Friday, February 22, 2013

Forgotten Books: UNSEEN SHADOWS by Jim Steranko (1978)

Painting for Shadow paperback 22, The Silent Death

Pencil rough for The Silent Death

If you're a Steranko fan OR a Shadow fan (and especially if you're both, like me), this is a nice little book to possess. Published in 1978 by Mr. Steranko's company Supergraphics, it measures 8 x 10 1/2", features eight pages of text and sixty pencil-drawn paperback cover concepts. You also get (on the wraparound cover) the cover paintings for the Jove paperbacks The Silent Death (at top) and The Death Giver (at bottom). You do not get color reproductions of the paperback covers themselves. I supplied Shadowed Millions and Fingers of Death (below) for illustrative purposes.

The artist's introduction provides insight into his process for turning a rough idea into a finished painting. Most of the creative work, he says, is done in the sketch stage. Once all the creative decisions have been made, he completes a finished cover painting in an average of three days. The only thing I know about art is how to look at it, but I found his breakdown of the process mighty interesting.

Also of interest: He says that in 1972, when DC announced plans for a Shadow comic, he, Alex Toth and Berni Wrightson (among others) were interested in the job, but later dropped out (the slot went to Mike Kaluta, who produced five beautiful issues, but the remaining seven fell to other hands, and were hugely disappointing - to me, at least. Steranko passes no judgment on them). When the series looked like it might be a success, Steranko had discussions with Marvel about creating a similar character for them. Dang. That would have been good.

Steranko started work on the Shadow covers for Pyramid in 1974, and his first thirteen covers were faithful to the character's pulp image. Shadowed Millions (below) is an example of this period. Then in 1976, the imprint changed to Jove, and the publisher's new personnel asked for more action - and more scantily-clad women - in an attempt to boost sales. The other covers and sketches shown here are all from the Jove period. The action is great, but, while I have nothing against scantily-clad women, they seem out of place flaunting their charms with the Shadow.

The sketches in Unseen Shadows are reproduced in actual size, the actual size of a paperback book. In some cases, Steranko did only one sketch before moving on to the painting. But in others, he experimented with two, three and even four pencil roughs.

First rough sketch for Shadowed Millions

Final sketch for Shadowed Millions

The published masterpiece

First rough for Fingers of Death

Second rough for Fingers of Death (my favorite)

Final sketch for Fingers of Death

Our hero does not look happy

Pencil rough for The Death Giver

OK, must admit I like this one

Patti's back! More Forgotten Books at pattinase.


RkR said...

VERY cool indeed. I hadn't seen this before.

Todd Mason said...

The earliest Jove line looked clumsily sleazy; I hadn't realized, though should've, that this was by intent (rather than simple incompetence of the art direction), given the (often wasted) talent of the artists involved.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Reasoner said...

Great minds think alike! I have a Steranko post coming up later this morning, and I mention those Shadow novels. I remember reading them when they were new.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Lovely stuff - thanks very much indeed.

George said...

I bought all those STERANKO Shadow paperbacks back in the day. Loved them! Now, to hop over to James Reasoner's blog to enjoy more STERANKO!

Keith said...

Very cool. Something else to put on the wish list.

Evan Lewis said...

I was curious what this book is going for, so I took a look. $50 bucks and up on eBay, $125 and up on Abe. Ouch. Also found a signed and numbered limited edition offered for $799. Ouch x 10. It's nice, but not THAT nice.

Cap'n Bob said...

I bummed around with Steranko at an L.A. comicon (circa '71) thanks to our mutual friend Bob Juanillo. I had him autograph a sign he made that said ART SHOW, with an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction. I still have that sign somewhere.

Great artwork on those covers. I wish I had an original of one of them.

Evan Lewis said...

And I spent a little time with Mr. S when he was here for a Portland con (circa '75) thanks to mutual friend Rick Bilyeu (where you at these days, Rick?). No signed sign, though.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

This author goes on my new-authors-to-read list. Many thanks, Evan.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Thanks for this. I've only seen his more psychedelic work such as his 60s Marvel stuff.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Thanks for this. I've only seen his more psychedelic work such as his 60s Marvel stuff.

Daryl said...

Oldsmar, Florida
24 February 2013


The combination of the melodrama from the dime novels and nickel libraries peopled by characters like Nick Carter and his ilk, the prototype character of the Shadow from the nascent art form of radio plays and the creativity of Walter Gibson that hinged partially on his obsession with stage magicians converged to make the Shadow novels a popular success in the early 1930s. Previously a professional writer of material other than fiction, Gibson proved his literary skill by crafting these theatric elements into his stories featuring the Shadow. Steranko was able to unpack elements from these stories and put them into his Shadow drawings and paperback covers.

The drawings selected for your post showed the evolution of ideas through Steranko's creative process. I lingered viewing each and hankered to own a copy of Unseen Shadows with all its drawings. This book is ripe for an e-book version, if not an outright published reprint.

Daryl S. Herrick

Evan Lewis said...

An e-book is a fine idea, Daryl. It would look great on iPad.

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