Favorite Cover Artists Countdown # 9: Jim Steranko

Steranko is one of those guys that just took the way things were done and wrenched it all to hell. I love his distinctive style, and in some ways it seems strange that his amazing blend of pop art and surrealism inspired very few imitators… but I suppose it’s because he was such an artistic anomaly that others didn’t have the ability to draw or design like him without resorting to outright artistic theft. Surrealism, frankly, shouldn’t work in a sequential medium, but Steranko made it happen.

Favorite Cover Artist # 9: Jim Steranko

Some examples of the oddities that might be found within a given Steranko comic. I almost feel like I’m being immersed in the images, drawn into them.

Seriously. What the hell has Nick gotten himself into this time?

A nice big look at the original, so you can really see how Steranko created the above cover.

To me, this is one of those covers that defines an age. I love the feel of sexy adventure inherent in this image.

Jim would have been right at home designing classic movie openings for the James Bond films. I'd STILL love to see him make a large budget film and design the hell out of it himself. It may or may not be a good movie, but it would certainly have interesting visuals.

Two of the most imitated Steranko covers. I love the feeling of isolation in the Fury cover, and the sense of rage and power in the Hulk cover. I can remember reading the Hulk comic to shreds when I was a kid. Can’t remember where I picked up a copy. Probably a garage sale. I don’t remember the story being worthy of that cover, but it didn’t matter… I sat that cover on a bookcase where I could stare at it.

Another large sized repro of an original. I wish I could have been there when Jim was explaining what he wanted to do with this cover. Or maybe, by then, Stan and the others were just hanging back and letting Jim do what he wanted... figuring it would all work out in the end. I think it's comics like this that really helped Marvel maintain a mainstream / counter culture balance in the late 1960's.

Due to his higher altitude, the Angel is the first to notice some pervert is looking right up Marvel Girl's business.

Two more views of the man himself. The first is from one he was making his living as an escape artist, and then the second is from when he was making his living killing Russian spies and sleeping with Mongolian princesses. (Okay… I made up that second part, but he WAS an escape artist)

One of my all time favorite X-Men covers. The colors are what really bring this one together.

Nice to see Bucky doing the right thing for a change, and getting the hell out of the way. One of the things I really love about Steranko was his ability to freeze the action. He did it well on covers, and even better on interiors.

The top and bottom tiers really showcase Jim's ability to freeze moments, to illustrate a passage of time.

Another example of time passing through the panels. Bernie Kriegstein was THE master of this. Bernie did VERY few covers in his life, or else he'd definitely be on this list of favorite cover artists.

A look at a couple of covers and their originals. Again… simple designs with strong messages.

I don't know what they're fighting, but it sure is causing them to lean.

Classic Steranko in action.

I personally think the logo for this should read, "Captain Goddamn AMERICA!"

They’re not comic covers, but it’s worth pointing out that Jim did quite a number of covers for paperback novels. He’s a great fan of the pulp heroes, and his articles / books on the history of comics and the great pulp characters are quite good reads. He’s not only a historic artist for comics, he’s a comics historian.

Always try to end with a pretty girl. Although, I have to say that I think my favorite part of this cover isn't actually Shanna, but rather that monkey on the branch with an expression of, "Jesus. What the hell is going on NOW?"

Parts you’ve probably read in earlier posts:

The Disclaimer:

You might not see your favorite artist during this countdown. That’s okay. Don’t get mad. Some of MY favorite artists aren’t here. Hugo Pratt, Bernie Krigstein, Mike Wieringo… these guys (and others) are fantastic artists, but their covers just don’t strike me. Some people need sequential panels in order to have their art sing… and that’s okay. Furthermore, this list is subjective to my moods of the moment, so if you disagree with me, then rest assured that I probably disagree with me, too. That said, I welcome any and all comments as this list progresses over time.

THE FINE PRINT: (Why I’m doing this)

Recently, on a trip to a comic store, I was DISGUSTED by the overall lack of design on covers. Most covers were nothing more than two or three characters punching each other and snarling, the exact kind of design that I would have worked out when I was eight years old, and spat on by the time I was ten. So, why do such covers proliferate the shelves? One reason is for trade dressing… so that any cover can be put upon almost any trade compilation, which is one of the reasons behind the other Far Too Common cover design… that of the character or team standing at attention, looking tough, staring at the viewer. Fuck that. I’m lucky enough to work largely with editor Nate Cosby, who does very good work at hiring talented cover artists and creating covers that don’t piss me off, but in consideration of my other less lucky friends, and the industry as a whole, I’m going to spend the next few weeks counting down my own personal Top 40 Comic Book Cover Artists… the ones who got it right.

7 Comments

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7 Responses to Favorite Cover Artists Countdown # 9: Jim Steranko

  1. Jim Gray

    Great posting, thanks so much!!
    I bought every one of those comics off the newsstands, some of them only because of the Steranko cover.
    Oh, those wondrous days when either Steranko or Neal Adams did those brief stints on the X-Men!
    No one would argue that Steranko was a great figure drawing artist, but he sure knew how to make the most of his talent and imagination.
    He has admitted to being driven by the pulp sensibility, something that I’ve always loved.

  2. Funny you should mention that “Steranko lean” and Krigstein’s covers in the same article. I always used to wonder why all Steranko’s cover images had the figures at diagonal angles until I saw one of the cover-gallery pages in the Fantagraphics Krigstein biography and realized he did the same thing (diagonal axis) in a lot of his. More space! The line between right corner and left corner is the longest one on the page, longer than top-bottom or side-side, so the image has the most room to “speak”. Another little trick Steranko picked up from Krigstein…

  3. Paul Tobin

    I’m glad you brought up Steranko’s figure drawing. As you say, it often wasn’t his strong point… but his design sense and active imagination more than made up for that.

  4. Paul Tobin

    I actually hadn’t really connected the Krigstein / Steranko lean. Makes perfect sense. Thanks for learning me!

  5. Kirk G

    Ah, Steranko…. such memories…
    Once the hottest artist/creator… and very quickly became another of the tempermental escapees who left Marvel to get away from Stan.

    I would be interested in puchasing a book that featured only Steranko covers, like all the X-Men, Cap, and Sheild covers he did, plus any full page spreads, pin-ups or splash pages.

    Don’t you think it would sell? “Steranko Visions”

  6. Paul Tobin

    That really would be a great book. Hopefully lots of behind-the-scenes material… some history, etc.

  7. Steranko was kind enough to write some commentary on some of his most fanous covers for The Drawings of Steranko in the Homages section.

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