Chandler: Red Tide

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Painted cover by writer-artist Jim Steranko

Chandler: Red Tide is a 1976 illustrated novel, an early form of graphic novel, by former Marvel Comics writer-artist Jim Steranko. The digest-sized book combines typeset text with two same-sized illustrations per page, utilizing no word balloons or other traditional comics text conventions. A hard-boiled detective novel in the film noir style, its progtagonist is a private detective named Chandler (an homage to author Raymond Chandler) who is hired by a man who claims to have been poisoned by the same people responsible for a notorious gangland slaying. As Chandler tracks down witnesses, each begins to turn up dead. Also turning up are Chandler's old flame and the Tommy gun used in the slaying.

Chandler is similar to Harold Foster's comic strip Prince Valiant in that the narrative is carried by a combination of graphics and text blocks without word balloons. Critics are divided on whether it is a true graphic novel, its advocates noting that its images are integral to the story rather than merely illustrating the text. Steranko used the term "graphic novel" in his introduction, though it was labelled "a visual novel" on the cover.

This is a fine art print featuring Steranko's character Chandler. Frank Miller would use similar art techniques in Sin City.

In addition to writing and illustrating the 128-page volume, Steranko was also the colorist and the cover painter, and oversaw production, including design and typography. There is introduction by crime novelist and former San Francisco private-eye Joe Gores, and a foreword by the book's publisher, Byron Preiss. The original cover price was one dollar.

Originally published by Byron Preiss Visual Publications/Pyramid Books, the mass-market edition (ISBN 0-515-04078-9) was supplemented by a 750-copy limited edition with a tipped-in signature plate.

The third in a series from the publisher, it is also known as Fiction Illustrated, #3 — Chandler: Red Tide.


Byron Preiss [1]: "Red Tide was an original, mass-market adult crime novel created to retail at American newsstands alongside hundreds of other paperback offerings. The 50,000+ press run was complimented by a DeLuxe Edition (a completely different press run that doubled the physical size of the newsstand edition), which was sold in bookstores (handled through standard book/magazine distributors) and specialty shops (through direct distribution)."

Jim Steranko [2]: "When the book appeared it was not embraced by the comic-book community because it didn't have word balloons or captions. Believe it or not, they found that shocking! Red Tide ran about 130 pages with two panels per page and text underneath. I used Golden Sectioning, a mathematical formula to arrange elements in a unified structure, to create an image-to-text relationship that readers would be very comfortable with. The text on any given page related only to that page. It was like film, where dialogue, sound effects, and music relate specifically to the scene on screen. I doubt there's been another book published like it since. What may also have had an alienating effect on comics readers was that the book was created as an homage to such noir  films as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. I developed a different way to tell a narrative story that was more related to film than comics and perhaps that was too radical for the existing comics audience."