Jun 26, 2014

Jim Steranko: Escape Artist turned Comic Book Artist

Jim Steranko (born 1938) started out as a stage magician and escape artist, following in the footsteps of Harry Houdini.

With a beefy physique to match.

In the late 1960s, while Frank Frazetta was busily revitalizing Conan the Barbarian, Steranko revitalized Marvel Comics, drawing The X-Men, Captain America, Strange Tales, and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  He also wrote one of the first histories of comic books (1971).

I didn't read Marvel comics much when I was a kid, but I knew Jim Steranko's work from the covers of many paperback sword-and-sorcery novels that he illustrated during the 1970s.

His covers differed from the usual Conan and John Carter of Mars stuff: they usually pictured the mighty-thewed barbarian heroes without naked ladies attached to their thighs.

And the stories inside were often free of "rescuing the princess" hijinks.  David Van Arnam's Lord of Blood buddy-bonds barbarian hero Valzar and his servant Lynor.

Isn't Kelwin a rather silly name for a barbarian hero?  He should be winning science fairs, not battling the "yellow-skinned wizards of Hunan."

I bought The Mighty Swordsmen at a used bookstore in Paris without realizing that there was a naked lady on the cover.

Apparently I missed a lot of the ladies in Steranko's work.

I didn't notice his compendiums of pin-up girls, or his comic book art, crowded with shirtless, muscular men and ladies in skintight leather outfits, like that of Mrs. Peel on The Avengers. 

But at least he was an aficionado of the male form.

And recent versions of his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. title feature a lesbian character.

See also: Werewolf by Night; and Kamadi.