The late, great Dave Stevens drew comic book characters that rocketed right off the page. I was reminded of that when I got a look at a very special new book from IDW Publishing that has just gone on sale and will be available for pick-up at Comic-Con International in San Diego in July. Here’s the cover to this massive, black-and-white hardcover edition called “Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer: Artist’s Edition“…
I was 12 when I first saw a copy of “The Rocketeer” and I was mesmerized by it. Looking back, I can see the reason — Steven had a polished storytelling and stylized, retro flair that made his comics look very different than the cosmic spandex stuff that Marvel and DC was churning out in 1982, and more than that there seem to be a sort of spirited joy and humor in every panel or every page. Like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” this was a hero from a simpler time, but for me that only deepened the allure.
Stevens died in 2008 after a grim battle with leukemia. He was only 55. His career as an illustrator took him well beyond comic books and often intersected with Hollywood — he worked in comic strips (he inked Russ Manning’s work on ”Star Wars,” for instance), animation (he did storyboards for Hanna-Barbera’s “Super Friends” and “The Godzilla Power Hour“), and film (he was part of the storyboard art team for “Raiders of the Lost Ark“).
The Rocketeer comics I got as a kid were bright and vivid in color, but this new edition really lets devoted fans of Stevens see his original artwork on the page in a way that makes it even more impressive. The original uncolored artwork was scanned in color here, allowing readers to see the paste-up work. The definition of talent is when the impossible is made to look easy; this new archival collection makes it easier for devotees to see a bit of the labor that was needed to make these breezy adventures flow with such charm.
“The Rocketeer” made it to the film screen in 1991 in a Walt Disney film that starred Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton and the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, who certainly delivered on the Stevens glamour-girl ideal. Stevens was a big fan of pin-up icon Bettie Page and his female characters were always informed by her as well, I suspect, by the Max Fleischer version of Lois Lane and the women who inhabited Will Eisner’s ”The Spirit.”
“The Rocketeer” film was beloved by many (I’m a fan myself) but not a great commercial success. Still, the director of the film, Joe Johnston, had worked as art director on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and his flair for vintage action heroes left an impression on people; in fact, right he’s in London doing pre-production on “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which he will direct. The movie will be set in the 1940s and everyone involved would be smart to revisit the work of Stevens and his rollicking “Rocketeer” – it’s still a high-flying, heroic success story with a retro soul.
– Geoff Boucher
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Image credits: “The Rocketeer” artwork courtesy of IDW Publishing and the Dave Stevens Estate
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