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Steranko’s First?

Here’s a mystery.


001Chandler

What is the first published comic that Jim Steranko drew?

Strange Tales #155 is the first story Steranko wrote and drew. #154 is the first story he drew and plotted with scripting assistance by Roy Thomas. #151 is the first story he “finished” (a combination of tightening Kirby’s pencil roughs, which varied in degree of roughness, and inking them), but there is a cluster of comics Steranko worked on just before his more famous Marvel work.

It was for Joe Simon’s Harvey Thriller line that a young Jim Steranko created a mini-superhero universe. By “create” I mean he conceived characters and drew full-page introductory title cards.

003DDA

Did Steranko draw any of these stories? Well… that’s where the mystery begins. The official history is that “Simon rejected his offer to draw any of the series, instead confining him to writing the scripts.[1]

002DDA

According to the Grand Comics Database there is one story in issue #1 of Double-Dare Adventures, “The Legend of the Glowing Gladiator,” that at one point was credited to Steranko. The database has since been corrected by “Manny Lunch”. Now the story is credited to Red Skull co-creator Eddie Herron and penciller Bob Powell .

I’m not interested in making the case that these two men did not work on the story. In the multiple-hands assembly line of comics production, I don’t doubt that these seasoned professionals did their part. The case I’m making is that this work bears the indelible mark of one Jim Steranko, and is the first published comic book story he wrote and drew.

Let’s look at some side-by-side comparisons of “The Legend of the Glowing Gladiator” and some bona fide Steranko images. Note the signature motifs, techniques and compositional strategies.

004

Left: Strange Tales #160, Right: Double-Dare Adventures (DDA) #1. Case closed, right?

005X-Men

Left: X-Men #50, Right: DDA #1. Collage-style panel composition and standing on the bottom panel horizon line. Steranko popularized superhero badassery: using whatever technique is necessary to make the characters look as cool as possible.

006Jets

Top: Nick Fury #2, Bottom: DDA #1. Steranko jet. Steranko jet?

007Cap

Left and Right: DDA #1, Center: Captain America #111. Weapons fetishism.

008ST 

009Cap

010ST

From Strange Tales, Captain America and DDA. All-out action, standing on horizon lines, motion blur, dynamic anatomy, open panels borders, all hallmarks of the Steranko style.

011Cap

Left: DDA #1, Center: Captain America #111, Right: DDA #1. Tilted head, atmospheric lighting, cocksure hero, twisted legs.

012ST

Left: DDA #1, Right: Strange Tales #162. Same attitude, same body language, same hair.

013Cap

Top: DDA #1, Bottom: Captain America #110. Into the fray. Note the contortions of the figures as they’re knocked down like tenpins.

014Cap Left: DDA #1, Right: Captain America #110. Signature snakelike running pose torsion.

015ST

Left: DDA #1, Right: Strange Tales #162. The face, the pose, the hair, the hard-bent knee.

016ST

017ST

Left: Strange Tales #157, Right: DDA # 1. Those wild Steranko hands, those hunched shoulders. The display of power.

018ST

Left, Right, and Bottom: various Strange Tales, Top Center: DDA #1. I thought I’d be able to find an exact match for that center image, but these aren’t too far off.  It’s a uniquely Steranko-nian exaggerated perspective. Kirby’s doesn’t look like this. Colan’s doesn’t. Steranko exaggerates perspective in his own idiosyncratic way.

019STLeft: Strange Tales #159, Right DDA # 1: The Steranko smirk.

I recently met Steranko at a convention appearance and asked him about this story. He claimed no involvement beyond designing the character and writing the story. Why would Steranko disavow a comic that at least to my eyes is clearly his?

Maybe he didn’t draw it. In researching this article I poured over the work of Bob Powell and found that he and Steranko have quite a bit in common. They share a transcendent anatomical awkwardness (in their drawing) and an inventiveness in their problem-solving. They both have a taste for clock and skull motifs and Dali-esque imaginary landscapes. In the stew of Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Will Eisner and Lou Fine, Bob Powell is obviously one of Steranko’s influences.

Steranko has a meticulously-curated, small-by-comics-standards, body of work. To have it marred by an early work, one that was possibly abandoned and taken up by other hands might be too much for the artist to bear.

By all accounts he is a perfectionist. As an artist myself, I’m painfully aware of these issues. If Steranko drew this story and wants it to remain buried, perhaps it should stay buried…but this is a story that should be shared, read and enjoyed. Beyond its historical significance as the first published work by one of the major figures in comic books, it’s a damned fine reading experience in its own right. Most of Steranko’s stories are around 10 pages long. At 15 pages, this is a massive chunk of his comics output.

Who is the guy who removed Steranko’s credit from the GCD? Who is Manny Lunch? Urban Dictionary defines “Manny Lunch” as “when you take a work lunch that goes well beyond the usual hour allotment.” Maybe Steranko left Simon Studios for lunch and never came back?

As a fan I find Steranko’s comics to be a rare and precious delicacy. They’re few in number and go for a premium price. Their pleasures can be difficult to extract, but are deeply nourishing. When I found this comic last month, I drank of it deeply, savoring this rollicking adventure from the man who created Indiana Jones.[2]


[1] Illustrated Fiction Vol. 3 Chandler by Steranko

[2] Steranko just created the look of the character, but Indiana Jones is a cipher. The visual is the character.


16 Responses to Steranko’s First?

  1. Jaz says:

    I’ve happened upon Steranko presentation pieces for the much-maligned Harvey Thriller line, like this one:
    https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-UY-HSIm7tjA/TWqma7ZKHNI/AAAAAAAADzg/nT0rEF3aIVo/s640/portfoliosteranko09.jpg

    Can’t help but wonder if the same fans who’ve spent decades mocking the execution of these books might have knocked out by a version with greater Steranko involvement? [The drawing of the mechanical hand in the above link gets used in every issue of SPYMAN, however.]

  2. Tom Scioli says:

    Patrick, that is an incredible document.

  3. patrick ford says:

    Tom, After Simon passed away a large number of items from his collections began being offered through Heritage Auctions. These items include letters, old scripts, invoices, and all sorts of other business related papers like the MAINLINE stock certificate above the Steranko letter.
    There are also an amazingly large number of pages written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby, which Simon had kept. Among those pages are the original art for Kirby’s 20 page MOTHER DELILAH story.
    These auctions are ongoing so keep an eye out and it’s likely more items from Simon’s collections will continue to show up.

  4. Ed Piskor says:

    That Mesmero design and the design of the Gladiator villain, Destiny, are very similar too.

  5. Manny Lunch is a knickname used by Manny Maris. There is earlier work done in comics by Steranko. Apparently he did some inking work for Vince Colletta in the late 1950′s. Steranko also did a comic strip for his high school newspaper called HOUDINI.

  6. All of the Presentation pieces done for Harvey comics can be seen here: http://www.thedrawingsofsteranko.com/harvey.html

  7. Andrew Squigman says:

    The figures in “The Legend of the Glowing Gladiator” look generally pretty good to me whereas the figures in most early Steranko comics, including here, look wonky. However, there’s way too much similarity (although reversing the image) in several of the examples to be coincidental. I think we’re looking at Steranko swiping Powell. Powell was a fifty year old pro at this time and died shortly after in 1967. His work was solid if not particularly flashy. Steranko added plenty of “chicken fat.” Powell’s work also seems stagy and undynamic to me but Steranko took a lot of cues from Kirby (like forced perspective) which made his work seem more exciting. You note that Powell and Steranko had “quite a bit in common.” Powell was finishing his career and Steranko was starting his. Who was cribbing from who?

  8. Tom Scioli says:

    I’d love to see that Houdini comic strip.

  9. Compare the Presentation pieces to the Bob Powell art. Don’t you think that if Steranko did the art in Double Dare Adventures it would look more like the presentation pieces than the art of Bob Powell?

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  11. I buy your argument, Tom. The bottom-border eye level is particularly strong evidence. As for his wonkier anatomy at Marvel, surely he was told by Stan Lee to Kirby it up — go extreme in body perspective and in posing. With his less cartoony approach to form than Kirby, this results in the tight-silk-bag-of-snakes effect.

    Also, his pencils were tighter by then, and didn’t need to be pulled back into Powell’s style for consistency’s sake, if he was assisting Powell on GG.

    That arm-length of little shields — he used that repeatedly in his career. Did Woody Strode have something like that on in Spartacus?

  12. mannylunch says:

    I am Mannylunch (for the person above who was asking: Where DID you get that bizarre definition of my tag? *) better known as Manny Maris (Emanuel Maris). I tend not to ‘hide’ on the web – I assume the ‘alphabet soup agency’ fascists already have nano-bots residing in my colon; may they feast splendidly and die!

    I have just recently seen a book project I initiated published, Jeffrey Jones The Definitive Reference. The elders among you might see my name having popped up here and there at various points in the decades; for instance, in the masthead of Monster Times and Steranko’s Comixscene, and some comic convention programs, all from the early 70s. I’ve had a good acquaintanceship with Jim Steranko for over four decades [I hate the use of the word friend, although I can say that great good man Jim IS a friend to me]

    Just prior to making the edits at the GCD, I spent a long phone conversation with him on several subjects, at least an hour of the call concentrating on what he did, and did NOT, do in the Harvey books. Armed with the results of questioning him on what was sitting at GCD previously, I submitted the alterations.
    For example, if I remember correctly, he WROTE/created the Gladiator story/character, and did the logo art, but he didn’t draw the story. He MAY have had some story roughs [he did want to do the art as well] but either time or money [Harvey was cheap], OR editorial/publisher decisions, were factors.

    In any event, I’l be forwarding this page link to him, and either he or I (after he gets back to me anew) will weigh in with any corrections, here and at GCD, if I miswrote. Savvy?

    ( * the story/definition behind the tag MannyLunch is: I owned a legendary – if I say so myself – little record store in NYC called Lunch For Your Ears in the 80s-early 90s, so Manny + Lunch = MannyLunch)

  13. Scott Grammel says:

    Those presentation pieces would certainly be more compelling evidence if they didn’t seem to exhibit at least three pretty distinct levels of overall ability along with correspondingly varied and accomplished stylistic qualities. The clear progression in Steranko’s abilities as displayed in that run on Nick Fury in Strange Tales, from pretty minimally crude beginnings, also would seem to argue against the most accomplished, more Powell-like pieces having been done solely by Steranko prior to that time. Possible, I guess, but certainly curious.

  14. Steranko had the following to say about Joe Simon yesterday on Twitter:

    ‘I had to fight to get paid for characters I created & wrote for him. He kept my presentation art without paying me, and later sold the material and kept the $$$. I once offered to pencil a series starring one of my characters and, in his infinite wisdom, he said, “YOU CAN’T DRAW!” Bottom line: swindler. Don’t believe me? Ask Kirby’s wife Roz!’

  15. patrick ford says:

    How shocking…or actually completely not.

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