Classic Comic Cover Corner (Phoenix Comicon Edition) – Captain America #110

Every Sunday morning we showcase a classic comic cover, complete with compelling pop culture commentary, for your cordial contemplation. It’s the Classic Comic Cover Corner!

Captain America #110 – February, 1969

Cover art by Jim Steranko

Captain America #110 – February, 1969
Captain America #110 – February, 1969

Did you get to meet Jim Steranko at Phoenix Comicon this weekend? The legendary comic book artist, writer and comic-historian was on hand at the convention both Friday and Saturday, and had his own “spotlight” panel early Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately he’s not scheduled for an appearance this Sunday, but, nevertheless, he’s still the focus of today’s Classic Comic Cover Corner.

Steranko is often regarded as the comic book version of “the most interesting man in the world.” Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if he actually inspired that immodest Dos Equis dude. He’s been everything from a comic book illustrator to an escape artist, a magician and a musician, and one of the most influential comic creators of all time; known for his cinematic approach to sequential art storytelling, with a style that could be described as Orson Wells on steroids.

Captain America #110 – February, 1969
Captain America #110 – February, 1969

During the late-1960s, the multi-faceted creator had a short run on the Captain America title, taking over from none other than Jack Kirby; and Steranko is credited for reinvigorating the character over the course of a three issue stint (Captain America #110, 111 and 113), where he replaced the worn-out Nazi villains with state-of-the-art Hydra evil-doers; reintroduced Cap’s sidekick, Bucky, by filling his shoes with the insecure teenager, Rick Jones; and once again gave the Sentinel of Liberty a secret identity.

One of the most classic comic covers ever is Captain America #111, with art by Steranko, but today our focus is on issue #110, not only because it features the incredible Hulk and was the very first Steranko Cap cover (he had previously rebooted the Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. title) but also because the first page of this issue has Steve Rogers doing something rather out of character – smoking a cigarette.

If you lived it, or if you’ve ever watched an episode of Mad Men, then you know that smoking was like breathing in the sixties and seventies, and Steve Rogers had already been sighted smoking a pipe once or twice during WWII, so I guess it’s not that odd that the red, white and blue Avenger would be lighting-up on the pages of his own book. Then again, this is America’s biggest Boy Scout and most iconic hero, in a comic read mostly by kids, so seeing him smoking was very weird to say the least.

I got to meet Mr. Steranko at Friday’s Phoenix Comicon and I asked him about this infamous smoking scene, and if he caught grief for doing it. Well, Steranko is not the kind of guy who really takes “grief” from anyone, so he said that wasn’t really an issue, but he then told me the fascinating real reason he had Cap lighting a cigarette.

Jim explained that in this one frame he was trying to capture the microcosm that was Steve Rogers compared to the macrocosm of Captain America, the shadow being cast is the gray area that lies between the two persona. How was that shadow created? By the lighting of the cigarette, and that was all there was to it. It had nothing to do with trying to make Steve Rogers look cool or hip, it was all about finding a logical way to cast that symbolic shadow.

Phoenix Comicon 2015 - Friday
Jim Steranko and friends at Phoenix Comicon 2015.

By the way, Steranko also mentioned that Stan Lee had nothing to do with writing his Captain America stories, regardless of “The Man’s” billing at the top of the page. Another fun fact: this eccentric and amazing artist does not like to have his picture taken unless it is with a beautiful woman. (Who can blame him?) Fortunately he allowed me to snap a photo of him with his lovely assistants. What a guy!

What do you think of Steranko having Cap smoking in the sixties? Out of place or in line with the times? Let us know in the comments below … and if you got a picture of yourself with Steranko at Phoenix Comicon over the weekend, share that with us as well!

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