Jim Steranko (born 1938) had a brief career as a painter for sword and sorcery paperbacks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He came out of the comic book milieu like Frank Frazetta and Gray Morrow. Steranko had started work with Marvel Comics in 1966. In 1969, he had a falling out with Stan Lee at Marvel, hence prompting his paperback cover career.
He met with the art director of Lancer Books who bought a sword and sorcery piece had painted. Steranko’s first paintings for Lancer Books were for C. C. MacApp’s Prisoners of the Sky and Edmond Hamilton’s space opera Return to the Stars.
The Mighty Barbarians: Great Sword and Sorcery Heroes (edited by Hans Stefan Santesson) was a mix of four pulp reprints and one new story. It has one of the classic images of paperback sword and sorcery. His follow up to the companion volume, The Mighty Swordsmen (Lancer Books, 1970) was not as iconic as the first volume.
He also produced covers to Neil Barrett’s post-apocalyptic Kelwin and David van Arnam’s Lord of Blood.
Steranko produced another great cover for a sword and sorcery anthology, this time for the last of L. Sprague de Camp’s four anthologies. Warlocks and Warriors (Putnam hardback, 1970; Berkley Medallion, 1971) featured what looks like Robert E. Howard King Kull in combat with a serpent man wielding a kopesh.
Lancer Books reprinted Michael Moorcock’s Martian trilogy in the early 70s with new covers and under Moorcock’s name. For whatever reason, each book had a different artist. Steranko painted Masters of the Pit (1971).
His last work related to fantastic heroic fiction was for Leigh Brackett’s Skaith triology. He continued producing colorful covers for Shadow reprints for Pyramid Books through the 1970s.
Jim Steranko produced some images for his own sword and sorcery character, Talon, but nothing came of it. There is another great painting and some black and white illustrations.
Steranko had a late entry with sword and sorcery painting for a reprint of Fritz Leiber’s Swords Against Deviltry in 2003.
Jim Steranko is someone I have met. He generally attends the Windy City Pulp & Paperback Show and the old Pulp-Cons. In 2001, he had the hotel room next to mine. My wife saw him up the hall with his pompadour and cowboy boots and said to me “Who is that!” My response is “Jim Steranko, legendary artist.”
Steranko’s art has a dynamic look with characters in action. The heroes are muscular without being bulked out parodies. He has interesting weapons and generally leather straps and harness as part of the costume. The women are very curvy and beautiful. His covers for this sort of fiction only last about six years. Not very long when you think about it. Ted White, editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories told me that Lancer Books had the best art director’s department in paperback publishing. Considering Lancer used Frazetta, Morrow, and Steranko, you have to agree.