For a comic book series that only totaled about 130 pages over the course of a decade and a half, The Rocketeer sure made an impact on my life--or my comic book habits, at least. I have a stack of comic books next to my computer here, and the stack hasn't really changed in the past month, ever since I came back from the Hartford Comic Book Super-Spectacular (that was the real name of the event, and it was six dealers in a small room at the Holiday Inn.) At that "Super-Spectacular" I picked up the first two issues of The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine and the first issue of Pacific Comics Presents for a few bucks total. I owned the issues already--I bought them when they first came out, or close to it--I don't know exactly when I bought them in the 1980s, but it couldn't have been too long after they premiered. I have them in a longbox somewhere in my basement, and seeing the comics at that Holiday Inn made me realize I wanted to look at some Dave Stevens art right then and there. In the midst of 1990s issues of R.E.B.E.L.S. and Darkhawk, Dave Stevens beautiful covers glowed with grace and elegance. I couldn't resist.
So those Rocketeer stories have been sitting here, next to my computer table. I flipped through the comics as soon as I got home of course, to bask in the gorgeous, classically illustrated linework, but I didn't really read the stories, and I didn't want to put the issues away. So here they've sat, Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #1 staring me in the face, saying to me every time I sit down: "you should do a blog post about the great Dave Stevens, and how he should return to comics someday." Well, today I found out that Dave Stevens passed away, after a long struggle with leukemia.
Dave Stevens challenged my adolescent notion of what comic art should be. Growing up on Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Herbe Trimpe, and George Perez, I thought I knew what made some comics look better than others, but when I saw Dave Stevens pages for the first time, I realized the medium could look different--more like the Norman Rockwell prints my parents were so fond of. More like "real art."
Not only is Dave Stevens responsible for my accelerated race to puberty--imagine seeing his Cliff Secord's beloved Betty in your pre-teen years! It has an effect, trust me!--but he's also one of the reasons I fell so deeply in love with the medium when I did, priming me for things beyond superheroes at a time when superheroes were just about to get interesting again. I didn't get nearly any of his homages or caricatures--I didn't know who Betty Page was or who the Shadow was when Cliff journeyed on a "New York Adventure" and was aided my a mysterious figure with a prominent nose--but I knew these comics were unlike anything I had ever seen.
And, looking back at them twenty years later, they still are.
Dave Stevens, probably my favorite comic book artist ever.