Some time ago I was reviewing my shelf of Steranko material and I began to wonder which items were the most important. Out of that musing I developed a list of the top 20 (ultimately 25) Steranko collectibles.

Here are the ground rules that I used:

1. I did not consider the individual books in the run of original Marvel Comics from December 1966 (Strange Tales 151) until June 1970 (Our Love Story 5) but rather favored books that collect that work. There is an argument to see the work in the original because of the Steranko colors and because Steranko was conscious of where the advertisement pages would be placed within the book, and used those pages to pace his stories. He also designed each page with this in mind. For example, if a page was to be placed beside an ad page – the Steranko page would be designed to be viewed as a single page. On the other hand, if two Steranko pages were side by side, they would be designed as such, even if it was not a double-page spread!

That run includes six or seven of the best comics covers of all time (X-Men 50, S.H.I.E.L.D. 1, 4, 5,6, and 7, and Captain America 111) and two or three of the best original stories ("At the Stroke of Midnight," "Who is Scorpio," and "Whatever Happened to Scorpio").

 

While there might be some merit to a collector owning the originals (I personally own most), for the purposes of this exercise, I favored the inclusion of work outside of the Marvel run that give us a more complete picture of Steranko’s career accomplishments.


2. I did not consider original art. The collection of original art is a separate and distinct conversation.

3. I did not consider prints and posters. The collection of art suitable for framing is a distinct subset of all Steranko collectibles. Likewise, I also ignored t-shirts, keychains, lunch boxes, action figures, and other merchandise.

4. I am not concerned in the least about the dollar value of individual items in the resale market. How items are valued on the collectors’ market is not relevant to my consideration of Steranko's contributions. The collection of comics related items as an investment is a different conversation.

 

5. Other than the selection of Red Tide as number 1, there could be an argument for any selection at any spot. My selections were about choosing work that best conveys the essence of Steranko’s contributions for a collector. Because of the diversity of his work, it is sometimes difficult to parse the exact relative merits of one published effort from another. I’m not waffling here. I stand by my selections and would be interested, even eager, to discuss the rationale behind the selections.

The Top 25 Essential Items for Steranko Collectors


1.
Chandler: Red Tide. Produced by Byron Preiss Visual Publications. Published by Pyramid Publications, (1976). ISBN-13: ‎978-0515042412


1a.
Fiction Illustrated 3, (August, 1976), Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc.

Without doubt this work is the jewel in the crown of Steranko collectibles. Steranko offers us a fully formed graphic story featuring an original character, Chandler. For all of us who yearn to see other Steranko original characters like O'Ryann or Talon in a fully developed format, Chandler: Red Tide represents an opportunity to participate in a fully realized example of Steranko's creativity.

The images were reproduced directly from Steranko's painfully detailed pencils. The color work was developed for the newsprint in the digest sized edition and, if only for that reason, the digest book is essential reading.

 

This work is not comics in the traditional sense of multiple panels on a page that convey action. While Red Tide is a graphic story, Steranko created an entirely new method to tell a story in a graphic format.

The Chandler character is emblematic of the essential Steranko hero. Tough, bold, charismatic, and extraordinarily bright. Chandler is loyal and holds himself to his moral code. In spite of his association with the seedy side of society required by his profession, Chandler remains a figure of light and warmth in the darkness around him.

Great character. Great story worthy of a 1940s movie script. Superb design. Exquisite images. This book would be among a short list of my nominees for the best original graphic story of all time. Certainly, it must be considered in the top five.

 

The Pyramid Publications book is soft cover, album sized, and full color on high quality paper. The Fiction Illustrated book is a digest sized square bound book on newsprint.

2.
Outland. Graphic story adapted from the movie. Heavy Metal issues 81 - 85 and 87, (1981-2)

This graphic sequential story represents the last and perhaps best Steranko effort in that medium. The story, serialized in Heavy Metal Magazine and never collected for any US edition, is a more traditional sequential story, very different from Red Tide or any of his previous comics work.

The inking style is dark and moody with jarring hard edges to the industrial setting. The colors are somber and perfectly convey the feeling of the confined setting of a deep space outpost.

With Steranko script, pencils, inks, and color, this story gives us a powerful look at what Jim can accomplish while managing the process from end to end. If there is a down side to this work it is that the project is a movie adaptation. Steranko was constrained by the limitations placed on him by the movie studio. I would have preferred to see Steranko expend his energy in the production of an original creation. But, Steranko loves movies and this project captured his attention.

 

Heavy Metal is a full color magazine printed on slick paper.

3.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Artist Edition. Published by IDW Publishing (2014). ISBN-13: 978-1631400858

Printing the Steranko work from Strange Tales 151 to 162 published by the Marvel Comics Group, this extraordinary volume was shot from the original art, printed at the original size and presented in a hardcover format. The reproduction of the black and white art is actually executed in full color so the tiny nuances of production notes and white paint corrections are captured with exacting detail.

The opportunity to see the original pages reproduced at original size is breathtaking. The detail of every brush stroke is captured along with margin notes. It feels like holding a piece of history.

 

Admittedly, the experience is different from reading the books in print with Steranko color as designed for presentation in the pamphlet format. As originally designed, Steranko took particular care to account for the page breaks for ads in the pacing of the script. But this oversized presentation has a charm all its own.

 

The newly designed chapter presentation pages by Steranko are an added bonus that make this volume irresistible.

 

3a. S.H.I.E.L.D. Artisan Edition. Published by IDW Publishing (2021). ISBN-13: 978-1684058631

In 2021 IDW released a smaller (8 x 12) softcover edition of the Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Artist Edition. It is still a beautiful book that replicates all the production quality of its older cousin at a much lower cost. The covers are a heavy card stock. I own both and, while the larger volume is a joy, I find that I enjoy the ease of handling the Artisan Edition.

4.
Steranko: arte Noir. Copyright 2002 Jim Steranko, J David Spurlock, and Angel De La Calle, Semana Negra and Vanguard Productions.

Tony Robertson notes: Arte Noir was printed as the catalog for the Festival of Darkness (Semana Negra) held in Gijon, Spain in 2002. Steranko was the Guest of Honour. The catalog was handed out free to attendees. J David Spurlock was allotted 3,000 copies which he had Jim sign and sold them in a slipcase. This was the last time Jim performed an escape act in public.


This book is maybe the best overview of Steranko original material collected in a single location. It is a softcover with heavy card stock covers and is slipcased, with many color plates, so the presentation is very classy. The reproduction is excellent and the commentary is informative.

The drawback is that, at 8 x10, the book is small and many pages have multiple images on a single page. I'm certain that there was a tradeoff between the size of the pages and the price point for the book.

For me, I would have happily paid more in exchange for a larger format. Still, this volume ranks high on my list. If I could recommend only one Steranko item for a collector, this would likely be my selection because it offers such a wide range of examples of Steranko’s accomplishments.

5.
Comixscene/Mediascene. Issues 1 to 40, (December 1972 to November 1979). Published by Supergraphics.

Okay, I cheated here by selecting all the tabloid size newspaper style issues of this Steranko magazine. Like it or not, the Comixscene/Mediascene/Prevue venture represents a substantial portion of Steranko's career and legacy.

As publisher, editor, art director and regular contributor to this magazine, Steranko gives us a powerful insight into his creative process. These pages contain some of Steranko's best work including the experimental comic story "Frogs," the semi-autobiographical anti-drug story "The Block," and countless covers, centerspreads, illustrations, articles, and editorials.

Like much of the material in Steranko's files, the work from this run deserves a new printing for a new audience. Unless and until some enterprising publisher convinces Jim that a collected volume or volumes of Comixscene/Mediascene is in order, we will have to enjoy this work in the original format.

With the exception of some select issues, the individual copies, some in mint condition, are still available in the aftermarket at reasonable prices.

6. 
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko. Published by Marvel Comics (2002). ISBN: 0-785109947.

Reprinting X-Men 50 and 51, Captain America 110, 111 and 113 as well as the 7-page short story "At the Stroke of Midnight" from Tower of Shadows 1 and the 7-page short story "My Heart Broke in Hollywood" from Our Love Story 5, this book offers a collection of all the comics in the Marvel run that are not S.H.I.E.L.D. related.

 

Of special note is the inclusion of the iconic cover to Hulk Annual 1, but with the original 100% Steranko drawing of The Hulk.

 

Additionally, reproduced here are 10 of the fifteen covers that Steranko produced for Marvel in 1973, that are not regularly captured in other Steranko collections (the five missing covers are Doc Savage 2 and 3, Shanna, Queen of the Jungle 1 and 2, and Fantastic Four Volume 1, 132).

 

This volume is a Trade Paperback sized book printed on good quality stock with comic book style four color reproduction.

7.
FPG 1995 Steranko Fantasy Art Card Set

Printing 77 of Steranko’s paintings, the FPG card set offers the best opportunity to view almost all the Steranko color paintings and illustrations in a single location. Admittedly, the size of the cards is a drawback. However, this collection offers the best opportunity to see almost all the Steranko paintings, with comments on each from Jim.

 

 A little known fact in the printing of these cards is that 21 of the cards were rejected by Steranko after they had been printed. These cards were reprinted in much higher quality. However, when the cards were distributed, the inferior cards were mixed into the packs with the reprinted cards.

I would have loved to see this in a coffee table book or Artist Edition but until that happens, the card set is the next best opportunity to see this work.

8.
The Steranko History of Comics. Supergraphics; Volume 1, 1st edition (1970), Supergraphics/Crown Publishing; Volume 2 (1972). ISBN-13: 978-0517501887.

The first two volumes of a much longer planned series, presents a completely different side of Steranko as popular culture historian. The books are beautifully designed and impeccably researched. After 50 years these volumes still stand up as the foremost scholarship on the origins of the comics medium.

 

These books are oversized saddle stitched soft covers with full color wrap around covers and black and white interior pages.

9.
The Illustrated Harlan Ellison. Produced by Byron Preiss Visual Publications. Published by Baronet (1978). ISBN-13: 978-0894370380

The Steranko chapter in this volume of Harlan Ellison short stories is the unequivocal highlight of the book. The volume is slim. The design, clearly not by Steranko, is not particularly strong.

However, the individual Steranko illustrations are nothing short of spectacular. I have been a lifetime Ellison fan and Steranko's powerful and disturbing visuals not only capture the essence of the Ellison prose but actually enhance the experience of the story.

The illustrations are offered in 3D and as an added bonus Neal Adams did the 3D separations. That is the only occasion of collaboration between Steranko and Adams, ever. If Steranko had illustrated the entire book, I would have placed this entry higher on this list.

 

The book was produced in both hard cover and soft cover editions with a mix of full color and black and white illustrations.

10.
Domino Lady The Steranko Edition. Published by Vanguard Publications (2004). ISBN1-887591702.

Steranko has been contributing to graphic design for parts of the last six decades. Over that span methods and materials have changed dramatically. In 2004 Vanguard released a special Steranko edition of the Domino Lady that features examples of Steranko's use of computer aided design at least for the color plates. This heavily illustrated printing, limited to 750 copies, is slipcased and signed by Steranko, with a Steranko introduction, a gallery of Steranko color illustrations, and a new Steranko story.

The opportunity to see Jim working in a completely different media is what drives this item into the top ten.

Here is a note from Tony Robertson:
The Steranko art was originally done for the Domino Lady book published by bold adventure press. (the Vanguard editions were expanded versions of this). The Bold Adventure Press publisher sent me scans of the Steranko art years before publication and verified that these were NOT computer-generated images. I am pretty sure the color images were computer colored.

11.
Steranko: Visual Theory. Published by Supergraphics (2003).

In 2003 Steranko published a very slim 30-page edition of sketches, comp drawings, and finished art in a 1,000-copy limited release through his Supergraphics imprint. The images, generally full-page renditions, are a mix of the commonplace and very rare. The book is black and white with a two-color wrap around cover. Steranko perfected the two-color process in his Mediascene experience and shows off that skill to good effect here.

12.
Superman 400. Volume 1 Published by DC Comics (1984).

The only entry of a "four color" comics pamphlet on this list is a special circumstance. The ten-page Steranko tours de force chapter is here for several reasons. Beyond the power and beauty of the pages, Steranko introduced an entirely new inking style for this work. The series of double page spreads with narrative is a unique storytelling device. Jim's unique hand lettering is intrinsic to the design of the pages.

Steranko wrote the final conclusion to the Superman story and that has held up over the succeeding four decades.

The individual images are iconic.

13.
Jim Steranko Graphic Prince of Darkness. Tales From the Edge 11. Vanguard Comics (1998).

This autobiographical "docucomic" is lavishly illustrated with some unique and rare Steranko images and contains information and visuals that are essential to the Steranko enthusiast.

Written and designed by Steranko and David Spurlock, the material here offers insights to Steranko's history, motivation, and creative process that are not available anywhere else. For a person who has been somewhat reclusive and certainly private about his personal life, the stories here are remarkably transparent.

 

Most of the wild stories (and many more) from this publication were rewritten and posted on twitter by Jim in his @iamsteranko account.

 

This is a 32-page comic book sized and style book with fold out covers that include some color reproductions. The interior pages are black and white.

14.
Unseen Shadows. Published by Supergraphics (1978).

Published by Supergraphics in 1978, this slim black and white volume is a collection of roughs and comps that Jim produced as precursors to paintings for the Shadow book series. The images along with accompanying commentary, offer insight into Steranko's creative process.

A limited hardcover edition was also produced. It is very rare and very expensive.

15.
Steranko: Graphic Narrative. Published by The Winnipeg Art Gallery (1978). ISBN -13: 978-0889150492

In 1973 the Winnipeg Art Gallery opened an exhibition regarding the structure of comics. They followed that exhibition with an analysis of the unique contributions of Steranko to the comics art form. In 1978 they published that analysis in this book that details many of the Steranko storytelling innovations. The book is surprisingly well illustrated considering that most of the material is copyrighted. Perhaps in 1978 the copyright owner was less jealous of their rights.

In 2018 James Romberger published an excellent updated analysis of Steranko’s graphic innovations in his book, Steranko: The Self-Created Man. Both books are worthwhile. I selected the older better illustrated volume for the purposes of this list.

 

This album sized soft cover book is reproduced entirely in black and white.

16.
Steranko and the American Hero. Published by the Butler Institute of American Art (2022). ISBN: 1-882790774.

The catalogue for the Steranko art exhibition in March through May of 2022 is a beautiful if slim volume reproducing Steranko paintings in extraordinary full color. The reproduction is very high quality. The only flaw in the production is that the reproductions of the paintings are printed “full bleed” which means that some of the art is lost in the fold of the binding. The number, quality and size of the color images made this volume an instant favorite. Some fans broke the binding so they could enjoy the full size images.

17.
S.H.I.E.L.D. The Complete Collection Omnibus. Published by Marvel Worldwide, Inc. (2015), ISBN-13: 978-0785198529.

A nice and complete reproduction of the run of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories from Steranko and others. There are several reprint editions for S.H.I.E.L.D. This is the most complete. The book is a heavy hardcover, reproduced in full color on slick paper and a color dust jacket.

18.
Comic Book Marketplace 28. Published by Gemstone (October, 1995).

A very comprehensive retrospective on Jim Steranko the man and his work.

19.
Dark Horse Presents 3. Published by Dark Horse (August, 2011). UPC: 76156817843200311

In 1999 Dark Horse Comics announced that Steranko would produce a completely remastered edition of Chandler: Red Tide. Steranko planned to rework some of the script, provide some new art, and completely update the presentation with digital color. Dark Horse offered the first 13 page installment of the new work. It is fascinating to see and compare to the original. After the publication of this teaser chapter, Steranko abruptly reversed course and no more new material was ever released.

 

The book is a square bound comic book style volume printed in full color on slick paper.

 

Special note: Dark Horse produced a variant edition with a Steranko cover that is extremely rare.

20.
Steranko on Cards. Hardcover edition published by Magic Inc. (2008). Second Printing (2020).

Originally published by Ireland Magic Company (1960). Second printing published by Magic Inc. (1974).


This very early effort from a young Steranko gives us insight into his magic career while concurrently offering a look at early Steranko illustration, logo, and book design.

 

My 2020 volume is a hardcover printed on slick paper in black and white.


21.
Prevue 89. Published by Supergraphics (1993).

At the other end of Steranko's career, this issue of Prevue gives us an insight into Steranko's collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. Lavishly illustrated with Jim's storyboard art and concept paintings, this article offers considerable insight into Steranko's contributions to the film.

 

Prevue is a full color slick paper magazine.

22.
Weird Heroes Volume 1 and 2. Produced by Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Published by Pyramid Books, New York, 1975. Volume 1 ISBN-13: 978-0515037463. Volume 2 ISBN-13: 978-0515040449.

There is an anecdote that says Steranko is the only artist to ever make money while working with Byron Preiss. They certainly worked together often. Weird Heroes was a new cut at the old pulp magazine format with a heavily illustrated science fiction and adventure anthology in paperback book size. Steranko provides extensive design, lettering, and illustration throughout both volumes. Other artists contribute but Steranko provides the primary look and feel of the books.

 

The interior illustrations are all black and white.

23. Comics Sketchbooks by Steven Heller. Published by Thames and Hudson (2012). ISBN-13: 978-0500289945.

Heller has produced a wonderful heavy oversized volume packed with sketches comps and doodles from 82 cartoonists from around the world. The book has a mix of black and white and color reproduction on high quality paper. It is an album sized softcover with heavy card stock covers.

 

The six-page Steranko chapter offers tightly penciled comp drawings and presentation pieces including four advertising images of the Plymouth Horizon.

 

You may remember the Horizon as an economy vehicle that was thoroughly devoid of style, class, comfort, reliability, or power. Yet, as imagined by Steranko in these images, the Horizon becomes a vehicle of mystery and intrigue suitable for James Bond or Napoleon Solo. As imagined by Steranko, the vaguely European settings ooze romance and action. It is simply astounding what Steranko was able to accomplish with these images and it is emblematic of his ability to convey an emotional reaction to his artistry.

 

24. Visual Storytelling: The Art and Technique by Tony Caputo. Published by Watson-Guptill Publications (2003). ISBN-13: 978-083003174.

Tony Caputo has put together a virtual Bible on the mechanics of producing comics/graphic stories. While the details of how to create comics pages might seem like inside Baseball to some, the book is well researched, well designed, and very interesting to even novice comics enthusiasts. Caputo devotes an entire chapter to Steranko, particularly to Steranko’s ability to tell a story in a single image. That chapter is packed with color illustration of some of Steranko’s most iconic images and the commentary is both insightful and fascinating.

But that is not what propels this volume on to the top 25 list. At the end of the book is a special 18-page chapter written and illustrated by Steranko where Steranko details his perspective on how to create the comics page. The images that Steranko created for this book are unique and available only in this book.

 

Years before the publication of this book, Steranko wrote an article on his artistic methodology that was published in Mediascene. However, this article is a completely new work with new perspectives from Steranko for a new century, making this volume an essential for Steranko enthusiasts.

 

The book is an album sized volume has a soft cover and 12 full color pages.


25.
Witzend 5. Published by Wallace Wood (1968).

Introduction of the original sword and sorcery character Talon. Witzend had very limited distribution.

 

I am somewhat torn here. Steranko also produced a spectacular image of Talon that was printed in Savage Tales 3 published by Marvel Comics Group (February, 1974). That image, along with the accompanying article by Steranko, teased the coming of a Talon graphic story that was never produced. Savage Tales 3 is generally more available and affordable than Witzend 5.

 

The same image that was printed in Savage Tales 3, Steranko also released as a pull-out poster included with Comixscene 5, the Sword and Sorcery issue. Copies of Comixscene 5 are both rare and expensive and those that include the poster are rarer still.

 

Talon is an iconic original Steranko creation. The publication of Talon images in Witzend in 1968 is proof positive that the development of that “Sword and Sorcery” character predates the publication of Conan the Barbarian by Marvel in 1970.

 

In 1968 images of Conan, especially by Frank Frazetta were ubiquitous, courtesy of the mass-produced Lancer paperback series. Along with the Ballentine paperback publication of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Conan paperbacks pushed heroic fantasy into the public consciousness.

 

Steranko may have taken his cues for Talon from the resurgence of Conan. However, given his broad understanding of the history of the pulps of the 1930s where Conan originally appeared, it is also highly possible that Steranko was simply mining his own memory for new concepts.

Bonus Entry: How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires, and Zombies. J David Spurlock. Published by Watson-Guptill Publications (2011). ISBN: 0-823095320

Tony Robertson notes: Although it is not advertised as such, this is actually an essential book to have if you are a fan of Jim Steranko. It includes an excellent Steranko illustrated essay on color, Dracula storyboard art and "It" Marvel cover art pencil and inked by Steranko. Except for the storyboard art, the remaining Steranko material can only be found in this book.


Concluding notes:

 

Overall, I believe that if a collector has seen each of the 25 selections above, they will have a good representation of Steranko's contributions. The list will evolve over time. Now well into his eighties, Steranko continues to produce new images and projects and maintains a brisk schedule of public appearances. He maintains a mental list of new projects that he would like to tackle in the future.

 

Some time ago, IDW announced the publication of a second Artist Edition that will reproduce additional Steranko originals from the Marvel Comics run. The publisher has indicated that most of the work is complete. They are waiting for some additional new material from Steranko, who works at his own pace and maintains his own priorities. The inevitable publication of AE2 will undoubtedly take over one of the top four spots on this list.

Ever the sleight of hand magician, Steranko just keeps us guessing at what he might yet have up his sleeve.

 

 

 

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