Dave Stevens, the illustrator and comic book artist who created The Rocketeer, passed on March 10 after a long battle with leukaemia. He was 52 years old.
Stevens was born in Lynwood, California on July 29, 1955 and largely raised in Portland, Oregon. Eventually his family moved to San Diego. He attended San Diego City College. Stevens was active in the San Diego Comic Book Convention, which would evolve into Comic-Con International. He began his career in 1975 inking Russ Manning's work for the Tarzan newspaper comic strip. Stevens would also do some work for Marvel, including the Star Wars comic book. He would later work with Russ Manning on the Star Wars newspaper strip as well. In 1976 he created Fear and Laughter for Kitchen Sink and Quack for Star Reach.
In 1977 Stevens went to work for Hanna-Barbera, working with Johnny Quest creator Doug Wiley and drawing layouts and storyboards for Super Friends and Jana of the Jungle. Stevens eventually joined the art studio of friends science fiction illustrator Richard Hescox and film designer William Stout. While working with Stout and Hescox, Stevens storyboarded the truck fight sequence for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It was in 1982 that The Rocketeer first appeared as a back up feature in Starslayer #2, published by Pacific Comics. Set in Los Angeles in 1938, The Rocketeer centred on stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who discovers a mysterious rocket pack. Stevens endowed the series with the look and feel of old pulp magazines and movie serial, influenced heavily by Doc Savage, The Shadow, and Bettie Page (Doc and The Shadow would appear in the series, although not by name, while Miss Page lent her appearance to Cliff's girlfriend Betty). The Rocketeer was published over the years 1982 to 1985 by Pacific Comics, Eclipse Comics, Comico, and Dark Horse. The series developed a cult following which has lasted to this day and provided the basis for the 1991 movie The Rocketeer.
Stevens would later make a living with Good Girl art. The subject he most often illustrated was legendary pinup Bettie Page. The two would eventually meet and become friends. Stevens would even assist her financially from time to time and drive her to cash her Social Security cheques. He also helped Miss Page set up a licensing business so she could profit from her image.
Although hardly prolific, Dave Stevens was one of the greatest illustrators of all time. Whether it was The Rocketeer, his various comic book covers, or his glamour art, Stevens always did fantastic work. It was clear that he put his heart and soul into it. Had Stevens only been a great artist, he would be remembered, but Stevens was also the creator of The Rocketeer. Of the characters to grow out of independent comics in the Eighties, The Rocketeer was arguably one of the most original and, at the same time, nostalgic. Indeed, Dave Stevens stands as one of the few men who was actually able to capture the look and feel of the old pulp magazines and serials, while at the same time keeping the material up to date for modern audiences. As a huge fan of The Rocketeer and Dave Stevens, I am then very, very sad at his passing.