By Steranko (Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc/Pyramid Books)
ISBN: 978-0-515-04241-2 (Pyramid Books)

Steranko is an artist with many strings to his bow. Whether as publisher, typographer, graphic designer, artist, storyteller, historian, or musical performer he has always excelled.

As a magician and escapologist he found celebrity, inspiring new friend Jack Kirby to create Super Escape Artist Mister Miracle, but it’s as a comics creator that the man of many talents has most memorably succeeded.

At the peak of Marvel’s first creative flowering he revolutionised the telling of graphic stories with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. His retro-revisionist take on Captain America is reverently remembered – as is his brief meddling with mutant outriders The X-Men.

Decades after his experimental forays in Marvel’s horror and romance titles, the results are remembered – if not actually in print anywhere – as high-points in style and cinematic design.

Steranko left Marvel to pursue his other interests and began publication of pop culture mainstay Mediascene Prevue, only rarely returning to the comic medium. If you’ve never seen his strip work you’ll know him by his film production concept art for blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In the mid-1970s he linked up with comics Svengali Byron Preiss to create this fabulous experimental precursor of the graphic novel: a dynamic and vivid tribute to the hard-boiled detective and film noir genres, and something which perhaps not altogether to the tastes of fans at the time is certainly now very much in the bailiwick of contemporary comics consumers.

Alternatively entitled FICTION ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 3 in its pocket digest sized paperback iteration (as well as proper full-sized graphic novel Chandler: Red Tide), it still packs a potent visual and narrative punch.

Chandler is a private eye, in the iconic myth-country of 1940’s New York City. One night a desperate man comes looking for someone to track down his inescapable killer.

Bramson Todd witnessed a mob hit and has somehow been poisoned because of it. With seventy-two hours to live, the walking corpse wants proactive revenge, and as well as a vast amount of money, he offers Chandler the chance to save the other three witnesses from the same fate or worse…

The familiar iconography of the seedy, noble gumshoe is augmented by two-fisted action, flying bullets, sundry thugs and scoundrels, memorable, glamorous women and a ticking clock, all working to make in this loving and effective pastiche a minor masterpiece…

Back then, however, a major stumbling block for many readers was the unconventional format of the book.

Each folio is divided into two columns – in the manner of the classic pulp prose page layouts – with each column comprising an illustration above a block of accompanying text.

Despite Steranko’s superb draughtsmanship and design skill (some spreads form extended visual continuities with four single pictures becoming one large illustration), there is an element of separation between prose and picture that can take a little adapting to. You should try. It’s worth it.

This is still a powerful tale, well told and worth any extra effort necessary to enjoy it. Another contender for immediate reissue, I think…
© 1976 Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc.
The character Chandler © 1976 James Steranko.