Monday, December 15, 2008

Dave Stevens: Brush With Passion

I first encountered Dave Stevens in 1982. I went over to my friend Scott's house and he said something like “Comics are good again. Kirby's doing something for a company called Pacific and check out this backup story in this Mike Grell comic.” I looked at that six page story in Starslayer #2 and saw an instant newness and familiarity in Stevens' renderings of Cliff Secord and the supporting cast. Like the best songs by Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Stevens' art was both new but at the same time it felt like something that always existed and was waiting to be plucked out of the air if the right artist came along to see it. That day began about ten years of waiting patiently between episodes of The Rocketeer, anticipating each new cover Dave did for Pacific and Eclipse comics. Usually when we bought a new Pacific Comic, the first thing we did was flip it over and see if there was a Stevens cover in the “Coming Attractions.”

Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens collects all those covers, some wonderful examples of Rocketeer art, and much, much more. In addition to Stevens' published and familiar work this book has a generous sampling of Stevens' early samples, animation work, commercial art, and commissioned pinups and other drawings. Almost every page is a visual treat, offering something you haven't seen before or a familiar Rocketeer page reproduced from the original art as you never seen it before.

Stevens provided the often illuminating narrative for the book. We learn how Stevens kind of stumbled into doing the Rocketeer and what was supposed to be a quick fill-in job grew grew into something that defined Dave Stevens for many of readers, who always clamored for more. But the conditions of the comic market at the time, and Stevens' drive for doing the job right made his output seem sporadic and never enough for his eager fans. Brush With Passion details what Stevens was doing all that time: working with the Rocketeer movie, trying to do jobs that would earn him a living and challenging himself as an artist. And toward the end, taking oil painting classes and battling leukemia.

I got to meet Dave Stevens once in the early 1990's at one of John Hitchcock's comic shows in Greensboro. I probably asked him when the next Rocketeer was coming out and he patiently and graciously answered my questions. I bought a couple of prints from him and as he signed them I commented how his cover for the Sheena in 3-D comic was one of my favorites by him. He commented, “Apparently someone else liked it too, it's been stolen.” There's a happy ending to that story in this book.

One more Stevens story. The drawing on page 181, “Charity.” I was over at a friend of mines' house who sold original comic art. He had a Polaroid of that piece he passed around. At this time, Dave was “just teasing” with his Eclipse covers and just seeing a full on nude by Stevens was something. Even though I was an adult, seeing that drawing brought some of that some thrill one got when viewing their first Playboy magazine at the age of 12 or 13. That's what Stevens' art always did for me, whether it was a drawing of the Rocketeer, the Shadow, or one his pretty girls, it always felt like seeing something new, but something you always wanted to see but just didn't know it yet.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Years ago, I read a comic-related blog regarding a very vaguely information about upcoming art book of Dave Stevens. I wrote to them and see if they could put my name on the waiting list when and if this art book ever get to the printer.
Roughly one year later, I contacted by them and they offered me a special promotional discount for the ultra rare faux alligator-skin slip-cased signed and numbered deluxe limited copy. I farted my stiffened heart out and politely replied that I would send a check immediately. Less than a month later, I was one of only 200 bastards and bitches to ever own a copy of it. Cheers!