Posted on Friday, January 7th, 2011 by Germain Lussier
Ask a film fan who did concept art for Star Wars and they’ll immediately say “Ralph McQuarrie.” McQuarrie’s images have become a thing of legend, even spawning their own niche of Star Wars merchandise. Ask the same question about another major Lucasfilm franchise however – Indiana Jones – and it will probably be met with silence.
The answer to the question of who is most directly responsible for the look of Indiana Jones, besides George Lucas of course, is Jim Steranko. In 1979, the legendary comic book artist, probably best known for designing the now familiar look of S.H.I.E.L.D. super agent Nick Fury, was commissioned to do four paintings of the bullwhip toting archeologist with specific instructions from Lucas himself. The images, and story behind them, are in The Complete Making of Indiana Jones by J.W. Rinzler, but they’ve now found their way online. You see one image above, but there are more after the break and it’s because of these paintings that the Indiana Jones we know and love looked the way he did.
Here are the notes that Steranko got from Lucas’s office about each painting, followed by the image in question.
Painting #1…should be inside an Inca-type temple with snakes on the floor and spiders on the walls. Our hero should be dressed in…khaki pants, gun belt, leather jacket (brown like the one George wears), felt hat with brim turned down. He will have a bullwhip attached to the back of his belt.
Painting 2 – to be a desert location with Arabs, with some Nazi trucks and tanks. (George suggests you get an old picture of Humphrey Bogart from The Treasure of Sierra Madre for the right look of our hero.
Painting 3 – a Nazi pilot…our hero….under the wing of a Flying Wing Air Plane having a fist fight on the ground, very close to the propeller where one of them is going to get chewed up.
Painting 4 – with our hero on horse leaping onto Nazi Army truck with canvas cover on the back of the truck, circa 1936 before the war.
According to Rinzler’s book, Steranko delivered the above paintings on August 6, 1979 but had met with Spielberg a few weeks earlier, on June 30, 1979. He was editing 1941 at the time but they had dinner and discussed all the inspirations behind the character. Incredibly, Steranko never saw the script though. “The key scenes I painted were all described in conversations with the guys,” he said.
And besides those conversations, the only other reference Sternako was given was two drawings from a 1976 issue of Lone Star Fictioneer, seen below. Lucas wrote notes all over them and sent them along with the descriptions above.
A pretty cool peek into film history. It’s a shame that Steranko doesn’t get the credit he truly deserves for coming up with such an iconic character. Sure there was input from Spielberg or Lucas, but Steranko created Indy. The proof is right there.