in an introduction to Nick Fury collection, said Steranko “combined the figurative dynamism of Jack Kirby with modern design concepts”, and re-costumed 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.”
Steranko introduced or popularized in comics such art movements of the day as psychedelia and op art, drawing specifically on the “aesthetic of [Salvador] Dalí,” with inspiration from Richard M. Powers, ultimately synthesizing a style he termed “Zap Art.” A.M. Viturtia notes Steranko drew on the James Bond novels, and claims that the influence went both ways: “Although Steranko was primarily influenced by spy movies, after Nick Fury came on the comics scene, the directors of those same movies began to borrow heavily from Steranko himself!” He absorbed, adapted and built upon the groundbreaking work of Jack Kirby, both in the use of photomontage (particularly for cityscapes), and in the use of full- and double-page-spreads. Indeed, in Strange Tales #167 (Jan. 1968), Steranko created comics’ first four-page spread, upon which panorama he or editor Lee bombastically noted, “to get the full effect, of course, requires a second ish [copy of the issue] placed side-by-side, but we think you’ll find it to be well worth the price to have the wildest action scene ever in the history of comics!” All the while, Steranko spun outlandishly action-filled plots of intrigue, barely sublimated sensuality, and a cool-jazz hi-fi hipness.
Writer Steven Ringgenberg assessed that “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 … 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 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.
Steranko also had short runs on X-Men (#50–51, Nov.–Dec. 1968), for which he designed a new cover logo, and Captain America (#110–111, 113, Feb.–March, May 1969). Steranko introduced the Madame Hydra character in his brief Captain America run. Steranko went on to write and draw a horror story that precipitated a breakup with Marvel. Though that seven-page tale, “At the Stroke of Midnight”, published in Tower of Shadows #1 (Sept. 1969) would 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 and elsewhere, Lee disliked or did not understand the homage to horror author H. P. Lovecraft, and devised his own title for the story which caused Steranko and Marvel to part ways for a while.
Steranko returned briefly to Marvel, contributing a romance story (“My Heart Broke in Hollywood”, Our Love Story #5, Feb. 1970) and becoming the cover artist for 15 comics beginning with Doc Savage #2–3, Shanna the She-Devil #1–2, and Supernatural Thrillers #1–2 (each successively cover-dated Dec. 1972 and Feb. 1973), and ending with the reprint comic Nick Fury and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (April 1973).
In 1973, Steranko became founding editor of Marvel’s official fan magazine, FOOM, which superseded the two previous official fan clubs, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and Marvelmania. Steranko served as editor and also produced the covers for the magazine’s inaugural four issues before being succeeded editorially by Tony Isabella. He had previously been associated with Marvelmania, producing two of the club’s 12 posters.
Steranko then branched into other areas of publishing, including most notably book-cover illustration. Lacking any experience as a painter, his decision to effectively quit comics in 1969 led him to “an artist friend who earned his living as a painter”, from whom Steranko obtained an “hour-long lecture”, and the suggestion that he work in acrylics rather than oils, for the sake of speed. From these inauspicious beginnings, he compiled a portfolio of half a dozen paintings (“two Westerns, two pin-up girls, two gothic horror and one sword-and-sorcery” and met with Lancer Books’ art director Howard Winters, to whom he immediately sold his fantasy piece. 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 six-volume history of the American comics industry, though no subsequent volumes have appeared. Written by Steranko, with hundreds of black-and-white cover reproductions as well as a complete reprint of one The Spirit story 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.
Steranko wrote, drew, and produced the illustrated novel Chandler: Red Tide in 1976, for Byron Preiss Visual Publications / Pyramid Books. Aside from occasional covers and pinup illustrations, he has rarely worked in comics since, although he did illustrate a serialized comics adaptation of the Peter Hyams 1981 sci-fi thriller Outland for Heavy Metal magazine. His only major work for DC Comics appeared in Superman #400 (Oct. 1984), the 10-page story “The Exile at the Edge of Eternity,” which he wrote, drew, colored and lettered. In 2008, he worked with Radical Comics, doing covers, character and logo designs for its Hercules: The Thracian Wars title and Ryder on the Storm. In 2012, he did poster art for RZG Comics and a variant cover for DC’s Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1. Steranko drew the 1970s variant cover for Action Comics #1000 (June 2018).
For the movie industry, Steranko has done sketches for movie posters, and was a conceptual artist on Steven Spielberg‘s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), doing production designs for the film and designing the character of Indiana Jones. He also served in a similar capacity as “project conceptualist” on Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and wrote the episode “The Ties That Bind” of the DC Comics animated TV series Justice League Unlimited.
Keeping the price reasonable and cost effective for fans and collectors, Jim will be signing attendees books and prints for only $20, although it will be $30 to have him sign for a CGC or CBCS Verified Signatures services witness which are be managed by a third party vendor and costs an added fee.
Admission is low, parking is free and children 10 and under get in free with supervising adult.
For more info: www.NEComicCons.com
Marvel Comics Legend Jim Steranko at NorthEast ComicCon March 13-15, 2020