By Steranko o-o-o-c
Steranko, of course, is a magician. No, but really. He spent many childhood summers with his old man, who had his own magic act, doing circuses and carnivals until he became a side-show performer himself. By his late teens, he had already reaped a wealth of newspaper and TV publicity as an escape artist. This, I believe, may have helped hone Steranko's special talent at seeing through the mechanisms of how things work. This can be seen in every facet that makes up this pocket-sized novella from 1976. This, however, does not necessarily benefit the story as much as it benefits the rather ingenious visuals, design, and packaging of CHANDLER.
It is precisely because Steranko sees right through the mechanism of noir stories that CHANDLER is a wholly unoriginal run-of-the-mill crime noir tale with plenty of cheese. Where Steranko truly delivers, in my opinion, is in everything else: Crisp and beautifully composed and rendered full-color artwork. An ingenious grid format that gives the storytelling a beautifully steady pace and a very comfortable reading experience that a great many illustrated novels tend to lack, and a modern type treatment that is impeccably considered. It would be unfair to describe CHANDLER as an illustrated novella, because what illustrated novella features two illustrations per page? The illustrations and design of the entire thing are an in integral part of the storytelling experience, which makes CHANDLER far more than an illustrated novel but not quite a graphic novel either. It is a wholly unique experience, where Steranko sticks to 13 lines per column which deliberately correspond to a vertical panel right above. It is a work of illustration and design genius. And even if one was to throw away the story, the design, and just fixate on the panels, it's easy to imagine each and every one of them hanging in the MOMA or MAD completely on its own.
Fans of Steranko's art might be fooled into thinking the larger “deluxe” edition of this book is more worthy of their bookshelf space, but if you really want to experience CHANDLER the way Steranko's design solutions were intended for, then Pyramid's pocket-sized “pulp” edition is the only way to go.
And while I may not be entirely impressed by the story, I cannot possibly imagine Steranko creating the images without simultaneously writing the story for them, nor could I imagine him writing the story without simultaneously considering the artwork and design. Pulling something like CHANDLER off requires something of the cognitive abilities of a drummer, which I've discovered that Steranko also excelled at.
My brain now growls for more Steranko, and so should yours.
P.S. The story was later reprinted and repackaged as CHANDLER: RED TIDE.