STERANKO is one of the most controversial figures in contemporary culture, with a dozen successful careers to his credit, ranging from on-stage theatrical entertainment to behind-the-scenes work on top film boxoffice blockbusters. From entertainer to entrepreneur, he has cut a ferocious path through the world of the arts, combining words and images in a multitude of mediums and formats, including graphic novels, role-playing games, film adaptations, comic books, animated TV series, trading cards, historic documentaries, and exhibitions around the world.
As a musician, he gigged with Bill Haley in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll; as a pop-culture lecturer, his two volumes of THE HISTORY OF COMICS have sold more than 100,000 copies each and are still the definitive resource of the four-color chronology; as an escape artist, his death-defying performances inspired the character Mister Miracle and, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, he was the man upon which the protagonist of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & KLAY was based; and more—photographer, ad agency art director, sideshow fire-eater, male model, typographer, designer, publisher…the list goes on.
Just out of his teens, Steranko was hired as Art Director for a prominent advertising agency, designing everything from baby-carriage brochures to milk-product billboards. He subsequently developed a presentation for a new animated character and sold the property to Paramount Pictures as a Saturday-morning TV series. The same day, he was hired by Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee to illustrate their 007 rival, NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and, almost overnight, rocked the comic world with a revolutionary narrative approach that had never been explored before in comics’ 35-year history.
He also wrote and drew CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE HULK, SUPERMAN, and THE X-MEN (for which he created the classic title logo), generated more than 150 original storytelling devices and techniques that changed the direction of the comics medium, and created a devoted cult of followers who have nicknamed him The Innovator. Recently, WIZARD magazine credited Steranko as the 5th Most Influential Comics Artist in the history of the form.
His mastery of portraying time and space attracted famed French director Alain (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD) Resnais and led to a collaboration on a film project. His strong sense of color, motion, and composition made a lasting friend of Italian director Federico (LA DOLCE VITA, SATYRICON) Fellini. He wrote and pre-directed a half-hour film made at the American Film Institute, in addition to writing scripts and developing characters for Paramount, where he worked with animation giants Shamus (Bugs Bunny) Culhane and Ralph (Fritz the Cat) Bakshi.
Before long, he was painting for science fiction, heroic fantasy, Western, and adventure books—written by such authors as Ray Bradbury, Mickey Spillane, Cornell Woolrich, Michael Moorcock, Raymond Chandler, John Jakes, Robert E. Howard, Harlan Ellison, and many others. He set what might be a world’s record for visualizing more classic fictional heroic characters than any other artist, including Sherlock Holmes, Luke Skywalker, The X-Men, Mike Hammer, the Green Hornet, James Bond, Captain America, Han Solo, Sam Spade, Superman, Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Conan, Doc Savage, Buck Rogers, Hercules, and The Shadow, for which he painted 30 book covers—in addition to a multitude of movie posters, record albums, and magazine illustrations.
In 1968, he established SUPERGRAPHICS, a full-scale publishing organization, for the purpose of producing material related to visual storytelling in every medium, including PREVUE, his international newsstand entertainment magazine—with its impressive 25-year run—which was the forerunner of similar titles such as PREMIERE, MOVIELINE, and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. As its editor-publisher, he conducted hundreds of superstar interviews and penned more than three million words for the periodical.
In 1970, he produced, at personal expense, THE BLOCK, an innovative comicbook that addressed the problems of drug abuse among inner-city children. Distributed free as a teaching tool in schools in major metropolitan cities from New York to Atlanta, it met with remarkable success and garnished critical acclaim that ranged from Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton to SESAME STREET’s Joan Ganz Cooney.
In 1975, he wrote, illustrated, designed, and colored RED TIDE, the first modern graphic novel, a hard-boiled crime thriller in the tradition of the great noir films, and followed with an adaptation of the SF epic OUTLAND, using a revolutionary mural-style format that was collected in numerous foreign editions.
He collaborated with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to create the initial production illustrations for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and the look of Indiana Jones. Steranko was among the first to be hired by Francis Ford Coppola for BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, on which he was the film’s Project Conceptualist, serving in a similar words-and-images capacity for three more of the famed director’s works, including the upcoming MEGALOPOLIS. Other filmmakers, he’s collaborated with include Oliver Stone and Tim Burton.
From magic to comic art to commercial design, he has won numerous awards in every field of endeavor, in both Europe and America. He has frequently lectured on popular culture and has exhibited his work at more than 300 international exhibitions, including in the Louvre in Paris. His one-man show at the Winnipeg Museum and Art Gallery garnered more media attention than any other ever held at the facility, and for which he was awarded the Key to the City at a ceremony in the mayor’s office.
As the Guest of Honor at Spain’s 2002 Semana Negra Cultural Festival, his art was the subject of a massive one-man exhibit (160 works, sponsored by the Gijon Museum of Modern Art, that commandeered an entire pavilion and was seen by 1,000,000 people during the ten-day fest).
His recent projects include a lengthy essay on narrative concepts in film, animated games, and comics in the Watson-Guptill instructional volume THE ART AND TECHNIQUE OF GRAPHIC STORYTELLING; scriptwriting for Warner Bros. JUSTICE LEAGUE TV series; appearing in Starz network’s COMICBOOKS UNBOUND, and serving as Creative Consultant for the History Channel’s two-hour documentary COMIC-BOOK SUPERHEROES—UNMASKED. In 2003, he was given the prestigious Julie Award for his Lifetime Contribution to the Fantastic Arts, and in 2006, was inducted into The Eisner Hall of Fame.
His HOLLYWOOD REPORTER reviews for AGENTS OF SHIELD generated a record number of hits, while ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s double-sized summer edition showcased Steranko in their biggest feature ever published on a comics creator.
In the Spring of 2022, he was honored in a massive three-month exhibit (65 paintings) titled STERANKO AND THE AMERICAN HERO at Youngstown, Ohio’s prestigious Butler Institute of American Art. Steranko is currently developing a new, digital concept for the Metaverse, and priming for a multi-city tour showcasing his life and work in an innovative, high-tech presentation that may signal yet another career groove on his schedule.
And he’s still the best-dressed man in comics!