In Praise of… Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Strange Tales #167This is a story about a lifelong love affair of mine. But it’s not for a person.

Like many people who grew up in the pre-digital era, for me childhood entertainment meant chocolates, bikes and comics, along with now extinct hobbies such as plane spotting, bird watching and stamp collecting. The day I got my pocket money was the day I could cycle to the newsagents and stock up on the latest comics and a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (which never outlasted the ride home).

My favourite British comic, Eagle, was passed on to me by a neighbour’s son, so I always made a beeline for the harder to find American ones on the spinner racks in Pillar’s. Unlike their more staid British counterparts, these full colour imports featured outlandishly costumed superheroes who, if they weren’t starring in their own self-titled adventures, were to be found behind covers bearing tempting titles like Tales Of Suspense, Amazing Adventures and Journey Into Mystery. At a time when the British weeklies went by worthy but dull names like Robin, Swift and Look & Learn, and had more black and white than coloured pages, who wouldn’t be tempted?

Not me, that’s for sure! I was hooked, and would devour the latest superhero yarns from cover to cover for hours on end. Comic day was the highlight of my week.

Of course, I had my preferences, mostly Marvel Comics characters, but my absolute favourite was Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. The strip itself was not so much superhero as superspy, having been created to cash in on the spy boom fuelled by the James Bond films, and came complete with secret agents, exotic hardware (flying cars!) and even a motto (“Don’t Yield, Back SHIELD!”).

Strange Tales #153

But the real magic for me lay in the stunning artwork by an up and coming wunderkind by the name of Jim Steranko. In a two year run, he transformed a previously ho-hum series languishing on the verge of cancellation into a thing of wonder, and every month you could see his artwork developing, introducing pop art and surrealist elements and expanding the possibilities of what graphic storytelling could accomplish.

And then, one day, Steranko was gone, having fallen out with his editor. Oh sure, he turned in the odd story after that in other publications, but as a regular comics presence he was no more. I was crushed.

So why do I bring this up now? Because over the past few years one publisher, IDW, has been turning out hardback volumes reprinting full size the original artwork from certain classic comic strips, and one of them covers – oh joy! a full year’s worth of Steranko’s Nick Fury in all its hot-off-the-drawing-board glory. And today I finally laid my hands on a copy.

Steranko: Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD: Artist's Edition - Sample PagesSteranko: Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD: Artist's Edition - Sample PagesSteranko: Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD: Artist's Edition - Sample PagesSteranko: Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD: Artist's Edition - Sample Pages

It’s the biggest, most expensive tome I’ve ever purchased – but it feels like Christmas and birthday rolled into one, and worth every penny. My inner ten-year-old is turning cartwheels.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go fire up a flying car…

Alan Woollcombe

Alan Woollcombe’s Many writing credits span both comics and general press in the UK and US. He’s written news, reviews, obituaries and conducted interviews for outlets that include The Independent, Jewish Chronicle, Press Gazette, Mayfair, Marvel Comics (US), Comics International, Western Morning News, Devon Today, Fantagraphics Books (US) and Titan Magazines. He was also a script writer on Rupert Bear for Marvel UK and a cartoonist on Enlightenment magazine and Fast Lane. He was also joint organiser of the Unseen Frank Bellamy exhibition at the Basement Gallery, Brixton in 1990

There’s a terrific web site dedicated solely to AE series run by Scott VanderPloeg at aeindex.org

Steranko Nick Fury Agent of Shield Artist Edition Hardcover • Steranko: Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD: Artist’s Edition is available from Amazon, but be warned prices for a copy of the limited edition published in 2014 are pretty eye-watering!

In the mid-1960s, Jim Steranko burst into the Marvel Age of comics in a BIG way, and the innovative, cinematic techniques he introduced in his brief tenure at The House of Ideas stand to this day as a high-water mark in the history of graphic storytelling. More than any other series, Steranko is most associated with Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This Artist’s Edition collects the first 12 stories of Steranko’s run, from Strange Tales #151 — #162, as well as all his covers from these issues, and a select number of extras. Nearly all the pages were scanned from the original art, from Steranko’s private archives.

Steranko: Nick Fury & Captain America Artist's Edition - Not Final Cover• Work is still in progress on Steranko: Nick Fury & Captain America Artist’s Edition, originally announced in 2013. Last year, editor Scott Dunbier revealed he was still attempting to track down the original art from Steranko’s issues of Captain America, Strange Tales, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tower of Shadows.

Contained in this volume will be Strange Tales #163-168, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-3, 5, Captain America #110, 111, 113, as well as select extras. This Artist’s Edition will also feature the legendary four-page foldout as a massive double gatefold and as with the first Steranko Artist’s Edition, the artist is handling all the design chores himself, making this truly a complete Steranko production

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