Steranko: No Escaping the Past
By Philip Schweier
March 19, 2021 - 09:28
The late 1960s/early ‘70s were a fertile time for comics, as a new generation of creators entered the arena. Among those taking center stage was one-time professional escape artist Jim Steranko, who comics career was powerful but short-lived – 1966-1970, according MikesAmazingWorldofComics.com.
This was followed by a deep dive into comics history. He self-published two tabloid-sized volumes of the History of Comics, covering mostly the 1930s and '40s. No doubt additional volumes were intended, but after 50 years, they've yet to materialize.
In the late 1970s, he graduated to pulp-style paintings for paperback reprints of The Shadow and the Spider. He also launched a magazine entitled MediaScene, later rebranded as Prevue.
Despite his continued presence in the comic world, mentoring other comics professionals, he seemed to accomplish very little. A handful of illustrations for Superman #400, and an adaptation of the film Outland (1981) in Heavy Metal. Like the Kardashians, he became famous for being famous. The impact of his small body of comics work has made him a frequent guest at conventions the world over.
Last week, I discovered the Interwebs all abuzz with cryptic comments regarding Steranko. Thinking he may have died, I instead discovered he’d tweeted opinions which many in the comic book world found inflammatory and racist:
"I'm boiling about the social, cultural, business, and personal hell the Chinese pandemic has inflicted on America – not to mention a HALF MILLION LIVES GONE, and more to come! That debt needs to be settled, rather than embraced, as it has been by Biden and company!!!"
“The CHINESE PANDEMIC has stolen year from our lives – I've felt it as much as anyone! Those who know me and have hung out with me at shows know the importance I lay on personal appearances and connecting at gigs with fans from every corner of the USA! Will be ready WHEN YOU ARE!".
Many comics pros of varying ethnicity quickly condemned Steranko for adopting what many regard to be a racist stance. Politics aside, his comments display insensitivity to fans and colleagues of Asian heritage.
Sure, Steranko felt the impact of the pandemic – in his wallet. With so many conventions cancelled in 2020, the “importance” he lays on personal appearances is the revenue they provide. I don’t begrudge him wanting to make a living, but if convention appearances have dried up, maybe a return to the drawing board is in order.
Some excusers might argue that, “He’s just the product of his times, the age in which he grew up.”
I can understand a teenager’s poor judgment; they lack the knowledge and experience to know better. But as of March 2021, Steranko is 82 years old – decades removed from the bigoted environment in which he spent his formative years.
It’s expected of an artist to evolve, and Steranko and others of his generation have had 60+ years in which to evolve from the prejudiced mindset of the 1940s and ‘50s. The racial insensitivity that was common back then is no longer acceptable.
Anyone engaging a fan base – in comics or music or whatever – bears a responsibility to treat said fan base with civility and respect. Steranko has gone in the opposite direction. When pandemic restrictions are lifted and we can once enjoy comic book conventions, I expect Steranko to receive fewer invitations.
Perhaps it's time to get History of Comics, vol. 3 to the printer.
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