ROCKETEER Creator Dave Stevens (1955-2008)

Friends and fans remember illustrator Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer and unofficial architect of the Bettie Page renaissance, who has died at age 52.
On Monday, March 10th, celebrated artist Dave Stevens, best known for creating The Rocketeer, lost a long battle with Leukemia, which he and innumerable friends kept secret from his fans.

"...the thought of losing a great guy like Dave Stevens is just too, too sad," blogged comic book writer and close friend Mark Evanier. "He was truly loved and admired by all who knew him."

Born July 29, 1955, in Lynwood, California, and raised in Portland, Oregon, Stevens attended college in San Diego, where he became involved in the young San Diego Comic Book Convention--today's Comic-Con International. His artistic skills were so self-evident that he drew the personal encouragement and tutelage of legendary artists Jack Kirby and Russ Manning. According to Evanier, Kirby urged young Stevens not to emulate other artists, but to "follow his own passions." From this advice developed Stevens's habit of obsessing over single comic panels for over-long periods.

He got his first professional assignment in 1975, working for Manning on Tarzan comic books and newspaper strips. (Appropriately, he won the inaugural Russ Manning Award in 1982 for most promising newcomer.) Later projects included the Star Wars comic book and strip, as well as a number of underground comics. In 1977, he became a storyboard artist at Hanna-Barbera, drawing layouts for Super Friends and Godzilla, the latter of which was produced by veteran artist Doug Wildey, the future model for a major character in The Rocketeer.

First published as a backup feature by Pacific Comics in 1982, The Rocketeer was full of Stevens's love of pulp heroes such as Rocketman and '50s pin-up girls like Bettie Page, who served as inspiration for the Rocketeer’s girlfriend.

TIMELY39 gushed on the CBR Forums that Stevens "faithfully recreated a world that existed twenty years before he was born--as though he lived it."

However, The Rocketeer comic proved to be unprofitable, and Stevens sold most of the rights to Disney for the 1991 movie that starred Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton. With the failure of that project, Stevens lost interest in the character, moving almost exclusively into producing glamor art.

Then, after years of benefiting from her vivacious likeness, Stevens meet and befriended the real Bettie Page, even going so far as "driving her to cash her Social Security checks." (It's worth noting that Stevens's only ex-spouse, scream queen Brinke Stevens, bore a passing resemblance to Page when she was younger.)

In the end, Stevens was struggling to assemble an Art of Dave Stevens book, even as the cancer ate away at him.

In a statement, Dark Horse Comics Publisher Mike Richardson, called Stevens "a major talent and a huge influence in the comics industry," as well as "a sweet and thoughtful man who rarely accepted help from others and kept his illness to himself. Those of us who knew him will miss him greatly. This one really hurt."

"The comics biz owes a lot to Stevens, considering that a lot of today's top talent...were obviously inspired by this man," wrote Timely39. "Rest in Peace, Dave Stevens."

[Thanks to ANDY KHOURI at CBR News.]
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Mark Evanier


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