Jim Steranko talks comics, his new book and coming to Tampa

Calling Jim Steranko a ‘rock star’ of comic books might seem like crazed fanboy hyperbole, until you review some facts. How many comic book creators have been featured in Rolling Stone magazine? How many creators worked with Jack Kirby, and alongside Stan Lee in the ‘heyday’ of Marvel Comics? The largest magazine devoted to all things comic-book lists Steranko as  one of the Top Five Most Influential Comicbook Artists of All-Time and his art has been exhibited around the world including by The Smithsonian in Washington and The Louvre in Paris!

Oh yeah, the writer, artist, painter and illusionist also has a long resume of great comic books: Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, Strange Tales, X-Men, Superman as well as Hollywood work on such iconic blockbusters as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

He is in the Comic Book Hall of Fame but if there was also a comic book ‘Walk of Fame’, Jim Steranko would have put his hands and feet in concrete long ago.


Photo/Nightscream via Wikicommons

BBJ: Jim, you are making your first-ever appearance in Tampa this weekend. You’ve always spoken of your fans with love while offering disdain for artists that treat them with contempt. How do you maintain this saintly passion in the midst of these chaotic shows?

JIM STERANKO: I drink a lot! Seriously, fans are my kind of people. We all have an aggressive dedication to the narrative arts–comics, film, electronic gaming, and more. We spend much of our time and effort exploring those forms and have an enormous investment in the arts. We’re all part of the same brotherhood as far as I’m concerned. Besides, these are the people who put me on the map. Too  many artists and writers have forgotten their roots. I embrace my fans because, in a way, they’re family.
BBJ: You have a reputation of kindness not just to the fans but to other creators. Jimmy Palmiotti and Mike Mignola are two that come to mind. What do you say to these creators? What words of encouragement do you offer them?

JIM STERANKO: Both were just kids when they showed me their work–and they both had real promise. I met Mike in San Francisco. His style was just emerging. I suggested he abandon the Kirby style because he was ready to go his own way. Jimmy’s a New Yorker and I met him at a con just after Neal Adams had seen his samples and flayed the hide off him. Jimmy was ready to quit, but stopped by to check out my exhibit. We talked for a couple hours about storytelling and technique–a couple hours that apparently made a difference in his life. At every show, people I’ve never seen approach me with the same story: how experiencing my work changed their lives and made them artists or writers or law enforcers or attorneys, believe it or not. It’s very humbling and gratifying.
BBJ: You’ve been a comic book fan since you were a kid, a self-proclaimed dreamer. What did you enjoy reading most as a child?

JIM STERANKO: Pin-up magazines! Actually, I was a voracious reader across the spectrum–history, SF, aviation, science, adventure–including pulps and comics. As you know, I schooled myself in numerous areas, particularly creative writing, design, music, art, and magic. The result was that I nailed a job in advertising the moment I left high school and, not long afterward, I was also rocking ‘n’ rolling three to five nights a week. I’ve had many careers–still working at it.

BBJ: Forever linked to Captain America, what’s it like to see the character make it to the big screen?

JIM STERANKO: I saw Cap on the screen when I was six years old, the Republic serial, which I found just as entertaining as a kid as I found the recent version, last year. Captain America is my favorite comicbook character, the quintessential red, white, and blue hero, whose legend I had the privilege to chart during the Marvel Age. I may have set a record for the most patriotic covers by a single artist.
BBJ: You are also the top Nick Fury artist-writer of all time. What is it like seeing Marvel re-create the character for their “Ultimates” to line up with Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal in this summer’s “The Avengers” movie and what is the key to make the character work?

JIM STERANKO: I gave him my taste in clothes, in women, and in attitude. How do you like that? He stars in a film blockbuster and I get a weekend in Tampa Bay! Is that fair? Anyway, whoever hatched the idea of Fury changing race has been standing in the affirmative action line too long. I recall the laugh Dino deLaurentiis got after suggesting Mohamad Ali be cast as Superman for the ’78 flick. But, personally, I like Jackson and he generally plays the aspect of attitude in most films like he was practicing the part of Fury. I think he’ll nail it. Get your tickets early!

BBJ: James Romberger describes “Red Tide” — your groundbreaking 1970s graphic novel (new edition coming soon from Dark Horse)–as “Jim Steranko’s most ambitious and sophisticated effort in the art of graphic storytelling.” Considering how innovative all of your work is, that’s a pretty bold statement. What makes “Red Tide” so special and how do you see it against other graphic novels that are being produced?

JIM STERANKO: Most–and I mean maybe 99% or more–graphic novels are simply fat comicbooks. The term is a bogus, cocked-up concept some marketing whizkid conceived to get comics on the shelves of bookstores. But the notion that when more pages are added to a comicbook, it magically transforms into a “graphic novel,” is laughable. A traditional comicbook is defined by three elements: 1) a full-color booklet approximately 7×10” in size: 2) it features passages of related line-art panels positioned sequentially; and 3) it expresses dialogue and thoughts in balloons, with commentary in captions. Content or subject matter is not a consideration; neither is price, the publisher’s imprint, the quality of the stock, the manner of binding, nor the treatment of the line-art style.

RED TIDE, however, conforms entirely to the dictionary definition of a novel: A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying well-developed characters and intricate scenes, and divided into chapters. A “visual” novel adds a specific pictorial element. How much? I believe that at least 50% of the material must be graphic to qualify as a visual novel. RED TIDE tops that number. It’s a tough, bare-knuckled detective story in the classic noir tradition of THE MALTESE FALCON and OUT OF THE PAST, with visuals so cinematic, you can almost hear a Rozsa score as you turn pages. Readers can decide what else makes it special, but, FYI, it is the First Modern Graphic Novel. Will Eisner claimed his collection of short stories, Contract with God, was the first, but RED TIDE was published a couple years earlier. Check it out.

BBJ: After 9/11 you made a public statement discussing the terrorist attack, the depravity of our society and the direction comics was headed. Do you feel that tide has changed or deepened a decade later?

JIM STERANKO: I rejected the idea of 9/11being exploited pornographically immediately after the tragedy, when no one else breathed a word about it. From my viewpoint, it epitomized bad taste and bad timing–and I don’t take a slap in the face well. I felt that our brotherhood–and all America–needed to be united at that moment. I was called a Nazi by some fanboys for taking that stand. Hey, I’m no saint, but there are times when I simply cannot sanction freedom from responsibility. I doubt much has changed in comics content since then–so, remember, Sturgeon’s Law? 90% of everything is crud. The challenge is to find what’s worthwhile–and it is out there.

BBJ: Last fall at Dragon•Con in Atlanta, you discussed the concept paintings you did for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” How much input did George Lucas and Steven Spielberg give you?

JIM STERANKO: George wanted Indy to wear an leather jacket like he does and have a hat like Bogart sported in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Steven was looking for a specific kind of dark ambience that he liked in certain foreign films, which he subsequently dropped. The rest, from the khaki outfit and garrison belts to the larger-than-life presence, was my contribution. George had seen several illustrations I created of a Robert E. Howard soldier of fortune, which precisely captured the rugged, two-fisted quality he was seeking. I generated about a half dozen production paintings that George and Steven presented to Paramount along with a story outline. The studio gave it thumbs up–and the rest is history.

But that’s just for openers. I’ll discuss everything from RAIDERS to RED TIDE and more at the show this weekend, which I believe will be packed because I’ve never been to Tampa Bay before. So, come prepared. Stop by and say hello. I’m looking forward to welcoming all my fans and making a super-special day of it. You too, Brandon.

BBJ: Jim, thank you so much and I look forward to meeting you at the Tampa Bay Comic Con.

Jim is expected to reveal more details about his new book from VANGUARD PRODUCTIONS!

Also scheduled to appear alongside Jim Steranko is:

J. David Spurlock, Vanguard Productions, Artist’s Rights Advocate & Best-selling author of How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires, and Zombies

Jim Steranko and JD Spurlock will run a panel entitled, “Spotlight on Jim Steranko”, Saturday March 3rd, 4:30 to 6:00.

Tampa Bay Comic Con will be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4, 2012 at the Doubletree Hotel in Tampa, FL from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturday and 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Sunday. Convention admission is $10.00 for adults and FREE for children (12 and under). Parking is FREE. Reserve hotel rooms at the Doubletree Hotel through the Tampa Bay Comic Con for special discounted hotel room rates. The address is:

4500 West Cypress Street
Tampa, FL 33607

Please e-mail: [email protected]




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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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  1. Norman Reedus, Charlie Cox, George Perez, Neal Adams top Tampa Comic Con lineup - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] Great interview with Jim Sternako, talking comic books, new book and Tampa – click HERE […]

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