RIP Dave Stevens
Back in the early 1980's comics as a means of self-expression became much more viable with the growth of creator-owned comics properties. Companies like Pacific, First, Warp Graphics, etc gave us a whole host of new characters, all owned by their creators, in stories that were frequently more mature than the typical superheroes that dominated Marvel and DC comics. Graphic novels showed that occasionally, sequential art could tell a story no less meaningful and sophisticated than any book or movie. And most importantly, many very talented writers and artists got to do the work they always wanted to do.
In this brave new world, stepped Dave Stevens, blazing with talented, the ability to tell a story and draw women that were realistic, yet unbelievably sexy. He gave the world The Rocketeer, a dashing, heroic adventure in the tradition of the Saturday matinée serials of a bygone age. I spent many hours drinking in each page of the carefully crafted comic. I only learned later how much time he took making sure every panel was perfect, when it all looked so smooth and natural.
And of course that comic brought fetish icon Bettie Page to a new level of popularity. I had heard of her before, but to see her in these adventures made her seem like a real person. That pin-up model from the old black & white photographs was now in full-color glory. And I could easily understand poor Cliff Secord being in love with her.
The Rocketeer was eventually turned into a movie that was one of the most faithful comics-to-film translations ever (even though Bettie was replaced by a character played by Jennifer Connelly – still beautiful, but without the famous bangs).
Dave's perfectionism explains in part why there were very few issues of the Rocketeer comic book beyond the original graphic novel, which is a shame. That kind of adventure captured a spirit of fun and innocence of a bygone era, an era where pluck and courage, the conviction of doing what is right, would see a hero through against the greatest of adversity. Stevens' art and storytelling told that adventure in a way that was effective and accessable like no other had. His passing to Leukemia at age 59 assures us that there will never be any more, at least, not by his hand, and that is a tragic loss.
You can post your tributes to Dave Stevens on his website at http://www.davestevens.com/
You can make contributions in Dave Stevens' name to http://www.hairycellleukemia.org/