Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dave Stevens RIP

It seems I write too many of these. I guess it comes from being around since the Silver Age and the fact that the comics industry has been around now for 60 years. The second generation of comics creators that came along in the 60's, well they are all now in their 60s and older if they are still around.

Still, Dave's death is a bit of a shock. He passed away at the age of 53 from Leukemia. A full account of his life and career can be found at the usual great Mark Evanier's

For once I can say I was at the right age when Pacific Comics and the Rocketeer came along. I was old enough and yet young enough to be venturing out of the big two superhero comics and trying out new books. And we had big name creators like Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Mike Grell, Marshall Rogers, and Michael Golden all doing their own things. Amidst all of that was this upstart Dave Stevens bringing a retro strip in the back pages of Grell's STARSLAYER. For me, a long time fan of Doc Savage (and blissfully unaware of how much pulp stuff I knew nothing about) with an intellectual interest in the old serials (as I'd never seen one at this point), it was a dream come true. Stevens dusted off the old King of the Rocketmen concept and streamlined his helmet a bit, rescued a sex-kitten model and a hulking brutish looking actor from obscurity as models for principle characters, peppered with planes, locations and people of the 1930s as well as a few appearances of some un-named pulpish characters and mixed them all together in a wonder strip. The Rocketeer was to comics what Raiders of the Lost Ark was to movies, capturing the fun of the time when adventure was always around the corner and could be had for a dime.

I remember being excited to see the movie and it remains as one of the most best adaptations of a comic character to the big screen. Despite Peter David's rather uncharitable snipe against the beautiful Jennifer Connelly. While there are specific changes to different elements of the comic series, the movie stays true to the spirit and themes of the comic. It doesn't camp things up, dumb them down, make wholesale changes to the costumes. It plays it straight and is just plain fun. Unfortunately, it opened with less than stellar numbers, unfortunately coming out as the same time as a little flick called T2.

Stevens wasn't the most prolific of creators. Nowadays, that doesn't seem to be a problem for creators. After all too few issues, the comic eventually faded from view and Stevens became known for covers and pin-ups, often of sexy scantily clad women. It was something he was very good at. For good or ill, his art sparked a resurgence in what is commonly called "good girl art" as well as a renewed popularity in Bettie Page. Without Stevens, who knows if we'd have seen the likes of Adam Hughes and Frank Cho, both artists not threatening to be accused of being speed demons themselves.

In this day and age of trade paperbacks as secondary markets and habitually late creators, it's a shame that Stevens wasn't able to do more work. He'd be tailor made for limited series with minor characters, counting on long term gains on that secondary market. How much money has DC made from keeping WATCHMEN in print? And how many times have we seen reprints of the Kree-Skrull War, the Avengers-Defenders War, and the Adams Green Lantern-Green Arrow issues? It seems the companies would be wise to develop more properties geared for more long-term publishing in the trade markets. As opposed to things like 52, Civil War, etc that are dependent on being enmeshed in current continuity than able to really stand on their own. But, those are other thoughts.

Here's to ole Dave Stevens. By all accounts a helluva nice guy, a drawer of purty pictures, and a fan of those things from the age of action and adventure. I had to include the pic of the gun toting opossum for the sake of my brother, a big fan of those skittish critters.

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