Jim Steranko

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

James Steranko (born 5 November, 1938, Reading, Pennsylvania, United States) is an American graphic artist, comic book writer-artist-historian, publisher, and movie-storyboard illustrator.

His most famous comic-book work was with the 1960s superspy series "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 and op art into the medium. His work has been published in many countries and his influence on the field has remained strong since his comics heyday. Marvel has published several trade paperback editions of his work, including Marvel Visionaries: Jim Steranko (2002; ISBN 0785109447).

Early life and career

As a youth, Steranko made a living as an illusionist, escape artist, magician, and musician.

He entered the comics industry through editor Joe Simon at Harvey Comics, where Steranko created the characters Spyman, Magicmaster and the Gladiator for the company's short-lived superhero line. 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 Comics editor Stan Lee. Lee, impressed with Steranko's work, assigned him the "Nick Fury" feature in Strange Tales, a "split book" shared each issue with another feature.Template:Fn

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

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.

Initially penciling "finishes" over Kirby's layouts, Steranko soon took over full penciling and in short order was writing and coloring the feature as well. "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." soon became one of the creative zeniths of the Silver Age. Streranko introduced or popularized in comics such art movements of the day as psychedelia and op art; built on Kirby's longstanding work in photo montage; 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 creating his own version of Bond girls, essentially, dressed in skintight leather or green hair with matching eyeshadow and accessory whip — well pushing what was allowable under the Comics Code at the time.

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, repleat 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 dropped the book. Decades afterward, however, their images are among comics' best known, and homages to his art have abounded — from recreations of classic covers with different heroes in place of Fury, to the Krusty the Klown parody "Krusty, Agent Of K.L.O.W.N." in Simpsons Comics #3 (March 1994).

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. Steranko also dabbled with a horror story and a romance story before ending regular work in the comics industry.

During the early 1970s he returned as a regular cover artist for Marvel, and has from time to time contributed individual pages or covers to various comics projects.

Publisher and paperback-artist

Steranko was unable to produce comics work that met his own standards at a pace sufficient to sustain himself economically. As well, he felt constrained by the Comics Code Authority, which frequently ordered changes to tone down the sensuality of his work. Seeking work illustrating book covers, he compiled a porfolio 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, distritubted to elementary schools nationwide. In 1970 and 1972, Steranko self-published two popular, tabloid-sized volumes in a planned multivolume history of the American comics industry, though no further editions have appeared.

Panel from Chandler: Red Tide. Frank Miller would use similar art techniques in Sin City.

Through Supergraphics he also published the magazine Comixscene (retitled Mediascene and finally Prevue), which began as an oversized newsprint periodical reporting on the comics field, and 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.

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. Steranko is also drew a comic-book adaptation of the 1981 film Outland, serialized in Heavy Metal magazine.

Steranko's youthful career as an escape artist was an inspiration for the Jack Kirby character Mister Miracle (see Quotes, below), as well as for Joe Kavalier in the Michael Chabon novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The lighthearted spy movie If Looks Could Kill (1991) features Roger Rees as the villain, Augustus Steranko.


Steven Ringgenberg, Betty Pages Magazine #4 (Spring 1989) [1]: "Steranko's Marvel work became a benchmark of '60s pop culture, combining the traditional comic book art styles of Wallace Wood and Jack Kirby with the surrealism of Richard Powers and Salvador Dali. 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, 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."

Mark Evanier (Screenwriter, Jack Kirby biographer, and Kirby's assistant during the Fourth World comics) [2]: "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."

Michael Chabon (Author, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the early days of comics, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay [3]: "I would never have written Kavalier and Clay without [Jim Steranko's] History of Comics. It is the standard history. When I first read it in 1970 was when I discovered that comics had a history...I was mind blown by [Steranko's] body of work. The October 1995 Comic Book Marketplace issue has a detailed account of Steranko as a performing escape artist. Up until I read that, I had heard it but never knew how seriously to take that."

Bibliography: Comic books

Chronological order. Artwork for Marvel Comics unless otherwise noted.

File:Hulk Special 01.jpg
The Incredible Hulk King-Size Special #1 (Oct. 1968): Cover art by Jim Steranko
Serialized Outland movie adaptation

Comic-book cover gallery

Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Bibliography: Author

  • Steranko on cards (Ireland Magic Co., 1960)
  • The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1 (Supergraphics, 1970; also wraparound cover)
  • The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 2 (Supergraphics, 1972; also wraparound cover)
  • Chandler: Red Tide (Byron Preiss Visual Publications/Pyramid Books, (1976); Dark Horse reissue, 2001; ISBN 156971438X)
  • Unseen Shadows: 50 Cover Concept Illustrations (Supergraphics, 1978)
  • Hypertype: Creating Expressive Typography For Entertainment Media (2005, ISBN 188759177X)


Books about

  • Steranko: Graphic Narrative by Philip Fry & Ted Poulos; introduction and illustrations by Jim Steranko (Winnipeg Art Gallery exhibit publication, 1978)
  • Steranko Arte Noir by Jim Steranko, J. David Spurlock, Angel de la Calle (Vanguard Productions, 2001).
  • Visual Theory: The Steranko Archives, Volume 1

Book covers

This list is incomplete

Pyramid Books

The Shadow (reprints of pulp-magazine stories)
By Maxwell Grant (pseudonym of Walter Gibson)

  • The Shadow #1: The Living Shadow (1974) ISBN 0515035971
  • The Shadow #2: The Black Master (1974) ISBN 0515034789
  • The Shadow #3: The Mobsmen on the Spot (1974) ISBN 0515035548
  • The Shadow #4: Hands in the Dark (1974)
  • The Shadow #5: Double Z (1975)
  • The Shadow #6: The Crime Cult (1975) ISBN 0515036994
  • The Shadow #9: The Romanoff Jewels (1975) ISBN 0515038776
  • The Shadow #10: The Silent Seven (1975) ISBN 0515039667
  • The Shadow #11: Kings of Crime
  • The Shadow #12: Shadowed Millions (1976, ISBN 0515039683; also Jove reprint)
  • The Shadow #13: Green Eyes (1977) ISBN 0515042056
  • The Shadow #14: The Creeping Death (1977) ISBN 0515042064
  • The Shadow #16: The Shadow's Shadow (1977) ISBN 515042781
  • The Shadow #17: Fingers Of Death (1977) ISBN 051504279X
  • The Shadow #18: Murder Trail (1977) ISBN 0515042803
  • The Shadow #19: Zemba (1977) ISBN 0515042854
  • The Shadow #20: Charg, Monster ISBN 0515042846
  • The Shadow #21: The Wealth Seeker (1978) ISBN 0515042838
  • The Shadow #22: The Silent Death
  • The Shadow #23: The Death Giver


  • Prisoners of the Sky by C. C. MacApp (pseudonym of Carroll M. Capps) (1969; science fiction)
  • G-8 and His Battle Aces #1: The Bat Staffel by Robert J. Hogan (1970; World War I)
  • G-8 and His Battle Aces: Ace of the White Death by Robert J. Hogan (1970)
  • G-8 and His Battle Aces: Purple Aces by Robert J. Hogan (1970)
  • Master Of The Dark Gate by John Jakes (1970) ISBN 0447751130
  • Kelwin by Neal Barrett, Jr.(1970)
  • Lord of Blood by Dave Van Arnam (1970; sword-and-sorcery)
  • The Mighty Swordsmen, Hans Stefan Santesson, ed. (1970)
  • The Mighty Barbarians: Great Sword and Sorcery Heroes, Hans Stefan Santesson, ed.
  • The Shores Of Tomorrow by David Mason (1971; science fiction)
  • Infinity Two by Robert Hoskins (1971; science fiction)
  • The Masters of the Pit a.k.a. Barbarians of Mars by Michael Moorcock (1971; science fiction)
  • The Further Adventures of Erik John Stark: The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett (1974; sword-and-sorcery) ISBN 0345318277
  • The Further Adventures of Erik John Stark 2: The Hounds Of Skaith by Leigh Brackett (1974) ISBN ISBN 0345242300
  • The Further Adventures of Erik John Stark 3: The Reavers of Skaith by Leigh Brackett (1976) ISBN 0345244389
  • Police Your Planet by Lester Del Rey with Erik van Lhin (1975; [[science fiction)) ISBN 0345244656
  • Weird Heroes Volume 1 (1975; pulp-inspired anthology) ISBN 051503746X
  • Norgil the Magician by Maxwell Grant (pseudonym of Walter Gibson) (1977 reprints of pulp magazine stories) ISBN 089296006X
  • Norgil: More Tales of Prestigitection by Maxwell Grant (1979 reprints of pulp magazine stories) ISBN 0892960426
  • Tomorrow I Die by Mickey Spillane (1984) ISBN 0892960612
  • The Revenge of the Hound: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel by Michael Hardwick (1987; mystery) ISBN 0394556534
  • Palladium Books Presents: Mystic China by Erick Wujcik (1995) ISBN 0916211770
  • Wild Cards XVI: Deuces Down, ed. by George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass (2002)
  • Visual Storytelling: The Art and Technique by Tony C. Caputo; introduction by Harlan Ellison (2003) ISBN 0823003175
  • Compliments of the Domino Lady by Lars Anderson (2004 reprints of pulp-magazine stories) ISBN 0971224668
  • Domino Lady: The Complete Collection by Lars Anderson (2004) ISBN 1887591699
  • Domino Lady: The Complete Collection Deluxe by Lars Anderson (2004; signed limited edition) ISBN 1887591702

Dates Unknown

  • Why Isn't a Nice Girl Like You Married? or How to Get Most Out of Life While You're Single by Rebecca Greer (self-help)
  • Fletcher by Jack Bickham (Western)
  • Wildcat O'Shea: A Stranger Named O'Shea by Jeff Clinton (Western)
  • Wildcat O'Shea: Wildcat's Claim To Fame by Jeff Clinton


  • Template:Fnb Staff writer and future editor-in-chief Roy Thomas gave his account of Steranko's arrival at Marvel in Alter Ego #50, July 2005: "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 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 ways in which the Kirby style could be mutated, and many artists went off increasingly in their own directions after that."


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