Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Jim Steranko, and the issues are Heavy Metal magazine vol. 5, no. 3; no. 4; no. 7; and no. 10 , which were published by HM Communications and are cover dated June, July, and October 1981 and January 1982. Enjoy!
If I had to make a list of my top five favorite science-fiction movies, Outland would probably be on it. I haven't seen it in years and I know it doesn't enjoy the best reputation, but there's something about it that I dig. Maybe if I saw it today I'd see the flaws, but until then, I'm riding with it! Of course, I'd probably put Hardware on that list, too, so you might have to take it with a grain of salt, but still. So when I learned that Steranko had actually adapted Outland, I really wanted to see it. Of course, for whatever reason, this adaptation has never been collected (in English, that is, which is of course the only language that matters), so you have to scour the Internet for images of it (which I have done) or try to find the old Heavy Metal issues in which it appears (which I have also done). I still don't have every issue in which it appeared, but I'm getting there! Boy, this sucker would look great in a fancy hardcover, much like Dark Horse did with 300 (like that comic, every page of this - well, with very few exceptions - is a double-page spread). Until we get that, let's take a look at some of the artwork as we wrap up our brief but awesome tour through Steranko's bibliography. You can click on each scan to look at it a bit more closely!
I pulled this scan from here, which has the first few pages of the epic on-line. I'm going to ignore the words in this comic, mainly because on some of the scans I have I can't read them very well. For the purposes of this post, they don't really matter!
So let's consider the art. Steranko wanted to make this more "noir" than the movie, which is dark but is still more of a Western (it's been described as High Noon in space), so he uses a lot of spot blacks on his pages. He also wanted use a big scene with smaller panels across it, and we'll see that quite often. I'll give you the link below where he tweets about this stuff, fret not! He indulges his architectural side, as he creates some very nice "sets" for this comic, and he goes into "deep focus" to give us a very rich, three-dimensional world. (I don't want to use too many film terms, because it's a comic, but it is adapted from a movie, and the concept of "deep focus" works very well in comics, where no camera tricks are needed.) The lines on the catwalk are terrific, creating very nice perspective, and in the background, Steranko just uses white ink to create the scaffolding against the deep shadows of the pit. In the background, he paints in Jupiter (the story takes place on Io), which is a neat touch. On the bottom row, Steranko does a terrific job showing Tarlow going crazy. His facial expressions are great as Tarlow gets angrier and angrier until he simply loses control. It's nicely done.
I also got this scan from the same site, in case you're interested. This is good ol' Sean Connery doing his thing, and Steranko does some interesting stuff here. As we'll see throughout this post, he packs each page with detail to fully create the mining station on Io, so we get several workers sitting in the background, just adding flavor. Steranko's line is very angular on this comic, as he tends to make the people and their surroundings fairly hard and tough, with the station itself looking "futuristic," for lack of a better word. Even 007's beard is hard - Steranko uses short, thick hatching to make it look tougher. Because Steranko used the "establishing shot" idea on so many pages and so much black to create a noir atmosphere, he can use white silhouettes in a lot of places, as we see when O'Niel stalks away (and yes, that is the correct way to spell his name, even though it looks totally wrong). The use of thick, sharp blacks, you'll notice, anticipates the more modern way to draw and color comics - we see this kind of work a lot in recent comics, and while it often looks too posed, Steranko makes it work because he's, you know, Steranko. It's just another way he was ahead of his time (and still is, in many ways). I also love the lettering in this comic. Steranko designed it and decided to use those rounded word balloons, which feels "futuristic" for the time period, but what I like is that he tends to line them up, as we see above. They look very regimented and ordered, and Steranko has written that he wanted the balloons to contain "negative air" so the text would be clearer (as opposed, as he puts it, to Marvel's method of cramming balloons anywhere they can). The lettering is part of the gestalt, and it works very well.
Once again, I found this scan here. This is a nifty page even though it's not as exciting as some of the other ones we'll see below. First, of course, we get the amazing details of the station - Steranko turns it into an eerie place just by the sheer volume of wires and buttons and pipes, so that it brutalizes the human element and makes it clear that the non-human parts of the mining operation are by far the most important. Steranko lays the page out wonderfully, once again creating deep backgrounds that the page leads us to, with the alley of men and machinery taking us back to the dude getting in the airlock. The column of panels on the side take us down to his death, which is a nice way to build tension - we know it's coming, but Steranko stretches the moments out well, so that when it inevitably comes, it's still horrific.
I pulled this scan from here. The set-up here is similar to the first scan, as we get a large "establishing shot" and then the row of panels along the bottom. The central image is really nicely done - the man is about to kill the woman, and Steranko does well with the look of terror on her face and the look of madness on his. In the background, some kind of porn is playing, which Steranko links to the violence well by making the woman about to be killed naked - there's always a link between the two, and Steranko makes it a bit subtle, at least. In the background, he uses sharp lines to show the shadow of the man holding the knife, which is clever as we don't see it as well when we look at the dude - it's in silhouette and gets a bit lost in the in stripes on the ceiling. The woman is rescued by Montone, who comes in and shoots the dude, which Steranko shows in those small, punchy panels along the bottom. He uses more silhouettes as Montone enters, and then keeps in the darkness as he shoots the man even though Bond wanted him alive. It's a really nice sequence, and Steranko not only draws it well, but colors the entire page well. He uses a lot of reds and pinks, of course, to imply violence and sex, so the page is bright and angry, taking in the sheets on which the woman is about to die, the sex on the screen behind them, and the violence of the man's death. It's really well done.
Now this scan, I found here - I actually own the issue from which this scan comes, but as you see below, when I scan something, it's just smaller than ones I can find on the Internet. This isn't the most exciting scene either - Zed is bugging the PTB to find out what's what - but it's still a beautiful drawing. As we've seen with these scans, Steranko creates good perspective, as the tube goes all the way back and curves away, implying the giant system of tunnels in the station. He uses curves very well, giving us a good sense of the size of the tunnel, and all the details of the machinery inside the tunnel gives us a good idea of the massive inner workings of the station. The angular lines Steranko uses in a lot of this story make the curves look less like natural forms, as they fit in with the harder-edged mechanisms in place. Steranko really put a lot of thought into what the guts of the station would look like, and it pays off nicely.
I scanned these pages myself, which is why they're smaller, and you can only click on one side at a time. Sorry about that! This is the climax of the book, as Dr. Jones tries to kill the two assassins sent to eliminate him. This layout is a nice collage of images - Steranko doesn't show O'Niel getting wounded, which is too bad, but other than that, it's a very cool way to show the fight. He places O'Niel at the top left, leading us onto the page, and we pass by the larger image of O'Niel that encompasses the entire page. When we reach his face, we move downward and follow the twin bullet paths to O'Niel on the floor as he fires at one of the bad guys. Steranko mentions that the cafeteria is an obstacle course in the narration, and he draws it that way, as the overturned chair slows us down as we try to get off the page, making us take in the entire scene before we get to the small drawing of O'Niel rising to fight again over on the bottom right. Steranko is still using those wonderful sharp lines, and on this page, he really uses the chiaroscuro, drenching the page in black and using the blues and reds really well to set the black off. The red implies rage, of course, and because Steranko uses it on the giant O'Niel, it permeates the entire page and allows him to use the most realistic blues on the rest of the page. It also ties into the blood seeping from O'Niel's arm as he stands up in the bottom right corner. This is just a really well-designed page.
I grabbed this scan from here, which is where I got the scan of Malone in the tunnel. This follows the page above, and it's another cool-ass scene. Steranko leads us downward and to the right simply by drawing the tilt on the top of the greenhouse, while he once again expands the scene into the background with the massive buildings of the station extending toward the vanishing point. He shows the death of the assassin well, as he uses his blacks to show the killer in the greenhouse, and then the jagged crack in the window, leading to the very cool panel in which Steranko gets rid of a lot of the holding lines and just uses blacks against stark white to show the man getting sucked out of the greenhouse into space. I mean, you probably shouldn't shoot a window keeping you from the vacuum of space, right? Steranko doesn't forget to put the shadow of a new killer on the wall in the bottom right, either, which is a nice touch. He uses greens really well here, too - it's an eerie hue here, but it fits in with the greenhouse where the killer meets his end, and it's also a fairly cool color, so it works with the chill of space.
Finally, I grabbed this scan here. This is the next page (and the penultimate page of the comic), as William of Baskerville is attacked by his own deputy - man, that's just not cricket. Steranko again uses the scenery to move us upward and to the "back," as Ballard attacks O'Niel and knocks him off the catwalk. Before he can administer the coup de grace, though, O'Niel is able to get back up - something Steranko only tells us happens, as we don't see it. This is, as I noted above, one of the few places where his use of big spreads gets him in a bit of trouble - he can't do storytelling in a more traditional way because the pages aren't necessarily broken up into smaller panels, and here, it's pretty obvious that Steranko wanted to stick to the big scene because it's the climax of the comic. When he does use smaller panels, his storytelling is much better, but here, we just have to accept that O'Niel got away from Ballard when Ballard had him dead to rights. In the "background," Steranko uses silhouettes again as O'Niel tears Ballard's air tube away and the deputy crashes to his death, and it works beautifully, especially because Steranko puts Jupiter in the sky and frames Ballard with the Great Red Spot, once again implying violence. Steranko uses the white very well as Ballard gets electrocuted, and then uses that "reverse silhouette" as Ballard continues to fall. As we've seen throughout, Steranko uses those thick, sharp lines on his figures, which matches the sterile sharpness of the station itself. It makes everything a bit more "futuristic," but also shows the hardness of both the mining operation and the men who work there.
I mentioned above that Steranko had tweeted about this, and here's the link if you'd like to read it yourself - it's pretty interesting. Steranko, of course, continues to be a legendary figure in comics even though he doesn't do much in comics, but his output can't be measured in volume, but by sheer quality and amazing influence. Now someone just needs to bring out a nice hardcover of Outland!
Tomorrow I'll start the penultimate artist of the year, someone who began in the Golden Age and whose life was cut short far too early. Come back and check his art out, and be sure to find more Golden Age goodness in the archives!