If you ever come into possession of a time machine and are thus faced with that famous chrononautic conundrum — “what one person can I go back in time and eliminate to bring about the most significant change to the present?” — a legitimate case can be made for altering the history of an Alaskan malamute dog. Why? Because this canine directly inspired two of the most famous and influential pop cultural icons of the 20th century — neither of which were dogs.
The canine in question was named Indiana and was owned by none other than George Lucas. You can probably guess at least one of the two pillars of pop culture that Indiana helped inspire. As fans of the Indiana Jones franchise are no doubt screaming at their computer screens right now, one Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Sr. told the world “We named the dog Indiana,” in 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This not only explained were the character Indiana Jones’s unlikely name came from, but also was a direct nod to the real Indiana, from which both the fictional dog and archaeologist-adventurer took their namesakes. (One will also note that the young Indiana Jones portrayed by River Phoenix at the opening of The Last Crusade owns an Alaskan malamute, seen in the Jones household after the train chase sequence.)
The other Lucas-created icon that the four-legged Indiana lent a paw in creating was Chewbacca, the Wookiee copilot of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. The canine Indiana often rode in the passenger seat of Lucas’s car, leading the filmmaker to describe the dog as his copilot. Thus, when Lucas conceived of the daring smuggler Han Solo, he felt the scoundrel needed his own faithful — and furry — aide de camp.
Suffice it to say, if Lucas and Indiana had never met, Harrison Ford’s career might have been markedly different. Still, the good Mr. Ford should count his lucky stars that his character got the Indiana name and his costar got the Indiana look, rather than the other way around. In fact, the key visual design for the character Indiana Jones came from a far more qualified — if unanticipated — source: One of the most influential comic book artists of all time.
WHAT ICONIC COMIC BOOK ARTIST CREATED THE VISUAL DESIGN FOR THE CHARACTER INDIANA JONES?
The illustrator extraordinaire who envisaged a fedora-wearing, leather jacket-clad, bullwhip-brandishing archaeologist from the 1930s was Jim Steranko, who is perhaps best known as the definitive artist for Marvel Comics’ Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD.
Steranko joined Marvel in the late 1960s as an inker who readied layouts from the legendary Jack “The King” Kirby for production. Steranko’s own work merged Kirby’s breakout style with the surrealist, Op Art movements of the late ’60s and early ’70s, influencing the look and feel of arguably the entire latter half of Silver Age comics.
Yet, Steranko’s most influential work — though few outside the most extreme movie and comics geeks know it — is probably his role as the lead visual designer for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Steranko didn’t just design the image of Indiana Jones, but synthesized the entire 1930s pulp serial look of the film. Just as he did with Kirby’s work, Steranko was hired to update and enhance an existing image.
Anyone who has seen the 1954 Charlton Heston adventure film Secret of the Incas can be forgiven for believing they watched an Indiana Jones prequel. Heston’s character, Harry Steel, is an adventuring archaeologist who wears a leather jacket and fedora whilst unearthing and protecting mystically empowered ancient treasures. Harry Steel, in turn, is one of the primary visual influences for Indiana Jones.
Besides the general image of Steel, George Lucas specifically requested that the character sport a vintage flight jacket, a fedora reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and a bullwhip as popularized by Zorro serials. Director Stephen Spielberg simply wanted a distinctive silhouette, which the fedora offered. Steranko took all these visual cues and meshed them with a Sam Browne over-the-shoulder belt, khaki shirt, and stubbly chin to create the iconic Indiana Jones.
Put all that together with the irreplaceable Harrison Ford — who only got the part because Tom Selleck, Lucas’s original choice, couldn’t get a release from filming Magnum P.I. — and you’ve created a film fixture for the ages. You also get Ford’s second chance to benefit from the inspirational powers of Indiana the dog.
That’s not just some cinematically circular serendipity, but also a dog-eared back issue of pulp fictional Geek Trivia.
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