Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, Marvel Comics, 1968, Art by Jim Steranko.
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its examination and celebration of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week expanding our coverage back into the 1960s, when Marvel was threatening its elder rival DC for market attention and sales dominance. This advancement in sales was due to persistence, continued excellence in product, an ability to speak to the young adults of the day, and the influx of new talent like the experimental graphic designer/artist Jim Steranko, one of the first comic book rock stars.
Steranko brazenly walked into Marvel’s office late one 1966 afternoon with art samples in hand, and asked to see Stan Lee. Stan’s secretary told Steranko “No one sees Stan.” But having great samples and complete confidence in one’s abilities often comes with great courage and bravado. Steranko put his samples into her hand and said, “Show him these…and he’ll see me.”
The amazed secretary returned, and escorted Steranko into Stan’s office. Being a few minutes before 5pm, Stan cut to the chase and waved his arm at all the titles Marvel was publishing, displayed on the wall of his office.
“Pick one,” he said. Steranko was struck by the gesture. Stan was telling him he could have a ANY title on the wall to work on. Steranko chose Strange Tales, currently featuring Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Doctor Strange in a split-book format.
Steranko’s run on Strange Tales was so successful, Nick Fury was awarded his own title in 1968. Sadly, the title only lasted 15 issues. Steranko only being involved in the first handful of issues was no doubt a major reason for its short life. But what a sensation Steranko made with those few issues, using Kirby and Will Eisner stylistic techniques, movie storyboard-style sequences, photomontage, introducing design elements of art movements of the time including Op Art and psychedelia, and creating the first ultra-widescreen, four-page spread.
The fourth issue of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. showed many of these influences on its cover alone. A stacked montage of black-and-white, story-teasing graphics served as the background for a bold, red comic title logo that was spattered with a row of bullet holes, cleverly paralleling the periods in the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo. The monochromatic cover background (and even the corner character box and trade dress) made the full-color, head-to-toe portrait of the Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. really pop off the cover. Comic fans consider this cover one of the best, ever.
As the POP Retro Cover Of The Week cycles through the decades, rest assured, you haven’t seen the last of Steranko when the Sixties come around again!
Next week: Forward to the groovy, innovative 1970s!