Steranko talks covers on "Hercules: The Thracian Wars"

For a literary figure familiar to almost everyone, it seems appropriate Radical Comics went to a comic book figure known to most comic book readers for his contributions to the medium to make their "Hercules" (one of the most iconic characters in the last fifty years) stand on its own. In addition to visualizing Radical's Hercules, Steranko is also doing covers for the series.

Radical's series, written by Steve Moore with interiors by Admira Wijaya of Imaginary Friends Studios, picks up with Hercules after the 12 Labors. While taking the mythology into account, Radical's "Hercules" concentrates on the human conflicts of the character. It's fitting, just as Jim Steranko updated the serials of Hollywood's Golden Age with "Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark," he's now re-envisioned fiction staple Hercules for the 21st century.

Steranko, still busy after almost fifty years in the comic book industry, took a few minutes to answer some questions about "Hercules: The Thracian Wars," issue one of which is on the stands right now, with issue two hitting stores on May 28th.

You're busier out of comics right now than in them. How did you get involved with "Hercules: The Thracian Wars?"

I'd worked with Dave Elliott a few years ago and he was obviously impressed by what an easy, charming, classy, and modest guy I am with whom to work. So, when the "Hercules" project materialized, he immediately thought I might be able to create a new, memorable look for a mythological character who has probably been adapted more times -- from cinema to comics -- than any other in history -- the ultimate superhero!

You've written, done sequential art, done cover art -- what aspects of "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" are you involved with?

At the moment, covers only, but we have discussed interior work.

Hercules is a character most people are familiar with -- what do you think of when you think of the character?

The image that initially comes to mind for me -- and probably most others -- involves the 12 Labors of Hercules, from the Nemean Lion to the Hound of Hades, the Cretan Bulls to the Lernean Hydra. I suggested the Labors in the first cover, but not as a major theme, simply as a minor element because the initial series occurs in Hercules' life after he completed them.

Hercules being, like you said, a mythological figure with numerous adaptations, he's been translated visually quite a bit. What influenced your design of the character?

Everyone who worked on the books -- including me -- did heavy research for the most authentic take on the character and his world. But, in terms of costuming, all we could discover is that Greek warriors of the period wore helmets and shields -- that's it! -- not exactly my idea of how to protect one's vital parts in battle, which is why boxers wear cups, don't you think? So, I asked the crew to produce research material that got me to the right place or I'd create an original approach based on my research, the latter prevailed.

Regarding previous Hercules visualizations, what are some of the differences between designing the look of a new character versus an existing one?

Hercules' lionskin wrap and club, of course, are legendary. I thought a touch of modesty might be appropriate, so I provided a loincloth for that touch of mystery -- and to keep the series out of the x-rated zone. The wide, leather belt that allowed me to add a cool buckle design, is like lightweight armor that protects Hercules' lower torso from all but the most direct spear or sword work. Then, I covered his forearms with leather gauntlets, which would be the area's most vulnerable to weapon slashes. Finally, I devised a rigging, using leather thongs, to keep the lionskin in place and gave him a classic short sword. All the elements have the kind of signature touches associated with my design approach.

You've done lots of work for film -- "Bram Stoker's Dracula," that Indiana Jones guy. Is designing for comics different than designing for film?

Good question. It certainly can be. For example, in comics an object only has to look good from the angle in which the artist chooses to show it in a specific panel. That view could be the coolest and most compelling imaginable but, from other viewpoints; it could be unwieldy, awkward, or silly. A perfect example is the heli-carrier which Jack Kirby created for the S.H.I.E.L.D. series. It looked incredible in a 3/4 low-angle shot in which it appeared in the first story, but like a floating bathtub in all others. On the other hand, almost anything designed for film, such as costumes and props, must function or look good from every angle.

How did you decide on the medium for the first cover?

Radical Publishing asked me for a painted cover and I only paint in acrylic. I could have gone digital, but I felt it was important to generate an original for display purposes and because of the value such a painting would ultimately have.

Your "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" cover for the first issue is iconic, but with an almost pensive Hercules. Most artists would have created an action-type scenario for Hercules, why didn't you?

For exactly that reason! When Dave told me that the series' story takes place after the Labors, we felt the traditional action approach would be a cliche. The Radical version is different from all other comics' versions and I felt my cover should underscore that quality. So, instead of casting it in spine-cracking action, I did the opposite: I visualized a silently inert, fearsomely intense Hercules, a Hercules just before the storm, a moment crackling with tension! I deliberately hid his face in shadow -- except for a slash of light across one eye that reveals his fierce, tortured, inner emotions.

Have you seen the comic yet?

Only a few sample pages, enough to say it has superb art and production values.

It's been almost fifty years since you started in comics. What's the greatest change you've noticed?

Their prices! Into the stratosphere! Digital coloring is immeasurably better than the old, barely adequate overlay process. The quality of drawing is generally better, but the storytelling is often rock bottom. Too many creators simply cannot or will not realize that comics are infinitely more about narrative than imagery. Hey, I know imagery attracts buyers, but comics need both to survive.

Do you still find time to read new comics?

I'm always terminally busy, but still find the comics medium extremely appealing and make it a point to digest whatever comes my way on a regular basis. I like monitoring trends and watching my favorites, in addition to tracking the young Turks and seeing where their energy takes them. If the time comes when I'm too busy for a comics fix, I know I'll be in deep trouble. And I'll be in deeper trouble, if I don't read one new series in particular.

What's that?

Wake up! "Hercules!"

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Tags: jim steranko, hercules, radical

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