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Dave Stevens (July 29, 1955 – March 11, 2008) was an American illustrator and comics artist. He is most famous for creating The Rocketeer comic book and film character, and for his pin-up style “glamour art” illustrations, especially of model Bettie Page. He was the first to win Comic-Con International’s Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award in 1982, and received both an Inkpot Award and the Kirby Award for Best Graphic Album in 1986.
The Rocketeer was an adventure story set in a pulp fiction-styled 1930s (with allusions to heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow emphasizing the pulp tradition), about a down-on-his-luck pilot named Cliff Secord who finds a mysterious rocket pack. Despite its erratic publishing history, Rocketeer proved to be one of the first successful features to emerge from the burgeoning independent comics movement. Influenced by Golden Age artists Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Reed Crandall, Maurice Whitman, Frank Frazetta and Wally Wood, Stevens was widely recognized, along with artists such as Steve Rude and Jaime Hernandez, as one of the finest comic book artists of his generation.
The first comic book featuring Stevens’ signature Rocketeer character was released in 1982. Those first stories appeared as a second feature in issues #2 and #3 of Mike Grell’s Pacific Comics’ Starslayer series. For its next two installments, Steven’s feature moved to the anthology comic title Pacific Presents #1 and #2. The fourth chapter ended in a cliffhanger that was later concluded in a lone Rocketeer comic released by Eclipse Comics.The character was then continued in the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine, with two issues being published in 1988 and then 1989 by Comico Comics; a third and final issue was published six years later in 1995 by Dark Horse Comics. Stevens’ extensive background research and meticulous approach to his illustrations contributed to the long delays between Rocketeer issues. The first completed story line was then collected into a graphic novel by Eclipse Comics, in both trade paperback and hardcover formats, and simply titled The Rocketeer (ISBN 1-56060-088-8); the second story line was collected into a glossy trade paperback graphic novel by Dark Horse called The Rocketeer: Cliff’s New York Adventure (ISBN 1-56971-092-9).
IDW Publishing announced a hardcover edition collecting the entire series for the first time, due originally in October 2009. Dave Steven’s The Rocketeer, The Complete Adventures would contain all-new coloring by Laura Martin who was chosen by Dave Stevens before his untimely death. The book finally appeared in December of that year in two separate states: A trade hardcover edition with full color dust jacket and a second, more lavish, deluxe hardcover edition (ISBN 978-1-60010-537-1) of 3000 copies. The deluxe edition sold out almost immediately upon publication, and IDW announced a second printing.
In 2011 IDW launched an all-new Rocketeer comic book series, illustrated by various artists, called Rocketeer Adventures; the series features four quarterly issues per year (the second series of four began appearing in May of 2012). The four 2011 issues were then collected by IDW and published in hardcover as a graphic novel. All four issues in each series offers additional variant covers in shorter-run editions, some of them reprinting Stevens original Rocketeer cover art in both full color and just black and white.
Stevens began developing a Rocketeer film proposal in 1985 and sold the rights to the Walt Disney Company, which produced the 1991 film The Rocketeer. The film was directed by Joe Johnston, and starred Billy Campbell,Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton. Stevens co-wrote the screenplay and was a hands-on co-producer of the film. It received a mixture of highly positive and lukewarm reviews and disappointing domestic ticket sales, insuring no immediate sequels would follow. Dave Stevens always felt that a majority of the problem was that the studio’s movie poster and promotional graphics were over-stylized, vague, and didn’t convey to people what the film was all about.
Following The Rocketeer, Stevens worked primarily as an illustrator, doing a variety of ink and painted illustrations for book and comic book covers, posters, prints, portfolios, and private commissions, including a number of covers for Comico’s Jonny Quest title and a series of eight covers for various Eclipse titles, which were also published in the form of large posters. Much of his illustrations were in the “good girl art” genre. He also returned to art school to study painting.
Following several years of struggling with uncommon hairy cell leukemia, which caused a gradual reduction in his artistic output, Stevens died on March 11, 2008 in Turlock, California.
Artist Laura Molina, with whom Stevens had a romantic relationship in the late 1970s, used him as the subject of her controversial Naked Dave series of paintings.
In 1980 Stevens married longtime girlfriend Charlene Brinkman, later known as horror film scream queen Brinke Stevens; their marriage ended in divorce just six months later, but she later modeled for her ex-husband.
Two characters that show up in the Rocketeer stories were based on personal acquaintances of Stevens: the “Peevy” character on cartoonist Doug Wildey and the sleazy “Marco of Hollywood” character on real life glamor and porn photographer Ken Marcus.
Stevens was a longtime admirer of 1950s glamor and pin-up model Bettie Page; he modeled the look of the Rocketeer’s girlfriend after her and featured her image in other illustrations too, which helped contribute to the renewed public interest in Page and her modeling career. After discovering that the retired Page was still alive and lived near by, Stevens became friends with her, providing both personal assistance and helping to arrange financial compensation to her from various publishers for the use of her image and reprints of her many glamor and pin-up photos.
Death and legacy
At the time of his death, Stevens was working on a career retrospective collection of his work to be titled Brush with Passion – The Life and Art of Dave Stevens from Spectrum Publishing. That book was finally published by Underwood Books in 2008.
His work has had a significant influence on comic book and fantasy illustrators,among them Adam Hughes.
“Dave had more artistic integrity than anyone I’ve ever known. He always marched to his own drummer whether it benefited him financially or not. He turned down many lucrative job offers — including a monthly pin-up assignment for Playboy offered by Hugh Hefner as a replacement for their regular Alberto Vargas feature — when they didn’t jibe with his own highly personal vision of what he should be doing. As a businessman, Dave often drove his close friends nuts. We’d watch in astonishment at the riches passing him by.” – William Stout
“Dave was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life… and was certainly among the most gifted. Our first encounter was at Jack Kirby’s house around 1971 when he came to visit and show Jack some of his work. As I said, Kirby was very encouraging and he urged Dave not to try and draw like anyone else but to follow his own passions. This was advice Dave took to heart, which probably explains why he took so long with every drawing. They were rarely just jobs to Dave. Most of the time, what emerged from his drawing board or easel was a deeply personal effort. He was truly in love with every beautiful woman he drew, at least insofar as the paper versions were concerned.” – Mark Evanier
“Well, I do expect a lot of myself. I’m a harsh critic because I know what I’m capable of. I have hit those occasional peaks amongst the valleys, but the peaks are so few-things like genuine flashes of virtuoso brush inking, like I’ve never executed before or since-I can count on one hand the number of jobs where I’ve been able to hit that mark. The same with penciling. Sometimes it just flows, but more often than not, it’s pure physical and spiritual torment just to get something decent on paper. I often get very discouraged with the whole creative process.” – Dave Stevens