Geek Trivia: Raiders of the lost art

What iconic comic book artist created the visual design for the character Indiana Jones?

What iconic comic book artist designed the visual look 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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