This week I’d like to feature the oversized magazine/book entitled; The Steranko History Of Comics. It was published in 1970 by Supergraphics, i.e. Jim Steranko himself. While researching this item on the internet, I’ve discovered my cover is actually a second printing, rather than the first printing I thought it was. This was determined by the address listed in the indicia page, but you probably don’t really care, so I’ll move on. The book is not truly a history of comics, as it just covers the beginning of the industry, and just covers early comics, but it still well worth owning, even today.
It was the first issue of a planned series. I’m not sure how many issues were planned, but only two saw the light of day. Here’s the cover that was shown in adverts for it back in the day. I ordered mine from Supergraphics and I never saw it sold in stores, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t, I just never encountered it in shops. But then again I wasn’t buying comics regularly in 1970, as I had a two or three year break about then.
The actual cover was done as a full wrap-around cover, so I better give you the full picture, as well, eh? Well, here ya go:
Now that’s a cover that is pure art. Sterank included many heroes and villains, as you can see. Though he does included quite a few that are not covered with the book itself, so I would guess that the cover represents Jim’s favorite characters, or at least the ones he liked to draw the best. Does anyone know if Steranko ever offered it as a print? It would be well worth owning and framing, as it’s just gorgeous!
The book/magazine opens with an introduction from well known film director, Federico Fellini. Also on this page is a nice Alex Raymond illustration of Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless sword fighting.
The first chapter is entitled; Coming Attractions, and Steranko starts his comic book history back between 40,000 and 5,000 B.C.. Yes, you read that right, as he talks about pre-historic cave drawings. Think about it, those drawings really were comic strip art as they strived to tell a story with pictures. He then quickly moved through history until he reached the early 1900s and the beginning of the comic strips in newspapers, strips like the Yellow Kid, the Katzenjammer Kids, Hay Hooligan, Mutt and Jeff. He also covered Krazy Kat and Little Nemo in Slumberland, two of my favorite early strips. Next up was Tarzan of the Apes, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Alley Oop, Terry & the Pirates, Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant.
This chapter was illustrated by full page comic strip reprints of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, Terry & the Pirates and Tarzan. All this in just the first chapter!
The second chapter was entitled; The Bloody Pulps. And as you might suspect, Steranko lovingly discusses The Shadow, The Spider, Doc Savage, Secret Agent X, G-* and his Battle Aces, Weird Tales , Planet Stories and many, many more . This chapter features many covers of popular pulps, as well as, full page artwork the Black Bat and also the Amazing Stories pulp that first featured a Buck Rogers story.
Chapter 3 is all about Superman, entitled; The Super Star, the character that began what we know as comic books today. The chapter leads off with a full page reprint of Joe Shuster‘s first Superman drawing and goes on from there. Steranko also reprints four pages from an unpublished Superman story from 1939. He provides many cover pics, including Action Comics # 1 and Superman # 1 from 1938 and 1939. Full pages in this chapter feature the first Superman newspaper comic strips an a page of Joe Shuster’s layouts.
Chapter 4 features Batman, as well as, his junior crime-fighting ward, Robin. It’s entitled; The Playboy Hero and leads off with a large unpublished Batman and Robin illustration by his creator, Bob Kane with inks by Jerry Robinson. Steranko starts right at Detective Comics # 27, with stops at Detective Comics # 33, which contained Batman’s origin story. Along the way he covers Batman # 1, as well. He reprints many covers in this chapter, as well, and discusses the Batman comics up through the 1950s.
Chapter 5 switches from DC Comics, over to Atlas Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. And this chapter covers Captain America, the patriotic hero created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. It’s entitled; The American Idol and this chapter leads off with a dynamic full pager by Kirby, take a look:
Again Steranko covers the character from his beginnings up through the 1950s. As always he provides many cover reproductions. This is a shorter chapter, but does also include a second full page Captain America illustration by Jack Kirby.
Chapter 6 stays with Atlas Comics and features The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. This chapter too has a great full page illustration done by Bill Everett. I’d be remiss if I didn’t share this wonderful art with you:
This just might be the greatest drawing of the Sub-Mariner and the Torch ever done! I really can’t say enough about this page. Marvelous, beautiful, exquisite, and a whole bunch more adjectives! Oh, the chapter is entitled; Super Double Feature, if you want to know. Steranko covers the first Atlas/Marvel comic, Marvel Comics, which featured the Torch’s origin story, of course. And he goes on to discuss other Marvel Mystery Comics, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner books. He also includes in this chapter the early Atlas/Marvel team-up book, All Winners Comics, as well as comics like, USA, Miss America, Select Comics and even the Blonde Phantom.
Chapter 7 jumps back to DC Comics and is entitled; Best Supporting Characters. Here’s the full page art that opens this chapter, it features the Justice Society of America and is drawn by Joe Kubert.
In this chapter, Steranko covers the other big comics they published during the 40s and 50s. Comics like; World’s Finest, Flash Comics, Adventure Comics, Green Lantern, Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman and All Star Comics, to just name a few.
The final chapter in this book, chapter 8, is entitled; The Kid Players and as previously, it features plenty of reprinted comic book covers. Comics covered in this chapter include Young Allies by Atlas/Marvel, Star Spangled Comics, featuring the Newsboy Legion from DC Comics, Boy Commandos, also from DC Comics. As you can tell the team of Simon and Kirby rule this chapter and genre. The chapter features two really nice full page illustrations by Simon & Kirby.
Eighty-four (84) pages not including the wrap-around cover. Short by many standards but packed with tons of information. And in 1970, not a lot of this information was available to early comic book collectors. I found it wonderful reading, as well as, an informational goldmine and the artwork and reprinted covers were just icing on the cake!
Today there have been a lot of books written about the early beginnings of the comic book industry, but this two volume set is still well worth your collector’s money. So don’t hesitate to pick up both issues if you get the chance. I’ll plan on covering the second issue in the next Fabulous Find, unless I get a better idea or someone offers me huge sums of cash to cover something else, but the odds of that are slim to none!
Thanks for stopping by and please come back next week for a new RETRO REVIEW.
SUmmer is almost here, enjoy!