//--> RED TIDE: Commentary

As a youth, I was a jock. I loved sports. You’d think my idols would’ve been pro athletes. Nope. My heroes were artists… mainly, comic artists. One of my biggest artist-heroes was Jim Steranko. I wanted to grow up to be like Jim Steranko!

Steranko grabbed me (and everyone else) with those early issues of Strange Tales… and he didn’t let go, throughout his work on S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America, X-Men and the numerous covers he drew for Marvel in the early 70’s. I was surprised and delighted to discover his book cover paintings. His Shadow covers not only inspired me, they also helped introduce me to the world of the pulps. You can’t imagine how proud I was to pencil that first issue of NOW Comics’ The Green Hornet, with a cool Steranko painting adorning its cover!

Red Tide was another revelation! It wasn’t a comic book… and not exactly a novel. This was something truly different in Steranko’s already well-established portfolio of innovations. His pulpy, gumshoe detective story was perfectly complimented by his gorgeous, Film Noir-inspired artwork. I bought both the Fiction Illustrated digest version, as well as the bookplate trade paperback. Against my better judgment, I lent the latter to an acquaintance who shared my passion for Steranko’s brand of pulp fiction. I never saw it again. Can’t hardly blame the guy.

Steranko inspired me on so many levels: As a comic artist, writer, illustrator, concept artist and designer. He is not only a rare artist, but a graphic force of nature.

I still want to grow up to be like Jim Steranko!

Jeff Butler
Video Game Artist: RAVEN SOFTWARE

You want the truth? Okay, here it is: I never read CHANDLER: RED TIDE. Nare a word. And I'm not much embarrassed to admit such a faux pas because, well, I sure did LOOK at that gem of a "Visual Novel." Y'see, I didn't need to read the prose accompanying the artwork -- everything was there in Jim Steranko's exquisite illustrated storytelling and, boy, was THAT a good read!

The '70s were an exciting time for innovative comic-book formats. Along with the traditional 7" x 11" booklet, there were digest-sized comics, treasury-sized comics, magazine-sized comics, comics published as hard-cover books, perfect-bound trade paperbacks -- all sort of imaginative incarnations. But Fiction Illustrated, roughly the size of the Gold Key comics digest popular during that period, was something decidedly different and most definitely daring, something beyond its diminutive format. It's hard to relate how exciting it was to discover FI #3, Steranko's hard-boiled detective opus, on the newsstand in those days. Frankly I felt honored to be witness to the artist's new and ground-breaking approach to sequential storytelling. It sure felt like the beginning of a new era...

It's nice to see this vital work back in print and I'm delighted it's reproduced in a format larger than its initial digest-sized appearance. CHANDLER: RED TIDE is a big story and Steranko's art, in my opinion, has never been better. While I'll certainly linger over every lush brushstroke just like I did in 1976, this time I'll read every word. And that's the truth.

Jon B. Cooke

I can still remember the first time I saw Jim Steranko's Red Tide: it was 1976, i believe, at the old Phil Seuling July 4th NY Comicon, at the Commodore Hotel (now the Hyatt) on 42nd street, right next to Grand Central Station--the San Diego Comicon of its day! There, hanging unframed on the walls in one of the exhibit rooms, was a startling sight: Steranko's black & white original art pages to (what I imagine was) the entire upcoming Red Tide graphic novel (minus any type or text)! And on closer inspection (inches away), with jaw agape to the floor: they were black & white PENCILS, not inks! And incredibly tight, intricately drawn pencils, with all the solid blacks meticulously filled in completely. They were truly breathtaking.

Which was the inverse emotion I had upon seeing the printed graphic novel when it came out a year later: the beautiful, black & white film noirish pencil work had been totally defeated by what I still believe today was heavy-handed, garish flat tones of color, as insensitive to the pencils (which had reproduced in the final art as solid black linework) as any I can remember, so disappointing because what I saw the year before was so exhilaratingly memorable; the latter is the memory of Red Tide I choose to hold onto.

(personal aside: I hope one day to see Red Tide reprinted from Steranko's original pencils--assuming they still exist?--in a deluxe, black & white hardcover, with better typography than the original; I would love to design it--as if Steranko would ever let someone else do that!--and write the introduction!)

Arlen Schumer
Designer/Historian - THE SILVER AGE OF COMICS

I loved Jim Steranko's late 70s painted work, especially his Marvel Index covers, for George Olshevsky. The paintings were great, coming at a time when you rarely saw 2-D characters depicted in realistic and lavishly painted scenes. More importantly, as a young high school art student then, I learned from Steranko's compositions in those covers. He included so much information in the space alloted to him, so in addition to the "money shot," you got close-ups, dramatic vignettes, images that conveyed mood, color, timing, lighting, suspense, danger, you name it. This is something Jim is not lauded enough for.

I still keep an eye open for all his work.

Al Bigley

With CHANDLER: RED TIDE, Steranko took the slam-bang Lee/Kirby storytelling approach to the next level, cooling things down and darkening them up with a brutally cinematic, graphic-noir style. All the streets are rain-slicked, all the shadows heavy, and -- most importantly for us -- all the women soft and deadly. His kiss me/kill you femme fatales have been a deep and abiding influence on our own fantasy girl art. Red Tide is pulp noir by a guy who knows the genre inside and out, and all the comics heavy-hitters who've since mined this rich vein are more or less following a trail he blazed.

Steve Fastner & Rich Larson
Comics & Fantasy Artists

In 1976 the concept of what we now call the graphic novel had been in the air for a few short years but it was with Jim Steranko's CHANDLER: RED TIDE that it first found a worthy vehicle. Graphically stylish with innovative visual storytelling techniques, intelligently adult and undeniably cool it was the seminal book that announced the true birth of the graphic novel form and showed that the comic medium was capable of satisfying a real mainstream readership. It influenced a generation of upcoming comic creators, including myself. Two years later I began serialization of the first British graphic novel, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

Bryan Talbot

Along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Frank Frazetta, Jim Steranko's work has and continues to influence my work. I hesitate to use the word reinvent, but Steranko brought a fresh, cinematic approach to sequential story telling in comics. It culminated in his visually striking noir interpretation of Raymond Chandler's writing. His masterful use of shadows left every panel dripping with atmosphere, his women were sultry and dangerous and his action enthralling. Just what a noir novel needs. My copy of Jim Steranko's CHANDLER: RED TIDE graphic novel has long had a prominent space on my book shelf.

Thomas Gianni

It was 1976, and I was a young teenager living on Chicago's South Side. We didn't ever actually see any gangsters, but the shadows of Capone and Dillinger were larger than life and still shifted through the darkest parts of the alleyways. By that time, one character cast an even bigger shadow in my mind than all the gangsters Chicago could muster, and he had a one word name that conjured up magic and suspense, just like the Italians' did: STERANKO. He wasn't just a comic artist; he was a paperback cover painter, a publisher, a designer, an illustrator and an innovator- and it's important to remember that all these things were at a time when the comic book industry didn't encourage these things, making him stand out all the more.

Ideal Cards and Books on 63rd and Narragansett Ave. was our neighborhood source for comic books; in those days, specialty shops were unheard of. I can still remember anticipating the release of Steranko's CHANDLER, and the day the digest size "Fiction Illustrated" arrived amidst the paperbacks, magazines and trinkets at the store. I ran home and pored over the gritty newsprint, over and over, soaking in all the images, reading and re-reading the story for days and weeks. I studied RED TIDE like it was a textbook, and it made a huge impression on me as an artist: folds in trenchcoats, the use of shadows and light on the characters- and each time through, new elements would unfold. I wanted to be sure that I didn't miss a thing. Every illustration in the book was so powerful that the pages became more than just a collection of panels- it was a collection of Fine Art that when strung together made a brilliant and gripping tale. I can't really explain how, as a young person studying art, how life-changing it was to have found this book at that point in my life. It was the greatest of good fortunes. I know now that what I was looking at then was full of revolutionary ideas, but at the time all I knew was that it was quality, and it inspired (and still does) my own work.

Winter hit Chicago a few months later as it does around here- hard. Something new called a "comic shop" had opened almost nearby at Western and 111th, about an hour and a half bus ride (each way). I couldn't resist, and made the pilgrimage to check out their back issue collection. I walked into the store (which looked like a garage sale) and the first thing I saw prominently in the glass case made me gasp: the oversized, deluxe version of CHANDLER: RED TIDE, made for finer bookstores and specialty shops like this one. I had maybe ten bucks on me, the book might have been fifteen- all I know is that I didn't have enough, and bought some back issues of Steranko's Comic Scene magazine instead. But I thought about that book I had left behind the whole way home.

A week later, and the snow was not just coming down, but sideways in a relentless whip that The Windy City is famous for. I hadn't thought about much else besides that Chandler book the whole week, much to the annoyance of my parents. The bus ride in this weather must have topped over two hours, to be sure, but I was on a mission. I do remember that the comic store didn't give you a bag for your books, and the convenience store next door wouldn't give you a bag without making a purchase, and I had only brought enough money for bus fare and the book. I must have sweet-talked the cashier at the convenience store pretty well, because if I had to make the choice between (a) buying something to get a brown paper bag to protect my Chandler book, or (b) bus fare back, I know for a fact that I would have been walking home.

I'd have a hard time choosing my favorite Steranko work, but among graphic novels, CHANDLER: RED TIDE is at the top of my list.

Douglas Klauba,
Painter/Illustrator (Project Superpowers, The Phantom)

For me, Steranko's "RED TIDE" was a life-changing comic, (along with Eisner's "A Contract With God," which I think was published a couple of years later). The timing couldn't have been more perfect. As a young teenager, I was already a huge fan of Steranko's breathtaking, innovative art from Strange Tales & Nick Fury, but I was craving something a little more sophisticated than the Marvel stories. Beyond that, I was beginning to discover film noir, so when I stumbled across "CHANDLER: RED TIDE" at a bookstore at the Queens Center Mall in Rego Park, it was as if the Burning Bush had dropped out of the heavens straight into my lap. I didn't just read the book, I did my best to crawl inside it and take up permanent residence in Steranko's shadowy, sexy world. I still have that copy I bought over three decades ago, and it remains one of my all-time favorite works in the comics medium.

Danny Hellman

As any fool worth his salt ought to know, the living legend known as Jim Steranko is a veritable power source who entered the field of comics creation in the mid-60s. He brought along a whole new arsenal of cutting-edge tricks to the table. He proceeded to blast the table apart. Then he left. Mostly.. Sorta. They stuck the table back together but it was never the same again.. Always had the shakes after that. It talked funny and had a twitch.

I finally caught up with CHANDLER: RED TIDE around 25 years after it was released from the slammer. Its wife had run off with a truck driver from Jersey who was later whacked by the Mob. Rough justice, but poetic. I got the book off of some Brooklyn guy on eBay, no doubt a stoolie, rat, or lowlife bruiser. While not as brain-smackingly incredible as some of Jim’s other work, it’s no piece of chopped liver either. It races along, taut & well-defined, like a runaway racehorse armed with a Tommy Gun. Maybe the jockey had the Tommy Gun. I’m not good on metaphors. It’s a classic noir tale of betrayal, a private dick, a dame, a murder plot, lots of words & great drawings…you get the picture. If you don’t get the picture, Jim will draw you one. And it’ll knock your socks off. But don’t ask, OK? Jim don’t like guys who ask too much.

CHANDLER: RED TIDE is a hidden gem that deserves to see the daylight & feel the cold and heartless streets under its feet just one last time, breathe the sweet air of freedom through a cheap cigarette. It coulda been a contender—it was a contender, dammit. But the fight was fixed and the referee looked the other way. The other lug had a horseshoe in his glove. But this time, they’re gonna make it right. The fight will be fair and the guys from the old days and the old neighborhood will all be there to cheer him on. They’re gonna make it right for Jim.

William T. Ayton is a British artist in upstate NY. His work has been seen widely, from Jerusalem to the New York Times. He is currently working on a noir graphic novel entitled “Shadow Bay” with Donald J. Rothschild.

Red Tide was my introduction to the world of crime fiction, and specifically to the film noir style of storytelling. It looked more like an illustrated story based on an old movie. The pages were framed by twin columns of text and panels of artwork, repeating with a perfect, relentless staccato rhythm across more than 100 pages of story.

The drawings weren’t done in the usual comic-book style, either. They had the quality of high-contrast photos, tinted with the subdued palette of the darkened city. There was a subtle exaggeration to the characters, but instead of ‘bigfoot’ style playfulness they had a visceral impact, complementing the drama of the moment, amplifying the emotions. Steranko’s illustrations created a rich environment which enhanced the text in a 1000 ways, with touches of deco in the background, rain-slicked streets, and archetypical characters (the demure librarian is all the more memorable for having appeared in only a pair of panels.)

Those drawings were amazing, perfectly suited to the cheap paper of a pulp magazine, wrapped in darkness and crawling with shadows... just look at those wonderful shadows...Shadows creating stark figure/ground geometries and reinforcing deeper meanings of good and evil, truth and deception, fortune and loss. Shadows plunging into the deep-spaces of the page, vanishing points weaving across panels, revealing within the warp of their implied matrix the necessary clue, the inevitable destination, the forbidden emotion. Shadows crawling across bodies and spiraling into the creases of an old trench coat, slashing across faces to imply their terrible motives, and tracing the voluptuous contour of the femme fatale, soaked in lies and lust.

I used to ride my bike everywhere, looking for comics. I thought I knew what I was looking for, but in the summer of 1976 comics auteur Jim Steranko showed me I was wrong. He’s surprising me still, with every nostalgic re-reading of his work.

Doctor Vince
"Rocket Scientist " and Comics Fan

RED TIDE was a departure from Steranko’s Marvel work, given that he kept the page design constant (horizontal thirds) and worked harder on the compositions. RED TIDE was the first time I considered music as part of Steranko’s arsenal of knowledge.

The beat is the skeleton/design constant. The rhythm is the way the beat is inhabited; the rhythm did change in the cases of a single sequence spread over two pages. The constant two panels per page did double duty in those cases to isolate a section of the scene. The composition in each panel was not haphazard.

Many people would’ve been content with those accomplishments. Steranko upped the ante for himself by using graphics and text complimenting each other and to fill in any narrative gaps. He also incorporated graphic symbolism and color as mood and foreshadowing. My favourite bit of symbolism that increases in tone is the crack in the glass: beginning with Todd’s clear lenses, later with a crack in one of Todd’s lenses, to Chandler crashing through the window, to Todd’s death emphasized with bullet hole web cracks in a mirror.

RED TIDE is a primer to glean insights into Steranko’s graphic narratives.

Michael Hawthorne
Research Scientist and Cultural Investigator

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