YOUNGSTOWN — Legendary comic book artist Jim Steranko held court Saturday afternoon as more than 100 admirers of the 83-year-old came to marvel at the intricate stylings of an artist who only worked regularly in the comics field for three years.
Although known as a prolific painter, photographer and a magician, the thin-built, curly-haired man engaged people who came just a few blocks to the Butler Institute of American Art and those who flew thousands of miles to see the artist and his work .
Steranko hand-selected 65 painting and drawings from his pulp magazine days, drawings of classic comic characters, as well as early drawings he did for his work on the “Indiana Jones” movies.
The show, which was originally supposed to happen in 2020, will run through May 29.
Steranko is best known for his three-year stint at Marvel Comics. He did what many believe is revolutionary stylistic work with Nick Fury, Agents of SHIELD, Captain America, the Hulk and the X-Men comics.
Much of his work was seen as realistic, yet stylistic, of his depiction of human figures. Steranko’s layouts were, at the time, very nontraditional, with the fluidity of movies. I have pushed the boundaries of the comic codes.
“At one point, I was one of the most hated guys in comics,” Steranko said. “It was a matter of sheer envy. I was a kid who came in and rose to the top almost immediately.”
Steranko described himself as a person who always tells the truth.
“I’m very candid,” he said. “Don’t ask me unless you really want to know.”
The exhibition at the Butler is the first in an American museum to focus solely on his paintings, and the three rooms of paintings are not just for diehard comic book fans.
In his mind, Steranko said three men were at the top pantheon of comic book artists: Jack “king” Kirby, Wally Wood and Joe Kubert.
“All three of them were like family to me,” Steranko said. “I knew them for much of my life. That was a really special group of people. They were the top. They were all really, really good people.”
Steranko described meeting original Superman artist Jerry Seigel in the mid-1960s while in the offices of Marvel Comics.
“I saw this guy on the other side of the office shuffling along emptying ash trays from desks into the wastebaskets,” Steranko said. “I went over to him and said, ‘You’re Jerry Seigel.’”
He said yes.
“What the hell are you doing?” Steranko said. “Everyone in comics — certainly everyone in Marvel — should have owed him a debt of gratitude. They owed him their careers from him.
“That broke my heart,” Steranko said. “One of the first drawings I drew was Superman. I would not be where I am today, if not for him.”
He noted he testified on Seigel’s behalf when he filed suit against DC Comics.
He described Jack Kirby and his wife as very generous people who welcomed him into their family.
“They were very loyal people, especially if they liked you,” Steranko said.
In describing his work method, Steranko said he always works from a perspective of making designs.
“There is not one line in my paintings that does not have a design or purpose behind it,” he said.
Courtney Redman of Chicago said she traveled to Youngstown just to meet Steranko.
“What strikes me is Steranko’s use of colors and contrasting,” Redman said. “He does not use a lot of grays.”
Alex El Hayek of Canfield said he loves everything he has seen in the museum.
Greg Bartholomew, owner of All American Cards and Comics in Warren and Boardman, said he is very impressed with the wide variety of paintings and drawings on display at the museum.
“Eight years ago, I brought eight of these paintings to our comic-con,” Bartholomew said. “To see 10 times that amount is phenomenal.”