A True Innovator Gets His Due In “Steranko : The Self-Created Man”

Who better than a multi-talented, groundbreaking, artistic visionary to provide the definitive analysis of — a multi-talented, groundbreaking, artistic visionary?

The answer is as obvious as the question itself, I suppose, and it’s for that reason that James Romberger’s just-released (by means of his own Ground Zero Books self-publishing imprint) Steranko : The Self-Created Man stands out immediately as the authoritative work on the art and legacy of its subject — the iconoclastic, in many respects enigmatic, Jim Steranko : carny escape artist, comics innovator, cinematic conceptualizer, frankly peerless genre-novel cover artist, trailblazing publisher, and raconteur par excellence.

Not that every aspect of the man whose own “real-life” exploits formed the basis of Jack Kirby’s legendary Mister Miracle character comes in for equal treatment in this slim, easily-digestible volume, mind you : this is a book makes no pretenses toward being an absolutely comprehensive biography, nor would such an endeavor play to its author’s strengths : Romberger is, after all, in addition to being a deliriously accomplished fine artist, comics illustrator, and teacher (currently splitting his time in academia between Parsons in New York and Marywood University in Pennsylvania), an art scholar of the highest order, and hones his finely-tuned analytical skills on Steranko’s justly-legendary body of work first and foremost. It’s a wise decision, the end result being 160-ish thoroughly readable pages overflowing with earned, but crucially never haughty and always accessible, erudition.

An introductory sketch of Steranko’s life that does contain plenty of biographical information kicks off the proceedings, but the metaphorical “main course” comes by way of a wide-ranging interview with the artist wherein he catalogues, and expounds upon, the no less than 144 graphic storytelling innovations he introduced to the comics medium between the years of 1966 and 1984, most notably during his celebrated run on Marvel’s Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and an impressive critical appraisal by Romberger of Steranko’s concept art for filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Alain Resnais. This is highly academic stuff by its very nature, to be sure, but no less engrossing for that fact — hell, truth be told, I defy anyone to read through it all and not immediately wish to track down more examples of the work in question than are re-produced herein. Romberger has a way, you see, of making you both understand and appreciate the art that he’s so painstakingly breaking down, at every angle and from just as many perspectives, and meticulously placing it all within not only a historical continuum, but the larger social, political, and even philosophical zeitgeist — much of which Steranko’s art not only informed, but flat-out formed in its wake. In other words, they didn’t call this guy “The Jimi Hendrix Of Comics” for nothin’, and Romberger aptly demonstrates precisely why that’s the case.

Perhaps most impressively, though, is that this book, while obviously respectful and considered throughout, never devolves into mere hagiography, and instead recognizes Steranko and his innovations as arising not from some magical and unknowable font of mystic power, but from the artist’s own unique set of experiences and an eminently practical series of responses to various challenges that specific endeavors presented to him — and it’s in this intuitive understanding of the delicate balance that always exists between inspiration and its practical application that Romberger stands apart from, and frankly above, his “fellow travelers” in the field of art scholarship. This is specialized knowledge of the highest order communicated in such a fashion that I honestly feel it will resonate with just about anyone.

I am very pleased, therefore, to give Steranko : The Self-Created Man a rare unqualified recommendation to those interested in art history, and comics history in particular. It is a volume that I am confident will stand the test of time every bit as much the body of work it considers has. Purchase your copy directly from James Romberger at https://groundzerobooks.com/products/steranko-the-self-created-man?fbclid=IwAR3CruBN2yGWRHrhKZNDyrRcIGufAJbdGyaFTG_nMaI57VvUST85RY2xeaQ

 

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