Sturm, James 1965-
Sturm, James 1965-
Graphic artist. The Stranger, Seattle, WA, cofounder and art director, 1991-93; Bear Bones Press, founder, 1994; Philadelphia Weekly, consulting graphics editor; Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, teacher of sequential art, 1997-2002. Founder, Center for Cartoon Art, White River Junction, VT.
The Cereal Killings, eight issues, Fantagraphics Books, 1991-93.
Check-up, Fantagraphics Books, 1991.
The Revival, Drawn and Quarterly Publishing (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1996.
Hundreds of Feet below Daylight, Drawn and Quarterly Publishing (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1998.
The Golem's Mighty Swing, Drawn and Quarterly Publishing (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2001.
Fantastic Four Legends: Unstable Molecules, Marvel (New York, NY), 2003.
Graphic artist James Sturm writes and illustrates historical novellas. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin before moving on to the New York School of Visual Arts for his M.F.A. After graduating, however, he decided not to stay in New York, because he believed it would be difficult for him to have a community of friends and colleagues there. He told an interviewer from Pipo.com, "I've always thought that living in New York is like being involved in an abusive relationship. It's got its drama and thrills, but on a certain level it's destructive."
Sturm then moved to Seattle, where he was the art director for a new weekly newspaper, the Stranger. This work was stimulating, but it did not give him much time to write and draw his own comics. He got time, however, when he tore the retina in his left eye and had to take time off from work.
From 1991 to 1993 Sturm produced eight issues of a comic called "The Cereal Killings," published by Fantagraphics. The comic presents characters who are various forms of breakfast cereal, brought to life, and examined in the context of American commercial and popular culture. Sturm had never done such a long work before, and he learned through trial and error how to proceed and to tell a story most effectively. He later looked back on the comic as "an unfocused mess. I'm both embarrassed and proud of it," he told the Pipo.com interviewer.
Sturm's graphic novella The Revival explores fundamentalist religious beliefs at the turn of the nineteenth century, telling the story of Joseph and Sarah Bainbridge as they take their deceased daughter to a faith healer, hoping the healer can raise her from the dead.
Hundreds of Feet below Daylight, also set in the nineteenth century, takes place in Solomon's Gulch, an Idaho mining town where a group of Chinese immigrants was massacred. Desperate miners stay in the town, looking for more gold.
In The Golem's Mighty Swing, Sturm tells the story of a 1920s baseball team called the Stars of David, which travels from town to town playing exhibition ball. He draws on the history of baseball in the early twentieth century to create a parable about anti-Semitism and racism in small-town America. The Stars of David made a living by playing local teams and, like many other barnstorming baseball teams, they had a gimmick; besides their Jewish identity, they all sported beards—a rarity in that day and age. Sturm's protagonist is Noah Strauss, a former big-leaguer who manages the Stars and who places their devotion to baseball over their Jewish identity. Noah is forced to deal with issues that plague the Stars, including the fact that many people come to see them play because of their exotic looks rather than because of their abilities with a bat and ball. When the Stars run into financial trouble, they make a deal with promoter Victor Paige, who drums up a publicity stunt: star the celebrity Henry Bell (a veteran of the Negro Leagues) as a golem, after the character in the recently released film Der Golem. The golem is a figure in Jewish mythology, a sort of Frankenstein that is created and given life and inevitably turns on its creator. Although Sturm is Jewish, he first heard of the golem through reading Marvel comics as a boy; it has appeared in Strange Tales, The Hulk, and The Invaders. He told Brian Jacks of SlushFactory.com: "I think any artist is drawn to that myth because it is about creating and breathing a life into something and hopefully having that something go off to have a life of itself."
In the comic, in keeping with the myth, the promoter's publicity stunt gets out of hand, as Paige uses newspapers and advertising to elevate the baseball games to a struggle of mythic proportions. Things go well until the Stars face the All-Americans in the anti-Semitic town of Putnam. There, "Henry, the pitcher (in full golem outfit), plunks the batter in the head … and a riot erupts," explained a contributor to Rational Magic. "As the rest of the Stars crowd into the dugout, Henry defends them with his ‘mighty swing’—he has a baseball bat, and he's a fearful enough sight that the crowd holds off. But he can't last forever, and how are the Stars to survive this game?" All the attention stirs up a fury of anti-Semitism; the players, who once simply wanted to win the game, now must struggle to survive it. Gordon Flagg wrote in Booklist that Sturm makes trenchant comments on media hype, racism, and the fate of immigrants caught between their own traditions and the need to become Americans, and praised Sturm as "a master of nuance." In Artbomb, Kelly Sue DeConnick noted that the book "begs repeat readings—you're going to miss a lot the first time through." Andrew D. Arnold wrote in Time that the comic "has the beauty, universality, thoughtfulness, and sweep of baseball at its best." The Golem's Mighty Swing, concluded a reviewer for the Elysian Fields Quarterly, is "a classic baseball story about what it means to be an American."
Sturm sold The Golem's Mighty Swing to Drawn and Quarterly before he had even started it. The company's publisher, Chris Oliveros, admired Sturm's work and was dedicated to publishing it. Sturm told Jacks that Oliveros's support gave him a great deal of confidence: "I feel like that really helps you try to make the best book you can. So that was a real value knowing that this book was going to have a good place to go and be published, and be published with a beautiful production value."
Sturm taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design from 1997 to 2002. He told an interviewer for Pipo. com: "It's been fun for me to articulate the things I know about comics and help structure the curriculum for this program. Teaching offers me a different way to have an impact on comics that just my own work."
In 2002 Sturm signed with Marvel Comics to write a four-issue "Fantastic Four" miniseries. Set in 1959 before any of the four superheroes manifested superhuman powers, the comic series is a portrait of the characters as well as of American culture in 1959.
In an interview for Slushpile.com, Sturm said that he is dedicated to making the settings of his stories historically accurate: "If I fail as a novelist or a writer, at least I can maybe succeed as a historian," he told Brian Jacks. "I try to immerse myself [in the historical period I'm writing about] as much as possible and it gives me a certain amount of confidence to write the story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2001, Gordon Flagg, review of The Golem's Mighty Swing, p. 371.
Artbomb.net,http://www.artbomb.com/ (February 13, 2008), Kelly Sue DeConnick, review of The Golem's Mighty Swing.
Pipo.com,http://www.pipo.com/ (February 13, 2008), interview with Sturm.
Slushfactory.com,http://www.slushfactory.com/ (February 13, 2008), Brian Jacks, interview with author.
Time Online,http://www.time.com/ (February 13, 2008), Andrew D. Arnold, review of The Golem's Mighty Swing.