I’ve just received word that Dave Stevens, the creator of the Rocketeer, died yesterday at age 52. Stevens had dropped out of sight for the most part in recent years and had been battling leukemia, a fact which he kept as private as possible.
Stevens was known for his meticulous artwork, reminiscent of the greatest illustrators of the past and the whiz bang pulpishness of the 30s and 40s. He was, of course, also obsessed with model Bettie Page. These came together in The Rocketeer, which was published by Eclipse, Pacific, Comico and Dark Horse in its various incarnations. In 1991 it was turned into a Disney film starring Billy Campbell and a young Jennifer Connelly. The film underperformed at the time but has become very fondly remembered.
In recent years “What ever happened to Dave Stevens?” became a frequent message board topic. He had always been a notoriously slow artist, and in recent years lived off of commissions for the pin-up art he excelled at.
Dave was the last artist of an innocent era when showing less and teasing more was the way to eroticism. He was much more than that, of course. His artwork burst with the heroic innocence and determination of an America that existed fully only on the printed page and the movie screen. Even when drawing some bondage or spanking scene, his art was human, lively, caring.
Like the man. I have so many memories of Dave. Cat Yronwode once told me that Dave was unique among cartoonists because he wore clothes that fit him, which sounds like a sorry compliment, but Dave did stand out among the cartoonists of that time for paying a lot of attention to his appearance — Cliff Secord, the hero of the Rocketeer, was obviously based visually on Dave. It didn’t come off as vanity, but wanting to give an appearance that went with the art. It was part of his esthetic. Once he gave me a ride to a Golden Apple party in what I called “Old Betsy” his beloved vintage Ford. (I had no car when I first moved to LA and was always dependent on the kindness of friends.) Arriving in such a vehicle with a dashing, handsome man like Dave was the kind of thing that a girl writes about in her diary that night.
The above picture was taken at 2002’s Comic-Con. As usual Dave was surrounded by artwork and beautiful women, his twin passions. Dave was always a gentleman, kind, respectful, insightful, with a love of art and beauty that truly was, more than almost any artist I can think of, his entire life.
I’m really, really going to miss him.
UPDATE: Mark Evanier has a wonderful remembrance here.
Dave was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life…and 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.